This New Gadget Rings a Bell…

For the past week, I’ve been using the Ring Video Doorbell. It’s still early in the process, and I may follow up with a more in-depth post later on, but for now, here are my first impressions on the experience.

SELECTING IT

Ring has two models of doorbell: the Video Doorbell ($199 MSRP), and the Video Doorbell Pro ($249 MSRP). At first glance, the most obvious difference is the size of the two models. The standard model measures 4.98 inches tall, by 2.43 inches wide, by .87 inches deep. The pro is smaller overall: 4.50 inches tall, by 1.85 inches wide, by .80 inches deep.

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The standard Ring Video Doorbell (left), and the Video Doorbell Pro (right). (Source: Ring.com)

Both come in a variety of color choices. The standard model comes in one of four finishes: Venetian Bronze (black and dark-toned bronze); Polished Brass (black and light-toned gold); Antique Brass (black and dark-toned gold); and Satin Nickel (black and silver).

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Ring’s four finishes for its standard model. (Source: Ring.com)

The Pro comes included with four interchangeable faceplates: black, dark gray, silver, and white. This has the added benefit of allowing the owner to keep the same unit but change its exterior, should it be time for a new paint job, for example.

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Ring’s interchangeable faceplates, all four included with the Video Doorbell Pro. (Source: Ring.com)

As this was going to be mounted on a dark background, I knew I was going to want the darkest model I could get. The smaller Pro was attractive, but I was disqualified from getting it due to my wiring. You see, both the standard model and the Pro are designed to work with typical doorbell wiring; but only the standard model can work without this wiring, instead using its built-in rechargeable battery for power. I suppose the lack of a battery is how the Pro can be so much smaller. Having the choice made for me, I selected the Venetian Bronze model and brought it home for installation. And this proved to be the next challenge.

INSTALLING IT

In the package, they include almost everything needed for a typical installation: charging cable, a small bubble level, double-ended driver bit, wood screws and anchors, and a masonry drill bit (see video below). Unfortunately, my setup is not typical. My porch is behind a thick metal screen door, and as I’m renting, I wasn’t about to drill any holes. My plan was therefore to mount the doorbell directly onto the firm screen. Instead of using the included wood screws, I bought some machine bolts of the same diameter, which I threaded through the holes in the mounting bracket and the screen, and attached on the other side with wing nuts. Once the bracket was attached, I followed Ring’s very user-friendly video instructions the rest of the way to mount the doorbell onto the bracket, securing it tightly with its built-in security screws.

(NOTE: before attaching the doorbell to the bracket, I made sure to charge it fully with the included micro USB cable. Time will tell how long it lasts on a single charge with real-world usage.)

CONFIGURING IT

This part was more challenging than I expected. My wifi network primarily uses the 5-GigaHertz (GHz) band, but the standard model only supports the older 2.4GHz frequency. The Pro, among its other benefits, supports 5GHz. Even after selecting the 2.4GHz band on my network, connecting still proved frustrating, to the point where I had to swallow my pride and contact their tech support division. Strangely, this is the only tech company I’ve dealt with whose phone support is actually open later than their online “chat” support. Given that their device can fall in the “security” category, I hope they eventually extend their support hours [8 am – 6 pm PT by phone, or 8 am – 5 pm PT for chat] to later into the night, or perhaps even 24 hours.

Regardless, the phone support operator made short work of my issue, helping me to do a hard reset on the device and restore it to factory settings. Once I had cleared out the remnants of my previous, failed attempts, I was able to join my 2.4GHz wifi network and continue setup.

Unlike most home security cameras on the market, the Ring Video Doorbell is not constantly recording or streaming video. It is activated one of two ways: when a visitor presses the doorbell, or when activity near the box triggers its motion detector. In either event, the default function when video is triggered, is to alert the user via the app on their computer or mobile device. In my particular setup, there is much too much motion past my front door—I was getting notifications every five minutes, whenever a car would pass by. Even with the option to narrow the motion detection field, I was still getting “false positives.” I decided to turn off notifications for motion detection, choosing only to be alerted for bell rings. With the camera and app properly set up to my specifications, it was finally time to let it be my new doorbell.

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Ring’s settings for enabling/disabling and expanding/contracting motion detection zones. (Source: Ring.com)

LIVING WITH IT

The nice thing is that Ring does not require subscription to a video storage service like many other camera companies do. If somebody rings my bell, my phone gets the alert and brings up the live video feed. I can then communicate with the visitor, and we can have a conversation while I head to the door to let them in (or ask them politely to go away). I wish the doorbell could unlock my front gate to let guests in with my permission—perhaps that will be an option with future models.

In addition to the live-streaming of visitors and nearby motion, Ring throws in a free 30-day trial of its cloud recording service, so that motion that triggers the camera—as well as bell-ringers whom you may miss—get stored for review later. This recently came in handy, when a repairman stopped by recently. He rang the bell, the tone of which was so unfamiliar to me, that I didn’t know what was trying to get my attention (in my defense, my “smart home” has several devices that make their presence known from time to time with unusual electronic tones). I didn’t engage in a live conversation with him, but the recording showed me who it was, and I was able to run out and get him before he left the premises.

Once the trial ends, I will have the option of paying month-to-month for recording, $3 per month, or for an annual subscription, at $30 per year. Naturally, the cost-effective method is to go with the annual plan. It would only make sense to go with the short-term plan if I expected to return the doorbell; but in that instance, I likely would have returned it within the first 30 days, anyway.

The video quality is decent, and it records audio, as well. It switches into a “night vision” mode after dark, although the infrared lighting tends to “over-light” visitors at night, leading to a “Paranormal Activity” effect. Otherwise, I’m pretty happy with the new ability to see who’s at my door without having to run down the stairs every time I hear a ring or a knock.

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Not taken on a Ring Video Doorbell at night, but not too far off. (Source: Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, still found on CinemaBlend.com)

I’ve added two additional plug-in Chimes (one upstairs, one downstairs, $29.95 each MSRP) so when somebody rings the bell, I can still be notified the traditional way, and I don’t have to have my phone with me to know somebody’s at the door.

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Ring’s optional Chime module. (Source: GStyleMag.com, click photo for their article)

I can further choose, down the line, to supplement the doorbell’s built-in camera with additional Stick Up Cams ($199 each MSRP).  Unlike other dedicated cameras, these are only motion-activated, so they may not be the best fit for those looking for full, round-the-clock surveillance of their property.

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Ring’s Stick Up Cam. (Source: Ring.com)

CONCLUSION

I’m happy so far with my purchase, with a few quibbles: I wish the Pro model, with its interchangeable faceplates and 5GHz wifi support, offered the same non-wired battery power option as its non-Pro counterpart. I wish the motion detection wasn’t so sensitive, so that it would record only people walking up my path, and not walking past it. I wish the night mode picture were adjustable so it didn’t look like ghosts were at my door. Finally, I wish there were an option, if not for the main doorbell itself, then for the Stick Up Cams, to have constant recording, the way most other home security cameras do these days. Even with all these issues, I’m satisfied that it’s still the smartest doorbell I’ve ever used. And the good news is, for competing devices who want to offer even more features, the door’s open.

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