Ring has built the perfect smart home hub for most people... just not for me
I am a big fan of Ring Alarm. Mainly because the inexpensive, easy-to-use security system is an excellent smart home hub in disguise. Since the first generation of the product launched in 2018, it’s been packed with useful smart home radios, including Bluetooth, RF, cellular, Zigbee, and Z-Wave, some of which are capable of connecting to a nice selection of smart home and security devices.
I also admire Ring Alarm for leading the charge in disrupting the tired, expensive home security industry, thanks to its rock bottom prices, good hardware, and lack of long-term contracts. So, I’ve been watching the evolution of this product with interest over the last few years, waiting for the moment Ring finally united its smart home and home security offerings in this powerful piece of tech.
With the Ring Alarm Pro ($249 for the base station, $299 for a starter kit) the company has done just that. This is the ultimate smart home hub: in addition to the security capabilities of the previous model, there’s now a built-in Eero mesh router for better Wi-Fi in your home, an LTE radio for whole-home internet backup, USB type-C connections for external battery backup, a Ring Lighting bridge to connect your smart lighting, and a microSD card slot for local storage and processing of video. But they still haven’t turned on that Zigbee radio.
The Ring Alarm Pro is the next level of smart home security, a near-perfect marriage of everything you need to set up a smart home and then some, all for under $300. But it has one significant flaw that means if you already have a substantial smart home setup, you’ll want to give it a pass.
It makes a lot of sense for Amazon to marry its leading smart security hardware brand with its excellent consumer-level mesh Wi-Fi company. The chief complaint I hear about Ring is the poor connectivity of its cameras and video doorbells — something often solved by adding better Wi-Fi in the home. The inclusion of an Eero 6 router makes the Ring Alarm an excellent solution for homeowners who want a security system with cameras and are still using their ISP-supplied combined router and modem.
If you already have a capable mesh Wi-Fi setup and a substantial number of smart home devices — this is not the hub for you. That’s mainly because the Ring Alarm Pro has to be the gateway device for your home Wi-Fi, and for some setups (including my own), the included Eero 6 dual-band router is just not powerful enough.
This means I have to forgo local storage of Ring videos, 24/7 whole-home internet backup, and 30-plus hours of continuous power to keep my cameras, security system, heck, even Netflix online when the power goes out. This makes me sad, as I want all these things. If only Ring had put an Eero Pro 6 router in the Ring Alarm Pro (it’s even in the name!), this would have been the perfect device, albeit a significantly more expensive one.
But instead, the Ring Alarm Pro is slightly less than pro. The Eero 6, which is capable of speeds up to 900Mbps over 1,500 square feet, is just fine for most people, but if you have gigabit internet service or a significant number of devices on your network — based on my experience, anything over 50 — it’s not going to be able to handle them. This seems like poor planning on Ring’s part, as surely the idea is to get people to buy more Ring and Ring-compatible devices.
Ring also opted not to include Thread in its base station, despite it being in almost every other Eero device. “We may enable Zigbee on Ring Alarm Pro in the future,” Nick Weaver, CEO of Eero, told me. “If a customer wants Zigbee Smart Home Hub or Thread support today, they can add an Eero 6 router or any Eero Pro 6 device to their network.”
I have over 100 devices connected to my network, and it needs a tri-band router like Eero’s Pro 6 to handle the traffic. While you can add an Eero Pro 6 to a Ring Alarm Pro setup — the Ring Alarm has to be the gateway device, it can’t be an extender, or you won’t get the 24/7 backup features for your whole network.
After a few false starts getting my existing network of smart home devices onto the Ring Alarm Pro’s Eero network (including one attempt that blew up my aging AT&T Arris modem), I finally got running, only to find my network behaving like molasses in January.
A call with Eero concluded that the Ring Alarm Pro wasn’t going to work for my network because I have so many devices on it. The best solution for testing the system was to put my existing Eero Pro 6 Wi-Fi mesh network back online, create a new network in the Eero app using the Ring Alarm Pro as the Gateway, and connect that to my ISP via one of the Eero Pro 6 routers’ ethernet ports.
