Ring Alarm has been our favorite home-security-focused smart home system since its launch, and the second-generation system is even better. That said, Ring hasn’t yet delivered on its implied promise to make the Ring Alarm the unifying core of a complete smart home system. Fulfilling that promise—which Ring Solutions president Mike Harris spoke of in 2018—would have bumped up our bottom-line score by a half point.

I’ll assume, however, that your primary interest in reading this review is to learn about Ring Alarm as a home security system. So, I’ll focus on that aspect first and summarize its shortcomings as a smart home system later. This is an in-depth review of a complex system, written after living with the product for a couple of months with the professional monitoring option enabled. Click here if you’d prefer to skip to our bottom-line recommendation. If you’d like to read more of our smart home system reviews, click here.

ring alarm keypad Michael Brown / IDG

The new Ring keypad (right) is much smaller than the original, and it has dedicated buttons for summoning emergency responders (although you need to pay for monitoring to enable that feature).

Ring Alarm 2 is available in several starter kits. Ring sent us a eight-piece kit consisting of the Ring base station, a keypad for arming/disarming the system, four contact sensors, one motion sensor, and one range extender with a battery backup. This kit sells for $250. To get the most value out of the system, you’ll also want to sign up for a professional monitoring service that will summon first responders in the event of an emergency. That will add $10 per month to the overall cost of the system, but it doesn’t require a long-term contract. We’ll get deeper into that in a bit.

The system can be expanded and enhanced with a wide range of specialized add-on products from third parties (via the Works with Ring certification program) and Ring itself. But again, the focus of all these products—ranging from cameras to smoke detectors to connected lighting products to smart locks—is on home security, not the comfort and convenience aspects that define a smart home.

Hardware evolution

With the exception of the base station that connects the Ring Alarm system to your home network, every Ring Alarm component has been hit with a shrink ray. The keypad for arming and disarming the system is smaller. The contact sensors you’ll mount to your doors and windows are smaller. The motion sensor is smaller. Each of the new sensors and the new range extender have an LED-backlit button that lights up when the sensor is activated, although you can override that behavior.

The reductions are thanks, in large measure, to Ring’s decision to use the new Z-Wave 700 chip in those components. That should yield a second important benefit to consumers: Longer range and improved battery life. Chipmaker Silicon Labs says sensors using Z-Wave 700-series chips should be able to last 10 years or more, although Ring itself more modestly says only that battery life depends on usage. 

ring alarm base station front Michael Brown / IDG

The base station is the only component that didn’t benefit from a redesign in the second-gen Ring Alarm system.

The new keypad used for arming and disarming the system now has three dedicated buttons for summoning police, fire, or medical assistance. But these buttons are non-functional unless you sign up for Ring’s professional monitoring (more on that later).

All 18 buttons on the keypad are now backlit, where only the numeric buttons on the original model were. The keypad comes with a wall-mount bracket or it can be left on a tabletop. It has a rechargeable battery, or you can run it on AC power with the included adapter. All the new components are backward compatible with the first-generation Ring Alarm, and all first-gen Ring components can be used with the new system.

The base station is designed to operate on AC power most of the time, but it does have battery backup to keep the system working in the event of a blackout. The base station connects the system to your Wi-Fi network, and if you pay for monitoring, Ring will activate its onboard LTE radio so the system can maintain its internet connection if your broadband connection fails (as it likely would in a blackout or if an intruder cut your phone or cable line).

The base station has a 104dB (at one foot) siren onboard that sounds off when the system goes into an alarm state. Either way, the siren isn’t as loud as I would like it to be. Something that produced 120dB—the noise level a chainsaw would generate—would make it uncomfortable for an intruder to stick around.

ring alarm motion sensor Michael Brown / IDG

The new Ring motion sensor (right) is much less obtrusive than the original.

Easy-peasy installation

The new Ring Alarm system is every bit as easy to install as the original, but Ring provides a glossy printed user manual with photos and diagrams to step you through the process. The manual suggests placements for the contact sensors, motion sensor, Z-Wave range extender, base station, and keypad along with lots of other handholding. These come pre-paired with the system when you buy the kit.

Should you add additional sensors down the road, there’s a quick-and-easy onboarding system in which you open the app and scan QR codes on the devices. Buy these add-on products directly from Ring, and they’ll arrive already pre-paired with your system, just like the ones from the starter kit.

The contact and motion sensors have adhesive pads applied to them to make installation quicker, but these devices also have screw holes if you want something more permanent. You’ll need to provide your own screws, but the holes go through the pads. I’ve seen too many of these devices where the adhesive covers the holes, so the pads get all twisted up when you put screws through them. That’s just one of many seemingly insignificant details that demonstrate the thought that Ring put into this system.

ring 2nd gen sensor mount Ring

A clever bracket design allows you to mount the Ring motion sensor on either a flat surface or in a corner, where it can monitor a bigger area.

