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Google’s latest Nest Doorbell and camera are not obvious upgrades

Battery-powered options are great, but prepare to make compromises

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The new battery-powered Nest Doorbell
The new battery-powered Nest Doorbell

Ever since Google folded the Nest brand back into its main hardware lineup in 2019, the company has been slowly updating its product portfolio with a more cohesive design language and support for the newer Home app. This year, Google is finally turning its attention to its video doorbell and security cameras, following the Nest Wifi, Nest Hub smart displays, Nest speakers, and Nest Thermostat that have already made the jump.

With these updates, Google is not only making products that actually look like they are part of the same lineup; it’s also designing them to reach new customers for whom the older Nest products weren’t suitable. This is most apparent with the $179.99 Nest Doorbell battery, the company’s first video doorbell that doesn’t require a constant power source and can run on its internal rechargeable battery. For those who couldn’t use the prior Nest Hello (still available and now known as the Nest Doorbell wired) because their home didn’t have the required wiring, the Nest Doorbell battery now allows them to install a video doorbell that’s fully compatible with the Google Home platform.

These latest Nest devices aren’t obvious upgrades for existing owners

The $179.99 Nest Cam battery offers a similar proposition, allowing you to install a Nest security camera in places where you don’t have easily accessible power. It’s also less expensive than prior Nest models, such as the IQ line, while still supporting some of the intelligence for which those cameras were known.

But while Google is reaching out to new customers with these products, it’s also leaving behind a lot of features that existing Nest customers might appreciate. Things like 4K video capture, which allows for automatic subject tracking and lots of flexibility with digital zoom, is unavailable on the Nest Cam battery. Meanwhile, the Nest Doorbell battery doesn’t support continuous 24/7 recording at all, even if you wire it in and pay for the highest tier of Google’s Nest Aware cloud storage service. There are also features that were supported in the old Nest app that haven’t made it over to the newer Google Home app yet.

That means the new crop of Nest security cameras and doorbells aren’t obvious upgrades for existing Google smart home owners. Instead, they are better suited for those who haven’t yet jumped into the smart home or haven’t already bought into one of Google’s many competitors that have addressed their needs for a long time.

Nest Doorbell Battery

The Nest Doorbell battery is a significant addition to Google’s smart home lineup. The first video doorbell from Google to function completely on battery, the Nest Doorbell can be installed in many more homes than the wired version. It also means that Google now has an offering that competes with Ring’s battery-powered video doorbells (the latest of which is the $200 Video Doorbell 4).

The design of the Nest Doorbell is a departure from the Nest Hello’s looks, with matte-finish plastic and minimal branding. You can get it in four different muted finishes (white, beige, gray, or green) to better match your home’s decor. It’s also much larger than the Nest Hello to accommodate its internal battery. 

At over six inches tall, the Nest Doorbell is the largest video doorbell I’ve tested, and it’s considerably taller (though slightly narrower) than Ring’s battery doorbells. The doorbell button is also large and hard to miss (the circular LED that surrounds the button lights up white when it senses a person, making it even easier to spot). In all, the Nest Doorbell is likely bigger than whatever doorbell you’re replacing, but after some time it doesn’t look out of place. Even though it’s large, I think the new Nest Doorbell is one of the best-looking options you can buy, with its modern, minimal aesthetic that doesn’t have any cheap-looking glossy plastic.

The Nest Doorbell is one of the largest video doorbells you can buy, taller than Ring’s Video Doorbell 4 (though slightly narrower).
The Nest Doorbell is one of the largest video doorbells you can buy, taller than Ring’s Video Doorbell 4 (though slightly narrower).

Despite being three years newer, the battery-operated Nest Doorbell camera is actually a step down from the wired version’s sensor. Video resolution is limited to 960 x 1280 pixels at 30 frames per second, compared to the 1600 x 1200 pixel resolution the older model captured. It also has a narrower field of view (145 degrees vs. 160 degrees), but since the aspect ratio has been turned to a portrait orientation (taller than it is wide), it provides a better head-to-toe view of someone at your door.

In my home, that means I can see people head to toe when they are standing in front of the doorbell. But the Nest Video Doorbell’s frame isn’t wide enough to see my entire porch, and packages are occasionally dropped out of its view, even when using the 20-degree wedge that comes in the box.

