SkyBell WiFi Powered Video Doorbell
SkyBell Wifi Doorbell
The Internet of Things is here and connected home devices are making our lives easier. There’s a long way to go but companies like SkyBell Technologies are bringing ideas from the future to reality.
The SkyBell is advertised as a “WiFi Doorbell” that allows you to see, hear and speak to the person at your door no matter where you are. To accomplish this, the SkyBell replaces your old doorbell button with a piece of hardware that has a built in camera and connects to your home WiFi. Once online, when your doorbell is pressed your old chime still sounds inside but your smartphone (currently iOS and Android devices) notifies you that someone is at the door where you can view a live video feed and hold a conversation with your visitor…even if you aren’t at home.
SkyBell started as an indiegogo fundraising campaign in August of 2013 under the name of iDoorcam by the team of Andrew Thomas and Desiree Mejia. Both are product designers out of California and had spent time building hardware for Apple. They were looking for $100,000 in funds and in a little over 30 days they secured $583,679, ensuring that this product would see the light of day. There were multiple delays from their initial target launch but nothing that isn’t typical of a crowd funded project.
This review isn’t about the specifics of the development process for SkyBell and the ups and downs they had but instead about what we have installed on our house, a released product.
Excited to have the package arrive on our door steps, we immediately set into the installation process. Prior to placing our order we made sure we met all of the requirements for being compatible with the SkyBell. They have a very thorough support page (http://www.skybell.com/support) to walk you through the whole process.
After removing the old doorbell, I drilled two new holes in the brick for installation of the mounting plate. I was able to use one of the existing anchors my builder had made and thankfully I had a cement drill bit handy for creating the two addional holes. Using the supplied wire connectors I connected the wires from the SkyBell to my existing wires and got a blinking red light indicating the internal backup battery was being charged.
After it switched to a solid red light indicating it was fully charged I pressed the doorbell for the first test as instructed. I heard the SkyBell itself make a door chime sound but my house chimes didn’t sound. This caused me a little bit of concern and I rechecked my wire connections as listed in the trouble shooting guide. As it turns out, it seems like the SkyBell is in the “Do Not Disturb” mode initially (more on that later) and won’t sound your house chime until you connect the device to your account.
Moving on to the next step I finished securing the SkyBell to the wall and was very pleased with how it looks. It feels very secure and like it will last a long while. I then started the connection process in the app and found it to be very simple and straightforward. It took just a few moments to complete. Note: Make sure you don’t loose the Device ID printed out inside the packaging. You will need this activate your device.
The SkyBell is 2.75″ wide and its low profile should have no problems fitting in small locations. Our installation included a four year old brick house.
The video camera on the SkyBell covers a 55 degree field of view and can be moved around prior to installation to cover 170 degrees in any direction. For our installation we moved the camera to the left all the way and had great coverage of the porch. There might be a few edge cases where your doorbell is installed in a less than ideal location to get a good view.
The next doorbell press resulted in a very timely notification alert on my iPhone that the SkyBell had been pressed. While at home and on the same network, I found the notifications to be very quick. After hearing the house chime go off, I had already received the alert by the time I could get my phone out of my pocket.
The video comes in at a 640×480 resolution which is low-res so it streams well over cellular networks but it feels well suited for the task at hand. I had no difficulties in identifying who was outside my door in full daylight conditions and at night in the pitch black. The SkyBell features night vision with an invisible infrared LED light that presents a very clear picture as seen here:
When answering a doorbell you can hear a live stream of audio from outside but the visitor can only hear you when you press a button down in a “push to talk” kind of fashion. The audio is noticeably compressed compared to a phone call but again it doesn’t negatively impact your ability to communicate or hold a conversation.
While answering a call you are provided three options: Take a photo, Hold to talk and End Call. The photo option will take a 640×480 image of what the SkyBell can currently see and adds it to your photo gallery.
Additional app options include a “Do Not Disturb” feature. This will prevent your house chimes from activating when the doorbell is pressed and instead just send a notification to your phone. This is perfect for someone sleeping inside that you don’t want to wake-up.
There is also a motion sensor setting which will send you a notification if it detects motion in front of the doorbell for at least 10 seconds and also chime your main doorbell inside. Motion is a tricky feature to implement perfectly because of the amount of false positives that can occur. The idea is that some people are inclined to just knock on your door instead of ring the doorbell so the motion sensor detects them outside and alerts you. SkyBell currently has the motion sensor set t0 detect motion 1-2ft in front of the device and this is something they have been tweaking in the software regularly. An improvement I would like to see here is in the way notifications occur when motion is detected. Sometimes someone might just want to drop something off at your porch and not bother you. So, having the SkyBell only send a notification and not chime the main doorbells inside would be a more favorable option. That way you can take a look outside without anyone knowing.
SkyBell has shown a commitment to updating the app and hardware with new features and improvements. The hardware features an automatic download and install of firmware updates which means it requires no user intervention to stay updated. One of the major upcoming features that they have advertised is “On Demand” access to your SkyBell. Currently, you are only able to view the video feed and talk outside if you receive a notification by the SkyBell button being pressed. On Demand will allow you to view the video feed at anytime you would like. As of the time of this review they show On Demand being an “imminent release”.
For a full roadmap of upcoming features planned visit this link: http://www.skybell.com/support/feature-roadmap
While SkyBell has the device fully operational, there are a few ideas that I think could improve the value of the device significantly. The first involves a picture being taken when motion is detected or the doorbell is pressed. This would give you some insight into who was at your house even if you weren’t able to view the app at that moment. Second, I would like to see a log of time stamps when I have a visitor.
The SkyBell is a successful crowd-funded product that performs well, looks beautiful and provides you piece of mind at who is at your door and the convenience to talk with them even if you aren’t home. It is an exciting time for internet connected home devices and the SkyBell fits in nicely with a digital home.