Another detail is how you open the contact sensors to replace their batteries: The sensor cover simply slides off the part that is mounted to your door frame. The more common practice is to have you pry the battery compartment off, which would weaken the sensor’s adhesive grip if not break it completely. And as you would expect, the system will send you a tamper alert when you open the battery compartment.

If you’d prefer to have a professional install your Ring Alarm system, that option is available through the Ring-endorsed third-party service OnTech.

Professional monitoring

Professional monitoring is an added-cost option ($10 per month, but without a long-term commitment) after a free 30-day trial. We strongly recommend signing up for it. Without professional monitoring, the system will only send you push notifications for events and when an alarm state is triggered. With monitoring, Ring (via its third-party contractor, Rapid Response Monitoring) will dispatch the appropriate emergency response: Police or ambulance. If a connected smoke detector fires off, the service will dispatch firefighters.

ring alarm contact sensor Michael Brown / IDG

Ring hit its second-generation contact sensors (right) with a shrink ray, although we remain partial to sensors that disappear from view inside the door and door frame.

You can also initiate an emergency response from within the app, or by pressing a dedicated button on the Ring keypad (more on that in a bit). The service will attempt to contact you to verify the emergency before dispatching help, but it will assume you need help if they can’t reach you. Depending on where you live, you might need to secure a permit to activate professional monitoring.

ring emergency response request Michael Brown / IDG

You can summon police, fire, or medical assistance right from the app in the event of an emergency.

Ring’s professional monitoring service plan is among the least-expensive on the market, and it includes cloud storage for an unlimited number of Ring cameras, including the Ring Video Doorbell.

Soon, however, it will no longer be the cheapest solution. Wyze Labs has announced a home security system with professional monitoring that costs just $5 per month—and you’ll get the Wyze hardware for free if you pay for one year of service in advance. But we won’t be able to compare Ring’s product to Wyze’s until the Wyze system ships.

How it works

The system has three modes: Disarmed, for when you don’t need security; Away, for when you leave the house; and Home, for when you’re in the house but want security (such as when you go to bed for the night). You can program the system so that each contact and motion sensor behaves differently depending on which mode the system is in.

You’d probably want the contact sensors to trigger an alarm in either of the armed modes (Home and Away). The motion sensor should be set to active only when the system is in away mode. Otherwise, the alarm will go off when you walk around the house.

If a sensor is tripped when you attempt to arm the system in Home or Away mode (which might happen when you leave a door or window open), you’ll have the option of bypassing that sensor. Unfortunately, the base station won’t tell you which sensor is open. You’ll just hear a female voice say “Sensors require bypass.”

You can push a button on the keypad to blindly bypass all open sensors and arm the system anyway, or you can cancel arming and walk around the house to figure it out what was left open. Your best option, however, is to pull out your phone and look at the Ring app, because it will tell you which sensors are open. You can then make an informed decision about bypassing them or closing the affected door or window.

ring sensor bypass Michael Brown / IDG

The Ring app tells you which sensors are tripped, so you can make an informed decision about bypassing them.

You can program an entry delay to give yourself time to walk to the keypad and disarm the system when you come home, and you can set an exit delay to give yourself time to open doors and walk out of the house after you’ve armed the system in Away mode.

Contact sensors you designate as being placed on windows are automatically exempted from any entry delay, because no one should be entering or exiting your home while the security system is armed.

When the system goes into an alarm state, and you don’t immediately disarm it, the siren in the base station will go off and—if you’re paying for professional monitoring—the service will attempt to reach you. They’ll go down your contact list until they reach someone to confirm the emergency, and they’ll summon a local police response if they can’t reach anyone.

If you’ve installed any sensors that can detect a fire, the service will call your local fire department if smoke or flames are detected.

In addition to the fire, police, and medical emergency buttons on the keypad, you can establish a duress code that will alert the monitoring service if someone forces you to disarm the system against your will. To the intruder, it will seem as if you’ve complied with their demand and turned the security system off. In reality, the police will be summoned (in this scenario, the service will not attempt to contact you first). Once again, however, this level of service is only available if your pay the $10 per month for professional monitoring.

Ring doorbell and camera integration

Ring now has an indoor camera that wasn’t available when I reviewed the first-generation system in 2018. More importantly, the company has improved the manner in which its cameras interact with the alarm system. You can control how each individual camera behaves in each of the system’s three modes: Disarmed, Home, and Away.

For the sake of privacy, for example, you might want to turn off motion detection and the live feed view on your indoor cameras while the system is disarmed. Leaving motion detection enabled on the doorbell and outdoor cameras will ensure awareness of what’s going on outside the house. But when the system is in Away mode, you might want everything enabled to document everything that happened while you were gone.

ring indoor cam mounted 2 Michael Brown / IDG

The Ring Indoor Cam can rest on any horizontal surface or be mounted to a wall or ceiling.

