This morning, my doorbell rang, and I answered it from my thermostat. An image of the FedEx driver appeared on the four-inch touchscreen, and I tapped the microphone icon and told him I’d be right there. Yeah, it was really cool.
The doorbell is the new Ecobee Smart Doorbell Camera ($159.99) launching today on Ecobee.com, Amazon, Best Buy, and Lowes, and the thermostat is the excellent Ecobee Smart Thermostat Premium ($249.99). Streaming video doorbell feeds to smart displays is nothing new, but this was a video feed to a thermostat. It’s smart home symbiosis of the best kind. My only complaint is that it took us this long to get here.
The smart thermostat was the darling of the home automation renaissance circa 2010 when Nest first burst onto the scene with its sleek, twirly Nest Learning Thermostat. While Nest got all the press, Ecobee actually came first, and where Nest under Google has lagged behind, Ecobee has been quietly innovating its flagship thermostat, including turning it into a hub for its smart home ambitions.
Today, with the doorbell integration, the Ecobee Smart Thermostat Premium is essentially a smart hub / display. In addition to controlling your HVAC, it’s a smart speaker with both Alexa and Siri built-in and acts as an indoor air quality monitor, a smoke and CO alarm listener, a temperature and humidity sensor, plus it’s a radar-powered motion sensor. The company has also just added the capability to be a keypad and siren for Ecobee’s smart security system.
I’ve spent the last two weeks testing Ecobee’s new Smart Doorbell Camera alongside the smart thermostat and smart security system. The camera does the basics well — good video quality, a superb field of view, fast alerts for people and packages, and excellent radar-powered motion detection. It works with Apple Home and Amazon Alexa (Google Home support is slated for 2024).
In addition to the unique ability to use a thermostat as a video intercom and to function as a smart security hub, the Smart Doorbell Camera can also zoom and track a visitor’s face before they get to the door and send tailored alerts that notify you only of people and packages.
The big downside is there is no free or locally stored recorded video; it’s all cloud-based. You’ll pay $5 a month ($50 a year) for 30 days of motion-activated video clips. There’s also no 24/7 recording or facial recognition, which are features found on similar doorbells in this price point, including Google Nest’s wired doorbell.
Additionally, I found a few flaws in its new “sensor fusion” technology, which uses radar motion detection, computer vision, and machine learning to deliver more precise alerts. Chief among them is that if a package is on your doorstep and someone approaches it, the doorbell doesn’t send you an alert about that person; its software prioritizes the package. You can see the problem here.
Overall, though, the innovation here is impressive. When paired with Ecobee’s door and window SmartSensors ($79.99 for two), the doorbell can be the hub for a simple security system with video for under $240. If you bump up to the $10 a month ($90 a year) Smart Security Complete plan, you also get 24/7 professional monitoring with video verification and recording for unlimited cameras. That’s cheaper than all the competition. Ring’s pro-monitoring for its security system with unlimited camera recording is $20 monthly, and Arlo’s is $25.
Combine this with an Ecobee thermostat and the company’s excellent indoor camera (that’s also a smart speaker and siren for the alarm), and you have a compelling system. A $399 package gets you the doorbell, Premium thermostat, and a 2-pack of security sensors.
I really like that every device has two or more functions, meaning fewer gadgets to clutter up your home. The hardware uses quality materials and good industrial design, and the software is easy to use with innovative features — such as auto disarming when any household member arrives home.
However, the security system lacks key features found on Arlo, Ring, and others, including no cellular or battery backup (the thermostat and the indoor camera are also both wired with no battery), and there’s no standalone outdoor camera and no option for a keyfob. But the overall simplicity is exactly the type of innovation the smart home needs.
Additionally, in an age where tech companies appear to think we are swapping out our doorbells and thermostats as often as our phones, Ecobee’s longevity approach is a selling point. Many of these improvements are also coming to its entire range of thermostats, starting from the Ecobee 3. The live view feature will work on the Premium, Enhanced, and Smart Thermostat with Voice, the keypad feature on Ecobee 3 and newer, and all of its thermostats can act as a hub for the security system.
