Review: Google Nest security cameras and doorbell offer peace of mind without huge price tag

If you've never considered the value of security devices for your home, now might be the time.
If you've never considered the value of security devices for your home, now might be the time. Photo credit: Newshub

I've never been particularly concerned about my possessions, probably because I never actually totalled up what they'd be worth until my partner and I were lucky enough to buy a house out in the sticks.

Adding up the value of all those gadgets, artworks and other associated trinkets for insurance brought into mind just how lost I would be if something were to happen to them - and not even necessarily the monetary value of them, but the personal value too.

Since then I've become much more invested in security and that combined with my love of technology has meant my house now is both safer and smarter.

The latter part has been relatively easy, thanks to the proliferation of smart speakers that allow me to control lights, lock my front door, control my television and even use them as an intercom from wherever I happen to be.

If you think I'd seriously use an intercom to send spooky messages to my partner while I'm in the office you'd be, well, absolutely correct. Where's the fun in not doing that?

I've been slower with the former because of both the expense and what I presumed was the hassle of actually installing and running the security system.

So when Google's new Nest devices were announced earlier this year with "wire-free installation" my interest was piqued and I was keen to see just how easy they would be to set-up.

So could the new cameras and doorbells provide a solution to my security concerns? And just how hard are they to install?

I've been using the Nest Cam (indoor wired) Nest Cam (battery) and Nest Doorbell for a few weeks now and here are my thoughts.

The good

When I say I'm beyond useless at do-it-yourself projects you might think I'm joking. I'm not.

There's more chance of me being elected US President than putting up a level shelf without drilling at least one extra hole, threading some screw heads and leaving something exposed that shouldn't be.

So it says something that even a mug like me was able to get three separate cameras installed and working as designed without incident.

Google Nest Cam and Doorbell
Photo credit: Newshub

The technological side was equally as easy, thanks to the Google Home app. I had all three up and operating quickly, albeit without some of the more complicated options available.

The indoor Nest camera, which costs $189, comes with a long power cable and is mounted in the corner of the room, unobtrusive but still with impressive power.

It has a two megapixel colour sensor, with a wide 135-degree field of view, 6x digital zoom and records at up to 1080p resolution at 30 frames per second.

It also has night vision capabilities and, importantly, a green status light that shows when it's recording video - which ours is currently doing all the time.

You can view a live feed from anywhere using Google Home and, happily, the status light flashes green when someone is viewing live video so it makes it much harder for someone to be doing so without notice.

Without a subscription (more on that shortly) viewing the camera in the app will show you up to three hours of event video history, eg: When someone walks into shot.

There's also high quality two-way audio with noise cancellation to handle announcements out and to capture sound from inside the room. It's easy to switch this off from the app.

The battery Nest camera, costing $359, can be used either indoors or outdoors and has nearly identical specifications and functionality to the wired version - but is substantially bigger and heavier, presumably to help protect it from the conditions.

It comes with a strongly magnetic mount which enables you to easily point it in whichever direction you want, with easy removal for recharging the battery.

Google Nest Cam and Doorbell
Photo credit: Newshub

Not that you have to worry about doing that very often - with the default settings of three-hour event history the camera is telling me it still has around 12 months of battery life yet.

It's night-vision capabilities are also pretty good, although amid the COVID-19 Delta lockdown that's been limited to watching the neighbour's cats go for a stroll in the late evening.

Two high-powered infrared LEDs offer up to over 4.5m of illumination, more than covering the gap between our drive and the front door.

The Nest Doorbell also sets you back $359 and offers a whole lot of smart and cool functionality, albeit with slightly inferior camera hardware.

That's not a surprise, given the size of the camera, but the 960x1280 resolution at up to 30fps is more than good enough to identify faces.

Again, live viewing, three-hour event history, night vision and a flashing green status light are standard.

Unfortunately we've been limited to just myself and my partner trying out the extended functionality because we haven't had any visitors in what feels like a lifetime.

The doorbell itself works beautifully. It detects when someone walks past it and sends a notification to my Google-connected devices.

