Review: August Doorbell Cam Pro | iLounge

Review

Review: August Doorbell Cam Pro

B+
Recommended

Company: August

Model: Doorbell Cam Pro

Price: $199

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Jesse Hollington

August's popular Smart Lock was one of the first iOS-enabled and HomeKit-enabled door locks on the market, and upon entering its second generation, the Smart Lock was joined last year by August's first Doorbell Cam, expanding the company's lineup of home access products. This year August continues to improve its smart home solutions with new "Pro" versions of both its doorbell cam and smart lock. We'll be looking at both of these products this week, beginning with the company's new August Doorbell Cam Pro, which builds upon last year's original with floodlight illumination for the camera and other enhancements to video recording.

On the surface, the new Doorbell Cam Pro looks very similar to the company’s original Doorbell Cam that we reviewed last year; the changes on the front surface are relatively subtle, with the speaker grille now extending across the entire bottom and an illuminated outer ring and August logo in the center. The rear side is another matter, however, and now uses a completely different mount from the first-generation Doorbell Cam. The new Doorbell Cam Pro is also available in the same silver and dark gray color options as the original, and has the same dimensions. The camera and motion sensor are still located in the top right and top left corners, respectively.

In the Doorbell Cam Pro package you’ll find a mounting plate to attach to your outside wall and a wedge plate similar last year’s model that allows you to install the doorbell cam at an angle for a better view of who is standing at your front door, along with mounting screws and putty to fill in any holes. One particularly interesting change from last year is that Doorbell Cam Pro now incorporates a docking port on the bottom and includes a USB dock in the package to help with the initial set up. It’s a useful if somewhat superfluous accessory considering most users will only need to use it once — although the USB dock will help you get up and running with the Doorbell Cam Pro before installing it outside the home, we’re not sure why the company didn’t simply put a micro USB port on the unit itself. Doorbell Cam Pro can also be used as a standalone camera with the USB dock — we can’t imagine most users are going to regularly be popping their Doorbell Cam off the wall to use it as a webcam or security camera elsewhere in the home, but the option is available nonetheless.

Doorbell Cam Pro uses a completely different style of mounting plate from its predecessor, so users upgrading from the first-generation unit will need to replace the mounting plate as well, and in fact will likely even need to drill new holes as the new mounting plate uses two center-positioned screw mounts rather than the four corner mounts of the previous version. On the other hand, users swapping out a standard doorbell may find that at least one of the two center-positioned screw mounts already lines up with existing holes. Further, the wires for your existing doorbell now simply attach directly to a pair of screw mounts rather than having to use butt splice connectors to match up existing wires. Two screws at the top are used to lock the actual Doorbell Cam Pro onto the bracket to prevent it from being easily stolen, and August also still offers a theft replacement guarantee as well. Overall, we’d say the new mounting plate is a much better design than the prior version, although we were a bit surprised to find that the August Doorbell Cam Pro no longer includes a mounting option for August’s Smart Keypad.

As with last year’s model, August provides very clear installation instructions, and this time around the company has expanded these instructions into an interactive guide right in the iOS app, which will ask you what the position of your existing doorbell is relative to your door and the type of material you’ll be installing it into, and then take you through the process step-by-step right on your iPhone, advising you of the tools you’ll need and how to best install it. The instructions are pretty straightforward, but August also offers professional installer services if you’re uncomfortable doing it yourself or simply don’t have the necessary tools, but anybody who is comfortable using a drill shouldn’t have any problem getting it installed — it took us about 15 minutes to replace our first-generation August Doorbell Cam with the new Pro version.

Thanks to the included USB dock, however, the set up process for Doorbell Cam Pro differs slightly from the original model, asking you to first connect the device to the USB Charging dock to pair it with your August account and get it up and running before installing it on your wall. While this isn’t strictly necessary — you can still just go right ahead and simply install it — it does help to ensure that everything is working properly in a more comfortable setting. Since the Doorbell Cam Pro also requires about 30 minutes of charging time before it’s fully ready for use, leaving it on the USB Charging dock before installing it will help to ensure that it’s ready to go as soon as you wire it up outside — although the Doorbell Cam Pro draws AC power from your existing doorbell wiring, it appears that this is used only to keep the internal battery charged, and it’s this battery that’s used to actually power the device. Live video streaming and even ringing the internal door chime may not work until Doorbell Cam Pro has a sufficient charge, however once you’ve passed that point, the AC power lines should keep the battery charged. This is a positive change overall as it removes the need to tweak power consumption settings and deal with things like doorbell hum. Further, August Doorbell Cam Pro can now run on systems with lower-voltage doorbell wiring — as low as 12 volts as opposed to the earlier model’s minimum 16-volt requirement.

