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Ring Video Doorbell review: Is Ring a better smart buzzer for your buck?

The folks behind Doorbot are back with a new brand and a comparatively superior new product.

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Megan Wollerton
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Megan Wollerton

Senior Writer/Editor

Megan Wollerton has covered technology for CNET since 2013. Before that, she wrote for NBC's Dvice.com (now SyFy). Megan has a master's degree from the University of Louisville and a bachelor's degree from Connecticut College, both in international relations. She is a board member of the Louisville chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. When Megan isn't writing, she's planning far-flung adventures.

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6 min read

Editors' note, February 27, 2015: BOT Home Automation recently launched a software update that adds motion detection and customizable zones. The review and rating have been updated to account for this change.

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6.9

Ring Video Doorbell

The Good

Ring's audio quality is much better than Doorbot's, its 180-degree field of view lets you see a whole lot more and its motion detection zones work well.

The Bad

I experienced occasional lag times and spotty video feeds.

The Bottom Line

Ring is a significant step up from Doorbot and its upcoming weather-sensing features show promise, but I'm still a little concerned about its ability to stream a consistently decent video.

BOT Home Automation left behind a Doorbot -sized hole when it stopped production on its poor-performing connected video buzzer. But instead of scrapping the endeavor entirely, the team poured all of its knowledge into a second generation product, cleverly rebranded as the $199 Ring Video Doorbell. (Ring is available in 83 countries including in Australia for AU$244 and in the UK for £127, plus additional shipping charges).

Ring is a major departure for BOT Home Automation. It doesn't look like Doorbot, its camera boasts a better resolution and an expanded field of view, and the audio is markedly improved. It also has a handful of fresh features, including motion-sensing capabilities for non-doorbell-related activity detection, optional cloud recording and storage and a built-in humidity, barometric pressure and temperature-sensing "weather station."

Sadly, only some of those nifty additions are available now, so I was left to compare Doorbot and Ring in terms of present-day features alone. Here's the gist: Ring is better than Doorbot, but some glitchy Wi-Fi moments still made it hard to distinguish one front door guest from another, and the lag time between ringing the doorbell and receiving a push alert varied from 2 to 30 seconds. Get it if you're sure of your Wi-Fi connection; everyone else should be a bit wary.

Does this Wi-Fi-enabled doorbell Ring true? (pictures)

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Judging a book

I didn't really mind Doorbot's aesthetic, but Ring is noticeably smaller. Someone will still notice that you have a fancy, camera-equipped doorbell, but Ring makes is less intrusive. It's much less, "HEY, LOOK! I'm a $200 camera/doorbell!" and much more, "Psst...you do know that I'm recording you, right?"

Where Doorbot was limited to a brushed aluminum finish, you can snag a Ring unit in satin nickel, antique brass, venetian bronze and polished brass. It's nice to have options, but I liked the silvery Doorbot as much as I like Ring's similarly-silvery "satin nickel."

Ring speaks up

The Ring app works on Android (4.0 or newer) and iOS (7 or newer). I used an iPhone 6 Plus and found the app very simple to navigate. It walks you through all of the basics -- creating an account, picking a device (BOT Home Automation won't be manufacturing more Doorbots, but it will let existing users operate their Doorbots from the Ring app) and confirming your address.

Then, it instructs you to press the orange button on the back of the faceplate and to link Ring with your local network. That's it for the software setup -- you're ready to run through the physical installation. If you get stuck, Ring will ask you questions: "Will this device be installed inside or outside?", "How will you power your device (hardwire or batteries)?" , "What surface will you mount the device to (wood, concrete, brick)?" Once you've answered all three, it will send you to a video tutorial so you can visualize the process.

Ring's Wi-Fi gearing up. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Ring comes with everything you need for installation, including a cute little "tool kit" complete with a drill bit, a screwdriver, a dual-sided screwdriver bit and a variety of screws and anchors to suit your specific setup. Like Doorbot, the Ring faceplate can either be hard-wired or removed periodically and recharged with the included Micro-USB cable.

I don't have a wired doorbell at home, so I just mounted the baseplate where I wanted it and attached Ring to the baseplate. I noticed a couple of things at this stage. My Ring unit was at 70 percent battery life when I installed it initially and it's down to 42 percent after only a couple of days.

