Just over a year ago I reviewed the Ring ($199), a security camera that replaces your conventional doorbell and lets you not only see who’s ringing your doorbell but also talk with them. The Ring doorbell provides movement detection with optional cloud video recording for a monthly fee ($3 per month).
While I liked the product conceptually, the startup lag (the time between detecting movement and when recording begins, usually a delay of a few seconds) is long enough that fast moving people like the Fedex guy can come and go before the device starts recording and the so-so video quality led me to give it a Gearhead rating of 3.5 out of 5.
Ring’s PR people recently sent me the company’s latest product, the Stick Up Cam ($199) and, alas, I’m even less impressed. The device and its app (iOS, Android, Windows 10, and Web) is easy to install and configure (I won’t bore you with the details; unless you’re a noob, it’s all completely straightforward) and there's also an optional solar panel ($49) that makes it truly wireless.
Even though the video quality of the Stick Up Cam is better than that of the Ring doorbell, the Stick Up Cam suffers from a similar startup lag that makes the company’s claim of “Never miss a moment with Cloud Video Recording” totally inaccurate. This is crucial because capturing "moments" is the only thing the Stick Up Cam is good for other than real-time monitoring which, as we'll get to in a moment, is also not that good.
Note that each Ring device (doorbells and Stick Up Cams) require their own cloud recording account for $3 per month.
So, how bad is the startup lag? I installed a Stick Up Cam overlooking my driveway and I now have many videos where people have come from the street, past the cars, to the path leading to the front door (which is just underneath the camera), and all I see is the top of their heads passing out of frame. This makes the claim of the Stick Up Cam as a security device laughable.
You can enable “Motion Alerts” so the Ring app on your smartphone warns you when there’s movement and shows you the video but, again, the startup lag means someone can easily cross the field of view before the real-time video starts and even loading the saved video won't necessarily show you much more. Add to that the variable delay to receive the Motion Alert notification (this can be almost instant to 10 seconds or so but, as of writing, for some reason I'm not getting any alerts at all) and the chances of catching the action are slim.
Something that I noticed on the Ring site was the above picture of the Ring app in action which makes it look like an effective surveillance system. I have to point out that I can't imagine how the image on the iPhone could be real; the time for the man to enter the scene through the gate on the right and take what looks like two steps into the garden has to be far shorter than the shortest startup lag I've seen.
How about real-time "Live View" monitoring? The problem here is that the Stick Up Cam's startup lag on my installation requires at least 7 seconds before you see anything (I've a lag as long as 25 seconds when the cam's battery is low). Moreover, Live View runs down the battery fast.
With the original Ring product you can talk to the Fedex guy when he presses the doorbell and ask him to leave your package with a neighbor no matter where you are (I once did this when I was several hundred miles away from my house; it was very cool) so even though the product's video quality was less than stellar and the motion detection was sub-par, the device had real value. Alas, with the Stick Up Cam, the startup lag means the video recording often misses the action and the delay with both Motion Alert and Live View means you can’t be sure you'll be connected in time to scare the crap out of the miscreants in your driveway by shouting god-like from the device before they’ve done damage.
Another issue is that to save any configuration changes such as the "Motion Zones" (the detection distance and zones) or "Smart Alerts" (this sets the delay between one detection event and the next) you have to walk in front of the Stick Up Cam to save the settings! That's a terrible idea; just try doing that when you're out of town or when the Stick Up Cam is installed on your holiday home on the other side of the state.
For these reasons, I’m giving the Ring Stick Up Cam a Gearhead rating of 0 out of 5.
By the way, despite users asking for over a year, Ring still doesn’t provide a public API for their products although they’ve started Ring+, a program through which they’ve partnered with a number of leading home automation product and service companies including ADT and Wink and they’ve also provided support for the IFTTT automation service.
Another concern is the quality of Ring's support. The Ring I had installed in place of my traditional doorbell suddenly stopped working recently so I submitted a trouble ticket to Ring Community Support (is “Community Support” different from some other kind of support?):
My Ring Video Doorbell dropped off my network and I'm having trouble getting it back on. According to the app the power source is hardwired but the status under power is "Poor". Under Network the app show the signal is "Very Good (RSSI = 34) and under Details it says it's running firmware 1.6.12S. When I press the button the old bell it's in line with rings so I know the Ring is seated properly but when I click on Live View the unit reports " ... disabled because the battery in Front Door is critically low." ... as it's hardwired this makes no sense. Help.
I got this reply:
So the current firmware that you are on has a bug in it which been causing customers to experience this as well so what we've been doing is rolling the software back to the previous and this should fix the problem.
So i [stet] already rolled it back all you would have to do is reset the device up on your app on the phone. Let me know how this goes for you.
Wow. Do I need to point out what a weak response that was? I won’t bother you with the rest of exchanges to determine what "reset" actually means but the bottom line is that their support is horribly amateurish. If the end user was a noob they’d be completely lost and the borking of a device that the owner has to be physically there to reset is a serious deal breaker.
So, given the obvious danger of the Ring doorbell being bricked by a firmware update that can’t be fixed without physical interaction and the poor quality of “Community Support," I’m downgrading my original Gearhead rating of the Ring doorbell from 3.5 to a 2 out of 5.
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