Aqara Video Doorbell G4 review: a wireless doorbell with great features but not enough focus
Aqara’s new Video Doorbell G4 ($119.99) has so many features I may run out of room in this review to cover them all. But I’ll start with what it doesn’t have. There’s no native package detection, motion zones, or HDR imaging (so it’s hard to see faces on sunny days). Its 16:9 aspect ratio completely misses my front porch, and I doubt its IPX3 weather rating will make it through a summer in South Carolina.
If you can live without those features in a smart doorbell camera (e.g., you live in a well-lit apartment building), you’ll be happy with the free cloud video storage, free smart alerts, free facial recognition, and free 24/7 recording (when hardwired). Most companies charge monthly fees for those features, if they even have them. The G4 includes them and costs just $120.
The smart doorbell also works with Apple Home, Amazon, Alexa, Google Home, and its own vast smart home ecosystem (which supports Matter). It has entirely local processing of video, and facial recognition can trigger individual smart home routines based on who it sees. It can also play customized ringtones. Yes, your doorbell can sing you your favorite song when you come home.
The G4 is the first battery-powered buzzer to work with Apple Home and one of only three in the US that supports Apple’s HomeKit Secure Video (HSV). This adds smart alerts — for packages, animals, and vehicles — plus motion zones through Apple’s Home app and cloud storage through iCloud. (Although, in my testing, the doorbell never once picked up on any packages because it couldn’t see most of my porch.)
The G4 has 1080p video, a 162-degree field of view, and a horizontal 16:9 aspect ratio. These specs are somewhat outdated, with most video doorbells over $100 now offering better video quality and a square aspect ratio for seeing your front door from top to bottom. They almost all have HDR imaging, so you can actually see the faces at your front door — the G4 does not, and it suffers for it.
But no other doorbell under $150 I have tested has free cloud storage, smart alerts, facial recognition, and continuous recording. The G4 is also one of only two doorbells I’ve tested that can either be hardwired with a battery backup or run entirely on battery power (the other is the Blink Video Doorbell). I always recommend hardwiring when you can.
Aqara claims the G4’s six standard AA batteries should last about four months. (I was at 60 percent after two weeks of heavy testing.) The G4, as with almost every other battery-powered doorbell, will miss a few seconds of motion as it “wakes up” before it starts to record. This means it catches the person when they are at your door, not as they approach it. When wired, it began recording as the person walked up to the door.
Free locally processed smart alerts include optional facial recognition and alerts for people, motion, and “loitering” — a person standing at your door but not pressing the doorbell. An indoor chime box / Wi-Fi repeater — a small USB-C-powered box with a speaker grill — is included with the doorbell. It acts as the device’s brains and can house a microSD card (up to 512GB) to enable 24/7 local recording, a rare feature in video doorbells.
Even when connected to your doorbell wiring, the G4 Pro will not ring an existing indoor chime. But the included chime box is very loud, so you won’t miss any visitors. (You can adjust the volume in the app). Compatibility with Alexa, Apple Home, and Google Home means using any smart speaker as an indoor chime. In testing, this only worked with one brand of speaker at a time (it worked in whichever ecosystem I had set up first). I couldn’t get all the Nests, Echoes, and HomePods in my house to chime simultaneously (that’s probably a blessing).
As mentioned, there are no native smart alerts for animals, vehicles, or packages; you only get those if you add the doorbell to Apple Home (more on that later). The G4 uses PIR motion detection, with 120 degrees horizontal and 80 degrees vertical sensing range. PIR is susceptible to false alerts, and I got several “people” notifications that were actually the shadow of a tree branch. You can adjust the motion sensitivity, which helps with false alerts, but you can’t set up motion zones in the Aqara app (only privacy zones), so you can’t zero in on a smaller area to avoid knowing every time a tree branch blows in the wind.
Uniquely, you can mask your voice through the Aqara app
The G4 supports livestreaming from the camera to the Aqara app, Apple Home app, Amazon Alexa app, and any compatible smart display — including Nest hubs and Echo Shows. Short six-second motion-activated clips are stored in Aqara’s cloud for free, and / or you can enable local recording to a microSD card. Two-way audio is full duplex. It suffered from some artifacting, but I could easily converse with visitors. Uniquely, you can mask your voice through the Aqara app, choosing from Uncle, which my daughter said made me sound like her dad, and Robot or Clown — which both sounded like a little kid’s voice.
Night vision is IR based and a little blown out, making faces almost impossible to identify. A lack of HDR imaging meant that, on my backlit porch, daytime footage suffered. Faces were often in shadow and images were dark, especially compared to footage from Google’s Nest doorbell and Ring’s Pro 2. If you live in an apartment with well-lit corridors or don’t have any overhang over your door, this won’t be an issue for you. But for everyone else, being unable to make out faces unless they come up close to the camera is likely a deal-breaker.
