I’ve had my eye on Internet connected doorbells for a while. In addition to my hobby of experimenting with new home automation technology, I’ll regularly have packages, sometimes unexpected ones, delivered to my front door when I’m away. Since I enter my home from a garage I may not see a package at my front door and occasionally have had packages disappear. Additionally, as a single woman, I was also interested in the video doorbells from a security standpoint. I decided to check out the Ring doorbell a $200 Internet-connected doorbell that incorporates a fish-eye video camera, speakerphone and optional cloud recording service. While the idea and technology behind Ring is promising, I was ultimately left feeling a little disappointed.
The idea behind the Ring Doorbell is that when someone rings the doorbell at your home, it will send a notification to your smartphone to allow you to initiate a one-way video chat with the visitor regardless of if your home or not. This allows you to give the delivery person permission to leave a package, or tell a solicitor to buzz off. It also can offer a safety feature of allowing you to see who is at the door before actually coming to the door, or giving the appearance that someone is home when they may not be. Ring also offers an optional cloud service to record audio and video of an event for later review.
Ring can be installed as a standalone device and paired with an optional speaker inside the home for the alert chime. But it work best if installed with a standard wired-doorbell. I chose to replace my wired doorbell with the Ring and found the process of removing the old doorbell and mounting the Ring fairly straightforward. Simply remove the old doorbell, connect two standard wires and secure the Ring to the home.
In the box, Ring includes everything that is required for installation, including spackle to patch up your old holes. It’s a nice touch. Prior to installing the Ring you’ll want to charge the unit via micro-USB. Ring says the battery will last about a year and will provide low-battery warnings via the companion App. In order to discourage theft, once attached to the mounting plate Ring is secured by two proprietary screws and Ring says if the doorbell is ever stolen they’ll replace it. Personally, I’m more worried about losing the proprietary screwdriver when it comes time to charge the battery next year. You’ll want to make sure that where ring is installed (presumably outside near your front door) is within Wi-Fi range of your home’s router.
Once installed Ring is fairly easy to pair with a companion App on a smartphone that’s available via free download in the App store. Then, will notify the user when the doorbell is pressed or when it senses motion in the area. Motion detection is a fairly new feature and in my testing was not particularly accurate. First, motion detection has to be fine tuned, which is a process of trial and error, so it’s sensitive enough to catch someone as they’re walking up your drive, but no so sensitive as to alert with false alarms every time a car or pedestrian walks by on the public street.
Even after using the Ring for a couple of months and adjusting the motion sensitivity, I’m still finding that I’ll get a couple of false positives a week, generally when a large truck drives by on the street in front of my house. I’ve also found that Ring will often take 30 seconds to a minute or more to detect motion, even motion directly in front of it. If a delivery person doesn’t ring the doorbell (which happens frustratingly often) I’ve found on many occasions I’ll only catch them as they’re walking away and almost back in their truck. Not helpful if you’re trying to catch someone’s face. On multiple occasions I tested the ring by walking up my driveway, standing at the door (but not pressing the doorbell), peeping in the window in my door, and then walking away. Several times Ring generally only alerted and caught the activity after I turned away. While this may be fine for a delivery driver dropping a package, not so great in the case of someone with less honorable intentions. Notifications seemed to come much faster when the doorbell button was actually pressed.
When the doorbell is pressed a few things occur. First, ring emits a long doorbell-like chime to let the visitor know it’s doing something. I personally found this annoying and wish there was a way to disable it. Standard doorbells don’t chime outside the home and I personally find the Ring chime awkward. If the Ring is wired to a existing doorbell, the doorbell chime in the home will sound just as it would with a traditional doorbell. What make the Ring unique is that it will send a notification to the paired smartphone(s) notifying of a guest at the door. Ring can be paired not only with the owner’s smart phone but with other smartphones that the owner has given permission, this is great for families so anyone can answer the call. Opening the Ring App brings up a live video feed where you can accept or reject the call from the Ring. If you accept the call the speaker is activated and you can talk to the person at the door. Overall I was impressed with the video quality, though I’m not sure you could successfully identify someone if they weren’t standing within reasonable distance facing the door.
If you aren’t able to answer a call immediately, Ring offers optional cloud recording. Cloud recording is only included for the first 30 days as a free trial, thereafter is $3 a month or $30 a year. While I understand this from a business perspective, it would be nice to give users the option to record locally on my iPhone or my own cloud storage events that are occurring live. To get full functionality out of the Ring, such as reviewing motion events cloud storage will be required. Another disappointment is there currently is no way to activate the video feed remotely from the App unless the doorbell button is pressed. So you can’t activate the feed if you were away and just wanted to check in. Ring says this feature is coming.
The idea of the Ring is a great one, but its implementation still has something to be desired. Hopefully most of the shortcomings can be addressed in future software updates. While I’m very excited about the idea, I’m not sure Ring ready for prime time.
This article first appeared in the June Issue of ScreencastsOnline Monthly Magazine. ScreenCastsOnline monthly magazine is packed with hints, tips, articles and links to streamable versions of ScreenCastsOnline tutorials and delivered monthly via Newsstand on the iPad. You can find out more at http://www.screencastsonline.com/magazine/