Yes, I have put that doorbell through a lot in a short period of time -- definitely well outside the range of "normal doorbell usage," but I do wonder how Ring's battery would fare with its upcoming motion feature enabled. If I wanted Ring to record footage and send me alerts every time it detected motion, I seriously doubt that the battery would last for the year that BOT Home Automation estimates (It has been two months since the initial review date and the battery life hasn't changed much, but I plan to update this review again to weigh in on the newly-added motion-detection feature and battery life.). The $199 SkyBell 2.0 , a HomeKit-compatible Ring competitor, has a motion-detection feature, but it works via wired installation only. Andrew Thomas, SkyBell's co-founder told me that a hardwired setup was needed for this sort of feature to work.

I also found it difficult to correctly position Ring in its baseplate. It never made an audible click, so I ended up quadruple-checking its security before walking away to make sure it wasn't going to fall. I removed the main Ring faceplate much too easily at first, but I finally got it to fit snugly after a few tries.

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The good and the bad of Ring. Screenshot by Megan Wollerton/CNET

The great traveling Ring

I tested Ring at two locations to see if there were any major differences between the Wi-Fi connections and, consequently, the video and audio quality. The first location has a basic Wi-Fi plan and a 25-foot distance between the doorbell and the router. The second location has an upgraded Wi-Fi subscription (better for gaming and streaming) and a 35-foot distance from the front door to the router. I also switched my phone between Wi-Fi and cellular connections to see if there were any significant changes in performance.

Although the audio occasionally cut out in both locations, it was only for an instant and I was always able to have a full conversation with the person on the other end -- a vast improvement over Doorbot.

The video was more challenging. At the first location, the time between ringing the doorbell to receiving the alert varied a lot. Sometimes it took 2 seconds and other times it took closer to 20 or 30 seconds. I found this inconsistency frustrating and the video feed followed suit. Sometimes the video quality was clear enough to see who was at the door and other times it was extremely blurry. Still, this was better than anything I experienced while testing Doorbot.

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Ring alerts and activity log. Screenshot by Megan Wollerton/CNET

The second location with faster Wi-Fi was better. It consistently took less than 10 seconds between ringing the doorbell and getting the push alert, often closer to 3 to 5 seconds, and the video feed quality was usually clear enough to see who was at the door (although never better than the "good" feeds I periodically captured at the first location, just more frequent). Ring's 720p is technically better than Doorbot's 640x480 VGA, but that doesn't guarantee a perfect image. It will depend a lot on your Wi-Fi connection.

I like that Ring records and saves the clips it captures during calls so you can review them later. This feature will be integrated into its future cloud recording fees ($3 per month or $30 per year, if you buy the year up-front, for 6 months of doorbell and motion-related video and audio storage), but Ring is offering this for free until April 1, 2015.

The new motion feature works very well, allowing you to set specific distances -- from 5 to 30 feet -- and various zones. Whenever I deliberately triggered the infrared motion sensor, I received an alert and was directed to the live feed. And, as with a regular call, cloud subscribers can revisit saved clips of motion events and even download them as MP4 files. While good, this did nothing to fix the spotty video quality.

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Customizable motion zones. Screenshot by Megan Wollerton/CNET

Ring's features more closely resemble SkyBell 2.0's after the addition of motion detection, but Ring's video feed isn't as reliable, its weather station feature is still en route and you can't tap into an on-demand live feed at all.

Ring also doesn't have any major third-party integrations locked down (except for Lockitron ), although Ring founder and CEO Jamie Siminoff told me that the team was interested in partnerships with hubs like Wink and SmartThings, as well as in establishing an IFTTT channel.

The verdict

Ring's video and audio quality is a definite improvement over Doorbot, but BOT Home Automation still has some convincing to do. The new motion feature works well, but the video feed isn't any more consistent than it was before this recent software update, making its utility questionable. I also wonder how regular motion triggers will impact Ring's battery life and what the not-yet-released weather sensors will add to the equation. So far, neither of the smart doorbell options are particularly impressive, but a new competitor, Doorbird , might just change all that.

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6.9

Ring Video Doorbell

Score Breakdown

Features 6.5Usability 7Design 8Performance 6
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