I was impressed with the speed of the G4. It processes videos locally, and alerts for motion and doorbell presses arrived on my phone almost instantly — both through Apple Home and Aqara. The Aqara app was fast to respond, and I could review the video immediately. (The notification opens to a live view, but I could click on the recorded video below to see the clip.)
Live and recorded footage was clear, and while there isn’t much zoom — and, as discussed, faces are hard to see in certain situations — the quality is good for this price point. The biggest issue is that the doorbell only records for six seconds at a time. It will record multiple events almost concurrently, and you can manually initiate a recording, but six seconds doesn’t show you much. (Aqara tells me it will add the option to extend the clips to 12 seconds.)
The build feels plasticky and cheap, and I wonder if it will hold up to any serious elements
When hardwired and with 24/7 recording enabled, I could go into the Aqara app and switch to Playback to view all recorded footage if I needed to see more. I couldn’t scroll in real time as I can with the Google Nest Doorbell wired (which has 24/7 recording for a fee). While I could go to each motion event, indicated by a colored line on the timeline, this was fiddly, and it jumped around a lot. Saving clips from here is awkward, too (you have to initiate a recording of the recording), and navigating the various spots where videos are stored in the app is not intuitive.
I am not a fan of the design of this doorbell, especially compared to Google’s and Ring’s doorbells. It’s a big rectangular hunk of gray plastic on your doorjamb. The build feels plasticky and cheap, and I wonder if it will hold up to any serious elements. Its IPX3 rating means it can handle a light water spray at a certain angle. Most other doorbells have higher ratings. Aqara even recommends mounting it under a porch or cover of some sort, which, as noted above, will make it harder to see faces. One solution here is to automate any lighting around your door to turn on when motion is detected — something you could do through any of the ecosystems Aqara connects with, including its own.
You can have a custom ringtone play as specific people arrive at your door
The G4 doorbell is also very wide and really long to accommodate the six AA batteries. If you have a narrow doorframe, this will stick out awkwardly, if it fits at all. While there was room on my doorframe, a brick wall protrudes past my door, and with the G4 flush to the edge, I couldn’t get to the screw needed to attach the doorbell to the mount. This should be on top or bottom, as with every other doorbell I’ve tested.
Other than this quirk, installation and setup were very simple. The doorbell and chime box come pre-paired to each other, and I just scanned the code on the chime to connect the doorbell to Wi-Fi (2.4GHz only) through the Aqara app. It also connected it to Apple Home simultaneously (using an iPhone). From the Aqara app, I could connect it to Google Home and Amazon Alexa, and it worked in all four apps simultaneously. Aqara also promises the doorbell will work with Matter when the standard supports cameras (but that could be a while).
The chime needs to be plugged into power and be close to the doorbell. It is a Wi-Fi repeater, and the doorbell will not work without it, as I discovered when someone unplugged it. The doorbell and the chime come with preattached adhesive, so you can peel and stick them if you don’t want to mess with screws or wiring. Aqara includes a wedge mount in the box if you need more angle to catch your front door.
To try continuous recording, I had to hardwire the doorbell to my existing doorbell wires (handily, the batteries can stay in and act as a backup in case power goes out). I also had to insert a microSD card into the chime box and then turn on recording in the Aqara app’s settings. This took a while to figure out as the Aqara app is not well designed and is a wild world of endless menus and countless options. Once I found it (Settings > More Settings > Doorbell Settings > SD Card Storage > Record Mode), I could choose from recording only on activity, recording continuously, or disabling recording.
In addition to voice disguising, the G4 has some other unique features:
- Facial recognition can be tied to Aqara’s automation engine to trigger any Aqara device connected to its app. I set it to turn on the Aqara lights in my office when I come home and to turn an Aqara light switch off when a stranger approaches. When these automations worked, they were really fast, thanks to local processing. But they weren’t reliable unless I stuck my face right in the camera’s view, and they never worked at night.
- The G4 comes with three default ringtones, but you can upload any compatible MP3 audio file as a custom ringtone for your doorbell — and it sounds from the chime and the doorbell itself. There is just so much fun to be had here. Using Aqara’s automation engine and facial recognition, you can have a custom ringtone play as specific people arrive at your door and another one for anyone the doorbell doesn’t recognize. You could even create quick replies for when anyone presses the doorbell.
- The chime’s built-in 95dB siren can be used as an alarm siren through Aqara’s app and features an array of alarm sounds, including sniper rifles, ghost calls, and a dog barking.
