Do smart doorbells live up to the hype?

In the age of the IoT (Internet of Things) almost any product is available in a model that will connect to the Internet for some reason or another. Cars, refrigerators, cameras, watches, and toys can all connect to your Wi-Fi and do various things that are supposed to improve your life experience in some fundamental way.

As a technologist, I am frequently an early adopter of these gadgets. Some of them turn out to accomplish their goal and make life easier like my smart phone. Some aren’t worth the trouble or money like my “smart” telescope. I was recently gifted with and installed a Ring doorbell (thanks, mom). Does it improve my life or is it a waste?

I didn’t jump on the smart doorbell bandwagon very early. To be honest they were too expensive, a pain to install, and I couldn’t see how they’d significantly make things easier. A doorbell does its job just fine, right? Why would it need to be smart? Ring has turned smart doorbells around. Their original unit can be found for under $100 dollars and is easy to install.

As with all IoT devices there are some technical requirements to using it. Namely, your Wi-Fi router will need to be powerful enough or close enough to reach outside. This is easily testable by taking your phone/tablet/laptop out to where you are mounting the, Ring and make sure you can still surf the web. While you’re out there, run a speed test, I like but any of them will work. You need to have at least 2 megabytes download and 2 Megabytes of upload bandwidth for the ring to work properly. Although we were able to make it work on a relative’s rural DSL with only .6MB of upload; you’ll be out of support if you attempt slower than 2.

It took me about 15 minutes to install my Ring. Everything you need comes in the box including a level, screws and anchors, a screw driver, and well written instructions. If you don’t like to read, install the app on your phone before you get started and it will play a high quality instruction video.

  1. Disconnect the power to your current doorbell (find the breaker).
  2. Remove your door bell. Usually two screws and then pry it off with a flat head screw driver.
  3. Attach the level to the mounting bracket.
  4. Pass the old door bells wires through the ring’s mounting bracket.
  5. Square up and level the bracket against your house.
  6. Drive in the four included screws; I cheated and used a drill. I also drilled four small pilot holes to make it easier.
  7. Attach the two wires from your original doorbell to the terminal screws on the mounting bracket. It doesn’t matter which one goes where. If your existing doorbell is digital (plays a tune instead of just ding-dong) you have to bridge the terminals with the included diode.
  8. Pair your Ring with your phone.
  9. Slide the Ring down on the bracket.
  10. Tighten the security screws at the bottom with the included star bit.
  11. Turn the power back on.

The device will draw power from the circuit that ran your old doorbell, but what if you don’t have one? Ring has thought of that. It has an internal rechargeable battery so you can still mount it outside. You’ll have to slide the unit off of its mounting bracket and charge it with a standard Micro-USB cable (included) every few months. The app will let you know when your battery is getting low.

After you have it installed, you’ll need to spend some time configuring the options that best fit your needs. The device has a motion detector, night vision, two-way audio, and can be shared with multiple users. You can also sign up for the Neighbors program; a high-tech twist on the old neighborhood watch in which you can post videos of suspicious activities. It’s a little eye-opening to see the flower-pot stealing crime syndicate at work.

Does it make life easier after you go through the trouble and expense? Yes, yes it does. If for no other reason than having the ability to tell sales people to go away without having to get off the couch. The notifications and functions work even when you’re not home. I wasn’t aware of how many neighborhood kids are playing basketball in my driveway while I am at work (don’t care, but nice to know). My wife and I can “answer” the door when we’re out shopping and leave the teenagers home, no one need know they’re home alone.

You can turn on Live view which lets you connect to the camera anytime you want (otherwise requires a doorbell ring / motion event) and see what’s going on in your front-yard from anywhere at anytime. I heard some big bangs this morning and from my bed looked out from the Ring camera and saw some kids getting a jump on the 4th of July celebrations. Back to sleep…

My family likes it so much that we are considering adding a couple of their security cameras and possibly even their full alarm system. I get some piece of mind knowing what’s happening at my home when we’re not there and better alerts (can’t hear a regular doorbell in the basement) when we are.


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