This setup went smoothly, and I easily reconnected the Ring cameras I was testing to this new network and a second Eero 6 extender to it for more coverage. The Ring Alarm sensors I had already connected to the Ring Alarm Pro also transferred over with no hiccups. Everything ran smoothly — confirming my theory that this could be the perfect smart home hub for a lot of people, just not for me.
So, who is this for? If you have an existing Ring Alarm setup, it’s a good upgrade. You can purchase the Pro base station separately for $250 and swap out your old base station after performing a backup of your system in the Ring app. I tested this process, and it was easy and quick. You should consider this if you want to add a mesh Wi-Fi router to your home (or already have an Eero 6 running and need more coverage), are thinking about getting some outdoor Ring lighting (it doubles as a Ring lighting bridge, which costs $50), are interested in local storage for your Ring cameras, and / or want backup internet for when the internet goes down.
If you are starting a smart home from scratch and / or looking to get an alarm system and mesh Wi-Fi network, the Ring Alarm Pro eight-piece starter kit for $299.99 is a good option. You get the base station, four door / window contact sensors, a motion detector, a keypad, and a Z-Wave range extender (which extends the Z-Wave signal to reach any sensors that might be out of range of the base station).
Ring’s security hardware is excellent — the motion sensors and door / window sensors are slimmer and more functional than those that came with the first-gen model. They are also pre-paired to the base station and have pre-affixed double-sided tape — making setup and installation a cinch.
The keypad is simple to use, with nice, big buttons including panic buttons that will alert your emergency contacts and dispatch police, fire or medical assistance (if you have professional monitoring). It’s easy to find a good spot for it, thanks to a battery that will last up to six months and a mounting bracket that attaches to the wall or doubles as a tabletop stand.
The new Pro base station is chunkier, powered by a USB Type-C cable, and has to be hardwired to your modem, a change from the previous models that can work over Wi-Fi or wired connections. It can still be wall-mounted, but that’s not a good option if you want to use the new Ring Power Pack for longer backup, which connects via a short USB-C cable and sits under the base station.
In my testing, all the sensors responded reasonably promptly and accurately, triggering the alarm within two to four seconds. A push alert is sent to your phone, and if you pay for professional monitoring, Ring’s service will call you first before dispatching emergency services.
Unsurprisingly, Ring integrates very well with Amazon’s Alexa, and can be set as the default security system for Alexa Guard, which turns your Echo speakers into security sensors that can listen for the sound of glass breaking or smoke alarms going off.
Ring’s sensors can also be used as triggers for Alexa smart home Routines; you can have them turn on lights when motion is detected or make an announcement when a contact sensor opens. I set one up to say, “Your daughter is trying to sneak out,” through the Echo speaker in my bedroom if her bedroom window opens after 9PM (she’s 10, so this is actually not an issue… yet). These ran promptly, but not instantly, taking between three and five seconds to activate after the trigger.
The Home, Away, and Disarmed Modes in the Ring App make the system simple to operate, and you can tie it to Alexa Guard to have it set when you say, “Alexa, I’m leaving.” There’s an option to disarm with voice, too, using a pin code.
If you don’t have an Echo speaker, you will have to set the alarm manually in the app, on the keypad, or turn on geofencing in the app to send you a reminder when you leave home or arrive back. Another option is to create a schedule in the app to set the alarm to turn on at night and off in the morning (or whenever you choose).
All of the above comes with any Ring Alarm system, but with the Pro, you also get local processing and storage of videos generated by connected Ring cameras and 24/7 internet backup. The local video storage is called Ring Edge, and you need to install a microSD card for it to work (a 64GB can hold around 47 hours of clips and you can use cards up to 512GB).
In testing, this function worked smoothly, producing marginally quicker response times (2- to 3-second difference) when pulling up a live view or viewing recorded footage, but nothing significantly faster. The main reason to use this is if you don’t want your videos stored in the cloud. You still have to pay the monthly Ring Protect Plus fee to use Ring Edge, though, so it’s not going to save you any money (another reason for choosing cameras with local storage). Ring Edge currently works with the Ring Stickup Cam, Indoor Cam, and Ring Pro 2 doorbell.
