SpotCam Ring Video Doorbell 2 review: You can do better – CNET

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The SpotCam Video Doorbell 2 is bigger than most other video doorbells.

Dale Smith/CNET

For a video doorbell to compete with big names like Arlo, Ring and Nest — especially at around the same price — it’s got to be pretty polished. And the SpotCam Video Doorbell 2 ($99 at Amazon) does offer some additional features those other brands don’t carry at the $100 mark — an included plug-in chime, optional facial recognition with package detection (as part of a $10 per month subscription) and seven days of free cloud storage.

The tradeoff, however, is an app experience that’s janky at best — and downright confusing at worst.

Although the SpotCam 2 captures video at a crisp 1080p and 180-degree horizontal viewing angle, setting it up was a hassle and the wonky interface led to serious problems — including me not even getting notified when the doorbell was rung for multiple days.

Like

  • Crisp, clear video quality
  • 7 days free cloud storage
  • Available recognition of faces, vehicles and packages

Don’t Like

  • Installation and setup are janky
  • App is laggy and confusing
  • Service is spotty

Installation was wonky, and default settings were even wonkier

The SpotCam Doorbell 2 is a chonker, at 5.7 by 2.7 by 1.5-inches — almost the size of a paperback novel. Current doorbells by Arlo and Nest clock in at just over half that size – 5 by 1.7 by 1-inches and 4.6 by 1.7 by 1-inches, respectively. Even the new Ring Video Doorbell, itself a bit chonky, is still smaller than SpotCam, at 5.1 by 2.7 by 1.1 inches. All those options look nicer and less techy, too.

The plug-in chime is big, too, but at least it leaves enough room to plug something else into the second outlet (and you can always put it off in a hidden socket).

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The SpotCam 2’s accompanying plug-in chime is bigger than some competitors’ comparable products, but it does leave just barely enough room to plug a two-pronged plug into the adjacent outlet.

Dale Smith/CNET

Thankfully, when it comes to setting things up in the app, there’s no need to add two separate devices (adding the doorbell to the app automatically adds the chime), but the ease of installation ends there.

Mounting the doorbell is relatively easy — SpotCam provides both double-sided tape and screwed-in options — but if you’re planning to wire it, be prepared for an extremely tight fit. Also, if you’re wiring the SpotCam, you can forget making use of the available SD card slot, as you’ll need that available space for the wired leads.

Once I finally got it all connected, I had other things to do, so I didn’t get a chance to even look through the settings, let alone play around with them. I was confused, then, when I walked out on my front porch to water my houseplants and suddenly the doorbell started dinging.

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If you choose to wire the SpotCam 2, you won’t be able to use the available SD card slot to store video clips locally, because the prongs connecting the wires to the doorbell will fill up the cavity.

Dale Smith/CNET

It didn’t stop there. Next my phone started notifying me of incoming emails. Not one, not two, but a whole series of emails alerting me to the fact that the SpotCam had detected motion — literally one email every minute for the duration of my plant-watering spree.

I cannot stress enough how much I don’t want my doorbell camera to email me every minute I’m on the front porch in the middle of the afternoon, let alone ding at anyone who ventures there.

To change this behavior, I delved into settings and turned off email alerts entirely. Then, I set the Alerts Schedule to turn off alerts during the day. However, that silenced alerts even when someone rang the doorbell, so I turned it back on. After that, it neither alerted me when it detected motion, nor dinged on the front porch, nor — thank heavens — emailed me ever again.

Turned out the reason I quit getting notifications, even of doorbell presses, was I had toggled off Alerts Notification, assuming the setting referred only to motion alerts. Adding to my confusion: there are, in fact, two toggles – one labeled Alerts and the other Alerts Notification. I had assumed “notifications” were a logical element of “alerts” and that Alerts Notifications referred specifically to mobile alerts.

Frankly, the settings menu is so confusing, it was hard to reverse-engineer my own mistakes for the purpose of this review.

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The chime is nearly half the size of the larger-than-usual SpotCam Doorbell Camera 2.

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Take this setting: Active Motion Wake-Up. You can toggle it on or off, but there are no other related settings and no further description beyond the light gray text underneath that reads, “PIR sensor on.”

I asked the company what that setting does. Here was the response: “You can stop the PIR motion detection by [disabling] ‘Active Motion Wake-Up’ options. It allows the doorbell to stop being triggered by PIR motion detections.”

PIR, by the way, stands for “passive infrared sensor” — it’s how most motion detectors work, like the one that turns on the spotlights above your garage. So I guess this setting turns off motion alerts? Why it’s not just labeled Motion Alerts escapes me.

Day-to-day operation doesn’t get much better

When I finally got notifications working the way I wanted — motion detection sensitivity set to low, doorbell presses pushing notifications to my phone and no emails for any reason ever — I was then accosted by one of the most grating alert tones I’ve ever heard. I swear, it was like an ice pick to my ear drums.

When I tried to change it, I could find no such option, either in the SpotCam app or my iPhone settings, so I simply turned off motion alerts entirely. Which was fine, especially after I realized how long it took for an event to make its way to my phone.

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The SpotCam 2 took longer than other doorbells to connect through the mobile app in our tests.

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“Laggy” doesn’t begin to describe the SpotCam app experience. When pushing the doorbell button, the included chime dings almost immediately, but I would consistently wait a good five seconds before the app notified me that someone was at my door. Connecting to live view happened a little faster but required multiple taps on the same freeze-frame image when (it seems to me, at least) one tap should’ve sufficed.

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See that tiny little two-pronged plug icon under the word “Front” on the left? That’s what indicates the device is wired.

Screenshot by Dale Smith/CNET

The rest of the app was just as wonky as the settings menu. For example, I wanted to check to make sure the wired connection I’d struggled so much during installation to connect was, in fact, charging the battery — but the tab labeled Vitals (where I assume such information would be displayed) was consistently grayed out.

Again, I asked the company for guidance, and it turns out the battery icon (which, in my case, displayed a plug, since my SpotCam was wired) is a tiny symbol in the upper left corner above the still-frame doorbell camera landing page image. I literally had to screenshot and zoom in to make out what it even was (and tapping it did nothing, since it was a grayed-out wired icon, I guess).

Verdict: Don’t waste your time or money on SpotCam

I was already pretty convinced I wasn’t going to recommend this doorbell camera after a few days of testing, but the final death knell (a metaphor I use with an abundance of irony) came when I noticed the camera wasn’t capturing motion events that I knew with absolute certainty had occurred. How do I know this? I have a dog, and he goes out the front door every day, just before dawn, for his morning constitutional.

Some days, the SpotCam captured his journey to the tree lawn, some days it didn’t. It was pretty hit or miss, unlike (thankfully) my dog’s aim.

I can now say with a high degree of assurance, you’d be better off with a comparable doorbell camera from Arlo or (if you can stomach the surrounding controversy) Ring. If you’re in the Google ecosystem at all, Nest is launching a new doorbell camera that’s both cheaper and more feature-rich than its predecessor.

If — and this is a big “if” – you could get the SpotCam working exactly as you wanted it to — and it came down in price closer to, say, $50 – it might be worth all the extra headaches I encountered with it. 

But as it stands, it doesn’t beat out the competition; not on the device itself, the price (all the major players have $100-or-so doorbell camera options) or the services (Google’s Nest offers facial recognition for $6 per month — and it works better).

And since it doesn’t win any head-to-head comparisons, there’s really no compelling reason to recommend this doorbell camera.

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