Amazon’s new Ring Alarm smartens up the traditional home security system without radically changing how it works, combining the best of both worlds into a DIY-friendly wireless alarm arrangement that just works.
It’s been a 16-month wait in the UK since the Ring Alarm line of products launched in the US in July 2018, but it has been worth it.
The Ring Alarm takes the “if it ain’t broke” approach to a smart alarm system. Take a traditional alarm system, make it wireless and inject a bit of smart into it without trying to do too much and making it over-complicated.
The system comes in a kit with one contact sensor, one motion detector, a keypad, a range extender and the base station, which connects to your home wifi and contains a very loud siren. It’s enough to get you started, but if you have more than one entry door or ground-floor windows, you will probably need at least one more contact sensor or motion detector.
The Ring Alarm is a DIY, wireless solution, which makes it rental-friendly. You can screw everything in place if you want or, as I did, simply stick the various bits in place with foam fixers.
Installation was surprisingly straightforward and easy. You’ll need a Ring account, and its app on your smartphone, which guides you through the whole process. Plug the base station into power and hook it up to your home network via ethernet or wifi.
Then it’s simply a process of pulling the battery tabs out of the various bits one by one and choosing where to put them. The whole lot can be done in about 15 minutes if you know where you want everything to go.
The system uses the Z-Wave wireless protocol, not wifi, to connect to the various different components, reaching up to 76 metres from the base station. A range extender is included in the kit, but each device works as its own range extender, so unless you live in a really big house or have thick walls and obstructions, you probably won’t need it.
The user-replaceable 3V lithium batteries in the contact and motion sensors should last about three years, while the rechargeable battery in the keypad lasts between six and nine months. It can also be left plugged into the microUSB power adapter if you have a plug socket where you want it mounted.
The keypad arms and disarms the system like any traditional alarm. Type in your four-digit pin and press the “Away” button, which triggers a 60-second timer accompanied by a red light and what sounds like a game-show countdown tone for you to get out the door. Both the keypad and the base station make a noise and flash to let you know what’s going on during arming or disarming.
When you come home, simply punch in your pin and hit the “Disarm” button before the entry delay timer runs out. There’s also a “Home” mode for when you’re staying in, which arms only the contact sensors by default. The LED ring on the base station shines red when the alarm is set or blue when it’s off.
The keypad charges via microUSB and can be mounted practically anywhere. I stuck it to the wall behind the front door for convenience.
The alarm worked faultlessly in my two-month test, going off when it should and not when it shouldn’t. The motion sensors weren’t errantly triggered by flashes of light, as some can be. You can also tailor the motion sensor sensitivity to stop it being activated by pets – though as my home is pet-free, I couldn’t test how well this works with cats or dogs.
As a basic, easy-to-install wireless alarm, the system excels, but it’s also a little bit smarter than most.
You can control the whole thing from the Ring app, which means you can arm and disarm it remotely. You can get notifications when things happen, see the states of various sensors such as when a door was opened or closed, see battery levels of the various bits, and change settings such as brightness of LEDs or volume level of alerts.
One of the best features is the ability to give everyone their own pin, which means you can see who armed or disarmed the alarm and when. That includes guest codes, handy for neighbours or tradespeople, which can be set to operate on a schedule for extra security.
The alarm system can also integrate with any other Ring products you might have. You can set cameras to record, floodlights to fire up and other bits when the delay entry or alarm is triggered.
Ring Protect Plus
The Ring Alarm works just fine without a monthly subscription, but a Ring Protect Plus subscription of £8 a month or £80 a year adds two extras. The first is a 3G backup connection that activates when your internet goes down, meaning the alarm still works when there’s a power cut.
The second is optional assisted monitoring. When the alarm goes off, Ring’s automated system phones through a list of people until it gets an answer.
One Ring Protect Plus subscription works with all Ring devices in your house, so if you have cameras, you get 30 days of video events and snapshots as well as a few other things.
It’s worth noting that Ring is under scrutiny for the way it links with police in the US, and the use of its Neighbors app, and the use by users of footage captured by its cameras. As with any smart device, whether or not you should use it comes down to whether you trust the manufacturer – in this case Amazon. The alarm system potentially raises fewer privacy concerns, however, as it doesn’t need cameras to operate.
By default, the sensors trigger a little chirp from the base station when activated, meaning there’s a tone every time a door is opened – it felt like living in a corner shop, so I turned it off
If you have an Alexa device such as an Echo Dot, you can set the alarm via voice
You can bypass a sensor if you want to temporarily deactivate one of them when you arm the system
You can change the arming or alert delay
The siren produces 104 decibels at 30 metres, which is louder than a jackhammer and similar to a rock concert
For comparison, smart alarm systems from traditional manufacturers such as Yale start at £150 for the most basic kits and scale quickly with the number of sensors, sirens and keypads required.
The Ring Alarm manages something that few smart home devices do: it’s a simple, effective product that isn’t worse just because it’s smart.
Day to day, you can just use the simple, quality-looking keypad and go about your day. It’s easy to install, rental-friendly, straightforward to use and adaptable to various needs. It doesn’t try to do too much, it’s just a good alarm in and of itself, and doesn’t need a single other Ring product to work well.
The Ring app is also well-designed, responsive and works reliably - something that can’t be said of some more established competitors. The smart bits, such as being able to get alerts when things happen, remotely control the alarm and review events from individual sensors, are good too, as is the ability to generate unique pins for guests or tradespeople.
Having a backup battery in everything, plus the option of backup 3G, also means the alarm is dependable, even if the power goes out. I felt an extra-level of reassurance having the Ring Alarm system installed and armed compared to just having smart cameras set up while on a recent holiday.
Start integrating other smart devices you have in your home and you can build some really sophisticated security systems.
One thing the Ring Alarm kit and components are not is cheap - at least in the UK, where it is significantly more expensive than in the US. Competitors from traditional security firms start cheaper, but scale in a similar way with individual sensors.
If you want a simple DIY wireless alarm that’s easy to install and use, but you also want to be able to monitor it remotely and for it to be smart without being overloaded, Ring’s Alarm is an excellent option that was worth waiting for.
Pros: wireless, effective, simple to install, rental-friendly, smart but not complicated, works as well as a traditional alarm, expandable, dependable, good app, individual pins, temporary pins, integrates with other smart devices and cameras
Cons: costs bit more than competitors, contact and motion sensors are fairly large, no keyfob/NFC option