Day One With the Ring Video Doorbell

Ring_video_doorbell

Due to an uptick in the amount of break-ins in the neighborhoods surrounding my house (and a generous promotion from my insurance company), my wife and I purchased a Ring Video Doorbell for our home.

 

(Update 8/10/2016: I was mistaken in originally stating that only the Pro version had night vision.  Both versions of the device have an infrared night vision LED)

For those who don’t spend every waking moment obsessing over new technology – the Ring Video Doorbell is a wifi-connected, motion sensing camera with built-in intercom – that connects to your smartphone. The “standard” version retails for $199.00, and for an addition $50, you can get the Pro version, which appears to add night vision and the ability to manually trigger recordings, just in case you want to videotape your kid riding their bike but don’t want to get off the couch.

This review is for the standard version. Unboxing the camera was not an issue. The packaging was held closed by two small “tape circles” on either end and nothing more. Sliding it open reveal the main doorbell unit, the back plate for mounting, a small level that snaps into the back plate, five screws, five anchors, a masonry drillbit, a USB cable for charging it, quick-setup instructions, and a cute little screwdriver with a dual-mode bit that can be used to drive the mounting screws and secure the set-screws used to hold everything in place.

Taking a look at the instructions, I see the first thing I need to do is download the Ring app. Once that was downloaded and opened, I was greeted by a set of on-screen instructions, and promptly crumpled up the paper instructions and tossed them aside. Who needs instructions anyway, right? So, the first thing the on-screen instructions tell me to do is press the orange button on the back of the doorbell. I press the button. According to the instructions, I should be seeing a white spinning circle on the face of the device. Instead, I see nothing. Okay. Try a few more times to make sure my sense of tactile feedback wasn’t just wonky. Nope, fingers are good, the batteries must be dead.

This is not an auspicious beginning. I pull out the included USB cable, plug it into a power supply, and breathe a minute sigh of relief as the circle on the face of the doorbell begins to display a blue spinning circle (to indicate that it is charging). Now that I’m happy I didn’t get a DOA product, I go back to the setup screen on my phone, and try pressing the orange button again. This time, I see a brief hint of a white LED as prompted by the screen, but then it quickly reverts to blue. I assume it’s just really, really, really dead.

So, I leave it to charge for about a half-hour, and try again. This time, my patience is rewarded, and the ring continues to display the white circle animation. The on-screen setup instructions ask me if it is spinning, I hit “yes”. The next screen tells me “The ring app is starting a conversation with your Ring Doorbell”. I would grow to hate this prompt, as you will soon understand.

Clearly, HAL, it can't hear you. Try talking louder or something.
Clearly, HAL, it can’t hear you. Try talking louder or something.

It was at this portion of the setup process that things stopped being “easy”. Despite my phone being inches away from the doorbell and having 70% wifi signal, I could not get the Doorbell and Phone to communicate with each other. The phone would tell me “Starting a brief conversation”, then I would see my wifi disconnect and reconnect to the AP on the Ring, be prompted that the app was communicating with Ring to set some things up…then I would be dumped to a nondescript error page. This was extremely unhelpful, as the only prompt I was given was to go into my wifi and select the access point with “Ring” in the name – which I was already connected to.

I tried this process several times, throwing in random variations like disconnecting from wifi first, restarting the doorbell, and just leaving it alone to charge longer. None of this helped. Eventually, I just pressed the orange button on the doorbell with the ring app closed, and manually opened the wifi list on my device and picked the ring APN. Only when I did this was I prompted by my device that “the access point has no internet, would you like to stay connected to it”. I agreed, and tried setup again. This time, after the “Ring is starting a conversation” prompt, I saw actual progress, followed by a list of APN’s to select from for Ring to connect to. Almost there!

However, just after selecting the APN to connect to, it seems as if the battery on the doorbell gave up again, and the device died. Sigh. I threw it on the charger again, this time for a good 45 minutes. Tried the setup process *again*, and this time, everything worked!

