Ring Video Doorbell 4 Review: A Class Leader
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The doorbell I’ve actually been using - as opposed to testing - for many years has been the original Ring Video Doorbell. Yes, the very first one. It’s still going strong even now, but the battery life is finally starting to degrade to the point where I’m noticing how often I need to charge it.
I figured that probably made it a good time to try out the latest and greatest Ring Video Doorbell 4. Ring has added a number of new features that stand out in what has become a crowded doorbell market, and I was keen to try these out. Naturally I had pretty high expectations up front after my experience with the OG model.
The doorbell has lived up to my high expectations. The build quality and performance have been on par with my other Ring products, and the new features are already proving themselves genuinely useful. Let’s dig into the details.
✔ Pre-roll video avoid missing events
✔ Removable battery or wired power
✘ Only 1080p video camera
✘ Only supports integration with Alexa
Ring’s battery-powered doorbell models haven’t changed in appearance much over the years and the lay person would be hard pressed to pick one from another. The key change with the later couple of models is the side grips to help remove the battery cover, along with a mostly unnoticeable change to the placement of sensors in the black top section.
It’s a fairly recognizable design by this point, and it’s quite possible Ring sees this as part of their brand recognition. Not that there’s any reason for a major change. It’s not overly large and the profile isn’t intrusive as some other doorbells can be at times. The button is clear and unambiguous and the availability of different finishes for the lower battery cover make it easier to blend in with your decor.
In the box you get all the tools and fittings you need to install it, along with a 15-degree wedge mount for free, and a short micro-USB cable for charging the battery pack (it has a micro-USB port on the pack). The doorbell is anchored to the mounting plate through screw holes located under the battery cover, with the cover itself secured by a single, fairly long, security screw in the bottom.
The battery is interchangeable with other Ring battery-powered cameras, and they have an optional charging dock that can keep two of these topped up for quick changeover. This is a big differentiator from pretty much every other battery-powered doorbell where they need to be removed and taken inside to charge for several hours.
Like all of Ring’s camera offerings you’ll need a Ring Protect subscription to access most of the features. You can, technically, use it without one and still have Live View and basic notifications, but there won’t be any recorded videos or advanced motion controls, so you’d be wasting you money. The basic plan is only a few bucks a month, though, and the higher tiers are good value if you expand into other Ring products as you pay a flat rate for unlimited devices.
Installation And Setup
The Ring app is very slick by this point and does a great job of stepping you through the whole installation process with clear instructions and images. I just had to go into the main menu and select Set Up a Device, then choose what type of device to add. The app had me scan the QR code on the side of the doorbell, under the battery cover. They also provide this on the quick start manual you get in the box for easy reference, and as a backup.
I was then stepped through adding the doorbell to my Wi-Fi network, firmware updates, and a number of preferences for motion detection and option features. Each one was explained well, and I could customize things quite a bit, so it was ready to go immediately without having to dig around in the settings afterwards.
The app guides you through mounting the doorbell as well, although this is pretty straightforward using the provided screws and wall plugs. You can either just screw it directly into the plugs (or the wall if it’s a suitable material) or use the provided corner bracket. Note that without the corner bracket there is no mounting plate. This may seem unusual as just about every video doorbell has one. This is thanks to the removable battery pack, as there is no need to remove the doorbell from the wall once installed, unlike other brands.
Of course, once it’s up and running you’ll probably still need to fine tune your motion settings using the various options provided by Ring to get things just right. That can play out over a few days while you see how things trigger in your specific installation situation.
For me, this involved a few adjustments to the motion zones and sensitivity. That’s probably all you’ll need to do, but all the options are laid out clearly on the one page under the device settings. You can always change things here that you didn’t choose during set up. Things like Smart Alerts, which determine whether to notify or record people, package, or just anything, and the Motion Frequency setting, which determines how often to notify you of motion detection.
Ring provides a wealth of other configuration options in clearly laid out settings pages, often linking the same settings from different places where it makes sense. This greatly helps to find what you’re looking for as it doesn’t matter so much how you think about where it might be. For example, Motion Frequency can be found under both Motion Settings, and Power Settings as it affects both.
You have a fair bit of control over power consumption, video settings like HDR and recording length the ability to customize the sounds you get in the app and on any linked Chime devices, and the ability to configure quick responses. Any quick response interactions will be recorded for later review as well, which is handy.
Ring now includes a Package Detection feature, which will alert you to package-like objects in the field of view. The app informs you that it works best with objects over 10 inches in length and may miss smaller things. I found this falls a bit flat because the aspect ratio of the Ring Video Doorbell 4 is still 16:9 which means you have little to no visibility of what is below the doorbell where a package will typically be left. Of course, there would be situations where it would have a better view, but it doesn’t help in my case.
