Ring has made a name for itself as one of the leaders in home security and smart home devices with its line of video doorbells, security cameras and home alarms. Now, the Amazon subsidiary has come out with a way to secure your car -- whether it's parked in your driveway or on the go -- with its new Ring Car Cam dashboard camera.
The Car Cam was first announced back in 2020 as part of a suite of automotive security products that also included the cameraless Ring Car Alarm and the Ring Car Connect API, which would allow automakers to tie their vehicle security systems -- such as Tesla Sentry Mode -- into the Ring network. Three years later, the Ring Car Cam is the first fruit of the Ring Security for Cars initiative that's ripe and ready to hit the road.
The Car Cam is fairly compact. The camera unit itself is a small 1.6-inch cube that's attached permanently to its flat mounting arm. All said, the complete package is about 8 inches long. The Car Cam is designed to wedge into the space between your car's dashboard and windshield, holding its place on the glass with a strong semipermanent adhesive pad. Near the tip of the mounting is a USB-C port that connects to an OBD-II adapter -- the diagnostics port under the dashboard of almost every car built after 1996 -- where the Car Cam draws power, even when the vehicle is turned off. (Despite their familiar appearance, both the USB-C cable and the USB-C port are proprietary and can only be used to power the Ring Car Cam.)
At the business end, you'll find two HD cameras: One pointing forward with an ultrawide 120-degree field of view and a second aimed into the cabin with an even wider 153-degree FOV. The interior camera is flanked by small infrared lights that enable night vision and has a spring-loaded cover that can be flipped up to disable interior recording when privacy is desired. The camera head also features a few degrees of vertical tilt adjustment to accommodate different windshield angles.
Read more: How to Choose the Best Dash Cam
Getting the Cam positioned in vehicles with aggressively raked windshields can be tricky. In our long-term Kia EV6, the angle is so severe that you can see a bit of the mounting arm in the footage. The EV6's long dashboard and tall screens also made reaching the privacy cover difficult. I also tested the Car Cam in our long-term VW GTI and my personal Mazda MX-5 and found both the installation angles and the reach to be more reasonable. Your mileage may vary.
Video quality isn't the Car Cam's strongest point. It's fine, but there are noticeable compression artifacts in the 1080p H.264 footage that I was able to retrieve from the camera over a week of testing. It's tough to tell if that's the camera's fault or if the blame falls on the HEVC-to-MPEG conversion that happens in the cloud before you download the clip. The fact is that stretching 1,920x1,080 pixels over such a wide FOV is only going to be so detailed. Still, the image quality is good enough to make out license plate numbers from about a car's length in broad daylight. Its night-time quality suffers a bit more, but the footage is usable on roads or highways that are reasonably illuminated.
In addition to the cameras, the Ring Car Cam also features an internal speaker and microphone, which it uses for limited voice command and two-way communication via the Ring app and subscription service. Flipping up the privacy cover also disables the microphone, rendering saved front-camera footage silent and allowing users with shared access to the Ring account -- for example, parents of teen drivers -- to monitor the vehicle without seeing or hearing what's going on in the cabin.
While driving, the Car Cam is always on and recording a rolling buffer of video, eventually recording over the oldest stored footage when the camera's internal memory fills up. While parked, the camera enters a low power mode where it only records footage when motion is sensed by its cameras. Users have a choice of three power usage levels that can help conserve the battery of cars driven less frequently or improve monitoring of a daily driver. If the Cam detects a low battery level from the car being parked for an extended period, it can automatically turn off to prevent stranding the owner with a dead battery.
Ring Protect Go subscription
Perhaps the most important piece of the Ring Car Cam puzzle is the built-in Wi-Fi/4G LTE antenna and the Ring Protect Go remote-monitoring subscription. While active, Ring Protect Go allows the camera to send motion-detection and driving notifications from the vehicle wherever it may be. From the Ring app, users can view a livestream of the interior and exterior cameras as well as carry out two-way communication with the Car Cam's speaker and microphone, which is useful for reminding a spouse to stop by the shops or to scare off a would-be thief. The Ring Protect Go subscription service costs $6 per month or $60 per year and is a separate service from any Ring Protect home security plan you may currently have.
Ring Protect Go also enables the Car Cam's Traffic Stop mode, which is designed to protect passengers in the event they are stopped by law enforcement. After enabling the feature and its Alexa skill during setup, simply say "Alexa, record" and the camera will begin recording up to 20 minutes of video, notifying shared Ring account users while streaming the footage to the cloud. Outside of traffic stops, this mode is useful for any potentially dangerous situation where you might want to save a recording.
The Car Cam works best with Protect Go, but forgoing the subscription doesn't render the camera useless. It will still record and store dual camera streams on the road and when parked. Without the subscription, you'll need to be connected to your home Wi-Fi in your driveway or garage to be able to view or download that footage, receive notifications, access the live feed or enable two-way voice chat.
The Ring App
Users interact with the Ring Car Cam through the same Android or iOS app (or web portal) as any other Ring doorbell, camera or smart home device. Here, you'll get notifications when motion is detected inside or, optionally, around the vehicle, and the car is being driven. There are also plenty of settings to adjust the frequency or sensitivity of those notifications.
Footage stored on the Car Cam is presented as a scrollable timeline of video thumbnails that are saved locally on the device and then streamed to the app in 540p when previewing. Clips can be downloaded directly or shared at 1080p. Alert previews may be stored in the cloud for up to 180 days with the Ring Protect Go subscription but, depending on how much driving and recording you do, there may be less space on the device itself for regular driving footage, so you'll need to manually download any clips you want to keep for longer.
The only way to get video off of the device is via the app and either a home Wi-Fi or mobile LTE connection. There's no microSD card slot like you'd find on most dash cams, and the USB port is for charging only. Incident clips, such as motion alerts or traffic stops, are easy to deal with. Select the clip you're looking for and then click Share to get a link to a video clip saved on Ring's site that can be shared, or click Download to save the footage to your device.
Driving footage is more difficult to get off of the device. You can only download one 20-second clip at a time from either the front or rear camera by scrolling to the moment you want to capture and then hitting the download button. That footage is then uploaded to Ring's servers where it is converted from its native HEVC to the H.264 codec before being ready. The process takes around 1 to 2 minutes per clip depending on your data speed, and it can be frustrating to grab precisely the right clip on the fast-scrolling timeline with such a small capture window. It took me the better part of an hour to download the 7 to 8 minutes of footage for the embedded review video.
In fairness, Ring probably doesn't expect most users to want or need to download dozens of clips in one go, but even expanding the manual download cap from 20 seconds to two minutes or adding a toggle to simultaneously download both camera angles would make a big difference in ease of use.
Pricing and competition
There are hundreds of dash cams on Amazon that are less expensive than the $250 Ring Car Cam, but very few LTE-connected cameras are marketed to consumers. Garmin recently announced its Dash Cam Live with a single 1440p camera, but at $400 it's a larger upfront investment for half the cameras. There's also the Owlcam, one of the first connected dual dash cameras CNET tested back in 2018, but its monthly fee is more than double what Ring is asking.
The Ring Car Cam is a compact and unobtrusive dual camera system with decent video quality from its dual 1080p ultrawide dash cams. Owners coming from traditional dash cams might hesitate at the prospect of an ongoing subscription or relying on the cloud for storage. However, for others -- particularly current Ring home security users -- the Car Cam stands apart from the crowd thanks to its Wi-Fi/LTE connection and remote monitoring features that integrate nicely with the rest of Ring's ecosystem of products.