As it stands today the home automation market is quite robust, and quick to develop new technology when the “need” presents itself. This time last year there was just a fraction of the established companies in any one segment of the market that there are today, and the space is getting crowded. One area that has been rapidly maturing is the world of smart doorbells, which now has over a dozen companies vying for control over that precious space next to your front door. Today we’ll focus on a newcomer to the competition: iseeBell, who offer a compact smart doorbell they feel has what it takes to stand up to the incumbents.
Some of those established brands are household names for home automation fans: Ring, RemoBell, August, and SkyBell have all become mainstays in the smart doorbell market, each with their unique characteristics. But several others are lesser-known brands, some with really compelling features. Being one of the latter, iseeBell has some stiff competition, but can an underdog out-perform the heavyweights in the field?
Why a smart doorbell is important
Before getting into the details about the iseeBell, it makes sense to look at why smart doorbells are important parts of the home security ecosystem. Smart doorbells definitely aren’t the first thing someone would think of when looking to build out a smart security system, but they are a great piece to the puzzle that many overlook.
First, they provide visual coverage over the most important access point in a home, the front door. Even if a burglar breaks the back window or jimmies another entry point open, chances are they will ring the doorbell first to check if the home is occupied. Also, users can receive instant alerts to stay abreast of actionable security risks or other key events when they matter most and can be addressed. Most smart doorbells also give users access to two-way audio communication with the front door visitors, via the Wi-Fi network from wherever they are.
Smart doorbells also have a perfect viewing angle to identify faces. Even if someone is wearing a ball cap, the camera on a doorbell still has a clear line of sight which can identify visitors (friends or foes). Overhead-mounted cameras do not always have the best angle to provide this level of detail (this definitely isn’t to say that one should forgo a surveillance system and put all their eggs in the smart doorbell basket, however it is very important to having a comprehensive system).
Subtle home security
One of the things that initially stuck out about the iseeBell is how unassuming it is. Measuring only 3.3” x 2.9” and less than an inch thick, the product isn’t much larger than a typical round doorbell plate, and maintains a low profile.
The front face of the unit is black and the sides are silver, which I do wish was ditched for a monotone appearance. Solid black or all white would look pretty sleek, but this is all preference. The smart doorbell can be mounted either directly to the home wall, use a wedge spacer, or utilize a pivoting mounting bracket. The bracket adds a couple inches, and is mainly for utilizing the doorbell as a security camera (we will get to this later), but it can be done either way.
A watchdog for the front door
The iseeBell has a 185° FOV camera planted in the center of the unit, which offers a comprehensive picture of the front door space. In fact, out of all the smart doorbell models on the market that I could find, this offers the widest FOV. Granted, in most cases 180° is really the maximum you would ever need with a flat wall mount, but this gives you an extremely wide angle to play with. The extra-wide angle does create a fisheye effect, however it does not distort the details around the edges.
When someone rings the doorbell, the iseeBell app triggers a ring on your phone, just like an incoming call. You can tune in to just see the video feed, or engage with the visitor in two-way communication. One of the mainstays for smart doorbells is motion detection, which triggers a snapshot and mobile push notification when the sensor identifies movement.
The video quality of the doorbell is 720p and during the daytime recording is clear. While you won’t be using it for any recreational video projects it is sufficient for identifying visitors, it gets the job done. If need be, the level of detail would be sufficient for submitting to police to secure identification.
The two-way communication is pretty straightforward. This is a great way to gain more control over visitor interaction at the front door, whether at home or away. I have used this in the past to dispatch solicitors. It can also be used to tell delivery drivers where to place a package, or more importantly trick sketchy characters into believing the home is occupied and deter break-ins.
The camera’s night vision is aided by four passive infrared (PIR) LEDs, and the performance is decent in pitch black for detecting any activity, however picking up fine details is not a strong point. When a light source is introduced alongside the night vision, the details increase drastically and it is much easier to pick up the fine details of facial features and characteristics.
One camera, two uses
One of the unique benefits of iseeBell is the ability to use it as a standalone Wi-Fi security camera, stowing the doorbell features and utilizing the motion detection, cloud recording, and live view features. I found this to be a very interesting dimension to the product, and quite useful.
While there are other IP cameras available that can be bought as standalone units for specific applications, I find it nice to be able to use one app to control all aspects of the surveillance system. Positioning additional units around the home is beneficial for covering sensitive areas, and the ability to utilize the motion detection and two-way audio is a beneficial perk.
The 720p resolution isn’t nearly as detailed as other cameras on the market, many of which are 1080p. For the purposes of close range recording and facial identification at the front door this is sufficient, however when using the camera in a surveillance setting (which traditionally means a higher mounting point and a greater depth of field) it would be nice to have a higher resolution. Again, this isn’t a need per say, but more of a want. This setting is really where the ultra-wide angle FOV makes a difference. Setting up the doorbell as a surveillance camera, instead of utilizing the traditional doorbell wires to power the unit, requires the use of an included AC power adapter. The length of cable is about four feet, so to utilize it as an outdoor camera additional cable would need to be used.
Users can adjust settings, view the live video feed from the camera, listen to audio and speak through the app, as well as taking snapshots of the video feed. If motion detection is enabled users can adjust the sensitivity, eliminate certain sections of the FOV from triggering a notification, and set a schedule to enable or disable the motion alerts during specific times.
The iseeBell uses 128-bit bank-level encryption to secure data collected and prevent hacking. Events will automatically record and be stored in the cloud, while also having the notification pushed to a mobile device. Utilizing the cloud recording does incur a fee of $2/month, which enables users to save the videos that are recorded instead of needing to catch the live view in the moment. If you don’t opt-in for the cloud service, photos and videos that are manually taken will store to the mobile device, however motion detection alerts will not automatically record.
The app was easy enough to use, although there were a few instances during my time with the unit where I would lose connection with the camera and need to re-pair it with the app, which prevented me from viewing the live feed at home while I was at work on occasion. If the internal chime is utilized, users can choose from 25 different tones. Otherwise, the chime that is currently wired in will be used.
How does iseeBell stack up?
In my experience, it is never about the individual specs or features that make a device a success, it’s dependent on how they all combine in practical application. From my time with the iseeBell, it definitely does have some compelling features over some of the other smart doorbell models from more popular brands.
One thing iseeBell does that several other smart doorbell companies fail to do is include a remote indoor chime, which remotely pairs with the main unit. Since the doorbell itself is hard-wired into the system and takes advantage of the standing chime, this is essentially a backup that can go in the farthest part of the home from the front door (up to 110yds) or even in a detached garage.
Also, the ability for the iseeBell to be used as a Wi-Fi security camera without the doorbell function is an interesting option. The resolution is crisp indoors, so I can see this being a viable option for those that want to have an in-home camera with vocal communication capabilities. iseeBell also has additional terminals to allow control of an electric strike or magnetic lock, which negates the need for a separate smart lock. This is something that no other smart doorbell I have encountered features, and while it would seemingly require some additional handiwork to set up, is definitely a unique characteristic.
The small form factor and remote chime inclusion are user-friendly aspects that make the iseeBell my preferred smart doorbell over the RemoBell, which I have tested. At $149, it comes out about $50 cheaper than the SkyBell, and $100 cheaper than the Ring Video Doorbell Pro. When it comes to home automation, often times the underdog can outperform the big names in the field, and offer a better product. Most of the time, the big players have far more marketing dollars to spend, so they outshine the competition to all but the most automation-savvy. The iseeBell is proof of this, proving that the “most popular” doesn’t mean “best”, especially in the crowded smart doorbell market.