Sunday, April 2, 2017

Review: August Doorbell Camera

El Doorbell Del Diablo
Last year a friend bought two "smart" doorbells for his home, and decided to keep the one he installed first.  So for a discount, I was able to pick up an August Doorbell Camera.  What followed was a journey lasting several months, ultimately resulting in me buying a different product.

I loved the idea of smart doorbell.  Living in a city which due to budget issues and a pension crisis has only 2/3rds of the police officers it needs, and with my wife such a fan of online stores for everything, we're careful about quickly pulling in mail and packages.  Research has shown that burglars will almost always ring the doorbell before attempting a robbery, so if you can appear to be home - they'll move on.  That, and our very large dog, seemed like a good strategy.

"But I love burglars.  They taste like chicken." - Tigger

I installed the August Doorbell Camera in August 2016, and immediately began noticing issues with it.  Switches on the smartphone app were not properly synchronized between Android and iOS - in fact in some cases turning a switch ON in Android resulted in the switch being OFF in iOS and vice-versa.  I found that when changing a setting in the app the change wouldn't always register.  The device wanted a -60 dBm Wi-Fi signal - which an RF-savvy person will tell you is really hard to get unless you're practically right on top of the access point.

More than anything else my frustration was with the inconsistency of operation.  August Tech Support (which from what I can tell either isn't located in the US or they keep really odd office hours) would often remotely reboot the device and it would work for a day or so, then begin failing.  What's worse than something that doesn't work?  Something that works intermittently.  I'd get a motion or doorbell ringing alert - and the video file would show "unavailable".  Or I wouldn't get the alert.  Or I'd get the alert but be unable to remotely answer the door.  I never knew what to expect.

I gave up on the August Doorbell Cam on March 31st 2017, over seven months after installation.  During that time I exchanged countless emails with them - easily over 100 total.  To their credit, they tried to help - I received two replacement doorbells, including one after the doorbell just completely gave up and refused to reset or connect to anything.  I never felt I could rely on the device, and in the end I wanted that reliability.


Mike McRoberts said...

So what have you done in regards to any other product? I've seen some Arduino-based projects to replace doorbells, but am thinking about looking deeper. I've heard lots of good things about the Ring Video doorbell, but it is a little costly.

I'd like something like the Ring, but instead of relying on their service, have my own server at home.


David Witkowski said...

Right now I'm using the Skybell HD. It's much more stable than the August, although its motion detection feature is prone to false alerts - the August clearly uses a passive IR method. whereas the Skybell uses a combination of PIR and vision.

One approach to an RPi or Arduino solution would be to put a 24 VAC relay in-line with the doorbell chime, then detect that relay closure in the microcontroller. This would give you a doorbell alert, and you could do an RPi camera for motion. For the control/alerting on the RPi I would run Domoticz - I'm using that for a wireless door/window security system and it works well. Domoticz has support for Pushover, and comes as a pre-built Rpi image.