Ring Video Doorbell 2 review: Better features, new frustrations

Despite a frustrating install, Ring Video Doorbell 2 is still a welcome, improved version of the original doorbell-slash-security camera.

ring video doorbell 2 beauty
Jon Phillips/IDG
At a Glance

The Ring Video Doorbell 2 ($199 on Amazon) is a relatively modest, incremental update to the original Ring Video Doorbell. And, wow, some of its set-up procedure was seriously frustrating. But as a more-or-less satisfied owner of Ring’s first doorbell, I have to give Ring credit: Motion detection is better than ever, and once I got through some initial set-up hassles, Ring Video Doorbell 2 was actually easier to install than the first-generation product.

Smart home gadgets are rarely as smart as we need them to be, and I’ve spent a lot of time on Ring tech support over the last two years, struggling to get the original doorbell working as advertised. But Ring has been tenacious, and through constant iteration the company has improved its core technology. Bottom line: The Ring Video Doorbell 2 is a useful home security device, and I heartily recommend it.

The Ring doorbell concept

Just like earlier Ring doorbells, the Video Doorbell 2 is a Wi-Fi-connected security camera with two-way audio. Let’s say someone approaches your door and rings the doorbell. The signal hops from the doorbell to your Wi-Fi network, and then to Ring’s cloud servers, and eventually to the Ring mobile app on your phone. If you accept the “call,” you can see a live video stream of your visitor, and initiate a two-way conversation.

You can see them, but they can’t see you. So, whether you’re sitting in your living room 10 feet away, or staring at your phone from a coffee shop in a different city, you can screen the visitor and reply appropriately.

ring video doorbell 1080p image Jon Phillips/IDG

Ring upgraded its video camera to 1080p for Ring Video Doorbell 2—so now you can see crooks (or your awesome mailman) in higher definition. (Note that the playback controls can be toggled off to see more of the video picture.)

I’ve used the Ring Video Doorbell to tell couriers to toss packages inside my security gate. I’ve also told a few shady types that I’m not interested in their charity scam du jour. Crooks ring doorbells to help determine if a home is occupied, and with a Ring Video Doorbell, you can see who may be casing your joint, and tell them to bounce.

With a $30 annual cloud subscription, you can save and share all your Ring videos, letting you keep video evidence of whatever the doorbell has captured. And perhaps best of all, Ring’s doorbells also include basic motion detection, and this triggers video recording as well. The upshot is you can capture video of people who merely approach your doorbell (but don’t actually press its button).

Ring Video Doorbell 2: Upgraded features

Nothing about the Video Doorbell 2 screams, “This is an entirely new experience!” As such, current Video Doorbell owners probably shouldn’t ditch their original models for the upgrade. Nonetheless, Ring’s incremental changes are mostly welcome. Here’s what you get:

Improved video quality. Video resolution has been upgraded from 720p to 1080p. Sure, the video quality does look better, but the extra clarity will probably only be necessary when trying to positively I.D. a bad guy—say, a package thief who’s making the rounds in your neighborhood. Ring also upgraded the camera’s night-vision mode, using an RGBIR sensor for the first time. Night-time video now looks better, as the camera can capture higher-quality images from greater distances.

ring video doorbell 2 battery remove Jon Phillips/IDG

Once the faceplate is off, it’s easy to remove the Ring Video Doorbell 2 battery.

New physical design. As with the original Video Doorbell, the new model can either be hardwired to your existing electrical leads, or run on internal Lithium-ion battery power. The first-generation doorbell had its battery fully integrated inside the doorbell case, so when you needed to recharge, you had to remove the entire device from your wall, and then plug the doorbell into a USB adapter inside the house. The Ring Video Doorbell 2, however, has a removable battery—so you can grab that alone, without having to unscrew the entire doorbell from its moorings. 

Video Doorbell 2 also comes with two faceplates, one bright and silvery, and the other darker and reminiscent of bronze or pewter. So, now you no longer have to order a specific color and cross your fingers that it will look good. Instead, every box comes with two color options.

Better motion detection. Ring doesn’t reference improved motion-detection on its product page, but the company confirmed that its heat-sensitive infrared motion sensors do have improved accuracy.

My original Video Doorbell would pick up the heat signatures of passing buses and delivery trucks, and send alert notifications to my phone—despite no one being at my door. This happened even when my detection zones were set to only capture activity within five feet of the device. But the updated doorbell’s motion detection works much, much better, and has only reacted to people at my doorstep, save three false positives during a month of use. For this we can thank repositioned sensors in the doorbell chassis. It’s a subtle design change, but has all but eliminated a major problem. 

screenshot 20170821 132415 Ring

I set my doorbell’s motion zones to the absolute smallest perimeter possible to limit false positives from passing trucks.

A vexing battery problem

I’ve been living with Video Doorbell 2 for about a month, and it’s been reliable and blissfully drama-free. But, wow, the first few hours of use were a challenge. 

One of the very first set-up steps is to fully charge the battery—standard fare for pretty much every modern gadget. Just one problem: The battery comes pre-installed in the doorbell chassis, and my product packaging didn’t include any instructions on how to open the battery door to remove it.

