Nest's Hello doorbell wins with a slim design, but puts the smartest features behind a subscription

Jacob Krol, CNN Underscored
Thu March 12, 2020

When it comes to smart doorbells, there are really just two companies that dominate the market: Amazon's Ring and Google's Nest.

Here, we'll focus on the Google-built Nest Hello, which is still one of the best smart doorbells out there, even though it's been on the market since March 2018. While Nest hasn't released a successor to the current Hello, it delivers routine software updates. And since Google is behind it, there's a certain smartness to it, including facial recognition.

It's not the easiest installation

The Ring Video Doorbell 2, Peephole Cam and forthcoming Doorbell 3 really can be installed in just a matter of minutes.

The Nest Hello is another story. Installation entails some electrical wiring and light drilling. Depending on the current layout of your house or apartment and the state of the walls and wiring, installation time can vary quite a bit. Nest does give you the required drill bits, screws and other hardware in the box, though, which is a nice touch. And rather than giving you a large printed manual, it directs you over to the Nest app for iOS and Android for instructions and helpful videos. Also included is a wedge to help you angle the Nest Hello on the door frame, meaning you can have the camera angled to the left or right if your front walk isn't a straight approach.

And last but not least, you'll get a Nest Protect sticker that can go on a window. It's like a 2020 take on the classic security lawn signs designed to scare off would-be burglars or assailants.

Word to the wise: If you're not comfortable with electrical work, we'd highly recommend going the professional route (we opted to hire an electrician, ourselves). Yes, it's an added cost, but you'll know the job is being done right. Nest even lists authorized and trained installers who may be in your area.

It's a sleek and slender design

The Nest Hello doesn't waste a lot of space. It's a longish rectangle with half circles on the top and bottom. As far as doorbells go, it's downright thin, at just 1 inch thick. This also explains the absence of a wire-free version ---- there's no room for a battery pack.

The back side hooks into the electrical circuit through wires and plates, giving it a somewhat unfinished look. The front is where the Nest Hello shines, though. It's all black, with a big round button near the bottom half and a camera with sensors on the top half. It should be a pretty familiar setup for anyone that has used a doorbell, be it smart or traditional.

At the top, you'll find the camera along with a number of sensors. The sensors enable several abilities, like motion detection and facial recognition. The visuals are powered by a 1080p HD lens that can see far and wide at a 160-degree field of view. It also supports HDR, which is crucial for a doorbell because it can better separate out objects that are in direct light. This way if you have the sun shining directly at your door, the person ringing the bell won't appear as a black silhouette, but rather in full color. That camera is paired with several night vision sensors and an ambient light sensor.

The ring button feels quite solid to press, and an LED ring appears around the button when you do so. It will also play a chime back to you via the ringer. You can customize this chime in the Nest app. Inside your house, the doorbell will ring and connected devices will announce that someone is at the door.

The Nest Hello has an IPX4 rating that means it can handle everything from snow to downpours, from any direction. It can also operate in temperatures as low 5 degrees Fahrenheit and up to 104 degrees. You should be good all seasons as long as it has power and Wi-Fi to connect to.

A clear view with added smarts

Arguably the most important part of any smart doorbell is the quality of the stream, videos or photos that you can view. It's meant to let you see who's at your door, packages that were delivered, and even someone who shouldn't be there. The Nest Hello performs well in this area by offering a clear view of your front yard. It's sharp, at times vibrant and quite realistic. As you can see from the screenshot above, you can clearly make out different parts of a tree in bloom with green leaves. You can make out people walking up the front walk or cars passing by at night. It's also on par with our experience with Ring's Video Doorbell 2, which is just $30 cheaper than Nest's option.

The Nest Hello captures footage in an HD view that's on par with the standard resolution for cable TV and most smartphones. Interestingly enough, though, it's set to a 4:3 field of view, which shows the sky more than the ground. Traditionally, TVs and phones opt for 16:9. The Hello cuts off the bottom by a foot or so, but lets you see far into the sky. This can be especially frustrating when you're trying to confirm if a package has been delivered. There's not really a solution for this either, as the lens on the Nest Hello is fixed. You can digitally pan and zoom at up to 8x, but you're not moving the camera, only zooming in on what you can already see. It's frustrating.

What kind of makes up for this is the facial recognition feature, although it does take some time (like several days) for the Hello to eventually remember faces. Once it works, it will notify you by name when someone it recognizes is at the door and can even have Google Assistant speakers in your home announce it. You can also use the Google Home app for iOS or Android to control the experience, in addition to the dedicated app for Nest.

You will need the Nest Aware service, which isn't the cheapest. The cost depends on how long you want the video clips saved (the "history"). It's $5 a month for a five-day history, $10 a month for a 10-day history or $30 a month for a 30-day history. The Nest Aware service also turns on features like facial recognition, activity zones and closeups. The latter two features come standard on Ring as well, meaning the cameras can pull in on visitors and you can very easily declare zones to be monitored.

Bottom Line

The Nest Hello certainly brings a lot to the table for $229, but from a value perspective, it doesn't hit a home run. A core feature for any smart doorbell — motion zones — requires you to get the additional Nest Aware plan. Another big highlight feature for the Hello, facial recognition, is only available with the plan as well.

Unless you're fully in the Google ecosystem and want a hardwired-only solution, we suggest you take a look at some of the competitors. Yes, Nest has a sleek design and creates a solid experience, but you should really be getting more for the base price.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailer's listed prices at the time of publication.