Hot on the heels of the 3rd generation August Smart Lock and Smart Lock Pro comes a brand-new accessory to complete the company’s 2017 line-up. The $199 August Doorbell Cam Pro replaces your existing doorbell, connecting to existing wiring at your front door.
When the doorbell is pressed, you’ll receive a notification on your phone, and thanks to an integrated color HD camera, you can see who is at the front door via the August smartphone app. If you’ve installed an August Smart Lock, you can let your visitor into the house with a simple tap, or speak into your phone to politely send away that door-to-door salesman. A smart and simple companion but, as you’ll see in our August Doorbell Cam Pro Review, the device isn’t a slam dunk.
This new model replaces the original August Doorbell Cam (also $199), which hit the market in 2015 and will be phased out over the coming months. Enhancements in the Pro model include a feature called HindSight, which automatically captures and records video (to the cloud) as your visitor approaches. It’s a neat idea that ensures you see everyone that comes to the door, even if they don’t ring the bell.
They’ll need to be on their best form to beat an increasingly competitive field.
A built-in floodlight, with three levels of brightness, ensures full-color night-recording, so you can say goodbye to grainy, gray-tone video. As a bonus, the floodlight can be activated when motion is detected, providing a deterrent to would-be thieves.
We recently reviewed the 2017 August Smart Lock range and loved their sharp design, easy installation and brilliantly simple smartphone app. If August can bring that same simplicity to the Doorbell Cam Pro, they’ll undoubtedly have a hit on their hands, but they’ll need to be on their best form to beat an increasingly competitive field.
The $179 Ring Video Doorbell has been greeting home visitors for several years and has seen numerous enhancements over the debut model we reviewed back in 2015, including integration with third-party locks and the company’s security camera range.
Skybell HD, at $199, is another strong contender, but many eyes will be on the new Nest Hello video doorbell, coming in early 2018. It’s part of the company’s extended smart home security range, rolling out this year and while Nest Labs remains coy on pricing, you can be sure that it’ll integrate neatly with the hundreds of thousands of Nest thermostats, smoke alarms and security cameras already installed in homes around the world.
But that’s all for future discussion. For now, let’s get hands on with the August Doorbell Cam Pro.
High-quality build, beautifully presented
The August Doorbell Cam Pro arrived beautifully packed in a premium white and red carton.
The doorbell’s square, mostly-plastic, construction is weather-resistant, robust and finished with a metal front plate that adds quality when touched. However, the shiny plastic housing around the camera, which stretches across the right corner of the face, unbalances the overall aesthetic. It looks particularly awkward on the silver model but is not as bad on August’s dark gray design.
Included in the box you’ll find the doorbell, mounting brackets (for a flush or angled position near your door), putty, wall screws and anchors. August also includes a small, magnetic USB charging dock (with a mini-USB cable) allowing you to power and configure the bell before installation – a great idea. The bell is equipped with a rechargeable battery, which ensures the device will work even if there’s a power outage.
Installation of a smart doorbell – from any manufacturer – is more of a challenge than a smart lock. At least in North America, the relative consistency of deadbolt design and dimensions lead to a relatively straightforward install. The company has worked hard to further simplify the installation experience with step-by-step video guidance through the August smartphone app. It’s a key element in the overall success of their third-generation locks.
If you’re replacing a similar-sized, powered bell, life will be simpler.
Smart doorbells, however, need more detailed planning. First, you need an existing wired doorbell or be willing to run a 12-24V AC wire and transformer to a location near your door. You also need to have installed a mechanical doorbell chime – an electronic speaker with a chime doesn’t cut it. Then there’s the location of the doorbell itself. The Doorbell Cam Pro’s 2.9” (73mm) square dimensions preclude it from an easy mount on your door frame. That means you will need to mount the bell adjacent to the door, which might require moving your existing electrical wire and drilling into brick or stone, depending on your home.
If you’re replacing a similar-sized, powered bell, life will be simpler, but if the work required is starting to sound like a headache, you may well benefit from professional installation.
