Nest Labs has had its fair share of corporate struggles over the last few years, but at last, the one-time darling of the smart home world seems to have regained its mojo. Waves of new products are hitting retailers’ shelves, including the excellent Nest Secure alarm system and the long-delayed Nest x Yale Lock, which we’ll be taking a look at in the coming weeks.
Joining them is the Nest Hello smart doorbell, a $229 dinger/smart cam combo taking aim at established competitors such as the August Doorbell Cam Pro ($199), Ring’s Video Doorbell 2 ($199) and a host of imitators.
If you’re scratching your head wondering why anyone would want to spend $200+ upgrading something as basic as a doorbell, here’s the skinny: adding a Wi-Fi-enabled HD camera to the doorbell allows you see who’s at the door from your smartphone, whether you’re at home or elsewhere.
Smart A.I. allows for recognition of people and packages, while two-way audio allows you to converse with visitors or, more likely, chase those door-to-door salespeople away. Add a compatible smart lock into the mix, and you can subsequently open the door for package deliveries or let in trusted guests, all via a couple taps on your smartphone.
The Nest Hello video doorbell won our award for the best products of the year. Make sure and check out all our other selections for Best Products of 2018.
Straightforward, guided installation but DIY-novices may need help
On the flipside, wired doorbells – smart or otherwise – can be tricky to install. While Nest recommends getting a pro to fit their smart doorbell, they’ve worked to make life as simple as possible for intrepid self-installers. For a start, Nest Hello is far slinkier (1.7” x 4.6” x 1.0” – 4.3 cm x 11.7 cm x 2.6 cm) than the likes of the August Doorbell Cam Pro, meaning it’ll fit neatly on slim doorframes. You’ll also benefit from Nest’s legendary attention to detail, which sees the doorbell packaged with a mini-toolkit – including a Nest-branded drill-bit – ensuring you’re set-up nicely for the job. Add simple, step by step instructions delivered via the Nest app, and you have all the ingredients of a top-notch installation experience.
As we’ve come to expect from Nest, the compact Hello hardware looks good and is built to last. Those in cold winter climates, however, should be aware that the doorbell is rated for operation above 14 degrees Fahrenheit (-10° C). Installation requires you to install a small connector module in your door chime (the box that dings when your doorbell is pressed) and then replace the doorbell itself. Like the August Doorbell Pro we reviewed, a wedge is included in the box that allows you to angle Hello’s field of view by 15 degrees. It’s a handy addition if you find the doorbell camera is blocked by the edge of a wall or other part of your home’s exterior.
Smart A.I. recognizes people and packages, while two-way audio allows you to converse with visitors or, more likely, chase those door-to-door salespeople away.
We tried installing the doorbell both ways and found the wedge meant less shadow fell on the camera, resulting in a far brighter, clearer image. If you’re concerned about theft, Nest Hello locks into a frame which can only be released with a small pin tool supplied in the box. While it’s not the most secure solution, it’s sufficient to deter all but the most determined of thieves.
Overall, installation was straightforward but not without problems. Terminal screws on the rear of the doorbell are designed to clamp onto wires running to the chime. However, we found tightening the screws regularly caused the wires to slip free rather than be held in place. When securing the doorbell into its frame, again wires would slip out, causing a loss of power or a short. To be fair to Nest, the same issue happened with the cheap NuTone bell we were replacing, but it’s a painful design flaw that could be resolved easily with a different screw head.
Continuous video recording, clear images, and easy navigation
With the hardware installed and power restored, you’ll notice a blue ring illuminate around the doorbell button. Hit it and you’ll hear an electronic chime from the device (as well as your regular, indoor chime) and receive a push notification on your phone. Tap and you’ll be taken straight to a live video feed where you can respond to any caller.
If you’ve previously installed a Nest device, you’ll be familiar with the Nest app, which is mostly simple to use. However, with the company rapidly building out a portfolio of smart home products, we’re finding that navigating between multiple devices is becoming more cumbersome. It’s time for Nest’s UX designers to sharpen their pencils.
Without a subscription, a live stream can be viewed 24/7, while recorded playback is limited to snapshots from the last three hours.
The app displays a live feed from the doorbell’s camera, and we were pleased to see a beautifully clear image with less than a second’s lag. Nest Hello supports continuous video streaming and recording, but you’ll need to add a Nest Aware subscription (priced from $5 per month) to view the full archive. Without a subscription, a live stream can be viewed 24/7, while recorded playback is limited to snapshots from the last three hours.
