We review a lot of disparate technologies and gadgets at MobileTechTalk. We’ve seen smartphone controlled lights, smart home installations and now we’ve got a smart doorbell. Take a look at our full review of the DoorBird D101.
Disclaimer : DoorBird Provided us with the Sample DoorBird D101 free of charge for review, and it has been installed for almost 2 months now to give us a real-world perspective.
So, how does one review a WiFi connected Smart Doorbell? That is something I was frantically asking myself once I had agreed to review the DoorBird, and one that I was still asking a week after I had it installed. Smart devices that contribute to the IoT (Internet of Things) movement have always fascinated me. Things like the Nest connected thermostat, WiFi Light bulbs such as Hue by Philips, and Bluetooth locks for your front door like the August lock are all great, but they were all so costly, and really they didn’t have much of a use case other than the “Oooooh, Aaaaah” factor.
Then it hit me, about 2 weeks after having the DoorBird D101 installed, I was at work, no one was at home but I had some devices sent to my house for review. Annoyingly, couriers and posties don’t like leaving things with neighbours where I live so they’ll drop it back off at the depot, meaning if I miss them by a few minutes or a few hours, I won’t be able to get it until later in the day which, whilst a minor inconvenience, is an inconvenience nevertheless. With the DoorBird D101 installed I was able to speak to the courier (and also freak him out, apparently) and arrange for him to drop the devices off with my neighbour, so that they wouldn’t be sent back to the depot and to inconvenience me further. Result!
I understand that is a niche use case, not everyone gets devices to review, but lots of people order things online, and a lot of the time the package is too large to fit through the letterbox, and lastly, there isn’t always someone at home, so having a Doorbell that alerts you when someone is outside is really quite handy.
The DoorBird D101 is a rather pretty, modernist unit; a rectangle with rounded corners as if someone took a £2 coin to each of the corners and traced around it to create the curves. It’s a glossy white rectangle with a brushed metal faceplate. The first protrusion (from top to bottom) on the face of the Doorbird D101 is the awesome video camera system with the 180 degree lens and the IR LEDs for the night vision system surrounding the camera itself. DoorBird do not state what resolution the camera is (only that it records a 720p HDTV video stream) but it looks nice enough even over WiFi (on the Doorbell end) and mobile data (on my device) and it only takes a few seconds for the connection to sync up.
Under the camera setup is the speaker. The speaker is adequate I’d say; not great, but not terrible either. It could do with being a little louder, and little less tinny, especially at the price you’re paying for the DoorBird unit, but it serves its purpose relatively well. Next up we have the motion detector. Now this is very cool. You can have the DoorBird D101 ping an alert to your phone when it senses movement outside your house, so if you live in an area where people with nefarious agendas may stalk your house/ front garden area, you can be alerted whenever they get within a certain distance of your house. This is actually a feature I disabled on my unit as the field of view is so good and the motion detector so accurate, it would trigger when one of our cats was walking along the drive, constantly pinging my phone multiple times per hour. Nevertheless, this function is well implemented and the detection rate is excellent for those security conscious amongst you.
Under the motion sensor we have the button itself for the doorbell function. When plugged in and connected the ring around the button glows a very nice and comforting blue hue, very close to the blue in the DoorBird logo. Lastly we have the microphone grill in the lower right hand corner. In the same way as the speaker is merely adequate the microphone is too. It is slightly more impressive seeing as how audible it is considering the wind in my area at the moment, but there has been more than one occasion where I have had to ask someone to repeat what they’ve just said as I hadn’t quite understood them. Again it’s not a terrible microphone and no one sounds like a Dalek (though depending on our internet connection you may find a few accidental Daleks) but for the price of the DoorBird, the microphone could stand to be a bit better.