The Ring Alarm Pro is the only consumer device in this category to offer 24/7 internet backup. Most professionally monitored security systems, including the original Ring Alarm, have cellular and battery backup to keep the hub up if the power or internet goes out, but this extends that backup capability to devices on your network, too. You can set it up to keep things like your smart thermostat, smart speakers, and smart lights online in the event of an internet outage, for example.
In my testing, it worked very well, switching over to LTE immediately when I disconnected the ethernet cable and serving up speeds of 18Mbps despite a weak connection to AT&T at my house (the service the Pro uses for its cellular connection).
While it’s not fast enough to keep watching 4K video or continue playing Fortnite on my son’s Xbox, it was enough to keep the Ring cameras up and let me do some work on my laptop. You can choose in the Eero and Ring apps which devices get to take advantage of the 3GB LTE included in your monthly subscription, and you can pay for extra data at $3 per gigabyte, if necessary. Managing the Wi-Fi network is done in the Eero app; that functionality isn’t built into the Ring app.
To really get the benefits of internet backup, though, you need to buy one or more (up to four) Ring Power Packs. These each provide up to eight hours of battery backup — keeping you online if the internet and the power go out. I tested one power pack, and along with the LTE, it kept my network up for the better part of a day. I was able to pull up live views from the Ring cameras, see past footage, view a live feed on an Echo Show, and control the alarm system with no lagging, hiccups, or any issues at all.
But the Power Packs cost $130 each, so to get the max offline uptime, you’re looking at an outlay of $770 upfront; $520 for four Power Packs, plus $250 for the Pro base station. This adds up quickly, as does the price hike for the Ring Protect plans. The previous plan that included professional monitoring was $10 a month or $100 a year, and came with Alexa Guard Plus (worth $4.99 a month), and 60 days of cloud storage for any connected Ring cameras. The new plan is now $20 a month (or $200 a year) and includes all of the above, plus LTE data for the backup internet, an Eero Secure subscription that provides ad filtering, malware protection, content filters, and parental controls, and the option to store footage from your Ring cameras locally.
Essentially, the Ring Alarm Pro costs more than twice as much as the original if you take full advantage of its extra features. It’s still an incredibly good value for what you get, especially compared to other professionally monitored security services that run $25 per month or more and don’t offer nearly as many features. You can use the Pro without a monthly subscription, but all you are really getting is a mesh Wi-Fi router and a self-monitored alarm system.
Compared to the competition, Ring still offers the best value. Wyze’s security system is cheaper upfront and for the monthly cost but has fewer features and accessories. Simplisafe is more expensive to buy and run and only works with Simplisafe’s limited number of smart devices. Only Abode offers a similar system for an equally good price, and it’s the better choice if you want integration with a platform outside of Alexa (it works with Google Home and HomeKit). It’s also a Z-Wave hub with wider compatibility than Ring’s, but it has fewer camera options and doesn’t have internet backup or local storage of videos. Abode does offer 24/7 continuous video recording, which Ring does not.
The Ring Alarm is an excellent product that will work well for its target audience while locking them firmly into the Ring / Amazon / Eero ecosystem. While Ring does integrate with other devices (you can connect a Chamberlain smart garage door opener, a Level smart door lock, and a Honeywell Home thermostat to the Ring app, among other options), it’s a carefully curated list and actual integration is limited. There is also no compatibility with other platforms outside Alexa.
This is a good security system that makes it easy for someone to build out their smart home without being bothered about too much choice. I completely understand this approach while completely disagreeing with it. Yes, we want to make it easier and less confusing for people to use connected products in their homes. But the walled garden approach is not the right one, as it limits choice and access to features and services, which ultimately makes for a less useful smart home experience. Further compounding that problem is Ring’s hesitancy to commit to Matter support in the future, which would solve a lot of the ecosystem limitations.
Mostly, however, I’m sad because I want to use this product, but the Ring Alarm Pro’s current approach is just not pro enough for me.
Photography by Jennifer Pattison Tuohy / The Verge