Home Automation Reviews

Real-world Review: (The Original) Ring Video Doorbell

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In early 2015, we spoke with Ring, the company behind the Ring Video Doorbell, on one of Home: On’s CES episodes. We were intrigued at the time. Ring—both the product and the company—is something of a re-imagined Doorbot. And that’s a good thing. Think: all the smarts of Doorbot with the design sensibility and approachability of the industry’s newer smarthome devices. At the time, though, the product’s pricing may have scared some people off. About a year later, we’re reviewing that same product while $200 connected doorbells are the new hotness.

As most of our readers know, our product reviews are quite intentionally the result of long-term use in a home environment. For the Ring Video Doorbell [hereafter simply referred to in this review as the Ring], we lived with and used the product for about six months spanning the Fall and Winter seasons (and their associated weather conditions). And in the time that we’ve had the product for review, the company behind it has continued to expand its product line, capabilities, and platform support.

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Home: On tile

In August 2015, we invited Jamie Siminoff, the inventor of the Ring Video Doorbell, on our home automation podcast, Home: On. We discussed their product, their then most recent round of funding, and their mission…which may not be what you might expect from this company. It’s less about convenience and more about security.

Product Design

The first thing that hits you when you see the Ring is its smart design. If you’re worried about the inevitable “you’re not putting that on the front of my house” comment from your significant other, you can probably put your mind at ease. Doorbot’s robotic and futuristic look are gone, replaced by smooth curves, a slim profile, and finishes to match most home decors.

The Ring sports a fish-eye lens camera that captures 180° HD (720p) video—even at night, thanks to built-in infrared LEDs. It also has sensors to detect motion outside your home and a mic and speakers for communicating with visitors. All of that discretely blends into a frame that is that partially sheathed by a metallic wrap in a durable bronze, brass, antique, or nickel finish.

Installation

Ever replace a doorbell? Installing the Ring is pretty much the same process. We installed the Ring as a replacement for an existing, wired doorbell. You can also install (perhaps better described as “mount”) the Ring even if you don’t already have a wired doorbell. The Ring unit is less than 2.5″ wide. It’s wider than most doorbell buttons but likely not too wide that it won’t fit comfortably. Measure first…just to be sure.

ringinstallPrior to installation, you’ll want to connect your new Ring doorbell to your home Wi-Fi using a pretty common process through the Ring app. We recommend doing this before you start the installation process to ensure that everything’s working as expected. Test the doorbell where you know you’ll get a good Wi-Fi signal, then again outside, where you plan to install it.

Once connected, the installation is pretty straightforward. You mount a backplate around the current doorbell wires (there’s a level in the box to ensure you have it straight), attach the wires to connections on the plate (with the included screwdriver), then slip on the main unit and secure it with two screws and a screw bit that are all (also) included in the package. The final screws have an uncommon screw head so it would be difficult for anyone to disconnect and/or abscond with your swanky new doorbell.

The Ring includes a built-in battery pack that trickle-charges from the power in your doorbell line. No wires? No problem. If you don’t have an existing doorbell, you can charge the Ring via USB by removing it from the mounting block. Ring claims the battery will last up to 12 months based on use and environment conditions, but your mileage may vary wildly. Forums have reports of the battery needing recharging in periods better measured in days than months. Presumably, if you have the product in a location that sees a lot of activity (tripping the motion sensors) and extreme cold temperatures, you could end up with unfavorable battery life. Our recommendation: wire it if you can.

Configuration

Configuring the Ring is pretty straightforward. You’ll need to create a Ring account using the Ring app, which is available for iOS and Android phones and tablets as well as for Windows 10 PCs and tablets (added during our evaluation period). You’ll name and locate your new Ring, then you’ll want to adjust the motion settings. You can enable and adjust the motion range across six radial zones, and you’ll likely need to play with these settings in the first few days of use to get this right. The app can alert you to motion at your door with notifications, and if you have those motion settings wrong, you’ll just end up spamming yourself with alerts. After a little trial and error (and use), we were able to get it down to a high level of accuracy.