Recorded events can be displayed as thumbnails on a daily timeline for review or neatly categorized by triggers – motion capture, person or sound detection, a doorbell ring and so on. Want to zero in on an event type? You can filter results with a couple of taps – it’s smart, but beautifully simple.
We found the camera’s 4:3 160-degree field of vision was more than sufficient to capture high-quality, full-body images of visitors, and images remained reasonably sharp even when taking advantage of digital zoom. On a dank and drizzly spring evening, low-light images remained bright and punchy (far more so than the naked eye), while integrated night vision ensures even late-night callers are well illuminated.
Unlike the August Doorbell Cam Pro, we experienced no issues with Nest Hello’s Wi-Fi connection which remained fast and stable throughout our tests.
Advanced features bring intelligence and convenience to your front door
Of course, Nest Hello is much more than a webcam grafted on to a fancy doorbell. The company’s engineers have developed a range of accompanying features that add real value and convenience. Two-way talk allows you to converse with callers if you can’t come to the door, and Nest Hello’s speaker and mic both deliver clear audio (if a little sharp). Better still, if you’re away from home or simply can’t summon the will for a chat, you can fire-off canned responses from your phone that’ll inform visitors that you can’t come to the door or ask them to leave the parcel on the doorstep. You can also answer the door through a Google Home Hub or other Google Assistant smart display.
We were pleased to see a beautifully clear image with less than a second’s lag.
Face Detection algorithm learns and recognizes regular visitors to your doorstep over time. If the caller is recognized, subsequent notifications will announce visitors by name. Sadly, it’s another feature that requires a Nest Aware subscription, and is only supported in locations where facial recognition is permissible by law. But if you’ve tagged images in Google Photos, you’ll know how well the company’s face detection works and, integrated into your doorbell, it’s a fantastic addition.
Elsewhere, Nest Hello does a decent job of detecting and reporting motion, sound, and people, but it’s not totally infallible. We experienced an event where our UPS guy walked right up to the doorway to leave a parcel, and while a clip of the event was captured correctly, Hello failed to recognize the driver as a person. As with many smart cams, false alarms can be prevented by the creation of multiple activity zones within the field of vision (again, for Nest subscribers only) and you’ll find granular settings for customizing notifications for all methods of detection.
As you’ve probably guessed, Nest Hello is already good friends with the Google Assistant, so notifications can be routed to Google Home devices. It’s a useful way of ensuring you won’t miss a caller wherever you are in the house. But if you are looking for a little peace, a Quiet Time feature disables the doorbell’s mechanical chime for up to three hours, ensuring your nap or cozy reading session isn’t interrupted. It’s a simple but strong idea that mostly works well, although we did notice that the feature failed to silence Google Home.
Of course, most of these smart abilities can be disabled or customized manually to suit your preference, while camera operation can be scheduled or triggered using Nest’s Home/Away Assist feature, which uses your phone’s location to toggle operation. Whether you’re a smartphone fan or prefer the real estate of the desktop alongside the app, Nest Hello can be monitored and managed on any device with a web browser. And if the bell rings when the family’s watching the latest episode of Westworld, you can even check the camera feed using Nest’s Android TV app.
A fabulous blend of smarts, simplicity and sophistication, dealing with cold callers has never been so much fun.
Nest Hello is sold with a 2-year limited warranty, plus a 30-day, no quibble return policy.Our Take
While it’s taken some time for Nest Hello to reach the market, it’s another strong showing from Google’s smart home division that combines high-quality, high-performance hardware with intelligent features. The device features a simple user experience that’s a delight to use. If you want to upgrade your doorbell, start here, then compare the rest.
Is there a better alternative?
Amazon’s Ring Wi-Fi Video Doorbell 2 and August Doorbell Cam Pro (both $199) are admirable competitors, but Nest Hello’s sleek dimensions, top-notch performance and intelligent features make it the door-dinger to beat.
How long will it last?
Now that Google has finally found a place for Nest within its organization, we can only see the division becoming stronger. While the short-term focus has seen Nest rapidly build out a wider product portfolio, we’d expect to see enhanced features and deeper integration with other Google products and platforms coming down the line. You should have no worries about ongoing product support.
Should you buy it?
If you have $200 to drop on a doorbell, Nest Hello should be your choice.
Updated October 19, 2018 to note that the Nest Hello doorbell can be answered on a Google Assistant smart display like the Home Hub.