Otherwise, the image from the camera generally looks good, with HDR able to balance the exposure well and minimal distortion from the wide-angle lens. If you compare it side by side with the Nest Hello, you’ll likely see differences in sharpness and image quality in the older version. But there was never an instance in the nearly two months I’ve been testing the new version where I felt the video or image quality wasn’t satisfactory.

The Nest Doorbell’s 3:4 aspect ratio isn’t quite wide enough to capture my whole porch, but it does show head-to-toe views.
The Nest Doorbell’s 3:4 aspect ratio isn’t quite wide enough to capture my whole porch, but it does show head-to-toe views.

The Doorbell Battery has a standard black-and-white infrared night mode that will turn on automatically when it gets dark enough outside and fortunately doesn’t use a piercingly bright LED to illuminate visitors like the Logitech Circle View doorbell. Though it isn’t wide enough to see my whole porch, I preferred the Nest Doorbell’s taller aspect ratio to the Ring Video Doorbell 4’s higher-resolution (1920 x 1080) but cramped widescreen view that doesn’t easily show feet or packages.

One of the big pitches with the new model is its ability to track subjects such as people, vehicles, and animals and process that data locally, without relying on the cloud as much as the Nest Hello. It can alert you when someone is at your door, even if they haven’t rung the bell; it can tell you when a package was left (and, crucially, when it’s no longer there); and it can provide alerts for moving vehicles or animals should you choose to turn those on. If you subscribe to the Nest Aware service, you can tag faces and then the doorbell will announce who is at the door on a Nest smart speaker or smart display.

The whole point of these features is to provide notifications for things you actually care about and not for any general motion that happens in the camera’s frame, like a waving branch or zealous spider.

Intelligence remains one of the things that separates Google’s doorbells from the rest of the field, and compared to others that attempt these features, the Nest Doorbell works better. It’s able to identify people easier, it can reliably identify a package, and you can customize what types of notifications you get pinged about.

But there is room for improvement. Ring’s cameras and doorbells have motion alert scheduling, which is very helpful when you have a busy front door during the day (like kids going in and out all of the time) but want to be alerted to activity at night. Google doesn’t offer this — it’s either notifications on or notifications off, with no scheduling or do not disturb options. I had to turn off people and moving vehicle pings because my phone was blowing up with notifications all day long whenever my family went in and out of the house.

Branding on the Nest Doorbell is thankfully very minimal.
Branding on the Nest Doorbell is thankfully very minimal.
Charging the battery takes about 4.5 hours and requires removing the doorbell from its mount. It can also be connected to traditional doorbell wiring if available.
Charging the battery takes about 4.5 hours and requires removing the doorbell from its mount. It can also be connected to traditional doorbell wiring if available.

The one option Google does offer is disabling alerts if the Home app thinks you are “home,” and then turning them on when you’re away. This is a good idea in theory, but in practice the system frequently confuses when I’m home and when I’m not, which makes me wary of relying on it.

Another pitch with the new Nest Doorbell is its internal storage, which allows for it to capture events and save them when the internet goes down. It will then upload the footage once internet connectivity has been restored. This is a nice fail-safe if your home internet goes down regularly.

In my experience, however, you don’t need your home network to go down for the Nest Doorbell to lose its internet connection. I tested two separate units and saw them drop from my network rather frequently (the Google Home app gives a push notification every time a camera is offline), even though they are only 20 feet or so from my Wi-Fi router. The doorbell does recover quickly when it has dropped from the network (sometimes it’s back online by the time I act on the push notification on my phone), but I’ve never had this issue with other video doorbells I’ve tested in recent years. Google says it’s inconsistent with its experience, but since I observed the same behavior across two units, it’s definitely a thing to be aware of.

The Nest Doorbell’s onboard intelligence can detect and alert you to familiar faces, packages, animals, and moving vehicles without using cloud processing.
The Nest Doorbell’s onboard intelligence can detect and alert you to familiar faces, packages, animals, and moving vehicles without using cloud processing.

Another thing that Google pitches with the new Nest Doorbell is three hours of video events without having to pay for a subscription to Nest Aware. But that three hours is not cumulative — it’s a rolling time block — so if you are sleeping and it records an event, chances are you won’t be able to see it when you wake up. It’s not something you can really rely on for any kind of security purposes, as a result, but if you wanted to have a simple “visual voicemail” for missed doorbell rings within the past few hours, it does do that.

