Ring Alarm full review
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Gone are the days when configuring a home alarm system used to entail getting a pricey expert installation and paying an extra fee for monitoring. Ring Alarm is a smart home system you can install and manage yourself, then remotely control via your smartphone.
It's affordable at £249 (US$199) for a complete solution that comprises base unit, keypad, a motion detector, contact sensor and range extender. You can bolt on additional sensors including window sensors as you require, and all can be controlled via the same free Ring mobile app that is used for the company's video doorbells, security cameras and floodlight cameras. (Chances are you will want to do so, given that there's little point fitting a contact sensor to the front door and not to the back door.)
There is a paid subscription plan at £8 a month (£80/year), but it's entirely optional. You'll get a free trial of Ring Protect Plus, which provides assisted monitoring - should an issue be detected it can place automated calls to three emergency contacts to inform them. Trusted contacts can then deal with the alarm appropriately. Without the subscription you'll still get notifications on your phone, though they're useful only if you have a signal and are able to act on them.
Setting up Ring Alarm
The Ring app is necessary for setup and, though the process took us around half an hour to complete, configuration is simple with Ring guiding you through each step, from connecting the base unit and keypad to pairing door contact sensors and motion detectors.
The base station is installed first, mains-powered but with a 24-hour backup battery, paired to your phone over Bluetooth so that you can connect it to your home internet connection, either over Wi-Fi or Ethernet. With Ring Protect Plus should your internet go down you will get an alert on your phone thanks to its mobile backup (which we discovered when we forgot to pay the broadband bill!).
This base station is the alarm unit itself, which sounds at 104dB. It's also our one major gripe with Ring Alarm: loud enough to warn off any intruders once inside your home, it's not sufficient for alerting the neighbours to what's unfolding next door. Standing at the end of our drive we were barely able to hear the siren, and on busy roads it will almost certainly be drowned out - but in the home it is loud.
Because we already have a Ring Video Doorbell Pro and Ring Floodlight Cam installed we were pleased to find it is possible to link them within the app, causing both cameras to start recording and the floodlight to switch on when the alarm is triggered. However, it seems like a massive oversight that Ring Alarm can't make use of the siren integrated to Floodlight Cam.
Also note that with no visible outdoor siren you have only a sticker to place on the outside of your home to warn off opportunists. If this is a game changer then an alternative smart alarm with outdoor siren is the Yale Sync Smart Home Alarm, though it lacks mobile backup.
The additional devices are installed one by one, and you simply follow the steps in the app. Aligning the contact sensors can be tricky, and must be installed either using screws or adhesive tape, but setup is otherwise relatively easy.
If you choose to use the contact sensor on your front door you will get a short grace period between opening the door and the alarm sounding to give you a chance to disarm it, but when fitted to a secondary door or window the alarm will sound instantly when opened.
Both the motion detector and contact sensor run on batteries for a completely wireless installation, and should last for up to three years. When the battery needs replacing you'll want to purchase a CR123A battery.
When installing the wall-mountable keypad you will be asked to set a four-digit pin code for access, allowing you to arm or disarm the alarm without needing to use the app. This is also handy if other people live in your home, though it is possible to give them access in the Ring app, too.
If you set them up with their own account and PIN you will see notifications on your phone telling you exactly who armed/disarmed the alarm and when.
You can reduce the brightness of the keypad's LEDs to suit the location in which you'll be installing it, and you can either leave it plugged in via USB or make use of its eight-month battery.
The range extender is handy if you have connectivity deadspots in your home. Our mesh system meant it was not necessary to install this component.
Ring Alarm in use
This alarm system doesn't support fobs, but there are three ways to interact with Ring Alarm and all are equally simple: through the physical keypad, through the Ring app, and through Alexa. Unsurprisingly, given the Amazon link, there's no support for Google Assistant, but if you have any Alexa-integrated devices in your home such as the Echo Dot 3 you can use it to set the alarm.
Using Alexa to disarm the alarm is less successful, since you have to provide a voice code - in essence a PIN - which is no longer a secret once you've said it out loud.
If you're wondering why you might want to turn on the house alarm while you're still home, know that Ring Alarm has two working modes: Home and Away. In Home mode the alarm is triggered only when the contact sensor is activated, for example when the front door is opened. In Away mode the motion sensor is also activated.
So, basically, you can get up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet, as long as you're not planning to go in the garden. Something to consider if you have pets, of course.
Annoyingly, when using the keypad it is only possible to set the alarm when the front door is closed. Too often I went to leave the house, realised I had forgotten to set the alarm, and went back and tried to do so with the door open. It's another reason why it's much easier to just use the app.
Even with other Ring devices installed the alarm takes preference on the mobile app's dashboard, with three large buttons at the top of the interface: Disarmed, Home and Away. Simply tap a button and close the app.
This is pretty much a set-and-forget solution, with little in the way of customisation available in the app - but, then, what would you actually wish to customise? You can update the firmware, manage linked devices and shared users, reduce the keypad brightness and test the siren. There is one other option for audio settings, but regardless of what this is set to the siren will sound at maximum volume when triggered.
Ring Alarm Conclusion
Recommendable for its simple installation, expandable design, battery and mobile backups, and integration with other Ring devices, it really is difficult to fault Ring Alarm - especially when you consider the affordable asking price and the entirely usable functionality without a paid subscription. However, in a future update we'd love to see Google Assistant integration, plus the possibility of adding an outdoor siren and using fobs to disarm the alarm.
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Ring Alarm: Specs
- Five-piece alarm system includes keypad, base station, contact sensor, motion detector, range extender
- works with Alexa
- Ring Protect Plus (£8/m) subscription optional
- 104dB at 30m
- Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Z-Wave, Zigbee, Bluetooth for setup
- one-year warranty
- keypad: 8-month battery life, wall-mountable, 14.9x12.9x7.5cm
- base: mains-powered with rechargeable 24-hour backup battery, 16.9x16.9x3.6cm
- contact sensor: 3-year battery life (CR123A), 8.2x2.5x2.4cm
- motion detector: 3-year battery life (CR123A), 9.0x6.2x4.5cm
- range extender: mains-powered with rechargeable 24-hour backup battery, 8.0x4.6x2.8cm
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