So how was it actually installing the DoorBird? Actually it’s a bit hit and miss. The instructions are a bit scarce, and they just point you to a site with links to download manuals, or to watch the YouTube video (I recommend that). Suffice to say that you’re going to want to have a sufficiently long drill bit (my house is very old and has tremendously thick walls so I had to purchase new drill bits. You’re also going to want to install the DoorBird somewhere close to a power socket, as although the DoorBird supports PoE (Power over Ethernet) unless you have the sufficient equipment for that, installing it close to a power socket is the easier option. So I ran an extender near my front door to connect the really quite short power leads through the hole in the wall (again this will either be easy for you or very difficult depending on the age of the house and the materials used).
I also had a an old bell system for the dumb doorbell. Connecting the Doorbell to this was simpler than connecting power to the included power brick (where is the logic in that). DoorBird provide some connectors for crimping the cables, both the power and the bell assembly, and these proved useful, although I had to try a few times on the power crimps because whilst they provide you with the sleeving/connector they do not provide the crimping tool itself. I had to make do with pliers.
The DoorBird D101 comes with a mounting plate attached with a Torx Security bit on the bottom (screwdriver included). Removing this from the DoorBird D101 you can line up where you want the DoorBird D101 to be installed. The hole with a rubber grommet installed is for routing the cables through. The 4 screws and mounting plugs are included with your DoorBird D101 purchase. Once you have run power from inside the house to outside, connected the bell wiring system to the bell cable on the DoorBird D101, and run those through the grommet on the mounting plate, you can mount the mounting plate, install those cables and mount the DoorBird D101, securing it again with the Torx Security bit at the bottom. Voila, you’re done, well, almost.
Now we get to set up the DoorBird D101, which was actually far simpler than I expected it to be, but that still doesn’t mean it was easy to set up. Here Is the Installation Video DoorBird give you (don’t worry, it opens in a new tab)
As you can see, if you’re using WiFi the connection set up isn’t the easiest thing in the world and is a little convoluted. On the plus side, once the DoorBird D101 is connected to WiFi, connecting new phones to the DoorBird app is a simple as opening the DoorBird app, going to settings, clicking add, pressing the QR code button and scanning the QR code on your Digital Passport. Whilst it was easy for me to set up, I feel that if I had given it to someone else to install, it would have taken a lot longer and there would have been a lot more expletives thrown around.
The app, is available for both iOS and Android. We’re reviewing the Android version here, and the app is entirely function over form in every sense of the word. You could tell me the app was written for Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, and it’d be hard for me to say you were lying. When everything is setup, once you open the app you’re greeted with a live feed of what the DoorBird sees with its 180 degree 720p camera. In my case this was half a wall and the rest of the front of my property. There is a signal meter that is colour coded as well with red being a bad connection, yellow sub-optimal, and green being optimal signal strength.
Below the video feed are 3 buttons. The first you can use to remotely trigger the unlock mechanism of your lock on your door, if you have such a lock (I sadly do not). Next up is the cool button; the Night vision button. Once initiated the device will stay in night vision mode for 3 minutes then shut itself off. You cannot turn off the night vision mode weirdly but at least it isn’t on for a very long time. As to why 3 minutes is the limit preset, I can only assume it is to not burn out the IR LEDs or so that the LEDs don’t damage the camera itself. The last button is the call button and once triggered this opens a 2 way communication. However through the settings this can be a changed to a Push2Talk mode, similar to walkie talkies which might be a better option for some.
Under the buttons we have the name of the system, so in my case I was boring and named it home, but you could name it office, or “super awesome mega-fort” if you so wished. The name has a status indicator next to it; green and red are the only 2 colours I’ve seen, but I feel safe in saying there is probably a third yellow colour. Above the live feed we have two further buttons; one is a gallery, the other is settings. The DoorBird D101 handily takes a photo every time the exterior button is pressed, and if you had the motion detector setup, you could even have it take a photo when it sensed motion as well. When in gallery mode, the button that was once taken up by gallery now takes you to the live feed.
The settings menu option takes you to the device settings itself. You can see your active devices, of which there can be many home automation style applications connected. There is a toggle to activate the hands-free mode, and another for push to talk. Under them you have the “Further functionality” section, where you have the administrator controls, WiFi Setup manuals and the instruction videos, as well as a handy info section.