Using the Aqara G4 in Apple Home
Another way around the six-second recording limit is to connect the doorbell to Apple Home (if you use an iPhone) and enable HomeKit Secure Video. The doorbell works in Apple as a battery-powered or hardwired doorbell and records unlimited motion-activated videos to your iCloud account, where they are stored for up to 10 days. To use HSV, you need an Apple Home hub (HomePod or Apple TV) and the 50GB iCloud Plus plan or higher, starting at 99 cents a month.
HSV adds smart alerts for vehicles, animals, and packages to the G4 as well as people plus motion zones. As mentioned, I didn’t get a single package alert in my testing (despite receiving multiple packages). I put this down to the fact the doorbell’s view barely catches a small corner of my porch, as Apple’s alerts for vehicles and people did work in testing.
There’s also the option of enabling facial recognition using my Photos Library. This sent alerts saying who was at the door fairly consistently — although not confidently: (“someone who might be Sarah Ferguson is at the door”). If you have an Apple TV or Apple Watch, alerts show there, too, and you can see a live view of your doorbell feed on your TV.
However, in testing, the HomeKit integration was unreliable. This isn’t unique to Aqara; I have had multiple issues with cameras losing connectivity in HomeKit and missing entire motion events. But it just seems worse here. The doorbell consistently showed “No Response” on the homescreen of the Home app, despite working when I clicked through (most of the time). It sometimes missed motion events entirely. I approached the door with a large package to test HomeKit package alerts, and the camera didn’t even see me in Apple Home (the Aqara app caught the whole thing). This wasn’t a one-off, either. It’s hard to tell if this is on Aqara’s side or Apple’s, but it doesn’t matter; it’s a frustrating experience.
On the plus side, Apple has built in lots of tools for managing cameras, including the option to have them all turn off when you arrive home. The camera can also detect activity using its motion sensor even when the camera is disabled, which is useful for smart home automations. (The motion sensor is exposed as a separate trigger in Apple Home.)
As well as these useful privacy options, HSV is also a secure way to store video footage (it’s right there in the name). Video is processed locally on an Apple Home hub and stored in your personal iCloud account, it’s end-to-end encrypted, and only you have the keys. Aqara’s app sends footage to the cloud, and you can’t turn it all off, even if you use the local storage option. The company tells me it does plan to add the option to disable all cloud recordings in a future update.
Additionally, while Aqara’s facial recognition feature (entirely separate from Apple’s) is stored and processed locally on the device, to display and label a face in the app, it has to connect to the cloud server. All of this means that if you’re using the Aqara app, you can’t use the doorbell entirely locally.
If you are looking for a battery-powered Apple Home-compatible doorbell that supports HomeKit Secure Video, the Aqara G4 is the only option (unless you use third-party services). As a wired doorbell, not only is it significantly cheaper than the competition (by a whopping $80) but it’s also the only one to offer 24/7 video, and you can make up for those HSV issues because it has its own app.
The Belkin Wemo ($250) and Logitech ($199) doorbells have similar connectivity issues and missed motion events as the Aqara but don’t have another app to fall back on. They do offer a clearer view of my porch, however. Plus, package detection worked. Arlo’s wired doorbell and the Netatmo Video Doorbell are compatible with Apple Home and have their own apps but don’t support HSV. The Arlo is a good option if you want a more user-friendly app, but you pay $4 monthly for anything other than a livestream. Netatmo’s doorbell also records locally and doesn’t use the cloud, but it costs nearly $300.
Outside of Apple Home, the competition gets tougher. The Google Nest Doorbell wired is $180 and has many of the same features as the Aqara: free smart alerts, local processing of video, free clips (but only over the last three hours), and the options of 24/7 recording and facial recognition. You pay for those last two, and there is no local storage. The Google buzzer has a better design, and its app is a lot easier to use. Plus, its package and facial recognition is very good, and the video view sees your whole porch in a higher resolution.
On the cheaper end, the Blink Video Doorbell is both battery-powered and hardwired, has local storage (with a separate $35 hub and USB stick), and is only $50. It lasts much longer on its two AA batteries (up to a year) but has the same 16:9 aspect ratio and 1080p video. It also doesn’t offer any alerts outside of motion detection, and there’s no free cloud storage (a subscription starts at $3 a month). Ring’s newest battery-powered doorbell — Battery Doorbell Plus — looks promising. (I’ve not tested it yet.) It has a more complete field of view and better video quality. For $180 plus $4 a month, you get people and package alerts and cloud storage.
These options are also much easier to use thanks to cleaner, less confusing apps (although Blink’s could use some work). But if you are comfortable with a more complicated — and more powerful — app and want to play with custom ringtones, tailored automations based on facial recognition, and all of the other options the Aqara ecosystem brings, then the Aqara G4 is definitely worth considering.
Photos and videos by Jennifer Pattison Tuohy / The Verge