Ring Alarm security system review

Basic features, bargain price and super simple set-up

Ring Alarm
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As it seeks to expand the "Ring of Security" around your home, Amazon-owned smart home camera company Ring has launched its first DIY security system, the Ring Alarm.

Offering self-monitoring or professional monitoring with no contracts and rock-bottom prices, it's a super affordable option in the crowded smart home security alarm system space. There's a lot to love about Ring Alarm beyond the pricing – especially its tight integration with Alexa, nice hardware, great expansion capabilities and very good app.

Related reading: Best smart security systems for your home

However, there's room for improvement, too. We spent three months living with the system – read on for our full review.

Ring Alarm security system review

Ring Alarm: Design, installation and setup

The Ring Alarm system has a nice, if bulky, look. Clean lines, rounded corners, all encased in a smooth, matt-white plastic. Well, all except for the monstrosity that is the keypad, but we’ll get to that later.

The large base station with an LED ring in the centre is the heart of the system. This plugs into power and attaches to your modem via an ethernet cable. It houses a Z-Wave Plus radio that connects all Ring’s devices to the system, plus Wi-Fi, LTE and ZigBee radios (more on those later, too).

Devices included in the five-piece starter kit are a motion sensor, contact sensor, and Z-Wave extender, all of which are nicely designed, if very large – the contact sensors are the biggest we’ve tested by far, which can make installing them a little tricky. Ring does sell a slimmer magnet if you run into this problem, though.

Read next: How to use Ring Video Doorbell with Alexa

Installation is super simple, and you can easily do it all yourself. Download the app, create an account and pair the base station. Now, all the devices that come in the kit pair themselves as soon as you power them on – a very nice touch. If you’ve purchased any extra sensors, you simply scan the QR code on each device to pair it.

As each device pairs, you assign it to a room, then physically install them. For contact and motion sensors, you also choose if they are in an entryway location – so the alarm is delayed when it detects motion, giving you time to exit – or in a room, where the alarm will sound immediately if triggered.

Ring Alarm security system review

Every piece of equipment has a tape and hardware mounting option, which is a good upgrade considering the price of the system. It also means you can install it in under 15 minutes, or, for a bit more longevity, get out your drill and attach the sensors with screws using the supplied mounting pieces.

Ring Alarm is now ready to go, but you can dive into the app and tweak a variety of settings to tailor it to your preferences, including which sensors are used to trigger the alarm, and whether you want to hear a tone when a sensor is triggered (handy if you like to know when the door is opened when you’re home). You can also adjust which alerts you receive, which is especially key if you plan to self-monitor.

Ring Alarm security system review

Ring Alarm: Monitoring plans and equipment

Ring’s monitoring plan is very straightforward. There is one option – $10 a month (or $100 a year) for 24/7 professional monitoring, which includes cellular backup, should your internet connection go down. You also get 60 days of cloud video storage for any and all Ring cameras. This is hands down the cheapest monitoring plan available today – most other DIY systems charge between $25 and $30 a month and that often doesn’t include cameras. And this isn’t a cut-rate price because you’ve signed up for eternity, either. There is no contract at all, it’s month-to-month, cancel anytime. Plus, you can add smoke and CO monitoring just by purchasing the compatible First Alert Z-Wave smoke and CO alarms.

Also, if you choose not to do the monthly monitoring service you only lose that service – your app isn’t hobbled as with some systems. You still get all the same alerts and notifications, and if you just want to store video from your cameras, you can pay $3 a month for cloud storage. The only thing that would make this a better deal is if there were 24 hours of free cloud storage as well. As it is, if you choose not to pay any subscription fees, you can only live stream video.

Read this: Best devices that work with Alexa

Speaking of cameras, while the starter kit doesn’t come with one, this system is very much based around the idea that you own one or more Ring cameras. You can certainly use it without one, but Ring is a camera company, and, if you have one – a video doorbell, floodlight cam or spotlight cam – they are front and centre in the app. However, there isn’t a lot of direct integration - such as when I ask my system to turn on, then turn my cameras on - perhaps because Ring’s cameras are always on (which is actually a bit of a flaw; the only way to turn off exterior cameras is to remove their power).

You can expand your system easily, too – and pricing here isn’t much different from the competition. Buying extra door and window sensors, motion sensors and a keypad, plus adding smoke/CO detectors, freeze/flood sensors, an external siren and a panic button will round out the system. There are also a couple of integrated Z-Wave locks from Yale and Kwikset, but no glass break sensors and, most irritatingly, no key fob.

Because the Ring Alarm is a Z-Wave system, you can technically add any Z-Wave products to it and it will act as a bridge. However, only “Certified” security products work with professional monitoring, and only "Works With Ring" devices can be controlled through the Ring app. On the smart home side, that’s pretty slim pickings, but does include a couple of smart outlets and a few smart switches from the likes of Leviton and GE.

Ring Alarm security system review

Ring Alarm: Features and smart home integrations

On its own, the Ring Alarm system is pretty bare bones. It sends you an alert and notifies the monitoring company if a sensor is triggered while the system is armed. That’s pretty much it. There’s nothing particularly innovative here, but, then again, you’re not paying a hefty price upfront for fancy door sensors that detect heat, motion and light (a la Nest Secure), and this system doesn’t purport to be a full smart home hub (a la Abode).