The Nest Aware service offers two tiers of options: a $6 per month ($60 / year) plan that offers 30 days of video history and face identification notifications, or a $12 per month ($120 / year) plan that extends the video history out to 60 days. Neither plan enables 24/7 video recording on the Nest Doorbell battery; the camera simply doesn’t support that feature.

Lastly, one of the best features of the old Nest Hello was its response time — it was the fastest doorbell to send a notification to smart displays or your phone when the bell was rung. The Nest Doorbell battery is, unsurprisingly, not as quick, generally taking about four to six seconds to send a notification of a visitor at your door. That’s not an egregious delay, however, and I didn’t miss anyone at my door because of it. Pulling up the live video feed on my phone is also quick enough to not be completely useless, either.

One thing that differentiates Ring’s battery doorbells and the Nest Doorbell is support for a wireless chime. If you’re using the Nest Doorbell on its battery, the only way you know someone has rung it is if you hear the chime it makes outside (unlikely), see the notification on your phone, or have a Nest smart speaker or smart display announcing the visitor inside your home. There’s no way to select which Nest speaker or display announces the visitor without turning on its do not disturb mode, either. Chances are if you’re considering the Nest Doorbell, you probably already have a Nest smart speaker or two in your home, but without them, it loses some of its convenience. (The Nest Doorbell does work with existing electronic chimes if you set it up in a wired installation.)

The Nest Doorbell’s camera is lower resolution than the Nest Hello from 2018, but image quality is generally good in most scenarios.
The Nest Doorbell’s camera is lower resolution than the Nest Hello from 2018, but image quality is generally good in most scenarios.

Google claims that with typical usage on its default settings, the Nest Doorbell’s battery should last about 2.5 months between charges. In my experience, with notifications for people, packages, vehicles, and animals in a single zone turned on; video quality set to maximum; event length set to the maximum three minutes; and a late summer / early fall northeastern United States climate, the battery lasts between six and eight weeks. That’s better than the typical four weeks I’ve gotten over long-term testing with Ring’s battery doorbells, but obviously less convenient than a wired doorbell that never needs to be charged.

Unlike Ring or Arlo’s battery doorbells, the Nest Doorbell doesn’t have a removable battery. Instead, charging it requires taking it down from its mount and plugging it into a charger for about four and a half hours. You can’t just have a fresh battery charged that you can swap in, like you might do with a Ring, and when you’re charging the battery, you obviously don’t have a doorbell for anyone to press or capture moments. It’s less than ideal.

The Nest Doorbell is primarily designed to be used with its internal battery, but if you have existing wiring available, you can wire it in. (Google says it will also release an AC adapter that’s compatible with both the battery and wired versions of the Nest Doorbell in the future.) But if you can use a wired doorbell, you should just get one that works wired because the Nest Doorbell doesn’t gain any features or better performance when it’s wired in. The wired version of the Nest Doorbell offers faster notifications to a smartphone or smart display, plus the ability to have 24/7 recording. Google has announced that it will be releasing a new version of the wired doorbell, likely with many of the onboard processing and storage features of the wireless one, some time in 2022.

Nest Cam battery

The $179.99 Nest Cam battery is Google’s first attempt at a battery-operated security camera. It can be mounted indoors or out and lasts an expected two and a half months between charges. In the box is a magnetic mounting plate that can hold the camera from above, behind, or below, though Google also sells a $30 stand for placing the camera on a shelf or table.

The Nest Cam is larger than Google’s powered camera options, as it has to accommodate the internal battery. It has a simple design, with a matte finish, white plastic body and black front where the camera, microphone, and motion sensors are. It looks nice, at least as far as home security cameras go.

Google says that it has seen a lot of growth in demand for cameras that can be used outdoors instead of just inside, so to test the Nest Cam battery, I installed it under an eave looking onto a side deck of my home. This area doesn’t get as much motion activity as the front of my house, so even after over six weeks of use, it still had 49 percent battery (or an estimated six weeks) left. Installation is very simple — Google compares it to hanging a picture on the wall — and only requires a couple of screws. The magnetic mount is easier to install than other camera mounts and it makes it very easy to adjust the camera’s angle of view or take it down to charge the battery.

The new Nest Cam is attractive, at least as far as security cameras go.
The new Nest Cam is attractive, at least as far as security cameras go.
The Nest Cam’s magnetic mount is easy to install and makes it easy to remove the camera for charging.
The Nest Cam’s magnetic mount is easy to install and makes it easy to remove the camera for charging.

