Here's the rundown on Ring's new smart outdoor security lights
Ring's easy-to-install outdoor smart lights will watch for motion outside of your home and trigger your Ring cameras -- but some look a bit cheap.
Ry CristSenior Editor / Reviews - Labs
Originally hailing from Troy, Ohio, Ry Crist is a writer, a text-based adventure connoisseur, a lover of terrible movies and an enthusiastic yet mediocre cook. A CNET editor since 2013, Ry's beats include smart home tech, lighting, appliances, broadband and home networking.
ExpertiseSmart home technology and wireless connectivityCredentials
10 years product testing experience with the CNET Home team
With a wide range of battery-powered options (and a couple of hard-wired ones, too), the lineup offers enough versatility to bring some extra light to dark spots around the exterior of your home. And, with motion-sensors built into each light, the things can also trigger your Ring cameras and video doorbells to start recording whenever there's unexpected activity.
Not surprisingly, the motion-sensing lights also work with Amazon's AI assistant Alexa, which lets you turn them on and off with a quick voice command. No support for
right now, though -- Ring tells me that it's "eager to bring
and Google Assistant compatibility, and other exciting integrations," but didn't offer a timetable for when we should expect those integrations to arrive.
Watch this: Smart outdoor lighting: Ring vs. Philips Hue
Ring's outdoor lights start at just $18, which makes them a lot easier to afford than the outdoor smart lights from Philips Hue and the separate, standalone Philips Hue Outdoor Sensor accessory that triggers them. Ring's lights aren't nearly as fancy or as feature-rich, though. In fact, in my opinion, some of the new Ring lights are downright ugly.
Still, the ease of installation, the low cost and the inclusion of
in each light makes them an attractive option for security-minded smart homes, and they proved reliable and easy to use as I started testing them out. Here are our main takeaways after spending a week or so with them:
Ring's new lineup
Let's start with a quick summary of your Ring Smart Lighting options:
One of the big points of appeal with Ring Smart Lighting is that these lights are, for the most part, really easy to install. This is particularly true with the battery-powered lights -- you just scan a QR code on the back of the gadget with your phone's camera, pop the batteries in, search for the light in the Ring app to pair it with Ring's bridge, give it a name and assign it to a group like "backyard" or "deck," and then go find a spot for it. Placement is easiest with the Ring Pathlights, which you just stake into the ground anywhere you like -- for the mounted lights, you'll need to drill holes and screw them into place.
I've got a couple of nitpicks, though. First, none of the lights come with batteries included. That's just Ring trying to keep the buy-in costs low, but it's annoying nonetheless, especially with the spotlight, the floodlight and the pathlights, which each run off of D-cell batteries. Second, the motion sensor and the steplights don't come with sticky tabs or any other means of affixing them to your home without screws. If you want to attach them to brick or stone, you'll need to figure that out on your own.
Speaking of the steplight, it's probably the worst design of the bunch. It's much too big and bulky, it's a bit of an eyesore, and it doesn't feature a detachable plate for the screws like the other Ring gadgets do, which is baffling to me. That means that instead of screwing in through holes in a detached base plate one at a time and then snapping the device in place over top, you have to screw both screws in first, leaving them sticking out just a little bit before hanging the entire steplight over top of them. This makes it much too easy to space those screws incorrectly or to end up with a crooked light, so you'll probably want to have a level or a tape measure on hand.
Which takes us right to:
Cheap lights that look cheap
I don't think it's fair to expect high-end, elegant design from budget-priced smart lights, but some of Ring's lights qualify as eyesores. In addition to the bulky steplight, I'm speaking mainly of the battery-powered spotlight, which looks especially dated in plain white plastic.
Perhaps I'd like the black version better, but given the relative good looks of Ring's doorbells, I was disappointed that the brand basically made no attempt at style here whatsoever. Many will probably prefer inconspicuous design from their outdoor lights, but the cheap looks of the steplight and the spotlight don't seem like they'd blend in with most decor -- they seem like they'd actually stand out, and not in a good way.