You set up the bell mounted on the USB-charging dock, connected to a computer or another USB power source. As with the company’s smart locks, you’re guided through configuration using the August mobile app, available for iOS or Android devices. Your phone connects to the bell via Bluetooth, allowing you to add the device to an existing August home device group (or to set up a new group) and provide your Wi-Fi details.
Configuration of the Doorbell Cam Pro in the USB dock was a breeze. To be fair to August, they go the extra mile in supporting physical installation of the device by providing drilling and mounting instructions for various surfaces, including wood, concrete, brick, cement siding, stucco, drywall and vinyl sidings.
The wedge bracket, included in the box, angles the doorbell, which ensures the camera benefits from a clearer view of the space in front of your door. Again, the app deftly guides you through installation either way, but we’d like to see more support regarding placement of the device. For example, what’s the ideal height for the best camera view? How close should the camera be to the door frame?
Thankfully, once charged, the bell will work on battery power, so you can skip through the installation instructions and look at the camera view in various positions before setting on your mounting point. A video preview button, embedded into the startup wizard, would be a great help, though.
With the wedge installed and your wiring poking through, you screw on the mounting plate and connect your electrical wires to the terminals. The mounting plate includes an integrated spirit level, helping you achieve a neat result. Tidy up your cabling, then use the included putty to stop any drafts from entering the wiring hole.
Once the mounting plate is fitted, you’ll find the Doorbell Cam Pro slides neatly over integral tabs, locking securely to the plate. Two small screws hidden at the top of mounting plate can be turned with a flathead screwdriver to further secure the bell. Should a determined thief manage to take off with your Doorbell Cam Pro, August offers a free replacement.
You’re now ready to test the device. A press of the large, central button and – if all has gone well – you’ll hear your interior doorbell chime and instantly receive a notification on your phone.
Easy synchronization with August Smart Locks plus motion detection and video recording
With the bell safely installed, you can begin to explore the excellent August smartphone app. If you’ve previously fitted an August Smart Lock to the front door, you’ll find the Doorbell Cam Pro can sync with it easily with just a couple of taps in the app settings. Syncing allows you to unlock the door from the camera view on your phone’s screen when the bell is pushed.
The devices support direct synchronization over Bluetooth or alternatively, you can use the $79 August Connect Wi-Fi bridge to hook everything together. The latter offers the strongest connection between your devices, and is recommended. However, despite positioning the August Connect at the outlet nearest the front door, I did experience connectivity issues between my phone and the bell at times due to a poor Wi-Fi signal.
Given the Connect worked perfectly with two August Smart Locks inside the house, I can only assume my exterior brick work was blocking the signal. The August app includes a Wi-Fi Speed test for diagnosing signal strength issues, but once configured, there are no network configuration tools to force the bell to connect to the router’s 2.4 GHz band, which offers longer range. If you own a traditional router with split 2.4 and 5 GHz SSIDs, you can select the band during setup. However, if you’re using a newer whole home Wi-Fi system, with merged SSIDs, connection can be a crapshoot.
Notifications hit our phone almost as soon as the doorbell was pressed, allowing a quick response.
While varying network topologies aren’t necessarily a fault in the August Smart Lock Pro, it’s the kind of problem that the company usually handles with grace, and has the potential to damage the overall user experience. Consider how well August handles varying deadbolt designs or, as mentioned, the type of wall on which you’re installing the bell. It’s an area in which we’d urge August to focus their attention. But for now, know that your mileage may vary.
Connectivity issues aside, life with the August Doorbell Cam Pro is quite straightforward. A passive infrared sensor detects visitors through heat changes in its field of view. This is certainly more reliable than simple motion detection, which can be fooled by light changes or the movement of far-off tree branches. Once triggered, you’ll receive a notification on your phone, and a new event will be logged in the app’s Activity View, which offers a timeline of events at the door. If you live in a high-traffic location with frequent passers-by, you can easily adjust sensitivity to reduce the number of notifications you receive.