When someone rings the doorbell they hear a theme of your choosing, from a range of classic and holiday-related chimes. Inside, it's not quite as good an experience but I'll come back to that.

You can, of course, see who is there using the video feed and depending on who it is, you can then ignore them, use the Google Home app to talk to them without opening the door or decide to invite them in.

If you're away from home, you can still talk to the person or arrange for a message to play from a range of (basic) pre-set options.

Its battery life is equally as impressive. According to Google Home I won't need to recharge it until sometime in early 2023.

Google Nest Cam and Doorbell
Photo credit: Newshub

Intelligent alerts are also on offer with the doorbell, so it can identify whether a vehicle, an animal or a person has been seen or even whether a package has been delivered. The alert will be tailored to reflect whatever activated the motion sensor.

All devices connect easily to your home existing Wi-Fi system and notify you if, for any reason, they go offline. Very handy and smart.

The bad

One of the things I don't particularly like about technology is the need to pay additional fees for core functionality.

That came into play here, on two different levels.

Firstly, if you don't already have a hard-wired doorbell you can wire the Nest to you don't get any indoor audio notification that someone has rung it, other than a ping of a notification on your phone.

This is substandard so I went out and bought a Nest Hub and a Nest Mini so I would get what I consider a more normal experience.

Unfortunately even that isn't ideal - I found there's a delay of quite a few seconds before the audio plays, giving the ringee enough time to decide to walk off by the time you actually get to the door.

One of the nicer pieces of functionality also sits behind a subscription paywall.

Nest Aware and Nest Aware Plus will set you back $9 per month/$90 per year and $18 per month/$180 per year respectively.

That gives extended event history of either 30 or 60 days, with 10 days of 24/7 video with Nest Aware Plus on the cameras (but not the doorbell). I don't have a problem with paying more for that kind of elevated protection, but it also includes 'familiar faces' which I think should be free.

If you subscribe you can teach the app to recognise faces of regular visitors, decreasing the number of notifications you receive for someone unknown entering the shot. You can also use the functionality to announce the name of whoever is at the door.

Even more fun, you can programme that name to be anything you want. If you have a strange sense of humour, as I do, this leads to endless fun. If I need a laugh, my partner can ring the doorbell and I get told Roy F***king Kent is at the door. A man can dream, right?

To be fair to Google, one subscription covers all of your devices, which wasn't the case with previous generation cameras. It's not exactly a huge amount of money either, particularly when you're forking out for the cameras anyway.

Google Nest Cam and Doorbell
Photo credit: Newshub

The last thing that both annoyed me and blew my mind was just how easy the outdoor camera is to steal.

By default, there's literally nothing to stop someone wandering up behind the camera and just taking it.

You can fork out some extra cash for an anti-theft mount and Google says if you report the theft to the police then they will replace the camera but, still, it's ironic that a security device could be so easily pinched.

The fact Google has a policy in place for such an instance means it clearly identified it could be an issue.

The verdict

On the balance of things, there are much more pros than cons associated with Google's new Nest range of devices.

Installation was easy and getting the cameras working as basic security devices was as simple as installing an app and drilling a few holes. Even someone with zero DIY capabilities is capable of that.

Sure, I was a little bemused at having to fork out extra to be able to actually HEAR the doorbell but, in the big scheme of things, that extra speaker and Hub can also be used to listen to music, podcasts and more so there is added value there.

Google Nest Cam and Doorbell
Photo credit: Newshub

The fact you have to pay for a subscription to unlock all the features annoyed me to start with - and then I remembered why I had considered getting cameras in the first instance.

Ultimately, the question becomes 'what is the security of your home worth?'. If the answer isn't $9 per month, then you might not need a camera at all.

For me, that's a bargain. The equivalent of a couple of flat whites every few weeks isn't too much to pay for peace of mind and knowing that, should the worst happen, at least I'll have some evidence to share with the authorities.

Now I just have to hope no-one steals my wireless camera.

Newshub was supplied with a Nest Cam (indoor wired) Nest Cam (battery) and Nest Doorbell for this review.