AMBIENT VERDICT: Ring Video Doorbell 3 Plus review

But with Ring’s track record for innovation and the power of Amazon at its back, one or two really cool features shouldn’t be too much to ask for. Right now, it doesn’t integrate with any smart home systems other than Alexa – not even IFTTT. When we spoke to Mike Harris, President of Ring Solutions, about this, his counterpoint was that Ring Alarm is designed to be really easy, because something as important as your security should be simple and easily executed. Fair point. But that’s not going to be enough to silence smart home enthusiasts like ourselves.

Speaking of Alexa, integration here does keep getting better, and is likely where we’ll see more innovation. When it launched in 2018, Ring Alarm didn’t even work with Alexa, but today you can arm and disarm with your voice (using a pin code for disarm).

Ring Alarm security system review

Ring is also the only security system that integrates with Alexa’s Guard feature – which sets all your Echo devices to listen for the sounds of smoke/CO alarms or glass breaking – and, as we pointed out, Ring doesn’t have a glass break sensor. Once connected, set Ring Alarm to Away and Guard is automatically activated by saying “Alexa, I’m leaving.” If Guard is triggered while you’re gone, you’ll receive an Alert from the Alexa app that you can forward to the Ring app to request help if you have professional monitoring.

Amazon: Ring Alarm Security System
Amazon: Ring Alarm Security System

Annoyingly, you can’t add Ring Alarm to an Alexa Routine, which would let you schedule it to arm and disarm at certain times and so on. However, you can use Ring Alarm’s sensors with Routines. In fact, the system’s best smart home feature is that if you have a Zigbee-enabled Echo (Echo Plus or Echo Show second-gen), all Ring Alarm's sensors will appear in your Alexa app.

Read this: Z-Wave vs Zigbee – what's the difference?

This means you can query Alexa about their status – “Alexa is my front door open?” – and use them as a trigger for routines. Set up a routine that triggers your Hue lights to turn on when the front door sensor is opened, for instance. Plus, because you can choose to exclude sensors from your Ring Alarm’s security side, you can set up sensors for purely smart home purposes. Have a motion sensor in the kitchen that turns the lights on, starts playing your daily briefing, and starts boiling the kettle thanks to an Alexa-connected smart plug.

The pairing of the Z-Wave Ring Alarm with the Zigbee Echo and everything that combo can connect to (which is in theory, a lot) is actually one of the most fully-integrated smart home hub solutions on the market today. While Alexa’s Routines are currently a little limited, and Ring’s Z-Wave capabilities slightly hobbled, at the rate Amazon is innovating its products, the day is not far off where you could control an entire smart home with these two systems.

Ring Alarm security system review

Ring Alarm: Everyday use

Using the Alarm system is very straightforward. It has three modes – Home, Away and Disarmed. When you set it to “Away” or “Home”, it monitors all or selected sensors alerting you if any status changes, triggering the siren in the base station. If you have professional monitoring, a signal is sent to the monitoring service, which then tries to contact you on your emergency numbers, and, if it can’t reach you, dispatches emergency services.

Considering how central videos are to Ring’s system, it’s strange that its cameras don’t link into the alarm system – you can see them in the app but they don’t trigger the alarm and the monitoring system doesn’t get a feed. So if you live in an area where police require visual verification before they’ll come out, you’ll need to provide that yourself, or hope a neighbour is nearby and can see what’s going on.

Ring Alarm security system review

Arming and disarming the system with voice using Alexa is easy, and by far our preferred way to use the system. The keypad is just unpleasant – a giant, shiny, ugly, plasticky thing with spongy buttons that has as much technical chops as a Speak N' Spell. You also have to input the code to arm it, as well as disarm, which just seems unnecessary. Compared to every other decent smart home security system keypad, this is one to miss. Sadly, though, the absence of any key fobs for the system means you probably will need it if you have guests or service people at your home when you’re not there.

Otherwise, using the app is simple. The three modes are prominently displayed on the home screen giving you easy access to arm and disarm. However, we desperately wanted some sort of automatic arming and disarming feature – there’s no way to set the alarm to arm at night and disarm in the morning automatically, or any way to enable geofencing. There is also no duress code option, a feature available on most other security systems.

All-in-all, Ring has achieved what it set out to do here, creating a very inexpensive, super simple security system. But, if you’re looking for a lot of smarts, you’ll want to go elsewhere. Or, if you are the patient kind, watch this space and see where Amazon and Ring take this.

Ring Alarm
Inexpensive hardware and a cheap monitoring plan make Ring Alarm the one to beat on price, but not on features. There’s little innovation here beyond basic security – which will be fine for most people. Alexa integration is good and combined, Ring Alarm and Alexa are a great basis for a fully-featured smart home. However, the lack of direct camera integration and a few other key features missing from the security side make Ring Alarm only a good option, not a great one – for now.
  • Super easy install
  • Fully-featured app
  • Cheap monitoring
  • Works with Alexa Guard / Routines
  • Z-Wave allows for expansion
  • No geofencing or scheduling
  • No key fob or duress code
  • No camera integration
  • Huge door sensors
  • Only works with Alexa

TAGGED    security systems    amazon

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