You can toggle these two settings on a camera-by-camera basis and set different values for each of the system’s three modes. But the big improvement is that you can now set all your Ring cameras to record the moment the system goes into an alarm state. This will provide the best chance of catching forensic evidence of what triggered the alarm in the first place.

Works with Ring

Ring has expanded its third-party certification program to include more smart deadbolts; Chamberlain smart garage door opener, in-wall and plug-in lighting controls, a siren with a strobe light, and the Flo by Moen smart water shutoff valve.

ring alarm state and ring smart lighting Michael Brown / IDG

You can program Ring Smart Lighting products to turn on when the system goes into an alarm state.

Ring does smart lock integration right, giving users the option to program a compatible lock and the system so that when you use the lock’s keypad to throw the bolt, the Ring Alarm automatically goes into Away mode. When you return home and enter a valid PIN on the lock’s keypad, the lock can be programmed to automatically put Ring Alarm into Disarmed mode.

If you place Ring’s $35 Alarm Smoke & CO Listener near each of your smoke and carbon-monoxide detectors, it will listen for the sound of the alarms going off and the system will send you an alert accordingly. If you pay for professional monitoring, a dispatcher will contact your local fire department and summon help.

You can also purchase and install a First Alert Z-Wave Plus Smoke & CO Alarm (2nd Gen) and incorporate it into your Ring Alarm system to get the same protection. It’s worth noting, however, that this is the only Ring-certified third-party product that will trigger an emergency response from the professional monitoring service. Other third-party devices can cause the system to go into an alarm state, but the monitoring call center will not respond.

Smart home system potential

As I noted earlier, Ring Alarm still hasn’t realized its full potential as a smart home system despite having everything you could want in a smart home hub. You can tie Ring’s home security cameras and its smart lighting devices to the security system and manage everything from a single app, but Ring contact sensors will only trigger lights to turn on during an entry delay—in the 30-second to three-minute interval after the system is disarmed from Home or Away mode. That can conveniently light your way into your home when you arrive and disarm your system, but opening a door outfitted with a contact sensor won’t otherwise turn any lights on.

If you own any of Ring’s Smart Lighting products, you can depend on the motion sensor in one of those fixtures, or you can deploy a stand-alone Ring Smart Lighting motion sensor to trigger one or more of Ring’s exterior lighting fixtures or its white-only smart bulb. You can also program the system so that if it goes into an alarm state, these lights will turn on. Be aware that you’ll also need the Ring Smart Lighting Bridge to deploy any of those products.

echo 4th gen front top down Michael Brown / IDG

Ring largely punts on smart home integration, expecting you to use Alexa routines and Echo smart speakers to pull home automation and home security together.

As for the Works with Ring-certified Leviton and GE by Jasco smart lighting controls, all of which are based on Z-Wave, you can turn those lights on and off from within the Ring app, but Ring contact sensors and other Ring products won’t trigger them, and you’ll need to rely on those products’ apps if you want to set lighting schedules. Ring’s suggested workaround is to create Alexa Routines if you want that level of automation.

Ring Alarm obviously integrates with Alexa, to the degree that you can arm and disarm the system with voice commands. I wouldn’t recommend disarming the system with your voice, however, since someone outside your home could hear you and learn how to defeat your security system. Ring Alarm still does not work with Google Assistant, and it isn’t compatible with Apple’s HomeKit platform.

ring tamper alert Michael Brown / IDG

The system will alert you if any of the sensors are tampered with (hopefully that will only happen when you change their batteries).

Despite the presence of a Zigbee radio inside the Ring Alarm base station, there are still no Works with Ring-certified products based on Zigbee, and you can’t integrate Philips Hue smart lighting products into the system.

IFTTT support would greatly expand Ring Alarm’s utility as a general smart home system, but Ring has so far declined to support that service in its Alarm product (you can create IFTTT applets that use the motion sensors in Ring’s video doorbells and cameras as triggers).

I’m fine with Ring’s decision to not support geofencing for automatically arming and disarming the system as you leave the vicinity of your home, but it would be great if your smartphone could trigger your lights to turn on when you arrive home.

Bottom line

Ring Alarm is our longtime favorite DIY home security product, and the second-generation system only reinforces that view. It’s priced right, offers all the right components and services, and the optional professional monitoring service is an absolute bargain.

We remain disappointed, however, that Ring hasn’t done more to move the ball on the smart home front. This system has everything needed to become a strong smart home system, and the company has added support for some third-party lighting controls, but you can’t create meaningful routines to automate lighting—or to have Ring motion and contact sensors trigger those lights—unless you also have an Amazon Echo smart speaker and create Alexa routines. But then you’re working outside the Ring app.

That said, Ring Alarm retains its TechHive Editors’ Choice designation as our top pick in DIY home security systems. But if you also want a complete smart home, you’ll still need a second product.

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Author: LaraZ