Review: August Doorbell Cam
Although August made its name with its flagship product, the August Smart Lock, the company hasn’t been sitting still with its goal to increase its family of home access products. The Smart Keypad accessory we looked at yesterday works to expand the capabilities of the original Smart Lock, and August has also recently released an entirely new standalone but companion product for the Smart Lock in the form of its new August Doorbell Cam — a home accessory intended to replace a standard doorbell with a smart device that provides two-way voice communication and one-way photo and video capabilities so you can see who is calling, even when you’re away from home.
The design of the August Doorbell Cam is remiscent of the August Smart Lock; although ironically in most cases you’ll probably never see the two devices side-by-side once they’re installed, there’s definitely a signature design here that leaves no doubt that the two products are both from the same company — while the aesthetics might not appeal to everyone, if you like the look of the August Smart Lock, the Doorbell Cam will be right up your alley as well. The Doorbell Cam is currently available in silver and dark gray color options (copper and “August Red” will be available in the future), and measures 2.9” on each side. A large central pad-style button activates the doorbell, and a camera on the top-right corner provides one-way video so you can see who’s calling. A motion sensor can be found in the top right corner that will be used in a future firmware update, and a speaker grille in the lower-left corner provides two-way audio communication between your iPhone and the Doorbell Cam unit.
The Doorbell Cam requires a few installation steps, but August includes the necessary screws and anchors in the box, as well as two backplate options — one for a normal flush mount, and one wedge plate for mounting the Doorbell Cam at an angle so you can see who is standing in front of your door. An additional spacer backplate is also included if you want to install the August Smart Keypad beside the Doorbell Cam, although this can only be used with the flat mounting plate. An online installation guide walks you through the recommended steps for installing the Doorbell Cam, asking you what the position of your existing doorbell is relative to your door, the type of material you’ll be installing it into, and then advising you how to best install it and advising you of the tools you’ll need. Although wiring it up in place of your existing doorbell is relatively straightforward, you’ll need to drill into the wall where you doorbell is located in order to properly mount it. August’s installation guide is very clear and straightforward, but professional installer services are also available through August if you’re uncomfortable doing it yourself or simply don’t have the necessary tools available. However, anybody with even basic handyman skills should have no problem getting it installed — it took us about 15 minutes to remove the existing doorbell, drill four holes in our brickwork to mount the new plate, wire it up and screw it into place. A small screw at the bottom secures the Doorbell Cam onto the bracket using the included hex wrench, which should keep it from being removed too easily, although it’s interesting that August offers a theft replacement guarantee providing a free replacement, less of shipping and handling, in the event that your Doorbell Cam gets stolen.
Note that August’s installation instructions may advise you to use the wedge plate to get a better view, but if like us you’re not fond of the angled look you may want to try the flat mounting option first — where you need to point the Doorbell Cam is ultimately going to depend on where your callers stand when they’re ringing your doorbell, and in our case since we have an outer door we’ve found from experience that most people stand roughly in front of the doorbell anyway. The two places are interchangeable, so if you’re going to experiment that’s easy enough to switch them back and forth with the same screw holes, although you’ll want to avoid clamping down the wires until you’re comfortable with which plate you want to use.
Once the Doorbell Cam is hooked up to power, you can test is simply by pressing the big central button and listening for your doorbell. This will confirm it’s powered, and you can then proceed to pair it with your Wi-Fi network using the August Home app. August recommends that you bring it close to your Wi-Fi router for this step — the Doorbell Cam has an internal battery that will power it for a while when it’s disconnected from the doorbell wiring — but if your Wi-Fi router or a Wi-Fi extender is within 10-20 feet of your front door this should be completely unnecessary; in our case we just fired up the app while standing on our front porch and were able to pair and configure everything from there.
If you’ve been using the August Home app for a Smart Lock, adding the Doorbell Cam is pretty straightforward, as you simply need to go to the main settings menu and proceed from there. If you’re new to the August family, you’ll need to setup an August Account in much the same way as you would for the August Smart Lock. The use of a single app for both devices is a nice touch, however, and once the Doorbell Cam is setup you get a new screen for monitoring what’s going on at your front door, right between the Smart Lock button and activity log. This pairing of devices also allows you to easily unlock your front door when responding to a caller through the Doorbell Cam.
At its most basic level of operation, the Doorbell Cam simply rings your doorbell when somebody presses the button. In addition to this, however, it will also send a push notification to your iPhone and Apple Watch, and any other devices running the August Home app. On the iPhone, you can see a photo of who is at your door, and choose to either ignore them, or initiate a conversation with them. In the latter case, you get live one-way video (you can see them, but they can’t see you), and can talk to them through the Doorbell Cam and the microphone on your iPhone. A push-to-talk feature ensures that the person at your door can only hear you when you actually want to speak to them, as opposed to picking up whatever background noise and conversations may be going on in your house. If you’re using an August Smart Lock, a button also appears below the video stream allowing you to unlock the door remotely, which could be useful for allowing a service or delivery person in, even when you’re away from home. Sadly, while you can get Doorbell Cam notifications on the Apple Watch, you can’t respond to them beyond simply unlocking your August Smart Lock — you’ll need to pull out your iPhone if you actually want to see who’s at the door before doing that, though.
Unlike some of the other video doorbells we’ve seen, you also don’t have to wait for your doorbell to ring — the August Home app also allows you to pull up a live video feed on demand to show you what’s going on outside your door at any time. The August Home activity log also shows doorbell interactions — you’ll get a picture in the activity log each time somebody rings your doorbell, and August has promised a free automatic update this summer that will add cloud-based recording so you can view video clips of your interactions from your activity log as well. The update also promises to add instant alerts, taking advantage of the built-in motion sensor to send you an alert you when somebody is on your front porch, even if they haven’t rung the doorbell.
In contrast to the August Smart Lock, the Doorbell Cam works over Wi-Fi, since it’s powered by your doorbell circuit. However, it also acts as an August Connect for the Smart Lock, providing a Bluetooth-to-Wi-Fi bridge so that you can access your Smart Lock when away from home. Note that this doesn’t add any HomeKit capabilities — you’ll still need a Bluetooth connection or Apple TV for that aspect — but it does allow you to use the August Home app to access the Smart Lock remotely, including adding new entry codes or virtual keys when away from home. This essentially adds $70 worth of value to the Doorbell Cam if you already own a Smart Lock but haven’t yet purchased the August Connect. Note that unlike the new August Smart Lock released yesterday, the August Doorbell Cam is not HomeKit-enabled in any way, meaning you won’t be able to use it to trigger HomeKit scenes.
At $199, the August Doorbell Cam is priced in line with other video doorbells we’ve seen, yet it offers considerably more capabilities, and even moreso if you also own an August Smart Lock or are planning to get one. The Doorbell Cam worked well in our testing, although it took some practice to break the habit of automatically getting up to head for the door when you hear the doorbell ring and reach for our iPhone instead. The audio and video both worked mostly as expected, although we were a bit disappointed to find that the Doorbell Cam doesn’t handle backlighting very well; we hope this is something that August can fix in a firmware update, as in some cases you’ll be left trying to recognize silhouettes rather than faces. Further, while we’re eager to see what August does with the updates that company is promising, we have to evaluate products we review based on the features that they offer today, since promised features don’t always come to fruition even with the best of intentions. Regardless, we like what August’s Doorbell Cam has to offer at this point — it’s a good product with a lot of promise hampered by a few minor modest caveats that can hopefully be addressed in firmware updates. We’re definitely eager to see what August does with its Doorbell Cam and the rest of its home access family in the coming months, however.