Specs and features
The Ecobee Smart Doorbell Camera is a wired video doorbell with good quality 1080p HD video, a 5MP sensor, and color and IR night vision. It uses a combination of radar motion detection and computer vision to send alerts when people or packages appear at your door. It has an excellent 175-degree vertical field of view that showed me both those packages on my porch — even right up against the door — as well as people’s faces. The only other doorbell I’ve tested that showed as much top to bottom is the Wemo Video Doorbell (with a 178-degree vertical), but that has an overwrought fish-eye effect, whereas the Ecobee manages to look largely normal.
Design-wise, the Ecobee doorbell is nothing new. Black with a white casing and a prominent button with an LED ring encircling it, it does have a high-end look and feel, with a machined glass front and an aluminum alloy back casing. I do wish they had dispensed with the branding. For a wired buzzer that doesn’t need room for the big battery you find in all battery-powered doorbells, it’s quite large. It also doesn’t have a back-up battery (common in wired doorbells). Ecobee says this helps it endure more extreme temperatures. It’s IP65 rated and operates in temps of -13 to 113 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s a mild fall in South Carolina right now, so I wasn’t able to put this weatherproofing to the test.
The doorbell works with existing mechanical and digital chimes and, through Amazon Alexa and Apple Home integrations, can also use Echo speakers or HomePods to sound the alert when somebody rings the doorbell.
Viewing a livestream and using two-way talk through my iPhone and through the thermostat was smooth and audio was clear. I like the option of activating the doorbell’s siren from the app, and you can do all this without a subscription. Plus, you get free smart alerts for people and the option to set one activity zone.
You’ll need to pay if you want alerts for package detection, rich notifications, and unlimited motion-activated recordings — each running a very long two minutes. There’s no option for local storage or support for HomeKit Secure Video. Ecobee’s indoor camera did get HKSV support after its launch, and Ecobee tells me it’s something they’re exploring, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Install and testing
As a wired doorbell, you don’t have to worry about charging the Ecobee, and thanks to always-on power and radar motion detection, it picked up on all the action early, catching the UPS guy as he walked up my long driveway. A lot of doorbells I test only get people just as they approach the door, because they rely on passive infrared (PIR) sensors, which have a shorter range, and/or battery power. If someone is fast enough, I only see the back of their head as they drop and run. The downside with the Ecobee is that if the power goes out, the doorbell is dead in the water, as there’s no backup battery.
I installed the Ecobee at my front door using my existing doorbell wiring (here’s a compatibility checker). Installation was straightforward, and it comes with the option of a wedge mount to help angle the camera 15 degrees toward your door. As with most wired doorbells, I also had to install a chime converter in my mechanical chime box. Ecobee says this step is essential for ensuring the doorbell gets the correct power.
The app walked me through everything clearly and prompted me to use the Ecobee thermostat and Ecobee SmartCamera as indoor chimes for the doorbell. I could also opt to use or disable my existing chime. As I was testing the camera with the security system, I got the option to sign up for RapidSOS professional monitoring ($10 a month) and to opt in to sharing video clips from the doorbell and the indoor camera with emergency services. This video verification feature available with some security systems — including SimpliSafe and Arlo — can help expedite a response.
The doorbell shows up in the Ecobee app, which — with the security system and thermostats in — is now a little cluttered. Tapping on the doorbell tile takes you to a live view where you can activate two-way talk, record a clip, take a snapshot, and sound a siren. To see recorded video, you tap on View History and see large thumbnails of any motion-activated clips. There’s no way to filter these by activity or time, so you have to scroll through to find what you’re looking for.
I also set the doorbell up with Apple Home by scanning the HomeKit code on the doorbell mounting plate. While there’s no way to see recorded video in Apple Home, you can view a livestream on your Apple TV and in the Home app and, when the doorbell is pressed, receive an interactive notification that lets you see and talk to your visitor. A neat feature of the integration is that if you have a smart door lock — such as the Yale Assure 2 Lock I currently have installed — you can control the lock directly from the notification.
