Digital doorbells are growing in popularity, with the brand Ring (owned by Amazon) being the ‘Walkman’ of the market but others, including security brand Swann, turning their attention now too.
The big internet brands have seemingly engineered a heavy reliance on their own cloud services for doorbells and security cameras, and even rely on Alexa-type devices for the chimes. By including an on-board MicroSD card, the SwannBuddy gives owners the chance to keep control of recordings made by their doorbell, even if they choose not to pay a subscription. At the same time the box includes a simple wireless chime, like many cheap push-button doorbell kits, making installation a straightforward process and again not dependent on being committed to a smart home assistant.
You will need to attach (stick or, more likely, screw) a plate to the wall which holds the doorbell. In addition there is a small anti-tamper screw so thieves can’t simply lift the camera from the wall – a sensible feature though Arlo achieve something similar with a recess similar to a SIM card tray.
Video resolution: 1080p 1:1
Field of view: 180˚ (1:1)
Sensors: Motion (heat), PIR
Compatible Smart Home systems: Hey Google, Alexa, IFTTT
Recording: MicroSD, Cloud
Weatherproof: IP56 (Splashed or heavy jets of water – effectively Rainproof)
Battery: 6,500mAh (Chime: 2 x AA)
Dimensions: 55 x 32 x 140 mm / 2.1 x 1.25 x 5.5 inches
Chime dimensions: 67 x 28 x 67 mm / 2.6 x 1 x 2.6 inches
Weight: 213g (chime 47g)
In the era of porch pirates or of dubious delivery services), the benefits of a doorbell which shares its heritage with a security camera are obvious. When the SwannBuddy detects motion it can alert you and record a clip, button push or not, and has built-in motion detectors which can detect motion, day and night, within a range of around 5m.
Wireless video doorbells are far from unique, but Swann have tackled some key concerns which other brands miss with their, including ensuring a very wide field of view and a square (1:1) view for the video – this makes seeing right down to the step (and a potential parcel) possible.
The firm have also sidestepped the sometimes-costly muddle that is the install, where many are often forced to resort to professional help. That the doorbell battery-powered (but able to use traditional wiring too), is the easy end of matters – competitors often require adding a device inside the original chime box (if there is one) or changing the transformer, but the standalone chime prevents such wire-tweaking.
In some regards, the doorbell’s feature set as much as you’d expect; two-way talk (which can also work when you’re away from home) and the option of longer-term cloud storage. As for integrations, there is an ordinary Alexa connection, Swann also offer IFTTT for the more creative smart home enthusiast.
In terms of functionality, the SwanBuddy lives up to its promises. In practical terms, though, there is a very noticeable lag in operation, both when it comes to the two-way-talk (something we see a lot) and, more weirdly, the chime. While it’s easy to understand that an HD video feed might need a few moments to initiate, it’s harder to forgive the chime which is entirely within Swann’s control – there is no such delay on a typical $20 wireless doorbell kit. On the plus side, it offers six different tones and voice notifications during the setup process.
On which subject, setup in general was a painless process thanks to combined Quick Start Guide and device voice prompts. Next we found ourselves in the SwannSecurity app and here is where things are on less firm ground; the SwannBuddy appears just like another camera if you’re already using a Swann Xtreem and we’ve got some concerns about the stability and clarity of this app. If a potentially welcome visitor is pressing your doorbell, this kind of issue is even more significant.
Sample footage shot with the SwannBuddy
The camera itself produces a fine image, coping adequately with challenging light, especially given the price bracket. Like Swann’s security cameras it records a jerky frame rate, but the detail is rich and both color and night imagery are crisp and contrasty. Weirdly a lot of the clips we recorded seemed to miss a lot of frames between the ten and 14 second marks.
If you operate the camera without the subscription, even with a narrowly defined mask and the sensitivity set to low the alerts do seem to come very frequently. Here the value of the $2.99/£2.99 a month subscription is apparent, making the distinction between a person and other items, though we found that ours still didn’t seem to detect parcels placed right on the doorstep despite the software implying that was a possibility.
The SwannBuddy is versatile, but by trying to do too much, doesn’t quite master its principle task: being a smart doorbell. The momentary pause between push and chime feels a bit weird, but isn’t serious. The constant need for refreshing pages of the app (like using an older website) makes tweaking settings a painful chore, but these aren’t frequent tasks. The delay between button push and 2-way-talk initiation, never less than ten seconds, is a problem though – delivery drivers never wait as long as it takes for your phone to alert you and for you to successfully initiate a two-way chat. This isn’t a unique issue with the SwannBuddy, but the lag is a little worse than most and can’t be ignored.
That said, it’s great that, even without a subscription, you’ll be able to find out who visited (what many video doorbells end up being used for) and that recordings will be made even without a power supply or wi-fi. It’s a shame that the camera, even when connected to a 16V AC power supply, doesn’t offer 24/7 recording like the Nest Hello (but that costs $10/£10 a month, which mounts up).
Ultimately that is where the SwannBuddy is still a rational choice; it’s a security camera in the shape of a doorbell, it’s relatively cheap to buy and install and can sit well with Swann’s range of home security cameras. The software could be much slicker, but the features impress.
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