The software side of getting Doorbell Cam Pro up and running is very simple, with the August app taking you through the process of joining it to your Wi-Fi network and then declaring you ready to go. As with the first-generation version, you can also pair Doorbell Cam Pro to your August Smart Lock, allowing you to easily see your door’s status and unlock your door when responding to a caller. Doorbell Cam Pro will also act as a Bluetooth-to-Wi-Fi bridge for your August Smart Lock, allowing you to access your door lock when away from home without the need to purchase a separate August Connect bridge. Sadly, although August announced plans for HomeKit support last year for the original Doorbell Cam, this never quite materialized and it seems that this capability is still lacking in Doorbell Cam Pro. August has been relatively quiet on its plans for HomeKit support since then, so we’re hopeful that they’re still in the process of working things out with Apple to provide this capability in a future update.

Doorbell Cam Pro includes the same basic features as last year’s model — it rings your doorbell when somebody presses the button and sends a push notification to your iPhone and Apple Watch to let you know that somebody is at your door. On your iPhone you can see a photo of who is at your door and choose to either ignore them or initiate a conversation with them using the mic on your iPhone; a push-to-talk feature also ensures that the person at your door can only hear you when you actually want to speak to them, so you can answer the call without having to actually speak to the person unless you want to. If you’ve paired Doorbell Cam Pro with an August Smart Lock, a button also appears below the video stream showing you the status of your door and allowing you to lock or unlock it remotely. You also don’t have to wait for your doorbell cam to actually ring — you can open the August app and pull up a live video feed at any time to see what’s happening outside your door, even when you’re away from home.

The good news is that August’s other promises to expand last year’s Doorbell Cam features did come to fruition, including support for motion detection and cloud-based video recording. These features are also supported on the Doorbell Cam Pro of course, and have been further enhanced with the new hardware capabilities. The motion sensor not only provides the ability to notify you when somebody is outside your front door — even if they don’t ring the doorbell — but will also automatically take a photo and record a few seconds of video when motion is detected, which you can view in the timeline. Where Doorbell Cam Pro shines over its predecessor, however, is in the ability to actually capture video from before a motion event is detected. The company has dubbed this new feature “HindSight” and basically the camera is always buffering a few seconds of video in memory, so that when motion is detected it simply saves that buffer along with the rest of the video. It’s similar to how Apple’s Live Photos feature works on the iPhone.

In addition, Doorbell Cam Pro also now includes a floodlight that emanates from the August logo in the center of the button to illuminate whoever is standing in front of your door at night. The floodlight has four settings — off, low, medium, and high — and can be controlled when viewing live video from the August app. A setting also allows you to tie the floodlight into the motion sensor so that it lights up when motion is detected, although only the two lower intensity settings are available to prevent you from blinding your visitors as soon as they walk up to your door. It’s worth noting, however, that the light on Doorbell Cam Pro remains dimly illuminated even at the"off” setting. This is presumably so visitors can see the doorbell in the dark, and may also help to emphasize that it’s actually a doorbell — we’ve had visitors over the past year who haven’t been quite sure whether the Doorbell Cam was something they were supposed to press or not. While the illumination isn’t a bad feature, we were still disappointed that there doesn’t (yet) seem to be an option to turn it off entirely.

A few months after our review of the original Doorbell Cam last year, August also unveiled its subscription-based video recording service, which stores 30 days’ worth of video recordings of activity detected by the doorbell cam — including both when people actually ring your doorbell as well as any times when motion is detected outside. Videos you want to keep can also be saved directly from your activity feed into your iPhone photo library. The August Video Recording Service costs $5/month or $50/year, with users getting a 30-day free trial after activating a new Doorbell Cam (this free trial period also applies when installing a second Doorbell Cam or replacing an existing one). Without the video recording service, you’ll still be able to receive motion notifications and watch live videos of what’s happening at your door in real time, but your activity feed will only display photos. While the August Video Recording service isn’t required to use the Doorbell Cam Pro, it’s a nice option and probably worth the subscription fee if you get a lot of visitors when you’re away from home and unable to answer or you simply want to be security conscious about what’s happening at your front door.

Overall, we’d say that Doorbell Cam Pro is a solid update to August’s original Doorbell Cam. While there’s not enough here to compel most users of the original Doorbell Cam to upgrade, the changes may be enough to tip the scales for those users who have been on the fence. The floodlight solves some of the backlighting issues with the original model and helps you identify callers in the night without resorting to the monochromatic “night vision” look, and we particularly liked the ability of the new HindSight feature to capture video as visitors first approach our front door. August has also commendably managed to bring all of this into the new “Pro” model without increasing last year’s $199 price tag. Although we still find ourselves pining for HomeKit support, it’s fair to say that August’s tight integration with its Smart Lock eliminates some of the need for this, and if you’re already a fan of August’s Smart Lock it seems like the company’s new Doorbell Cam Pro is an even more natural extension of that.

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Editors' Note: iLounge only reviews products in "final" form, but many companies now change their offerings - sometimes several times - after our reviews have been published. This iLounge article provides more information on this practice, known as revving.

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