Ecobee also works with Amazon Alexa to view livestreams and talk to and hear visitors through Echo Show smart displays and the Alexa app. Unfortunately, the security side of Ecobee’s system doesn’t work in Apple Home, but it does in Alexa. The sensors — both the security sensors and the temp / occupancy sensors — work on both platforms to trigger routines and automations. The security system doesn’t work with Apple Home but is compatible with Alexa; you can arm and disarm with voice (using a voice pin).
Where most doorbells use PIR motion detection, the Ecobee uses a combination of radar motion detection, computer vision, and on-device machine learning to detect activity and send appropriate alerts. It’s not the first to do this; Ring has radar-powered detection on its Ring Pro 2 and Ring Battery Plus.
In testing, Ecobee’s sensing was much more accurate than PIR alone at detecting relevant motion — I didn’t get a single alert for a tree branch blowing in the wind or a car driving by. The combination of radar and computer vision seems to be key here. Ecobee calls it sensor fusion. “Computer vision can detect a person far away, but it can’t necessarily determine how far away they are,” explains Greg Fyke, chief product officer of Ecobee. Combining radar with computer vision provides more context, including how far away the motion is.
Alone, radar and computer vision will still detect any motion, but the Ecobee takes both inputs and uses local processing to filter and determine only when a person or a package has been detected. It was very accurate in testing. I never once received a false notification; there was always a person or package when the doorbell said there was.
However, as noted earlier, the system prioritizes packages, meaning it didn’t send me an alert when a person approached my door if a package was already there. This is a major issue if you are concerned about porch pirates, one of the main reasons people buy video doorbells. You can get around this by turning off package alerts, then you get the person notification (package alerts are also a paid feature), but this is something they need to fix quickly.
The other oddity is that when I walked out of the front door without fully leaving my house, say to pick up a package on the porch and go back in, it didn’t detect me or record me. This could cause a lot of confusion if, say, one household member was monitoring a package on the doorstep remotely and didn’t realize someone in the house had already retrieved it — because the doorbell didn’t capture that event.
In this vein, the doorbell doesn’t send alerts for just motion (and you can’t turn them on yet; Ecobee says this feature will be enabled shortly after launch). It can record all motion events and let you view them in the video history. In my testing, this was hit or miss, and I didn’t get motion recording from events that trigger other doorbell cameras, such as a car driving past, even with the adjustable motion range extended to the maximum 30 feet.
This alert tailoring is all an effort to make the doorbell less annoying, and I did receive far fewer alerts from it than from the Ring Battery Plus I also had installed at my door. However, I like getting alerts for motion. My cat, Smokey, who has become accustomed to sitting at the front door and having it magically open (because I get a motion alert on my phone and come and let him in), started to get quite annoyed with the new setup. He also wasn’t large enough to trigger the motion detection on the camera, as it never even recorded him sitting there.
While the technology is impressive, Ecobee has a lot of tweaking to do here to fine-tune the experience.
The doorbell’s 1080p HD video quality is fine, but I would have liked to see a bump up in image quality. Almost every price-comparable option today uses higher pixels. The 5MP sensor helps with color rendering, and HDR imaging meant I could see faces clearly, even when backlit. But as soon as I zoomed in, things started to pixelate. The standard IR night vision is also good.
An excellent field of view somewhat makes up for this, however. With 187 degrees on the diagonal and 175 on the vertical, the 3:4 portrait aspect ratio shows everything clearly from top to bottom and plenty from side to side. There’s no weird fish-eye distortion as I’ve seen on a lot of doorbells that promise head-to-toe view, and it even showed packages that were pushed right up against the door, something the Ring Battery Plus completely missed.
A neat zoom and track feature on the camera zooms in on a person as they approach and tracks them to give you a better view of their face sooner. However, because of the 1080p video, the face isn’t that clear from a distance, and once they get up close, the camera often gets confused and focuses on their chest, defeating the entire purpose. This feature is in beta, so it will hopefully get better.