That said, there's one big exception that looks perfectly fine to me:
The pathlights are the star of the show
I love Ring's pathlights. They're the best-looking lights of the bunch, and they're fairly priced at $30 each. Plus, since you just stake them into the ground with no need for wiring, they're the easiest of Ring's lights to get started with. For my money, they're the first of these motion-activated lights that you should try out if you're interested in Ring's platform -- especially that starter kit with two pathlights and the Bridge for $80.
As 80 lumens each, they aren't super-bright, but they're functional, and bright enough to keep you from tripping over a branch or a hose when you're coming home late after a long day at work.
What's especially nice about them is that they make it easy to place weather-proofed motion sensors in places on your property where there might not have otherwise been a good spot for one. Ring tells me that the proprietary, low-frequency radio signal that the lights use to relay their signals to each other will work at a distance of hundreds of feet -- I want to keep testing the system to see how reliable those long distance alerts are, but so far, they're working as expected at the CNET Smart Home.
One example of how you might put this to use. Say you have a pool out back behind your house, and a Ring camera in the window keeping watch over it, but the distance is too far for motion at the pool to reliably trigger the camera to record. You could stick a pathlight out next to it and tell it to trigger the camera if it senses motion -- that could make for a great, additional layer of safety if you've got small kids.
Each pathlight runs on of four D cell batteries that should last about a year. Ring also tells me that solar-powered pathlights are in the works, but no word yet on when those will arrive or much they'll cost. I doubt we'll see them this year, but they're worth keeping an eye out for, too.
Sufficient smarts, with room to grow
Ring Smart Lighting isn't terribly sophisticated as far as the smarts are concerned, but the controls are adequate and simple to use. You can use the Ring app to turn individual lights or groups of lights on and off. Turn them on, and they'll automatically turn back off after your choice of 1, 5, 10 or 15 minutes to conserve battery power. There are also ambient light sensors in each device to keep them from turning on during daylight hours, which you can disable if you'd like.
You can also set the lights to turn on when motion is detected, either from the light's own motion detector or from the motion detector in one of your other lights or cameras. When the first pathlight along y our walkway sees you coming, for instance, it can turn all of your pathlights on. Those motion detectors can also trigger your Ring cameras to start recording.
All of that -- the app, the Alexa controls, the motion detection, the ambient light sensors -- worked well in my initial tests, and you get a enough control over how the lights should behave to tweak things to your liking. You can adjust motion and light sensitivity, you can view the event history from each device to see when motion was detected, and you can also schedule windows of time where you don't want to be bugged with motion alerts. Another option: you can temporarily mute those motion alerts for up to 2 hours.
Still, don't expect a smart-lighting platform that's as sophisticated as, say, Philips Hue. You can't schedule times for the lights to come on and off, or program them to turn on automatically at sunset. You can't use geofencing to automate the lights based on whether or not you're actually at home. Even though Ring has a channel on the free online automation service IFTTT, you can't use that channel to trigger the lights -- you can only use it to trigger things when there's motion or a ring at your doorbell. And again, no support for Apple HomeKit or the Google Assistant.
Philips Hue, Lifx, GE, Ring and more: Lots of new smart lights coming in 2019
I don't think these concerns would stop me from trying out Ring's motion-activated lights, but they're reports worth reading and considering before buying in.
"Our customers and Neighbors app users place their trust in us to help protect their homes and communities and we take that responsibility incredibly seriously," the company said, referring CNET to this blog post.
We'll continue to test these out and update this post when we have a better sense of things like battery life and alert reliability -- but so far, so good. It's a simple system, but that's appropriate given the near-singular focus on monitoring motion. For most folks, additional bells and whistles would be more than they wanted (or were willing to pay for).
I'd probably hold off on the spotlights and steplights to see if Ring ends up updating the clunky designs and shrinking their footprints, but the pathlights are easy to recommend right here at launch -- especially considering that, at $30 each, they don't cost much more than standard pathlights. And, if you're already using Ring doorbells and cameras in your home, then these lights make even more sense.