Ring Alarm Review
Deciding to protect your home with a security system could very well be one of the most valuable (and, perhaps, expensive) ventures you take on as a homeowner. We tested the Ring Alarm and pitted it against some of the biggest names in the home security industry — because we know how difficult weeding through this market can be.
We found the Ring Alarm to be one of the most user-friendly and affordable home security systems out there. The Ring Alarm includes fewer options to build a robustly automated home with this system, keeping the focus on security. While this isn’t necessarily a negative, we investigated the Ring Alarm to see if this claim to simplicity really does give way to dependable security.
Ring Alarm vs. Other DIY Home Security Systems
August smart door locks
Z-Wave smart locks
Professional: $10/mo. or $100/year
Professional: $20/mo. or $200/year
Ring Alarm Pros✓ Great for anyone searching for an affordable DIY system. ✓ Easy and low-maintenance ✓ Excellent for those seeking customizable security levels. ✓ Deals with false alarms without sacrificing security
Ring Alarm Cons✗ Limited pool of device communication ✗ Clunky design is neither ergonomic, nor aesthetic ✗ No convenient keyfobs
Getting to Know the Ring Alarm
Upon first opening the Ring, we were pretty satisfied with the amount of equipment in the box (five pieces with cut-and-dried setup instructions for each). In fact, we were especially pleased with the amount for the $199 price tag — one of the most affordable options on the market.
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Other Ring products — like its cameras and video doorbells — work alongside the Ring Alarm but don’t communicate directly with the system. This means your Ring security camera’s motion sensor won’t trip the Ring Alarm’s alarm. But you can see everything stored in one place on the app, and this lets you easily check any motion alerts and live feeds at the same time. Ring has also made a few strides in interoperability with its own products and other third-party devices, like smart locks and, several months after Amazon acquired the company, Amazon Alexa. But it isn’t as smart device-friendly as competitors like Nest, which works with a suite of products including smart thermostats, smoke/CO alarms, lights, and more. However, for the price, Ring Alarm is certainly giving competitors a run for their money.
Low-hassle installation process
You won’t find a professional installation option for the Ring Alarm, but you probably won’t need the help of a pro, anyway. The entire process is a breeze — the Ring app gives precise instructions on where and how to start, prompting you to set up the base before anything else. The base station is ready and equipped with Bluetooth, so all you have to do is pair it to your phone — from there, we opted to connect the system to our WiFi, but you also have the option to connect the base to an Ethernet cable.
We suggest setting aside at least 30 minutes for installation, especially if you plan on using screws to mount the devices to your wall(s) or don’t have time to plan where you want to place everything beforehand.
We tested the five-piece set, which comes with one contact sensor (for doors and windows), a motion detector, a base station (which includes the siren), a Z-Wave range extender that improves signals between the base station and other Ring Alarm sensors, and a keypad to arm and disarm your system. All of these parts come paired to the hub — in most cases, you simply pull a plastic tab from the back of the product to activate each one. We went for the path of least resistance by using the double-sided tape to mount the sensors and detectors to doors and walls, but you can always opt to use Ring’s provided base plates and screws for more long-term stability.
Another pro of the Ring Alarm is its price tag. For starters, upfront equipment costs run as little as $200 — far more bang for your buck when compared to the Nest Secure’s $400 upfront fee (while sacrificing some quality and convenience aspects in the design arena). Adding devices is also a cinch and pretty affordable, as you can either bundle up to 14 pieces for a reduced price or add motion and contact sensors as needed (for $30 and $20, respectively).
In terms of professional monitoring, Ring offers one of the cheapest options on the market at a minimum $10 per month for its Ring Protect Plus plan (or $100 for the whole year). This price includes professional monitoring, LTE cellular backup in the event that your power goes out, and video recording for any other Ring cameras. For context, some companies charge for video recording per camera on top of an added monthly fee for professional monitoring. In our roundup of the best home security systems, for example, not only did we find ADT prone to slapping accounts with unexpected charges, but the company also requires a three-year contract at $29 per month (or more). That doesn’t even include equipment.
A few inconvenient design features
The all-ivory and gray exterior of the Ring Alarm looks smart, but we weren’t as impressed after getting our hands on the devices. To be honest, the products in this suite feel inexpensive — especially when compared to the Nest Secure. That said, Ring says that its base station is “smash-proof,” meaning that if an intruder were to strike it with a baseball bat or hammer, it’d still call for help, even in a disheveled state. We didn’t try this, but it sounds reassuring.
The fact that the hub and keypad aren’t combined seems a tad superfluous, especially since both comprise decent amounts of surface area on your countertop or wall and could, in theory, function well as a combined unit (as seen in the Nest Secure hub, which also includes motion detection). Plus, if the base station alarm goes off in one room and both your phone and keypad are in another, trekking the distance could consume those 30 extra seconds you could have used to disable the alarm or contact authorities faster. (This is a stretch, but you get the idea.)
Ring doesn’t present the most streamlined or efficient design, but all parts work reliably well, especially for the slimmer price tag.
While the motion sensors are helpful for having security in areas beyond the home base (no more than 250 feet), doors, or windows, they are a tad clunky and resemble a kid’s bedroom night light. We placed ours in the middle of the living room, and it’s pretty noticeable.