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You also have an option to sign up for a cloud-based recording service at $3 a month or $30 a year. The Ring comes with a free 30-day trial period. (You’ll need to use your credit card to sign up for the trial, then cancel, if you choose not to renew, before you’re charged on the renewal date; set a calendar reminder!) The Ring provides live video and audio with motion or doorbell activation, but their cloud-hosted video service allows you to go back and watch video after the fact—in case you missed it or just want to make fun of the awkward things visitors and delivery people do while they’re waiting for someone to answer the door. Unfortunately, the fee is per unit, without any cost savings for multiple devices, so adding additional Ring doorbells to your home will arithmetically increase your subscription costs.

Putting the Doorbell to Use

The doorbell’s camera may catch the attention of visitors
The doorbell’s camera may catch the attention of visitors

Our Ring doorbell received immediate attention from visitors. While it fits nicely with the decor, on closer inspection, there’s something different about this thing. Visitors who haven’t seen the Ring before seem fascinated by it, evidenced in conversations almost immediately after opening the door and by some people’s reactions in the archived video. Kids quickly noticed the lens on board and seem to love the opportunity to smile for another camera.

At first, answering calls on Ring’s app seemed to take forever. You don’t want people to turn away thinking that nobody’s home—that defeats the whole purpose of this thing. But after moving a Wi-Fi access point and receiving numerous updates to the Ring apps in the past months, the responsiveness and time-to-video from receiving notifications is much faster.

We very quickly became accustomed to the convenience of answering the door from a phone or tablet. New desktop apps for Windows 10 and the Mac—released since we first received the unit—make that even easier during the day, while working.

The real benefit of the Ring is the ability to answer or monitor activity at your door from anywhere—even when you’re not at home. The built-in camera, mic, and speakers let you see and, optionally, communicate with anyone at your door…wherever you are. Triggered by either motion or the doorbell button itself, optional device notifications make answering your door as easy as answering a call—caller ID included. You choose if you want to talk with your caller. At first, it seems almost voyeuristic, because you’re watching someone who maybe doesn’t even know you can see (and hear) them. But, like using a Nest Cam or other video monitoring system, you’ll soon get used to it and appreciate the convenience and security.

If you go with the wireless option, you might want to add Ring’s Chime, a $30 plug-in module that you can associate with multiple doorbells. The Chime does what you’d expect it to—it emits Ring’s 3-tone chime when your doorbell senses motion or gets pressed—fully configurable by you.

One of our complaints with the Ring is the audio quality and lights on the doorbell unit itself. When active, the doorbell has a ring of light surrounding the doorbell button, which glows with a cold, blue-ish white hue that seems out of place with the otherwise elegant design of the product. The other design detractor is the audio feedback visitors hear when pressing ringwallthe doorbell button. Ring’s signature three-tone chime sounds “tinny” and more like what you might expect to hear from a cheap wireless doorbell you might pick up at the hardware store. In our opinion, both the lights and audible feedback should be configurable by customers in the app (to turn them off, if desired).

Shortly after installing the doorbell, we also undertook another project—mounting a tablet in a wall as a home control panel. Ring’s iPad app works nicely on this console, acting as an additional, built-in answering station in the home. The app didn’t initially seem to acknowledge the permanent landscape orientation of the tablet, but those problems appear to have subsided after numerous app updates.

Smart Home Integration

Install the Ring Video Doorbell on your smart home, and soon you’ll want to link it up to really unleash the power of a connected home. During the time that we’ve been reviewing the product, Ring introduced numerous integration options—something that was notably missing months ago. In addition to Ring+, a formalized partner program featuring app integrations with the likes of Wink, Wemo, and Lockstate, an IFTTT channel affords smart home tinkerers with powerful capabilities.

Imagine greeting a guest remotely with the Ring app, then jumping into your smartlock app to let them in—all remotely. Or you could blink your Philips hue lights to alert the household that someone’s at the door. One of our favorite (and perhaps most complex) integrations we’ve tested is an IFTTT recipe that triggers a Harmony Home activity to brighten the front door Insteon-controlled lights when there’s motion at the door after sunset. An additional Harmony activity could potentially return the lights to their original dim level when sensing that the door has closed.

