When we bought our house it didn’t have a doorbell and we never installed one. We made the reasonable assumption that with a house this small, you could usually hear a door knock anywhere in the house. But when I saw the Ring Video Doorbell, I realized there are other reasons I might want one.

The Ring Video Doorbell isn’t just a doorbell, as you might imagine from its name. It’s an internet-connected doorbell and video camera with a speaker and microphone built-in that lets me monitor and answer the door wherever I am through a smartphone app.

(Update 1/9/17: Updates and new details throughout the following blog entry.)

First, let’s go through the bundle I purchased. I got the original Ring Video Doorbell and not the Pro because, the original will work with either pre-existing wires or on a built-in rechargeable battery.1 Since there was not a doorbell there, I didn’t want to have to run wiring. What I lose by not getting the Pro is 1080p video (the original 720p), custom sensitivity zones (more on that in a minute), and the use of 5GHz WiFi instead of just 2.4GHz. None of those were important enough to justify an extra $50 plus the cost of having an electrician run wiring.

As part of the bundle I also got the Stick Up Cam, a WiFi connected, battery-powered, motion-detecting video camera. It also has a built-in speaker and microphone that lets me talk to whoever is in its range when they trip the motion detector. Even better, with a new update recently, I can initiate a live view whenever I want to just monitor an area.

Both devices have an internal battery that recharges through a micro-USB port and keep the device going for months at a time, but the kit I purchased also included a solar panel that connects to the Stick-Up Cam and keeps it charged. The idea is that the doorbell is always easily accessible by your door, but the camera might be mounted up high, making the process of getting it down to recharge a real pain. This eliminates that pain. I have found so far that it does a good job of keeping the camera’s battery topped off. We’ll have to see how it does through a snowy and dark New England winter. (Update 1/9/17: Sadly, I have to report it doesn’t do it very well. For one thing, I mounted the solar panel on the north side of the house, which was fine in the sunny summer months, but as the sun sinks to the south in the winter, the solar panel is essentially useless. I’ve had to climb a ladder a few times to take down the camera and recharge it.)

The final device in the kit was an internal doorbell chime. At its most basic, you could let the doorbell chime on your smartphone, but for some people the phone’s not always conveniently with them all the time, maybe charging in the bedroom. The chime plugs into any outlet and connects via WiFi to the doorbell and simply gives the traditional bell ringing. You can place it anywhere in the house where the signal reaches and you can also customize the sound.

Installation

Because I wasn’t wiring the doorbell in, the installation was pretty simple. I did run into a bit of a problem unique to my house, but then I’m always running into unique problems in this “uniquely” renovated house.2 In this case, we have vinyl siding that we couldn’t mount the doorbell on and the wooden door jamb was just too skinny. I had to get out my chisel and carve out a piece of the door trim to fit the doorbell in. I also had to make allowances for the fact that the doorbell itself slides on and off a mounting plate and so had to have some headroom.

Other than that, the installation of the doorbell was a breeze. They thoughtfully included a little snap-on level, the screws, and even a special security-bit screw driver that allows you to loosen the security screws so you can take the doorbell in for charging.3 Just don’t lose the screwdriver!

The camera and solar charger were easier, even allowing for having to get up on a ladder. I set up mine to cover the backyard, although I had to think for a while about the optimum placement. I didn’t want to get too far from the WiFi router and I also wanted to cover as many of the doors and windows as possible.

Configuring

The software setup for the Ring device was much like that of many other smart home devices. I had to download the Ring app to my phone and connect via WiFi directly to the doorbell, camera, and chime, which allowed me to connect them to the house’s WiFi network.

After that, it was a matter of refining the settings. If I had multiple doorbells and/or multiple chimes, I could choose which doorbell rings which chime or even have one doorbell not ring chimes at all.

I also had to configure the motion detection zones. The Stick Up Camera and Video Doorbell can each alert you when they detect motion and you can define the portions of their fields of view to use to detect motion. It provides a zoned grid and lets you choose which grids to watch and the distance from the camera. In practice, it was hard to tell if it made a huge difference. You can also set “smart alert”, which is supposed to identify repeated or continuous motion and only notify you once per event. For example, if the kids are running around in the yard, it should only alert you once and ignore the rest of their running. The setting is for light, standard or frequent and although I have it set to light, I still get lots of alerts. More on that in a bit.

(Update 1/9/17: The Video Doorbell Pro has much more sophisticated zone controls than the regular doorbell, which I have. Because my doorbell faces the street, I have a short yard, and I have no option to face the doorbell in another direction, it alerts on nearly every car driving by, even as the most restrictive settings. This makes this feature less useful. If I had the Pro’s better zone controls, I would have more granular control and could have alert on movement in the space directly in front of the door, excluding the street. And because of the constant alerting and video recording, this drains the battery faster and I have to recharge about once per month. If you have existing wiring, spend the extra to get the Pro.)

