Ring Video Doorbell review: Smart home tech that’s actually practical
If, like me, you’re among the growing numbers of self-employed Brits who work from home in a garden office, you likely have a problem. As far as the fleet of Amazon couriers, postmen, tradesmen and other visitors arriving at your front door are concerned, you might as well be working in Baghdad, because your doorbell isn’t audible from your desk. That urgent delivery you’ve been waiting for all morning? Sorry, that’s been returned to the “local” depot 30 miles away.
Enter Ring, a Wi-Fi-enabled video doorbell that won’t only ping your smartphone when you’re working from that home office, but will do so when you’re shopping in Tesco, away for the weekend, or even out of the country altogether. It’s the ideal device both for those who are home all the time and those who are barely home at all – with some notable caveats that I’ll come to later.
Ring Video Doorbell review: Design
First, let’s tackle how the device works. The Ring doorbell itself – a handsome slab of chrome and black plastic that attracts curious glances from passers-by – is mounted in place of your regular doorbell.
If you have an existing, wired doorbell then you can run the device from the mains; if not, the Ring comes with an internal battery that lasts so long I’m beginning to suspect it contains its own nuclear reactor. A month after installation, the battery life has dropped by a mere 10%, despite numerous video calls at the door every day. It’s utterly remarkable, and even when the battery does finally give up in a few months’ time, it can be topped up via the supplied USB cable (although this does involve unscrewing the unit from the wall).
Everything you need to install the Ring is supplied in the box, including a mounting bracket, spirit level and drill bit for those attaching the device to brickwork, and the super-clear video tutorials on the company’s website ease the process further. The virtual installation is effortless too: hooking up to Wi-Fi was simple (initially, at least) and the supplied apps for Android, iOS and Windows 10 are spotlessly designed.
I did, however, hit an early stumbling block. Despite living in a modest semi-detached house, where the front door is no further than 10m and a couple of walls away from the router, the Ring doorbell struggled to maintain a decent Wi-Fi connection, leading to missed alerts when the doorbell was rung.
Disappointingly, this isn’t a dual-band device, and so even the clearer signal on the 5GHz band on my home router was unable to help. A call to Ring’s US-based tech support elicited a tone of near horror when I explained my house was made of brick, the American technician failing to comprehend why you’d need a house made of anything stronger than balsa wood and feathers. Only when a Wi-Fi repeater was placed in a plug socket in the hallway did router and doorbell reliably connect, adding around £20 and a trickle of electricity to the cost of this setup.
Ring Video Doorbell review: Security
Connection issues resolved, the Ring has proved invaluable. Its wide-angle lens provides clear, 720p footage of visitors to the door, while infrared LEDs provide ample night vision, even if your doorway isn’t lit. The doorbell’s microphone offers decent range, clearly picking up the voice of couriers who have taken a step or two back once they’ve rung the bell.
Note that only the voice is two-way; visitors can’t see you. However, that’s no bad thing if a potential burglar is knocking at your door to find out if anyone is in – a reply from afar could fool them into thinking you’re home. What’s more, video footage captured by the Ring can be stored on the company’s cloud servers for £3 per month/£30 per year – useful both for snaring thieves and reviewing who knocked at your door if you missed an alert.
Talking of anti-theft measures, the doorbell also offers motion detection, which can be set in degrees of sensitivity ranging from 5ft to 30ft. It worked well in my tests, although I soon tired of alerts triggered by paperboys and postmen and went back to doorbell-only alerts.
Ring Video Doorbell review: Shortcomings
There are some minor irritations and other costs to consider for potential Ring purchasers. The ability to link your doorbell to multiple smartphones, tablets and PCs is great, but it does occasionally result in two people trying to answer the door at the same time if, say, you and your partner are both out in different places. If you are out, you’ll need a reasonable 3G data connection to make video contact, and that can also lead to delays in answering people. Since Amazon couriers tend to give you precisely 3.5 seconds to answer your door before popping a card through your letterbox, that’s occasionally an issue.
Talking of delays, there can be a significant two- or three-second lag between someone ringing the bell and the alert triggering on your smartphone. And although the alert proved loud on my test Samsung Galaxy S6 and iPhone devices, if other members of the household aren’t in the same room as you, they won’t know someone is at the door. That’s where the optional Chime comes in, a £25 plug-in device that rings like a conventional doorbell when someone’s at the door, but without any of the video or voice features. Even at maximum volume, though, we sometimes failed to hear the Chime from upstairs.
Overall, the Ring delivers on its promise. Being able to direct couriers to leave a parcel in the recycling bin while I’m walking the dog, or swat away cold-callers without having to leave my desk, is the very definition of convenience. The months-long battery life is ridiculous; the reaction of friends when you tell them you’re answering the door from your smartphone even more so.
Yet it falls tantalisingly short of a five-star finish because of a few flaws. We suspect the vast majority of households will need Wi-Fi extenders, unless the router is located within close proximity of the front door. The cost of this and extras such as the Chime push the price of the Ring closer to £200, or even more if you take up the cloud storage option.
You also have to be wary that your doorbell will only be of use for as long as the company continues to support its accompanying apps. And while I’m partially reassured by the company’s “lifetime guarantee” against the device being stolen, it wouldn’t take an enormous amount of crowbarring to hoick this expensive-looking gadget off its bracket. Still, we’d have the video footage to share with the police…