Responsive, high definition camera offers decent recording quality but lacks image adjustment
The high definition (1280 x 960p) camera can record visitors as they approach the doorstep. You can also view a live stream from the camera at any time, and I found video to be mostly smooth, with little lag when accessed on the home network. Remote access response and video quality will vary depending on your local network speeds.
If your doorway is especially dark, you’ll benefit from an integrated, motion-activated floodlight supporting three levels of brightness. I tested the Doorbell Cam Pro at home on a covered porch. On a gloomy, fall day, I found the image quality to be reasonably good, although quite dark when visitors were close to the camera. The Doorbell Cam Pro unfortunately lacks brightness, white balance or contrast settings, which could help to enhance daytime image quality. The integrated floodlight isn’t bright enough to dazzle visitors, and didn’t particularly help daytime imaging but, at night, it certainly improves visibility.
Note that the Doorbell Cam Pro is not equipped with a night-vision feature, unlike competing smart bells. August instead combine a low-light camera with an integrated floodlight to illuminate night visitors. The results are good. At dusk, images outside the house were far brighter than they appeared to the naked eye and at night, visibility remained clear.
The lack of granular controls mean that it can be a tricky device to optimize.
Motion detection is included with the Doorbell Cam Pro, but if you wish to record clips of visitors for review and playback, you’ll need to stump up $4.99 per month or $49.99 per year for August’s Active Monitoring service. A 30-day free trial is automatically set up when you install the device.
When the bell is pressed, you’ll receive a second notification announcing the visitor, with options to ignore or view the live video feed. A tap of the microphone icon allows you to speak to your visitor and, if you’ve synced an August Smart Lock, you can unlock the door remotely.
Throughout testing, I found that notifications hit my phone almost instantly the bell was pressed, allowing a quick response to visitors calling. Audio quality to your phone via the integrated microphone and speaker isn’t spectacular – in either direction – but is sufficient to be understood.
More of an issue was the Doorbell Cam Pro’s patchy connectivity. In testing, there were times where I could hear my visitor but they couldn’t hear me when I spoke to them through the app’s push-to-talk button. Upon refreshing the live feed, the feature would work. A subsequent test and the issue reoccurred. Such a primary feature really needs to be bulletproof, but here, August’s smart doorbell disappointed.
Overall, the August Doorbell Cam Pro is a decent companion to the company’s smart locks, but the lack of granular controls (and, in areas, an absence of August’s usually brilliant user experience design) mean that it can be a tricky device to optimize for your home.Our Take
We’re fans of the August Doorbell Cam Pro, but there remains room for improvement even in this second-generation device. While installation of a smart doorbell offers significantly more challenges than a smart lock, August’s app does a good job of guiding DIY novices through the process.
But the lack of image adjustment settings and positioning advice means that it can be tricky to achieve an optimal installation. More worrying were the connectivity issues that created problems with the bell’s live video feed and audio features.
Is there a better alternative?
The August doorbell is robust and well-built, but you may prefer the sleeker curves of the Nest Hello smart doorbell arriving next year. However, the company has yet to announce a smart lock, so August wins out for those seeking ease of integration. Ring is rapidly building out a comprehensive range of security devices to partner its video doorbell range, but again, there’s no word on a smart lock.
How long will it last?
A weather-resistant, high-quality build and theft-replacement guarantee means that you can be confident in the Doorbell Cam Pro hardware lasting the course. The optional, cloud-hosted video recording service is one area of potential concern – especially if August doesn’t achieve the subscription revenues they expect. Prices could rise or the service could, in theory, be discontinued at any time. Otherwise, the company continues to regularly update their apps with features and fixes.
Should you buy it?
If you’ve already invested in one or more August Smart Locks, you’ll find the Doorbell Cam Pro to be a decent, if not perfect, companion. Easy smart lock integration and strong features alongside a well-designed and simple user experience makes it easy to recommend the Doorbell Cam Pro over competing vendors. But look out for network connectivity issues that may prevent the device from fully delivering its potential.