The Ring Video Doorbell helps keep robbers always guessing

Despite intermittent reliability problems, Ring is a promising smart-home gadget that bridges the gaps between doorbell and security camera.

It’s part doorbell, part video cam, and part home security device. The Ring Video Doorbell is far from perfect, but it’s still a useful smart-home gadget.

Ring operates on a simple concept. Someone presses your doorbell, and the signal travels through your WiFi network, up into the cloud, and then back down to the smartphone in your hot little hand. Once you open up the smartphone notification, you can see exactly who’s at the door, and even talk to the person in a two-way conversation.

You can see them, but they can’t see you--and this is what makes Ring such a compelling security device. Let’s say a stranger comes to the door. Let’s say he’s a robber who’s ringing doorbells to see if anyone’s home. Well, with Ring, you’re basically always home.

[Jon] “Hello?”
[Bad guy] “Hi! I’m selling magazine subscriptions for charity.”
[Jon] “Print is dead. Go away.”

Whether you’re upstairs, at work, or on vacation, you can always answer the door. And then you can tell the bad guy that you can’t come to the door right now because you’re feeding your team of Belgian Malinois attack dogs.

The system also has a motion detection feature that sends an alert whenever someone approaches the door. From there you can open up the app, see who’s lurking, and start a conversation if you’re interested. The video quality isn’t great, but it records in a 180-degree field of view, and has night vision for round-the-clock surveillance.

Throughout testing, I really appreciated Ring’s camera features. I could see our dogwalker come and go, answer a neighbor’s question while I was on vacation in wine country, and even see UPS gently deliver a package. All that said, there are still some nagging problems.

First, there’s no video-on-demand feature that let’s you see what’s happening on your doorstep whenever you want. Ring says video-on-demand is in development, but for now you have to wait for someone to approach your door if you want to spy on the outside world.

Second, I had problems with WiFi response that created long lags between the doorbell press and the smartphone notification. In best-case scenarios, the signal response was instantaneous. But other times the delay tooks seconds--and that’s super frustrating.

Third and worst of all, even if your smartphone rings immediately, it takes a long time to actually get inside the app, and accept a doorbell request. It would be so much better if I could accept the request directly from the notification -- but that’s not how smartphones work.

Before I started testing Ring, I didn’t even have a doorbell. So for me it would be an upgrade. I don’t like the slow performance one bit, but it’s not a deal-breaker. And, frankly, I’m really not interested in receiving visitors at all.