As a Contributing Editor for PCMag, John Delaney has been testing and reviewing monitors, TVs, PCs, networking and smart home gear, and other assorted hardware and peripherals for almost 20 years. A 13-year veteran of PC Magazine's Labs (most recently as Director of Operations), John was responsible for the recruitment, training and management of t... See Full Bio
Home security systems have been around for decades, providing a way to have your home monitored for intrusions and emergencies while you’re away or sleeping. But traditional home security systems have required professional installation, costly subscription plans, and long-term contracts that lock you in to the service. They’ve not been practical to move from home to home or for use in apartments.
Like most security systems, Ring Alarm has two armed modes: Home activates the door/window sensors, but leaves the motion sensor turned off. This allows you to walk around inside your secured home without triggering the alarm. Away mode arms all the sensors, so if intruders break in through an entry point that isn’t protected by a sensor, the motion sensor will trigger the alarm when they walk within its range. One motion sensor can do the work of many door/window sensors.
Throughout testing, I liked how I could verify the comings and goings of our dog walker simply by listening for the sound of the chime. The motion alert feature is ultra-sensitive, so I had to decrease its range to reduce false positives. I also found that it doesn’t begin recording video until someone has been at the door for a few moments. For example, the doorbell recorded a video of a delivery person leaving my door step, but I didn’t get video of him approaching and leaving my package.
Nest, Ring, and abode all sell cameras. Nest works with Nest Cams including the indoor and outdoor cameras, Nest IQ both indoor and outdoor, as well as Nest Hello. When Nest Secure detects an alarm event, it will trigger your Nest cameras to take a snapshot. If you have email alerts turned on, the cameras will email you a snapshot of the event. It can also send a push notification to your phone.
On the plus side, the new Chime accessory mitigates some of Ring’s app friction. Even if your phone is in another room, or if you’ve turned its volume down, you can still hear that someone’s pressed your doorbell button. From there you can just go straight to your front door, and talk to your visitor in person. Just like they did in I Love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke Show.
Ring’s motion sensors and contact sensors are much more traditional than Nest’s, which cleverly combine the two into a single device that also adds a nightlight. Nest’s base station also combines the keypad with it and adds even more motion detection sensors – Ring’s separate base station and keypad approach is almost clumsy in comparison. But it is possible to add multiple keypads to the Ring system, so you can have one at each entry way or in your bedroom if that’s a more convenient place for it. The keypad can be placed flat on a table or mounted to the wall, and uses a simple MicroUSB cable for power. Its internal battery lasts between six and twelve months, according to Ring, so it’s possible to install it in a location that doesn’t have an accessible power outlet and just charge it occasionally.
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I’m not certain about Nest, but I asked abode about this before. They said, “We have what is called abode Signal Guard. Unlike other smash and grab solutions, the Signal Guard works whether your system is self-monitored or professionally monitored. The abode Signal Guard alarm acts just like a normal alarm where notifications are sent and the siren(s) go off until the alarm is disabled. If you are a professionally monitored customer, the monitoring center is notified of the abode Signal Guard event.”
The base station connects to Ring Alarm devices using Z-Wave Plus. In theory, it could also connect to third-party devices using the same as well as Zigbee, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth; however, it cannot currently connect to other devices besides the First Alert Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm. Like abode and Nest, Ring’s Base Station includes battery backup, an integrated siren (104db), and a cellular chip which you can activate by paying just $10 per month. Finally, while you can connect to the Base Station via Ethernet, it’s not required.
Unfortunately, there’s no video-on-demand (VOD) feature that lets you view the outside world whenever you want. Instead, you have to wait for someone to approach the door. VOD appears to be on many users’ wish lists, and Ring says it’s working on adding that feature. With VOD built-in, the doorbell would instantaneously turn into a full-featured security camera, so let’s hope we see this addition soon.
As far as actually using the Video Doorbell 2, my experience was largely positive. The video that’s streamed live from the doorbell is bright and has decent resolution, and the IR sensors around the camera make it possible to see visitors at night, too. Connecting to the camera through the smartphone app was quick, even if I wasn’t home and had to use LTE, and the two-way microphone and speaker made it possible to talk to visitors directly. I was even able to view the camera’s feed on Amazon’s Echo Show — though it doesn’t support two-way audio, and I had some trouble connecting to the camera at times.
The other major part of the Ring Alarm kit is the 5.9 x 3.9 x 0.9-inch keypad, which can also be laid flat or hung on the wall. The keypad has 12 backlit number buttons, as well as three other buttons for quickly arming and disarming the system (though it's also possible to do so from the Ring app for iOS and Android). The buttons are plastic and easy to clean, and by default, they chime when pressed. I like that the keypad is handheld, but I still much prefer the rubberized remote keypad offered by SimpliSafe.
Also, this is not a miracle product. It will only work as well as your internet connection. That means a little lag if you’re on a cable connection at peak times. There are a few times I’ve had the video come up in laggy and weirdly pixilated forms that took a second to work out. I’ve also noticed our voice connection is VERY quiet. As in, the person at the door can barely hear the person on the phone, so I consider that feature a bit useless. We managed to scare our cat sitter from the other side of the country and greet my mom, but I wouldn’t rely on it for communicating with people often. We managed to talk to our lawn service but we had to yell into the phone and they had to ask us to repeat ourselves a few times. Also we live on such a busy road that there is a lot of noise which makes the video sound very choppy. So again, I just consider this feature a novelty and not something to rely on.
All the components in the Ring Alarm system use Z-Wave Plus radios and support Z-Wave’s S2 security framework, but Harris told me there’s also a ZigBee radio onboard as well as some other surprises that aren’t discussed in the user manual. “You’ve got Wi-Fi, you’ve got LTE, you’ve got Z-Wave, you’ve got ZigBee….” Harris said. “I’m sure people will open it up and see there’s another radio in there that’s not turned on yet. There’s an awful lot going on in there.”