The Ring Video Doorbell 4 also ties into the Ring Modes feature which allows you to customize which behaviors the camera will have enabled when you are home or away. You can also configure a Disabled mode if you want to silence things for a bit. I don’t find myself using this much as I prefer to just leave the doorbell doing its thing whether I’m home or not, but you might want to change if Live view is available while you at home, for example, which this feature is good for. The Modes are much more practical when used in conjunction with a Ring Alarm system so they change over automatically.
Real World Performance
The Ring Video Doorbell 4 provides a number of controls over motion detection including customizable motion zones, smart alerts, and motion frequency and sensitivity. The Smart Alerts are particularly important, as this is where you can filter by person detection. For a doorbell this is all I’m interested in, so disabling notifications and recording of other motion was a no-brainer to reduce unwanted alerts from swaying plants and such.
Motion Zones can certainly help eliminate those types of things, and the fully customizable zones Ring provides give you great control over the exact area you want to monitor, but sometimes you can’t completely avoid sources of other motion.
I’ve found these settings combined give you a good degree of control over which notifications you get so as to avoid nuisance interruptions you don’t care about. I’ve always said this is tremendously important as notification spam just results in you ignoring them or turning them off entirely, largely negating the benefits of a smart doorbell.
Ring’s person detection is very reliable, and I’ve not noticed any missed events in my testing outside of what the Motion Frequency setting would filter out. You can always adjust that higher if you need, but it wouldn’t typically be required unless you have a very busy porch.
Detection even happens reliably on the out edges of the field of view. At 160-degrees it’s wide enough to just about cover wall to wall on either side, and I’ve captured motion that has only occurred at the outer edge of that. Sometimes the motion sensor angle will be less than the camera, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here.
Notification response time has been a consistent high point for me with Ring devices. I’ve found they can get a motion notification to my smart phone within a couple of seconds, which beats out every other platform I’ve tested so far. This is reason enough for me to stick with Ring where I need to know if something is going on quickly, like a doorbell press or someone snooping around.
You have the option to enable Rich Notifications, which should be a given feature on any doorbell these days. This does take longer to process, but what Ring does is send a basic notification and then updates it when the thumbnail is ready, usually a second or two later. I still find it plenty fast enough, even when I can just look at my smart watch to quickly see what’s up.
A nice additional feature on Ring’s notifications is the ability to mute that specific device for 30 or 60 minutes right from the notification. I use this when something is going on that generates a lot of noise, like if you have guests chatting out the front, or you’re moving stuff in or out of the house that repeatedly triggers motion events. The events will still be recorded, you just won’t be bothered with the notifications for that duration.
Like notifications, I find that Ring devices get the recording stream going faster than many other brands. I miss less of an event in any case, but The Ring Video Doorbell 4 has the new pre-roll feature included. It’s optional, but I think it’s a must have to turn it on. Newer Ring battery-powered cameras, including this one and others like the updated Spotlight Cam, are the only battery-powered cameras that I’m aware of that have pre-roll.
Pre-roll is a feature where the camera keeps a rolling buffer of video that it can then append to the front of a recording. This ensures that the 4 seconds before the event was triggered are also captured, avoiding the issue of missing key activity. In the case of the Ring doorbell this is done by a separate, lower resolution camera which runs at a low frame rate to save battery life. You won’t get the same video quality as the actual recorded event, but it’s been enough to see what happened prior.
The recordings themselves are good quality given that Ring has chosen to stick with standard HD on their cameras. The contrast is good, and the recording is clear and without excessive choppiness. The audio quality is also quite good, which I find lacking on some other doorbells, and the microphone picks up well from quite a way out.
You can also enable HDR at the cost of some extra power consumption if you have situations where you get strong light and shadow contrasts. I do get that in the afternoons as the camera faces west, but even so I haven’t found the need to enable the HDR just yet. The clarity and contrast of the camera has been sufficient without it.
Reviewing the recorded events is made very easy thanks to Ring’s TimeLine View. This presents all your recorded events as well as intervening snapshots (if you have them enabled) in a continuously scrolling timeline. You can simply scrub back and forth through all the events in real time, and it’s quite amazing how fast this happens given all the video data is coming from the cloud. It is the best presentation of recorded events in any app I’ve seen and makes it super easy to see what has been going on.
It’s worth noting that on top of the motion, and package detection zones you can define, you can also specify Privacy Zones. These are areas of the video which will be covered by a black rectangle to protect the privacy of either your own family or the neighbors.
This is useful if your doorbell camera would capture things like other people’s windows. This will still capture any motion events triggered under that area, and audio will be included, unless you opt to disable audio recording at the device level. That’s an all-or-nothing setting though.
Live streaming benefits from the decent camera and audio pickup as well and will start streaming in about 5 to7 seconds on Wi-Fi, but it will naturally take longer depending on the quality of your network connection when outside the home.
From the live view you can enabled and disable the microphone and speaker (they’re off by default), and quickly access the controls for any Ring connected devices like smart lights. The control panel will slide up from the bottom leaving you with the video playing above.
I’ve been able to get the live view playing consistently without any excessive delays, again besting some other brands where this can fail to start at times.
