Sunday, 28 July 2019

dbell Smart Doorbell

I got a dbell x2 (their newest model) in May 2019.   I really wanted to like it, like really really wanted to like it.  It has a unique set of features that sets it apart from other doorbells where paying a monthly fee just to see who is at your door, or who was at your door yesterday has somehow become the norm.  The dbell is designed in Canada and has no subscription fees.  You can pay for cloud storage but since I wasn't going to be using it, I didn't really pay attention to that.  What interested me was that could, according to the website, write clips of motion and visitors directly to my NAS.  This means two things: First, I don't need a subscription or any cloud storage, I can integrate the clip directory with my home automation software to see all the events and footage.  And second, I don't need to use a hack like constantly streaming HD video stream across my home network to monitor the feed to extract motion and doorbell events to collect these clips.

Sadly, the website overstates the capabilities of the device and software, and there are other issues too.  If all you want is a smart doorbell that can push a notification to your phone so you can see who is at your door when they are at your door, this is the doorbell for you.

Here is why it didn't work for me and why I returned it for a refund (minus shipping):

  1. Motion detection is useless - the motion detection is way too sensitive.  Other reviews have said this too, I should have paid more attention.  On the least sensitive setting (or most sensitive, I tried both), on a day with no wind it would push motion alerts once or twice a minute to my phone.  I'm not exaggerating--at least once a minute.  The closest thing that could trigger it is my neighbour's tree, 25ft away.  So, this device pretty much needs to point at a wall.  I wasn't expecting to have to turn off motion detection, which is kind of a dealbreaker.
  2. The button would stick.  Over the week that it was installed I had six visitors say they rang the doorbell and nothing happened.  Each time the button was stuck.  I had to push it very hard to unstick it, leaning into it with my body, and there would be a loud click.  Then it worked properly again for about an hour, with barely a touch needed to ring the door.  Then it would get sticky again.  A doorbell that visitors can't use is also a dealbreaker.  To their credit, they offered to send me a new one, but because of the other issues I decided to return it.
  3. It can't actually save clips to a NAS... unless you press a button in the app.   If you want to save the clip of what happened, or what's happening, you need to answer the door or motion event in the app and press the record button.  If you don't answer, there is no saved clip. 
  4. It can't save clips to the SD card either.  Tech support recommended inserting an SD to automatically uploaded to the NAS.  And yes, while this does make auto-upload work, it causes the dbell  to write  a constant stream to the SD and the NAS (if configured).  There is no option to write just clips of the event.  The stream is broken into a continuous stream of 60MB files which have no header and tech support couldn't tell me how to play them.
  5. I ordered black and they sent a white interior bell, despite black being shown on the website.  They also offered to send a new one of these, but I declined because of the other issues.
  6. The app is broken and crashes frequently.  The dbell would not configure from the app, it either kept crashing or threw an error that I wasn't on the same network as the device.  The dbell also has a web interface, mostly undocumented, but I found it and this is how I configured it.
I contacted their technical support to see about resolving the motion detection and writing clips to the NAS.  They always responded within a day or two so that was great, but it became evident that I was experiencing a device and software limitation, not a configuration problem.  The device just didn't perform as advertised.  I was told that trees are a known problem and there was no way to fix the motion detection, and that I should insert an SD card to automatically capture the video to the NAS (see #4 above, it just records continuously).

Because of the dealbreakers and that I couldn't save clips to my NAS, I eventually asked for a refund.  They said there would be a 30% restocking fee (the website states 20%).  Then they told me that I should have tested the device inside first, before I removed the protective plastic, so they could resell it, and then they would have waived the restocking fee.  I found this a little insulting.   I did test it, but not long enough to figure out that the button would stick, and not to test the sensitivity of the motion detection -- these are things that I just assumed would work.  I also connected it to my NAS and assumed the clip writing thing was just a configuration problem which, because the app kept crashing, I hadn't hit on the right settings yet.

In the end they waived the restocking fee, maybe because I pointed out that the device didn't work as advertised, and also that I'd have to send it back anyway because the button was sticking.   But they did keep the shipping.  So all in all I'm out about $34 because I had to cover the return shipping too.

So now I'm in the market for a smart doorbell again.  Once that has motion detection, and one that will write motion and doorbell events to my NAS without bouncing all the video off the cloud or requiring a subscription fee.




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