Since the battery is not removable, charging the camera requires taking it down and plugging it in for 4.5 hours. This is less convenient than cameras that have easily swapped batteries, but the Nest Cam lasts about three times longer between charges than the Ring cameras (with swappable batteries) I’ve tested in the same location. If you do want to use it wired and not have to worry about charging batteries, Google sells a weatherproof power adapter for $35 extra. This also enables 24/7 recording with the top-tier Nest Aware plan, which isn’t possible when the camera is running on battery power.

The Nest Cam has a 16:9 1080p sensor, which is a step down from the older Nest IQ cameras’ 4K sensors. It has night vision and HDR and, generally, the image quality looks good. But since it doesn’t have the resolution of the older camera, you can’t zoom in on details such as a name badge or license plate as easily. It also can’t automatically zoom and pan when it sees a subject like the old IQ cameras could. Google says it limited the resolution to preserve bandwidth, but the tradeoff is you won’t see as much detail.

The new Nest Cam doesn’t not have as high resolution of a sensor as older models.

Like the Nest Doorbell battery, the Nest Cam can detect people, animals, or moving vehicles (but no package detection) and it does all of this locally. It also has the same three hours of event history for free, but again, you really need to pay for a Nest Aware plan if you hope to use the Nest Cam as any sort of security device.

Google Home app

The Google Home app is missing a lot of important security camera features, but it does let you see all of your cameras at once.
The Google Home app is missing a lot of important security camera features, but it does let you see all of your cameras at once.

Both the Nest Doorbell battery and the Nest Cam battery are set up and managed in the Google Home app. Neither of them works within the old Nest app, and if you have older Nest devices, you’ll need to use both apps to manage your home. Google says that it plans to migrate everything over to the new Home app eventually, but it hasn’t committed to a timeframe.

The Home app collates all of your smart home devices compatible with the Google Assistant in one place, which is nice. But it still lacks features that are useful for security cameras, like the ability to quickly jump from event to event without scrolling through an endless timeline. Google says it plans to add this feature soon, as well as a web app that will let you view camera feeds and perform other smart home actions from a computer.

Relevant to the cameras, the Home app offers a way to see feeds from every camera you’ve installed at the same time, which is very handy. But it’s very easy to “turn off” the camera when all you want to do is exit the live feed, which then disables all of the camera’s functionality until you turn it back on. As a result, I inadvertently turned off the Nest Cam battery more than once and didn’t get any alerts or recordings until I realized my mistake and turned it back on.

The Home app is largely the same between iPhone and Android, but if you are using an Android phone, you’ll get a thumbnail preview of the video in the notification, which isn’t available on the iOS app. 

Google’s first attempts at battery-powered cameras and doorbells are important, even if it’s late to the game. There are a lot of people who don’t have the option for a wired doorbell installation or running power to a security camera is not feasible where they want to use it. But it’s clear that these are first attempts, and there are a lot of things that can be improved (hopefully with software updates, though there are certainly some hardware concerns). 

Google’s strategy with Nest products has noticeably shifted toward lower-cost, more accessible devices

The company’s strategy with its Nest smart home products has noticeably shifted over the past few years, as it has continuously revamped the lineup to be less expensive and more accessible. But at the same time, it has had to jettison features that had come to separate Nest devices from the rest of the pack. Some of those features may not have been very popular, but based on the reaction to the new cameras and doorbell (and Google’s recent response in the Nest community forums), it’s clear that it may have swung the pendulum a bit too far and is leaving some of its most loyal customers behind. Things like image quality, 24/7 recording, camera scheduling, sound alerts, and easy access to captured events are all important features in products designed around home security.

What this means for the Nest Doorbell battery and Nest Cam battery is simple: if you already have a Nest Hello or an older Nest camera, you probably don’t want to buy these new models. The few features they offer over the older versions don’t quite add up to what you’d be giving up by upgrading.

For those who haven’t bought into the Nest ecosystem and are looking at these new models, they do offer some compelling features over the competition. The Nest Doorbell battery looks nicer, has a better field of view, and lasts longer between charges than Ring’s competing models. The Nest Cam battery similarly lasts longer between charges than a battery-operated Ring camera, though it is significantly more expensive. If you’re planning to build a smart home around the Google Assistant, the Nest cameras and doorbell are your best options, but if you have some flexibility, I’d encourage you to shop around first.

Photography by Dan Seifert / The Verge