Ring Smart Doorbell Review: Not Ringing Our Bells

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Review: Ring Doorbell
Not Ringing Our Bells

The Ring is a fantastic idea. A doorbell with a video camera that lets you know when somebody rings your doorbell, lets you see and talk to them, detects motion at your door even when the bell isn’t rung, and records that video for later review. It wires to your existing doorbell, or pairs with its own wireless bell, and has an app so you can answer the bell and view video anywhere you have Internet access.

That’s the idea, and in theory, that would be just wonderful.

I’m constantly watching for products we can carry for our customers that are cool, high value, and really well done. I got a Ring to demo on our home just before we headed out to the late for a couple of weeks. What better opportunity to test it? So I got one at one of our distributors, the original Ring, not the Ring Pro, to test.

The Ring has several distinct features:

1. It’s a conventional doorbell button
2. It’s a video camera with network connectivity
3. It’s got a WiFi card so you don’t have to wire it to your net
4. Motion detection – it detects “heat signatures” (as Ring calls it) and records/alerts you to that motion.
5. There’s a mic and speaker for two-way communication
6. There’s a built in battery in case you can’t hard-wire
7. The IOS app

I was able to test most functions, so staring at the top…

Works fine as a conventional doorbell. We have a vintage bell on a 24V AC doorbell circuit, rings it just fine.

The video camera is color, fairly high definition, and very wide angle. In our doorbell position it shoots almost the entire front porch clearly. Our porch light stays on at night so light sensitivity wasn’t tested, the night photos look fine. There is a small bug in network connectivity. The camera goes to sleep, apparently, when no motion or button press is detected. It takes some time to wake up and reconnect to your WiFi net. It MUST be connected to record, there is no local storage. That means if there is motion sensed, several critical seconds go by before anything is recorded. That’s about how much time it takes for a UPS driver to come up our stairs, drop a package, and head to the truck. I have lots of videos of UPS drivers backs as they walk away. I also have videos of our house sitter leaving after a visit, but not arriving. She was able to climb the stairs and enter the house before any recording was done. That also means someone can rush up the stairs, steal something, and head off unrecorded. This is actually the first deal-breaker.

Connecting to our WiFi net for the first time was easy, and done through the app. Security wasn’t a problem. However, as I’ll relate later, WiFi signal strength is a big deal for this little gadget. We were hitting it pretty well with our main router.

Motion detection is a problem. The Ring site claims this thing is looking at “heat signatures”, in other words, infrared. The app lets you block off general directions, and control distance and sensitivity. Or at least that’s what you think is going on. However, in my case, we have a residential street 42′ from the mounting position of the Ring. The traffic is very light, and not fast, but there is no distance and sensitivity combination that lets the Ring ignore traffic but detect people coming up our front steps. Pull back on the distance, it fails completely. Set the distance to 15′ or greater, it picks up passing traffic triggering a recording. The recording will be of a quiet street with no traffic, of course, because the Ring takes too long to wake up to get the actual thing that triggered the motion detection in the first place. Turn down sensitivity, you get no motion detection at all. So for me, the best setting was 15′ and sensitivity high. I got lots of traffic that way, but that’s the only setting that would also pick up people near the house. Foot traffic was always ignored.

The mic and speaker work well enough considering the tiny size.

The built in battery was used only for testing, as my installation had it wired to our 24VAC doorbell transformer and bell.

The app. Oh, the app. Here’s the thing: I’d like to know if there’s motion at my door. I don’t want be altered to every passing vehicle. After being constantly hammered by motion alerts, I finally gave up and turn motion alerts off. It still records when triggered, but the app doesn’t keep bothering me. The audible chime has an interesting sound, but I turned that off right away as too annoying. The app will vibrate the phone instead, and ping my smart watch. Browsing through dozens of videos in the app is tedious to say the least. Most are junk shots of my street, but every so often there’s a delivery to see. But, you have to open every single one and play it, a process that also takes more time than it should. If only there were a thumbnail taken a few seconds into the video, I could have prescreened which ones I wanted to bother burning time and cellular data opening, only to delete. I finally gave up deleting them.

Door bell rings are important. You’d like to know about that immediately, so you can open the live video stream, see the caller, and respond if you choose. I was never alerted soon enough to do that. By the time I got the alert, the mailman needing a signature was gone. Purpose defeated.

Then there’s that interesting thing in the video you’d like to look at more closely. Oops, sorry, no pinch-zoom available, you’re stuck with the whole entire wide-angle shot.

The app crashes a bit more often that most, but assuming updates are on the way, I can be patient about that.

What I’m not willing to accept is false alarms, videos taken after the event of interest has past, and slow doorbell ring response.

I’ve nearly used my free Ring server demo time, and I won’t be signing up. It’s a great idea whose time has come, but it’s not ready. The level of frustration is high. From a custom installer’s viewpoint, when Ring support tells me I might consider installing a WiFi router closer to the Ring to solve response time issues, what I hear is “Spend more money”. Sorry, I can’t be telling that to my customers. “It doesn’t work!” “Oh yeah, spend more money to make it work”. Not going to happen. If I include a new router with the Ring installation, I’m quintupling the installation cost. That’s also not going to happen. If I’m doing that, I’ll spec a real video surveillance system. Oh, and that would be without “cloud storage”, and an annual fee.

Oddly, I’m still involved with a support ticket on the Ring.  I’ve been asked to test WiFi speeds, send copies of videos of passing vehicles, and make motion sensor adjustments.  So far, no solutions offered that did any good, but apparently my WiFi speed at the Ring is questionable.  Wow, 7.2 Mbps down, 15Mbps up…how much do you need?

The other somewhat growing point…Ring doesn’t connect to other devices, it’s in it’s own world. If you’re getting into the world of Nest for example, and want to get everything networked together, Ring is the wrong product.

Sorry, Ring, you rung the wrong number this time. However, not to worry, Ring is anything but the only product in the category. I’ll be testing others shortly. Have to uninstall the Ring thing first.

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