​Ring Video Doorbell 2 review: A fun IoT device to boost your security

With live video and two-way audio, the Ring Video Doorbell 2 is one of the most immediately useful IoT devices we've examined to date. It's fun too.

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The Ring 2 video doorbell

Image: ZDNet

The Ring Video Doorbell 2 is an Internet of Things (IoT) device that allows you to see who is at the door -- whether you're at home or not -- and talk to them via your smartphone, tablet or PC. The idea is that you can keep an eye on legitimate visitors and anyone else who might be visiting your front door. The device can stream live video to your smartphone when someone rings the bell, or when it detects motion nearby. It can also record video for you to view later, or give you a live stream if you just want to see what's happening outside your home. The Ring Video Doorbell 2 costs £179 (inc. VAT, or $199 in the US).

The doorbell is quite bulky, measuring 12.83cm by 6.35cm by 2.74cm (5.1 x 2.5 x 1.1 inches), although the battery makes up a significant chunk of that. It comes with two faceplates -- black and silver -- to suit your home. The design is sleek, but perhaps a little too unobtrusive: despite having 'ring' inscribed on the front of the unit -- just underneath the button you need to press -- it wasn't always obvious to my visitors that it was a doorbell that they should press.

The unit comes with plenty of clear installation and setup instructions. I don't review that many gadgets that come with a mini-spirit level, a bag of screws and a their own drill bit, but the doorbell has to be anchored in place, which means drilling a few holes to attach it to the wall or door. It also comes with additional brackets so that you can set the camera at an angle.

In an evolution from earlier models, the Ring 2 comes with a removable battery, which means you don't have to take the entire unit down to recharge it. This is just as well, because you wouldn't want to move it again.

Unless you intend to position the device in the middle of your door (a bold move that looks a little odd to me), these brackets come in handy to ensure that you have a good field of view for the camera. We attached our review unit to the door frame. There are two power options: attach the device to your existing doorbell wiring (if present), or install it standalone under battery power. Installation was straightforward and took less than 10 minutes.

Once in place, the Ring 2 can be configured using the smartphone app. This allows you to set a number of options, including whether you want an alert sent to your phone when the doorbell is rung. Again, setup was mostly easy, although I did have to delve into the settings on both Android devices I used in order to get the notifications to work correctly.

The Ring 2 can also detect motion near the doorbell, with the range -- from up close to about 30 feet away -- configurable via the smartphone app.

When the doorbell is rung, the visitor will hear a loud chime and see the blue light around the button flashing. The camera starts recording video at 1080p (FHD) resolution and sends you an alert on your smartphone. At this point you can watch the live video on your smartphone (or other device) and talk to the visitor -- which is handy for telling delivery drivers where to stow a package, or saying 'no thanks' to a passing salesperson.

If you miss the call or don't want to answer, you can review 30 seconds of video later on. If you want, the camera will also alert you to any motion detected in its field of vision; otherwise it simply records the footage for you to review later.

Image quality is mostly good (depending on the weather conditions, of course) and is particularly sharp in close-up, although it degrades at longer range, while audio is very good. The ability to forward videos via Facebook, email, text or URL is a handy way to share. The device also features IFTTT integration so you can connect it to other household gadgets, allowing you to do things like flashing a light when the door rings. We did not test this feature, however.

Calibrating the sensitivity of the motion detector took a bit of trial and error: I found that too long a range meant the camera would pick up motion from cars on the street (this often happened at night), while setting it too short risked missing things.

Night vision -- improved for the new Ring 2 model -- gave a decent image at short range, but it all got rather murky more than a couple of metres from the camera.

The large battery took some hours to charge (you can buy a second one so there's no interruption in service while this is happening), and how long it lasts between charges will depend on what you're doing with the device. With constant alerts for rings and motion detection (and motion detection set to maximum), plus lots of test of the live video, we found the battery lasted around two weeks. More restrained usage would probably see it last for two or three months between charges.

Performance of the Ring Video Doorbell 2 depends on several factors, notably the state of your wi-fi. Testing the device in a thick-walled Victorian house and standard (that is, not very good) broadband threw up a few challenges, mostly in the form of latency between the doorbell being rung and the arrival of a notification. I also found that recorded videos would sometimes stutter and freeze, and that the motion sensor missed some movements outside.

Ring Chime Pro

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The Ring Chime Pro

Image: ZDNet

One answer to this is the £49 (inc. VAT, or $49) Ring Chime Pro, which is sold separately and functions as a wi-fi extender. This improved the performance of the Ring Video Doorbell 2 significantly when I added it to the network.

The Chime Pro also provides an indoor audio alert, and offers a wider range of tones to play than the Video Doorbell 2 unit. During testing, options included some fun, spooky Halloween-themed sounds (even if the scream was a little too realistic for some). It's a shame that the wider range of tones won't play on the Video Doorbell 2 itself: visitors standing outside only get the standard chimes, while you enjoy more variety indoors.

After the first month you'll have to pay a subscription (£2.50 per month) in order to store and playback videos, otherwise you're limited to the live view. Without the ability to playback videos the Ring Video Doorbell 2 is much less attractive, and it's a shame that the free trial doesn't last longer.

It's also worth remembering that, as well as your broadband being up to speed, you'll need Ring's own systems to be up and running. During testing, Ring had an outage which meant the that device was not functioning correctly on Halloween itself -- one night when you're likely to have plenty of visitors.

A criticism often levelled at the existing crop of IoT devices is that they give you information without really allowing you to do anything about it. But with live video and two-way audio, the Ring Video Doorbell 2 is one of the most immediately useful IoT devices we've examined to date.

The ability to chat to visitors if you can't (or won't) get to the door is useful and occasionally entertaining. Live View is also fun and mildly addictive, even if nothing is actually happening outside. It can also add to your sense of comfort, while the ability to review videos of what happened when you weren't around may help you feel a little more secure too.

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