While I was waiting for it to charge, I took the time to remove my elderly beige doorbell and attach the mounting plate. My front door has wooden framing, so all I needed to do was level the plate with the attached level and drive in the screws with the included screwdriver. For people mounting this to masonry or other surfaces that are “not wood”, you will need a drill. For people with existing old-school doorbells, there is also a convenient set of terminals on the mounting plate for those wires to attach to. Hooking these up is not a requirement, but will allow the Ring to use your existing doorbell chime – AND allow it to charge the device directly. Otherwise, you will need to remove it occasionally and give it a charge overnight.

With the mounting plate attached and a good 75% charge on the doorbell, it’s was time to hook it up and see what it can do. Using the included screwdriver, I quickly secured the main unit to the mounting plate and marveled at my manliness.

Once my moment of self-delusion passed, I got around to trying it out. Pressing the button on the doorbell immediately elicits a digital chime noise from the speaker in the doorbell. The sound quality is bright and clear, and while the tone is definitely audible from a distance, you probably wouldn’t be able to hear it from across a small house. A few seconds after pressing the button, my smartphone began playing the same chiming noise as I heard outside. I see a notification for a new ring – and tapping it drops me into a fullscreen display for the camera at the front door.

However, in all of the demo videos, the picture is crystal-clear, smooth, and immediate. In practice, not so much. What I found to be most interesting was that despite having my phone and the doorbell on the same wireless network, there was almost a 5-second delay between opening the fullscreen video window and seeing a picture of what was going on outside my door. And while I could speak into my phone and hear the audio from outside, I did not hear the person speaking at the other end. Reviewing the video after the fact shows me both picture and sound from all parties.

I had similar luck with further tests. With some rings, I could immediately see video and hear who was outside, but most had a long-ish delay, or no video at all. Sometimes the feeds would be garbled and choppy, some would be fine.

So that’s the doorbell feature. How does the “motion detection” feature work? Setup for this is fairly intuitive. You are shown an overhead picture of your doorbell with that semi-circle divided into five zones. Here you can tap on each zone to set whether or not Ring will monitor that area for motion. A slider at the left allows you to adjust the range from approximately 5 feet all the way out to 30. The odd part is that once you’ve pressed the “save” button for the motion settings, you will then be prompted to go press the button on the face of your doorbell. I describe this as odd because, well – while I can understand the desire to make a setting like this somewhat secure – I can see the use-case for wanting to adjust this sensitivity being something like “I’m at work and this stupid motion detection thing goes off every time a car drives by.” or “I’m in bed and I just want this to shut up without having to go outside at 1AM.”. First-world problems, right? I guess it makes sense, but I personally would have designed it to not require physical interaction.

 

I have twenty-two 50-second videos of cars driving past my house from today.
I have twenty-two 50-second videos of cars driving past my house from today.  Neato.  Or not.

Additionally, after pressing the button on the physical doorbell to save your settings, there isn’t a clear indicator of when the settings are saving or when the device is operational again. The face just spins blue for a while – potentially several minutes – and then it’ll randomly work again.

First impressions? I’m still on the fence. While I was very underwhelmed by what I was seeing with my initial tests last night, I’m also tech-savvy enough to know that the thing was probably downloading firmware, updates, pulling down *something* after I immediately hooked it up. So far today, nobody has rung the bell, so I couldn’t have a good field test with them. The motion detection, however, has alerted me 22 times that there is motion at my front door, so I know that’s working. Of course, each of these was just a car driving by, so I’ll have to do some more adjusting this evening before I know for sure how reliable that feature is.

Stay tuned for more!

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Ben K

Ben is a full-time IT Manager for a major healthcare provider in Milwaukee, WI. When he's not saving the staff at his work from their technology, he can probably be found living as his alter-ego Digitalhigh on XDA-Developer forums, where he has a number of custom ROM releases, as well as other projects. For hobbies, he is also an avid musician, lover of all things technological, and a dedicated father and husband. He also enjoys sunsets, spicy food, and long walks on the beach. XD