You’ll want to do this configuration once and leave it be because when you make a change, you have to reset the device. With the doorbell, you just have to ring the bell, but with the camera you have to press the reset button on the back, which could potentially involve climbing a ladder.

Apps and Cloud Video

The hardware is complemented by the software. Ring provides apps for iOS and Android and there’s even Mac and Windows apps, which have a bit less functionality, but still let you see video, get doorbell rings, and adjust a couple of settings. But it’s clear they expect you to interact with the devices primarily through your phone (or tablet).

The apps give you notifications when there’s a chime or motion detected, letting you pop into the app to see who’s there and chat with them if need be. You can also look at previously recorded videos, if you subscribe to the Cloud Video Recording service. Without it, you can watch the current video, but the cloud recording lets you watch up to six months of video, download videos to your computer or phone, and access them from the web site. If you need to give a video of the guy trying to break into your home to the cops, you’ll want this. It’s $3 per month or $30 annually, but it is charged per device so if you get a doorbell and a camera, that’s double the cost.

The apps also let you share the Ring system with the other people in your home so they too can get notifications and alerts of people at the door and so on.

In Use

One of the flagship features of the doorbell is the ability to answer the door when you’re not at home or, let’s say, indisposed. Say I’m at work and Melanie’s at the store with the kids and someone comes to the door. I can activate the speaker and microphone while looking at the person through the video and converse with them as if I’m in the house, even though I’m miles away in Boston. This works equally well if you’re on vacation or if you’re in your pajamas or if you really just don’t like opening the door to strangers.

An unexpected use case is the ability to talk to the kids or Melanie. Sometimes I’ll get an alert and catch them heading out to the car or coming home, so I’ll activate the speaker and say hi or even let them know when I’ll be coming home. One time, Ben rang the doorbell to tell me I’d left something at home that morning. I do like the idea that if a child gets locked out or needs me and can’t get hold of Melanie, they can use the doorbell as a kind of panic button. Plus it’s fun to take a moment during the day to talk to the kids.

I did find that sometimes it feels like there’s too many motion detection alerts, especially in the backyard. My kids are home all day and they play in the yard all day. I have taken to turning off the backyard alert during the day, but it would be nice to have a schedule for when it should be on and when it should be off. To take it a step further, I’d love for it to connect with the Automatic vehicle monitoring device in the van, so that it could automatically switch motion detection alerts on and off when the van enters or leaves a geofenced area around my house. The Automatic can already work with my Nest thermostat to do something similar with heating and cooling and Ring does work with other smart home devices. I don’t know how likely it is I will get my wish, but I’m hoping.

In the meantime, try to remember to turn the alerts after the kids are in the house for evening, but that’s not foolproof.

(Update 1/9/17: They have added simple scheduling of alert settings in the app, but it’s very simple. I would like to see the feature expanded in the future.)

Speaking of false alerts, the doorbell is much better but I did have to move my American flag. I had the flag mounted next to the door, but the constant movement in the wind was causing continuous alerts so I did move it down the side of the house. My driveway isn’t long either, so while passing cars aren’t a problem, garbage trucks have a tendency to set it off.

One other issue has come up which is delayed video. By that I mean that when I get the alert and the video comes up, sometimes it didn’t start recording in time to catch whoever was at the door. Obviously, if they ring the bell or even just stand there for a few seconds, but the mail carrier or UPS driver are there and gone so fast, I often miss them completely. Sometimes the mailman comes through so fast the motion detection doesn’t even alert.

Even with those quibbles, I am happy with the Ring system overall and I look forward to seeing improvements and new features over time, especially if they start partnering with more services like Phillips Hue or Amazon Alexa or Apple HomeKit. Certainly, it would be handy to have a remote-controlled door lock so I could let in one of the kids who got locked out or a repairman while we’re out.

But for now, I think the Ring is an overall win, especially given the price compared to conventional home security systems. Do you have a home security system? Does a video doorbell appeal to you?

  1. The battery lasts for months and when it needs charging, you remove the doorbell with a special screwdriver that fits the security screws and plug it into a micro-USB cable.
  2. We bought the house from renovators and we’re always running into weird corners they cut or just strange remodeling decisions. For example, every electrical outlet in the house was installed upside down. Huh?
  3. Obviously, they didn’t want to make it easy for crooks to just come in and slide the doorbell off its mount.

Image Credit

  • RingVideoDoorbell: Ring.com | Copyright by owner. Used under Fair Use doctrine

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