Sure, you laugh. It’s just a simple battery door—does one really need instructions? Yes. Absolutely, yes. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how to open the battery door, and started prying it off with a screwdriver before deciding that approach would probably damage the plastic case. So, after looking for detailed product information online and coming up with nothing, I called customer service. Lo and behold, Ring’s technician confirmed he experienced the exact same problem the first time he used the new doorbell.

ring video doorbell 2 removal 2 Jon Phillips/IDG

Apparently, Ring discovered battery removal during initial set-up was becoming a user friction point, and has since added battery removal instructions directly in the product packaging. Frankly, the new instructions are still pretty vague, and don’t emphasize that the battery is vastly easier to remove when the doorbell is pressed tight against a perfectly vertical surface (like, you know, the exterior of your house).

Trouble with Wi-Fi and installation

Once I fully charged the battery and inserted it back into the doorbell, it was time to pair the device with my Wi-Fi network—which led to more problems, and a second call to tech support.

My doorbell review unit came with Chime Pro, a $49 optional accessory that serves as both a Wi-Fi extender dedicated to serving Ring devices (but is inaccessible to all other gadgets) as well as an indoor chime that lets you know when someone has rung your doorbell (which is helpful if your phone is in another room and you can’t hear its alert sound). The Video Doorbell 2 set-up routine encourages the user to first connect Chime Pro to local Wi-Fi, and then connect the doorbell to the Chime Pro accessory.

So that’s what I did. Or at least I tried to.

I plugged in Chime Pro, and waited for its blue LED to turn on, indicating it was ready for Wi-Fi pairing. It never turned on. So I hunted around for the hard reset button, and attempted a hard reset. Still, no blue LED. Did I do the reset properly? Who knows! The included user documentation doesn’t get into hard resets. And this is a problem throughout the Ring experience: Printed documentation is almost non-existent, and online documentation is extremely difficult to find.

chime pro Jon Phillips/IDG

Can you see the blue LED? It’s theoretically beaming from behind the Ring logo.

So I called customer support again. The technician explained that Ring recently reduced the strength of Chime’s blue LED because people complained it was too bright and was affecting their sleep. So I took the Chime Pro into the darkest room of my house, and, yes, as it turns out, the device had been powered up all along—the LED just happened to be invisible with daylight beaming through open windows.

Frankly, if it weren’t for that tech support call, I may have returned the Chime Pro for being defective. And I wasn’t done yet.

Once I verified that Chime Pro was in fact working, it still wouldn’t connect to my Wi-Fi network. Further discussion with Ring tech support informed me that the hardware often has trouble connecting if the network’s 2.4GHz band shares the same name as the 5GHz band, as mine does. So I had to enter my router settings to change the name—a pretty simple operation for a tech journalist, but a potentially hardcore operation for newbies.

On the plus side, once Chime Pro is connected, it makes the final stages of setting up the doorbell a breeze. Indeed, I’ve spent literally hours on Ring tech support over the years, working to fix issues relating to both Wi-Fi and the vagaries of splintered Android support. But because Ring Video Doorbell 2 connects directly to Chime Pro (and not my Wi-Fi network), set up is now vastly streamlined. And, of course, as a Wi-Fi extender that’s 100-percent dedicated to the doorbell, Chime Pro also helps ensure the doorbell gets a sufficiently strong signal—addressing yet another pain point intrinsic to Ring.

One final warning to potential Video Doorbell 2 buyers: Ring’s user manual explains that the doorbell needs to be screwed into your home’s exterior, but fails to describe installation options for people with concrete walls. I found that double-sided Gorilla Mounting Tape does the trick, and Ring told me updated installation instructions are imminent.

Video Doorbell 2: The bottom line

I’ve just lobbed a lot of criticism at Ring Video Doorbell 2, but none of it concerns the core technology, or day-to-day user experience. The fact is, I never even had a doorbell until I installed the original Video Doorbell, and now my doorbell game is stronger than ever. I rely on Video Doorbell 2 to not just inform me of visitors when I’m home, but also to let me see when packages have arrived, when my dog walker has picked up Whiskey, and when some sketchy person has rung my bell when I’m not home.

But as much as Video Doorbell 2 is a useful smart home device, it’s also a victim of typical smart home pitfalls. First, its entire operation is dependent on Wi-Fi, and any time you need to build a connectivity chain between a smart device, your home’s Wi-Fi, the device’s cloud server, and ultimately a mobile app, you’re bound to see some hiccups. This is true of not just Ring Video Doorbells 1 and 2, but also security cameras, a sleep monitor, and a smart garage door opener I’ve tested. 

Second, like so many other smart gadgets we buy today, Ring Video Doorbell 2 is woefully under-documented. Remember the old days when you’d get a 120-page user manual with your new tech toy? Well, I guess no one likes to read anymore. So today we’re advised to consult online help—or watch a video. OK, fine. But if Ring’s going to play this game, it really needs to make its online documentation much more comprehensive and easy to find.

At least the company’s telephone support is speedy, helpful, and friendly. I know that from hours of first-hand experience.

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At a Glance
  • MSRP $199.00
    View

    Despite a frustrating install, Ring Video Doorbell 2 is still a welcome, improved version of the original doorbell-slash-security camera.

    Pros

    • Improved motion sensors
    • 1080p video
    • Easier WiFi setup—once you have Chime Pro connected

    Cons

    • New removable battery is inscrutable and difficult to remove
    • Entire product experience is poorly documented
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