The convenience, security, and safety opportunities are vast, and despite Ring’s initial hesitation to focus on it, we’re glad that they’ve finally helped consumers better integrate the Ring into their broader smart home ecosystems. We’re still waiting to see a public API program, and developers have expressed an interest in accessing the video stream itself to more tightly integrate that into third-party products. We also hope Ring will consider integration opportunities that would allow you to optionally disable motion alerts if a sensor indicates that the door is already open (thus eliminating the often annoying notification when someone is leaving).

A Growing Ecosystem

When we first spoke with Ring’s co-founder last Summer, Ring had just received a Series B funding round from some high-profile investors. In the time that’s passed, they’ve been busy—releasing additional products and announcing yet another funding round, including additional support from prior investor, Richard Branson.

As for other products, Ring certainly hasn’t been resting. At CES this year, they announced and shortly thereafter released the Stick Up Cam wireless security camera. Think of it as a Ring Video Doorbell without the doorbell part. It looks and operates strikingly like the Ring doorbell itself, fitting nicely into your outdoor security ecosystem.

ringsolarLate in the Winter, Ring announced a $50 solar panel for the outdoor camera, addressing some of the convenience concerns customers had expressed with regard to recharging the camera. The design of the panel seems a bit chunky, and it may be infeasible (or undesirable) for some customers to tether a panel off of the camera with a long, black wire, but the intent is good.

Most notably, Ring has recently introduced and released the Ring Video Doorbell Pro, a wired-only update of their doorbell product that features higher resolution video, better Wi-Fi capabilities, and more granular motion sensing control—all in a smaller package at a higher price.

The idea is good, but we question the market strategy on this one. At $249, the price seems a bit too high for what you’re getting. And the industrial design is less elegant, favoring a large black surface area and replaceable plastic faceplates in off-white, silver, brown, and black over the metallic finishes of the base model. We hope to see some premium metal faceplates, perhaps available as separate accessories. We also hope Ring will align the price better with its competition—which is expanding rapidly. We’d like to see a $229 price tag on the pro unit, bringing the base product (and the Stick Up Cam) down to $179.

The Ring apps themselves have improved nicely over the past months, adding support for additional platforms and form factors. The previously-mentioned Mac application was recently released in beta and rounds out Ring’s app family nicely. Ring also continues to expand its products’ capabilities, recently announcing on-demand monitoring of wired (and soon wireless) Ring doorbells and cams.

In Summary

Ring’s original video doorbell is a solid product that enhances your home security with real-time remote audio and video of activity at your door. Think of it as a doorbell with caller ID and visual video voicemail. With an expanding line of home security products and increasing integration opportunities, Ring is an attractive option in a rapidly growing market.

The product is easy to install, configure, and use. Perhaps most importantly, it will likely get the necessary stamp of approval from whomever in your household makes home design decisions. In our opinion, the industrial design of the original Ring Video Doorbell is the best of the products available today. It combines contemporary lines with traditional finishes to match most homes’ door hardware without requiring an overly large footprint.

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We can even report that several of our readers, listeners, and colleagues (including some of this reviewer’s visitors and the reviewer himself) have purchased and spoken highly of their own Ring Video Doorbells since we first featured Ring on Home: On last summer. So do we recommend it? Absolutely. Wired or not (though we recommend wiring), save yourself some money and resist the new, slightly less shiny thing. We believe that Ring’s original video doorbell is the better investment and will make a great addition to your smart home.

Interested in purchasing a Ring of your own? Consider using our affiliate link to Amazon.

Thanks to Ring for providing The Digital Media Zone with this product for review.

 

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About the author

Richard Gunther

Richard is a digital technology consultant with a life-long interest in consumer electronics. He has been immersed in smart home tech for decades now and hosts The DMZ's home automation podcast, Home: On and co-hosts Entertainment 2.0 with Josh Pollard. Richard looks at products through an experience lens, always seeking the right mix of utility and delight.