If you click on the Device you have connected, It brings you into the settings for that device, so the username and password, the name you’ve given it, under that you have the settings you’ve set for push notifications, I have it set up so that only the bell sends me a push notification, but in here you can set it so that when the motion detector detects motion you get pinged, and you can assign notification sounds to each of those function. The Next two options are for the speaker volumes, they come set at 50% are recommend not going higher due to over-modulation making the speech unintelligible.
Lastly we have the security section where the sole option here is the “confirm actions” button. This asks you if you’re sure you want to do what you’ve just done. Towards the bottom is a dialogue telling you what firmware you’re on, and how you’re connected, whether it be WiFi or Ethernet.
So what’s it like actually using the DoorBird D101? Actually really quite cool. Having essentially an IP camera connected to my Doorbell allows me to log in, see what’s happening outside my house, see who has just rung my doorbell, and see a historic log of who rang it if I wasn’t able to get to my phone in time. The DoorBird S101 nailed the “that’s cool” factor easily here.
What else did I do with the DoorBird? Well, It’s a family house, so I installed it on my mum’s phone as well. Again I disabled the motion detector, and I made the ringtone more distinctive than the tweeting bird default, but instead of me, below are her words on what she thinks about the DoorBird.[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”I really enjoy having the Doorbell thingy. Even if I’m not at home I can tell who is. If I’m expecting someone or something to arrive whilst I’m not there I can speak to them and find a way to get it all done. I like the fact that I scanned a code and didn’t have to learn a name and password, though the app on my phone is a little slow and ugly.”[/pullquote]
So there you have it. She did quite enjoy the DoorBird D101, but until just then she didn’t know the price of the unit. Once I had revealed to her that the DoorBird D101 unit retails for £250, she was very hesitant. She enjoys that we have one, and it has been useful for her, for similar reasons as it was useful for me, but she isn’t sure whether or not it’s £250 useful.
It’s interesting that my mother unintentionally echoed my views on the DoorBird. It’s great, it really is, and I’d very much miss it if it taken from me but I’m still not sure it is worth £250 even after using it for nearly 2 months. It’s built incredibly well, has a great camera system, and decent enough microphones and speakers as well as a host of other features that the competition such as the Ring Video Doorbell do not have. But the DoorBird is also nearly £100 more expensive than the Ring Doorbell, and is also less capable in some ways, such as the lack of an integrated battery.
The DoorBird D101 is a great standalone product, but It most certainly isn’t perfect, and at it’s price point, I’d hoped it would be closer than it is.
The DoorBird has many use cases, some of which I touched on earlier. This could aid someone with poor mobility allowing them to speak to the postman and tell them to wait a few minutes more to allow them to answer the door, or divert the post. Other uses could allow remotely unlocking the door so the postman could leave the package in the porch which would be genuinely useful. I struggle in deciding if all of these use cases are worth the high £250 price tag of the DoorBird, when it’s competition, with arguably better advertisement, is almost £100 less.
The price however isn’t the only issue with the DoorBird. The speaker and microphone could be of higher quality, and the app, at least on Android, is very utilitarian and could do with a bit of a polish an refresh.
Would I buy the DoorBird? I’d have to say yes, but only if I had the money spare and nothing important needed fixing. Those are weird qualifiers, but hear me out. The DoorBird is a great bit of kit, and I’ve found a lot of use for it, but it is expensive, so if I had nothing else that I had to pay for I’d undoubtedly buy the DoorBird for myself. Not only have I found a use for it, but my Family has as well which, after all, is the one fundamental use case.
For £250 you’re buying into a system that’ll hopefully be updated for years to come, that works with other IoT devices (DoorBird specifically call out August locks, Lockitron, Kevo and Chamberlain MyQ) and has varying levels of genuine usefulness. I’ve found out during this test that I fit into nicely into the niche Doorbird are targeting so I’ll be using my DoorBird for as long as I live here, and most likely if we move as well.
The DoorBird is a great bit of kit as previously stated – It’s also fun to scare unsuspecting posties, but that might just be me!