The lack of local storage, 24/7 recording, or HomeKit Secure Video is disappointing. However, Ecobee’s arguments for these decisions — that they would increase the price significantly — make sense; $160 is a good price for a doorbell this advanced. But the argument is that their advanced motion detection means you don’t need 24/7 recording because it will always alert you when you need it doesn’t hold as much water, considering it didn’t catch me retrieving packages from inside my house.
The other annoyance is Ecobee’s app. It’s just not designed as a security camera / security system app; it’s for controlling a smart thermostat. As such, it’s a bit clunky and slow to navigate, with a lot of scrolling to see recorded footage. It took upwards of about 10 seconds to show a live feed as well, although it was on 2.4 GHz in my house, and that likely would be faster if you could get it onto 5GHz, which it does support.
The app does some things well. The live view screen is large and well-laid out, and there are plenty of settings to tinker with. I like the option to turn off the camera and microphone completely, although I was disappointed you can’t set it to turn off automatically using Ecobee’s Autopilot system. This is a feature the security system and indoor camera use to arm and disarm when you or anyone in your household with the Ecobee app installed on their phone leaves or arrives both through geofencing and using its connection to your Wi-Fi network as signals.
Should you buy the Ecobee Smart Doorbell Camera?
The Ecobee Smart Doorbell Camera is a well-designed, innovative doorbell with unique features that make it stand out from the crowded market. Its radar / computer vision motion detection is accurate, and its field of view is all-encompassing without distortion. But when it comes to software, it needs some work. The Nest Doorbell (wired), which offers some free clips, has more and smarter alerts, the option for 24/7 recording, and better video quality, is still my top pick for a video doorbell.
However, if you own an Ecobee Smart Thermostat in a useful location in your home, Ecobee’s doorbell camera is a good option. Glancing at it on the way to the door and having a heads-up as to what you’re about to see is very cool. This integration is also coming to the less expensive Ecobee with Voice Control and Ecobee Standard thermostats later this year.
If you don’t have an Ecobee Thermostat, it’s still a good doorbell. Specifically, its tailored notifications, which translate into fewer alerts, will appeal to people who don’t feel the need to know about every squirrel that passes their front door. But as noted, it’s not for people who have porch pirate problems.
For those fully invested in a smart home system that don’t have any other Ecobee products, this probably isn’t for you. At $160, it’s competitively priced, but it’s not a bargain. It’s less expensive than the Ring Pro 2, but the Ring has better video quality and better integration with Amazon Alexa. It’s more expensive than the similarly specced Arlo Essential Wired doorbell ($129.99), which also works with Apple Home but not HomeKit Secure Video, but that has more smart alert options (including for animals and vehicles). As mentioned, if you are a Google Home household, the Nest Doorbell (wired) is excellent, and at launch, the Ecobee doesn’t work with Google Home.
If you’re looking for a wired doorbell camera that works with Apple Home, it’s one of the least expensive options. It looks nicer and has a better build quality than the Aqara video doorbell, which has a similar price and HomeKit Secure Video support. The Ecobee doesn’t support HKSV, so you’ll be paying a monthly fee for recorded video. Other higher-end doorbells that support HKSV are $200 or more, but that monthly fee does add up.
As a simple, inexpensive home security system, Ecobee’s doorbell is compelling when paired with the Smart Sensors. If you’ve just moved into a small apartment and want some peace of mind, this is an easy-to-install system that will only cost you $10 a month for recorded video, 24/7 monitoring, and video verification. However, the lack of a backup battery or cellular connectivity does let it down (but is also what makes it so affordable),
Additionally, as with all its products, Ecobee has over-engineered this device, so like its thermostat, it may get better with age. “The doorbell, as well as our thermostats and our whole class of products, are really engineered to be designed for future needs,” says Fyke. While you should never buy a product based on the promise of future upgrades, Ecobee’s history is a good indicator here. The Ecobee 3 you might have bought seven years ago now does considerably more today.
Photos by Jennifer Pattison Tuohy / The Verge