For the last few days, I’ve been testing the new Nest Doorbell and Nest Cam that were announced earlier this month. Both are unique for Nest gear because both have the option to run on battery power. This makes reviewing them somewhat of a challenge, simply because what you most want to know after figuring out if the device performs its essential functions well, is how long the battery lasts.
I can’t tell you how long these things will last on a single charge, but I can tell you that each device does perform its essential functions well and the physical hardware is sturdy, smooth, and attractive. Which honestly is what you expect when you’re paying $179.99 for a video doorbell and $179.99 for a battery-powered indoor/outdoor camera.
Google is touting the AI capabilities of the cameras in each of these devices, and they do indeed, do a good job of identifying people, packages, and even animals. If you’re already enmeshed in the Google ecosystem, want to get a high-end doorbell or camera, and don’t mind paying for a monthly subscription then these devices are right up your alley.
If you are on the fence and rather stick with a less expensive device or one without a subscription, you’ll be able to find alternatives from Eufy and Ring on the doorbell side and the Arlo essential camera on the indoor/outdoor battery-powered camera side.
First up, this is a lovely doorbell. Yes, it’s large, but it’s also very sleek and attractive. The camera is really obvious so you aren’t misleading anyone who drops off stuff at your door (they know they are on camera) and the circle on the bottom is obviously what you’d press to ring the doorbell.
Google is proudly playing up the fact that this device is battery-powered because there are plenty of people who don’t have the ability to wire their doorbells, but it also comes with wires if you’d like to install it and never worry about battery life.
The installation is pretty typical, although I have two quibbles.
The first is that there are no written instructions to follow in the app, which means I have to watch the five-minute video. I hate watching videos. The second is that the video could do a better job of indicating which screws to use for installing the mounting plate or the wedge plate.
To install the doorbell, you’ll need to drill two pilot holes and screw in a mounting plate, or you’ll need to drill anchor holes, jam in the anchors and then screw in the mounting plate. Google thoughtfully provides a wedge in case you want to angle the doorbell around a wall and spacers in case your mounting surface is uneven. All in, it’s simple to do.
I realized I have one other quibble, although this one isn’t minor. Google provides a release key so you can remove the doorbell from the mounting plate when you need to recharge it. But if you lose that key Google says a flathead screwdriver will work to remove the device.
This means anyone armed with a flathead screwdriver can remove the doorbell. I tried and could remove mine. But I suppose the joke is on the thief because you’ll have video of the removal and the doorbell won’t work without the mounting plate, according to Google.
Installing the device on your home network is equally simple, especially if you already have a Google smart display or speaker. You’ll use the Google Home app to add the device using a QR code and then give the app permission to use the stored Wi-Fi credentials that Google already has. You’re looking at maybe 20 minutes from unboxing to having a doorbell on your home and working. (Add 10 minutes if you have brick or stucco because that stuff is just a pain.)
Remember the bit about the smart speaker or display? You’re going to want those because otherwise when someone rings the doorbell, you won’t hear it because it’s not wired to your chime. You will get a notification on your phone, but not everyone has their phone with them at all times. This applies to wire-free installations only though. If you wire the Nest Doorbell, you can use your existing chime.
But when linked to your Google Home account, when someone pushes the doorbell, you’ll get a spoken notification and if you have a smart display you’ll see the person who rang the bell. You can also talk to them using the display or send a pre-recorded message.
It took roughly three seconds for the image to pop up on my displays, so you aren’t going to catch that FedEx driver who rings and runs.
The image quality is super clear, even at night, and the field of view is pretty impressive. I can see the doormat on which people drop off packages and the face of the person ringing the bell. So far Google is very good at telling me that it has seen a package (it even notifies me when it no longer sees the package!) and doesn’t give a lot of false alarms related to shadows or tree branches. Yay.
Google really tried hard to make the idea of constant camera surveillance less creepy by making it more obvious when the doorbell (or the camera) is processing images and when someone is actively watching a live stream. A small light turns green when the camera is recording and the green light blinks when someone is watching a live stream. I don’t think the average person will understand the distinction, but it does draw your attention to the camera, which is a good thing.
The indoor/outdoor camera
This particular Nest Cam is a lot. It’s heavy. It’s expensive. And it provides the same sort of AI features and experience as the doorbell does. Google is also selling a plethora of accessories for the camera such as a solar panel, an outdoor cable, stands, and more.
Currently, mine is stuck to my washing machine keeping an eye on the dog door because I am really curious about the comings and goings of my dog. It also lived for a bit in my family room keeping an eye on the backyard through a window.
The camera, like the doorbell, is water-resistant but isn’t waterproof, so you probably want to place it in a spot where it has some protection from the rain. I’ll also note that both devices are rated for temps of -4F to 104F. If I still lived in Austin I might have challenged those upper temperatures testing it, but in Seattle, we’re more worried about rain.
This camera has a 130-degree field of view and has a crystal clear picture. Other cameras such as the fancier version of Arlo cameras have a wider field of view, but 130 is pretty standard. I’ve been getting notices about people and packages, but so far it doesn’t recognize or alert me about seeing my dog. What’s nice is that inside the Google Home app I can actually search for events based on packages, dog barks, people, etc.
If I paid for the $6 a month Nest Aware subscription I could see those histories going back for 30 days, or if I paid for the Nest Aware Plus subscription I’d get 60 days and 10 days of continuous video recording for the camera if it were plugged in. Without a subscription, I can get a history and clips going back three hours. This won’t help if I get robbed at night and want to see who did it the next morning, but it’s probably fine for someone who keeps an eye on their phone and checks their notifications like a hawk.
Personally, the lack of a 12-hour or 24-hour video history without requiring a paid subscription is the only reason I didn’t choose the original Nest Doorbell when we moved into this house. Instead, we went with a Eufy video doorbell, which doesn’t have the AI features or as clear a picture but works without us spending $72 a year. But other people have different priorities.
All in all the Nest gear is excellent, but also expensive. And despite the excitement around the Matter protocol promising to bring interoperability to the smart home, I would remind y’all that cameras and video doorbells aren’t devices supported by the upcoming version of the standard.
This means that unless you have the Google displays and speakers, your cameras and doorbells will be viewed through the app. And in the case of the battery-powered doorbell, you’ll likely want to buy a chime. Google plans to launch accessories that work with their new cameras, although a chime is not a certainty.
The Nest gear is high-quality and high-performance, but it’s also fairly expensive and tied closely with the Google ecosystem.
On the doorbell side, if you’re an Alexa home you might be better served by a Ring Doorbell which comes in three versions for those who want something battery powered. The Ring battery-powered doorbells range from $99.99 to $199.99. HomeKit users can turn to the Logitech Circle View Doorbell for $199.99, which we have reviewed prior, or the Netatmo video doorbell for $299.99.
On the camera front, Arlo Essentials have similar features but a $129.99 price tag, although Arlo charges for all of its AI features as part of an add-on subscription, and Google does provide package and people detection for free. At least when it comes to cameras there’s still no real interoperability and a confusing mix of features that buyers can get for free from different vendors. So figure out what’s important for you, which ecosystem you’re into, and then shop around.