Review: Ring video doorbell is halfway to genius

Avoiding door-to-door salesmen is great, but dealing with a flood of notifications is annoying.

ring, ring video doorbell

RING VIDEO DOORBELL
THE GOOD: Good for monitoring front door traffic.
THE BAD: Wonky motion sensor, reaction time sometimes lags.
RATING: A A A A

The idea of a connected doorbell seems like a no brainer. We’ve had video teleconferencing on our phones and wi-fi in our homes for years, so why not put the two together so people can actually see who’s at their front door before answering it?

The folks at Santa Monica, Calif.-based Ring, formerly Doorbot, were among the first to flesh out this simple-yet-genius idea, which is why their video doorbell is one of bigger names in the field.

The Ring is indeed a smart gizmo – a definite improvement over its non-connected analog forebears.

That said, it does suffer from some of the same problems found in a lot of consumer-grade internet-of-things devices: it doesn’t work exactly like it should.

As far as set-up is concerned, the $199 (U.S.) Ring is fairly simple to get going.

It can run off battery power or connect to your doorbell’s existing wiring. I opted to go with the second option since I live in the frozen climes of Canada and didn’t want to run the risk of the cold sapping the battery.

Special screws and a matching proprietary screwdriver fasten the Ring in place and keep it safe from would-be thieves. It’s also a snap to connect to your wi-fi network and works with iOS and Android devices. From there, it’s off to the races.

Central to the Ring is its big glowing button, which almost tantalizes visitors into pressing it. When they inevitably do, the device sends an alert to your phone or tablet, whereupon you can accept or reject the communication, just like a phone call.

Ring also sells a separate $29 Chime, which also connects to your home wi-fi and plugs into any electrical socket. The Chime rings whenever the doorbell is activated, providing a good option for large houses or people who don’t want to always have their phone nearby.

ring video doorbell

If you accept the call, you have a conversation with the visitor via the Ring’s fish-eye camera, microphone and speaker. The best part is, you can see them but they can’t see you, so you can be at home, at work or even, ahem, indisposed. If you reject the call, the visitor assumes you’re not home.

The concept is appealing to a number of potential buyers. It’s great for anyone who has had to deal with one too many door-to-door-salesmen, or self-employed people like me who inevitably miss that courier delivery by a matter of minutes.

It’s also good for people who are just plain lazy and can’t be bothered to answer the door.

The system works for the most part. After using the Ring for a few months, I found it generally came in handy. I did indeed catch some of those couriers who I previously would have missed, and I even managed to fend off some unwanted callers.

I did experience lag on a few occasions where, by the time I got the app fired up, I’d catch the back of my caller’s head as they trudged away.

Sometimes, the connection time exceeds the patience of the visitor, but that’s not too different from the analog world. Sometimes your visitor just doesn’t want to wait for you to put on your pants.

ring

The Ring tries to do more than just this simple task, however, and that’s where things get sketchy.

The device also houses motion and proximity sensors that are supposed to pick up activity near your door, so that you can get notifications whenever someone comes near it regardless of whether they push the button or not.

The range and sensitivity of these sensors is supposed to be adjustable, but I’ll be damned if I could figure out the right fine tuning even after several months of use.

As far as I can tell, the Ring sends proximity notifications completely at random, which results in a lot of false alarms. Passing cars set the thing off and it seems to be especially sensitive on sunny days. I’m at the point now where I mostly ignore these notifications.

Ring also offers an optional $30-a-year cloud recording service that stores all these alerts and activities online, which brings some upside to having an overly sensitive video monitor attached to your door. Having a record of every face or car that appears on your property is an unintentionally great security feature.

All told, the Ring is about halfway to where it wants to be. It does its basic job fairly well and adds some good security features. It needs to be snappier with its connections and its proximity sensors definitely need improving.

That said, it is a step up from plain old doorbells 1.0. It only takes one near miss with a door-to-door salesman to figure that out.

Ring supplied a trial unit for the purposes of this review.

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