You also won’t find handy little keyfobs in this lineup of products, so your only options to arm/disarm are to use the control panel or your phone. This isn’t a huge deal, but not having a fob does take away one extra point of convenience, especially if you have (authorized) friends or family members constantly coming in and out of the house and don’t want the hassle of confusing passwords.
Limited pool of device communication
Being an Amazon-owned company, Ring is tied to Alexa — so if you have an allegiance to your Google Home, look elsewhere. Beyond telling Alexa to arm or disarm your system, the Ring Alarm isn’t equipped to communicate with even the majority of its security cameras, like its video doorbell. In fact, unlike Ring’s video doorbell, the Ring Alarm doesn’t support IFTTT (If This Then That) commands, which help you connect devices to automate certain actions, like turning on the lights when the doorbell rings. However, Ring announced in October of 2018 that its new Stick Up Cams would be able to immediately record upon activation of an alarm from the Ring Alarm — a feature Nest currently offers for all of its cameras.
Ring also doesn’t have its own lineup of smart thermostats and smoke/CO alarms like Nest does, nor will it work with said Nest devices if you have them. Instead, you’ll have to purchase a First-Alert Z-Wave Smoke/CO Alarm and a separate smoke and CO “Listener” from Ring in order for your Ring Alarm to signal authorities when it detects smoke or CO. It is, however, compatible with both Zigbee and Z-Wave protocols, enabling you to pair certain third-party devices to the base station (this lets you arm your system by simply locking the door).
Customizable security features
There are three main security settings on the Ring Alarm: “Disarmed,” “Home,” and “Away.” With the Disarmed setting, all sensors are rendered ineffective, and you won’t have to worry about accidentally tripping an alarm. The Home setting takes security a step further by only arming the perimeter openings of the house, like window and door sensors — any motion detectors within the home will not trip the alarm. The Away setting, on the other hand, arms all motion sensors. The Away and Home settings both give you a certain amount of time to leave the home before detectors are armed, and you can adjust this delay time in intervals from zero to 180 seconds.
This tiered approach gives you the opportunity to amp up security or minimize false alarms as needed. The Ring Alarm also allows you to customize your settings to receive notifications from contact sensors and motion detectors when the system is armed, disarmed, or unplugged, if an alarm is tripped, or if someone posts a status in the Neighbors feed — a feature that lets you check civilian-reported crimes and safety concerns in your area.
While there might be some natural level of concern with having pets roaming around finicky motion detectors, especially under the hyper-sensitive “Away” setting, we found Ring Alarm’s motion detectors pretty intuitive in differentiating between humans and animals. Granted, we only tested this with an 8-pound Maltese and 11-pound cat, but Ring says that pets under 50 pounds shouldn’t pose any issues (generally). If you have a pet over 50 pounds, you can either keep the animal from entering certain rooms with motion detectors or adjust motion sensitivities on the app to see what works for you.
Attentive to false alarms
One of the first steps you’ll take when installing this system is entering your home address. Not only does this information help Ring connect you to its Neighbors feature, it also sources your local jurisdiction’s regulations on alarm registration. For a two-bedroom apartment in downtown Charlotte, Ring told us almost immediately upon setting up the system that we needed to obtain a permit from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department before using the system’s professional monitoring. Don’t worry about rushing to get a permit, though, because Ring gives you a seven-day professional monitoring free trial period to do so, where you’ll receive only automated calls from the center after an alarm — police will not be dispatched.
Depending on where you live, you might need to obtain a permit to use an alarm system to remain in accordance with your jurisdiction’s requirements. This will also help your local police stations keep track of (and hopefully reduce) false alarms.
We appreciated Ring’s careful consideration toward local law enforcement efforts in reducing false alarms, because false alarms waste first responders’ time and your money. In the Charlotte area, for example, fines could reach up to $500 per false alarm.According to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, alarm companies must have your permit number in order to request police. If the police are dispatched and you don’t have a permit, the cost is $100. Check to see what the requirements are in your area for operating an alarm system with professional monitoring.
Touch-and-go professional monitoring
Even false alarms need to be taken seriously. Ring touts that someone from the monitoring center will call you after an alarm has sounded for 30 seconds. You don’t realize how long waiting 30 seconds feels until you’re trying to count every single one of them in the midst of a 104-decibel alarm.
You can always opt out of professional monitoring when you feel as though you can keep tabs on things on your own. All you have to do is make the switch in the app in settings under “monitoring.”
According to customer service, it might take a bit longer than 30 seconds to receive a call from Ring. In one of our tests, we actually waited for almost two minutes. Although somewhat understandable, the lag in response time (compared to what’s advertised) isn’t ideal. A lot can happen in two minutes. But humans are running the monitoring center, and there is some work involved on their end: Responders have to take time to verify your alarm and find your phone number before placing a call. Regardless, you may or may not receive a call right at the 30-second mark, so if you find yourself in an emergency and need faster assistance than what Ring can provide, you can always dial Ring’s monitoring center or 911 directly.
The Bottom Line
While Ring isn’t quite up to speed in the home automation sphere as some other contenders, it’s a solid, affordable security system worth considering.