My Victorian terrace, built in 1897 by Thomas Courtenay Warner, is an increasingly absurd mish-mash of crumbling architecture and modern technology.
The single-pane sash windows keep out neither sound nor heat, but if I want to change the temperature on the thermostat from 3,000 miles away, that’s not a problem. Wind howls up through the floorboards but if I mutter, bleary-eyed, for Google to “turn on the coffee” when I wake up, the machine will be hot by the time I reach the kitchen. It may be old, but at least it’s smart.
The most incongruous device I own, however, the most ridiculously futuristic addition to this creaking pile of bricks and mortar, is the Nest Hello doorbell. At 11.7cm tall and 4.3cm wide, it’s hardly intrusive – it has the sleek, minimalist design of an iPod – but approach my door and a little blue circle will blink into view, an impassive digital eye that recalls HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
And like HAL, the Nest Hello is always watching. I can open an app on my phone and marvel at a live video stream of my recycling bins. If someone comes calling, or even steps onto the pathway, it will take a picture of them using the wide-angle, night-vision HD camera. It’s as much a security system as a doorbell, really, and would probably be marketed as such if Nest didn’t already have a range of security cameras.
How it works
Pressing the doorbell makes a reasonably loud chime from the unit itself and sends an alert to your phone to let you know someone’s there. Open the Nest app and you have the option to speak through the intercom or use a stock reply, including “Just leave it there” and “We can’t come to the door right now”.
You can also integrate it with Google Home (Google owns Nest), setting your smart speakers to “announce” when someone rings.
Unlike some other smart doorbells, the Nest Hello must be hard-wired into your building. This is simple enough if you have an old wired doorbell, but rather more complicated if not. Nest’s installation option is, therefore, practically essential unless you’re an Omega-level handyman, pushing the cost of the unit from £229 to £329.
My pro-installation was quick and painless, but it’s best to have an idea of what you want before the electrician arrives. The default installation involves running a cable from the doorbell, around the ceiling or skirting boards, to your fuse box. In my case this would have involved around 10m of wires running through the flat.
In the end I got the installer to drill through the exterior brickwork and leech some power from existing wiring at the front of the house, which required fitting a small transformer in an unloved corner of the living room. It’s also worth noting that while Nest manufactures the doorbell, the peripherals, including the internal chime, are straight from the local wholesaler; the one offered to me was so big and unsightly I told the installer not to bother (Google Home does the job of a chime in my small flat, but this might not work so well if you have a massive house).
If £329 for a doorbell sounds a little too affordable, then you’re in luck – to access some of the best features, you’ll also need a subscription, which costs from £4 a month for five day’s continuous recording to £24 a month for 30-day’s recording. This will replace the still image captures with searchable video clips and allow the Nest Hello to use facial recognition.
The latter lets you customise when you will receive an alert of activity around your door, based on your settings – this is especially useful if you have a shared pathway and don’t want to feel like you’re spying on your partner or flatmates or neighbours.
You can also get Google Home to announce your guests by name if Nest Aware recognises their face, which is pretty cool.
Before I set the Nest Hello up, I was convinced that this was a smart-device too far, that while I absolutely, positively need voice activated lights and a robot vacuum cleaner, I was fine without a wifi doorbell. But this has become one of my favourite gadgets. It feels appropriately futuristic – a factor not to be underestimated – and it’s genuinely useful. It’s a sizeable outlay, but your smart home isn’t complete without one.