Security and Privacy
Over the last few years Ring has expanded their focus on giving us more control over our privacy and placing more protections on our accounts to avoid basic hacks like those using passwords stolen from other online services.
Importantly, all Ring accounts now require two-factor authentication. This is an important protection against password theft as it makes it much more difficult, if not impossible, for an attacker to use those credentials to access your account. Text message and authenticator apps are supported for this, so you can choose what works for you.
Any properly authenticated devices will be stored in an Authorized Client Devices list which you can check at any time. The name, type and date of access for each device will be listed, with the option to cancel that authentication right in the app. This is a step beyond any other consumer camera app I’ve seen and gives you much greater visibility of who is using your account, and from where.
You should never share your account with anyone, so any unexpected devices can be safely killed off. If you want to share access to your doorbell, that can be done safely through the Shared Users feature. This allows you to link another Ring account and specify exactly which of your Ring devices you want to share with them. This also gives you control over who has shared access, and the ability to terminate it when you want.
Finally, Ring has now started to implement full end-to-end encryption for recorded videos. This is a double-edged sword right now as it kills off a lot of worthwhile features since it blocks access to Ring’s servers as well. This includes the Timeline view, shared user access, Alexa device streaming, Pre-roll, snapshots and rich notifications to name a few.
I don’t usually need to contact support in my line of work since I can work through any issues myself, but sometimes things are just broken. In this case, the first doorbell I procured was painful to get paired with my Wi-Fi, even on the Ring Chime network. Once I did finally get it to connect it would simply fail to record anything, even Live view was just black with some audio static.
This was unusual as every other Ring product I’ve used has connected very easily and lasted the distance without issue. Something was very wrong.
On the few occasions I have had to call Ring support, I’ve found them to be responsive and helpful about 90% of the time. This call was up to standard. The agent ran through some fairly basic troubleshooting steps with me as she could see massive packet loss from the device. It was quickly determined to be the doorbell that was at fault and a replacement was ordered for me. The replacement arrived a week later along with a return label for the original one. The whole process was blessedly painless, and the replacement has worked as expected.
Smart Home Integration
Being owned by Amazon, Ring devices have tight coupling with Alexa, and no other smart home platform is officially supported. You can, of course, work around this with certain power user tools like Scrypted or Homebridge, but it’s not an easy out-of-the-box solution.
With Alexa, however, all you need to do is link your Amazon account in the Ring app, and then specify which Echo devices you’d like to announce events. The Announce feature has Alexa tell you when something is detected by the doorbell. Either Person detection, any motion, or doorbell press events. Additionally, if you have an Echo Show device it can also show the video from the camera.
I found the video view to start a bit slowly, more so than the Ring app Live View. This makes it a less practical feature than I expected given the person at the door would be kept waiting longer than I would like.
You can also use Ring camera in Alexa Routines as a trigger, based on certain motion detection events, and change to the Ring mode, thereby potentially changing the doorbell features that are active.
Arlo Essential Video Doorbell
Arlo is a big competitor in this space but has only recently added a video doorbell to their lineup. The Arlo Essential Doorbell comes in wired or battery version (you have to choose), with similar smart alerts and video quality to the Ring offering. I find Arlo’s notification response times to be noticeably slower than Ring’s, which is a problem for me. Arlo has two things going for it, though, a wider 180-degree field of view, and support for Samsung SmartThings, Google Assistant, and IFTTT in addition to Alexa.
WUUK Smart Doorbell Pro
WUUK is a newer brand in the smart camera scene, but their Smart Doorbell Pro is a compelling alternative. With a 2K HDR camera, radar sensor, tamper alarm, and local subscription-free storage you’re pretty well set up. The human detection doesn’t work quite as well as Ring’s, but notification response and recording are pretty close on Ring’s heels. The night vision performance is also truly superb.
Google Nest Doorbell
Google’s latest doorbell offering, the Google Nest Doorbell, is actually compelling due to the fact that it can be used effectively without a subscription thanks to free 3-hour video storage in the cloud and delivers very good performance. The Nest Aware subscription, if you do take it up, is excellent value and does a great job at intelligently identifying people and objects, with more options than Ring. The downside is that it has both lower video resolution and a narrower field of view.
In spite of needing a subscription, the Ring Video Doorbell 4 delivers stand out performance, both wired and battery power options, and class leading features like pre-roll and a removable battery, both of which are largely unique in the market right now for battery-powered doorbells.
I’ve been impressed with the camera quality, even though it remains a standard HD resolution, and the response times for both notifications and recorded events are best-in-class. You get good range of controls over motion detection and notifications, and the ability to mix and match features depending on your specific needs and installation requirements.
The Ring app also provides more control over who is accessing your account and from where, providing a level of visibility and control that I have yet to see in other camera apps. The Ring Video Doorbell 4 has proven itself a doorbell I can rely on, and if you don’t find the subscription fee objectionable, it’s hard to fault it.