As of today, August has begun shipping the two latest additions to its smart home lineup: a $199 doorbell camera and $79.99 smart keypad. Both items work with the company's existing $199 August Smart Lock, which lets you leave your keys at home and open your deadbolt with a smartphone. The August Doorbell Cam sends a notification to your phone whenever someone's at the door, and from there you can hold a quick video chat using August's app to determine whether you want to let that person into your home. The video part is one-way, so you can see them, but they can't see you. (A built-in speaker lets your voice come through.) If you recognize the guest, you can tap a button to open the Smart Lock remotely.
The doorbell camera, which comes in either silver or dark gray, is designed to replace a standard wired doorbell setup, so there must be power running to it. If you've got a wireless doorbell, you'll be totally out of luck; this is the first August product that doesn't operate on battery power alone. That was my situation, unfortunately, but August sent a demonstration unit (with all of its products attached to a tiny door) so I could test the Doorbell Cam's quality.
It outputs video at 1280x960, which is sufficient to determine just who's standing outside your door. The picture quality also holds up pretty well in low light, though there's no night vision of any sort, which is something offered by some smart home security cameras. Really, the Doorbell Cam is meant to be an easy way of letting friends or family inside when you're not around, or on the opposite side of your house. They could install August's smartphone app and gain access (with your permission) that way, but this cuts out jumping through those hoops. All activity is logged in August's app, which already keeps track of who's been in and out of the house thanks to the Smart Lock.
In my tests, the Doorbell Cam worked reliably; my phone was pinged almost immediately after the button was pressed, and booting up the video call was relatively fast. That'll depend on your data connection, but August claims to have optimized the video stream for various conditions. The camera also captures occasional snapshots to give you an idea of what's going on outside throughout the day — even when a video session isn't live. The ability to unlock the Smart Lock from anywhere is really nice. Out of the box, the August Smart Lock only lets you unlock it when you're actually nearby; remote lock/unlock either requires buying a $79.99 "Connect" accessory or this Doorbell Cam. August is promising to give the pricey Doorbell Cam some new features in future software updates, like a motion sensor that will alert you whenever someone's outside the door (even if they're not ringing the bell), and the ability to play back video recordings on demand. Right now, that functionality is missing, but should be coming within 90 days.
The keypad is simple and takes some worry out of trusting August's system
Then there's the Smart Keypad, which is a lot simpler. You attach it outside the door with either screws or 3M tape, and it serves as yet another way to open August's lock. You won't need keys or your smartphone in this case; just punch in your chosen security code and the lock opens via Bluetooth. You can also press a single key to lock the door, which is certainly faster than pulling out your phone or using a key. Other people can be assigned their own unique entrance codes, and codes can be deleted at any time. Again, August keeps track of who's coming and going inside its app. The Smart Keypad should help alleviate concerns about coming home with a dead phone battery after being brave enough to leave your keys inside; it has its own battery, and August warns you well ahead of time when it's time to swap out. At $79, it also feels a little expensive, but definitely ups the convenience factor if you're already invested in August's system.
I've definitely come to appreciate using the August Smart Lock, and the company's two newest products make the whole setup work better and give me slightly more confidence that I won't find myself locked out at the worst possible moment. But remember that you've got to have that wired doorbell to get the Doorbell Cam working, which is sort of a bummer. I can't even actually use it!
And when you add all of this stuff up, it's $480 before tax. That's a ton of money to throw down for something many will view as nonessential. But that's true of most smart home gear; you'd be just fine with existing, cheaper options. The Smart Keypad is the kind of thing that should probably be included with August's main Smart Lock, and a good wireless doorbell is what, $30? Diving in headfirst is a bit of a gamble in its own right, but remember that your key will always work just fine. It sure does feel cool controlling my door with a smartphone, or video chatting with the FedEx guy to accept a package when I'm not actually present. And remember, your key always works no matter what. There are other "smart" and Bluetooth-powered locks out there, so don't be discouraged if what August's got here isn't exactly what you're looking for.Photography by Chris Welch and Amelia Krales.