We're not overrun with uninvited visitors, but we do have our fair share of them.

We have a "No Solicitor" sign up on our house, which seems to be a cause for humor, but not compliance. It's also not unusual to get a knock on the door after dinner, though the late visitors are frequently neighbor kids selling something. In both cases, we don't know who is at the door until we peer through the living room curtains, or open the door.  Then you're committed to having to deal with the visitors, even if you're in the middle of other tasks.

When I read about the new smart doorbell by Ring.com, I knew I had to get one. Luckily, the company was just coming out with a new smart doorbell, the Ring Video Doorbell Pro.

The differences between the Pro and the non-Pro version is the Pro is hardwired to the house rather than using a battery option, supports 1080p, rather than just 720p video, and can work with either 2.4Ghz or 5Ghz. I wanted 1080p support, and liked the idea of not having to mess with a battery.

We also purchased the Ring Chime to go with the doorbell, though it's not a requirement.

When the doorbell came, I was surprised, and not especially happy, to realize I'd have to install a component to my doorbell chime, as well as wire the doorbell. From the web site and videos of the Ring, I knew about wiring the doorbell, but not the chime. In addition, I was one of the "lucky" first buyers who got a plain, exposed circuit board to attach to the chime—not the more polished little white box that you can either install in the doorbell case, or attach to the outside.

The ring.com component that is installed in the doorbell.

Evidently, Ring.com sent a plain circuit board in some of the kits, until someone realized that you don't just send an exposed circuit board with a home consumer product. At which point, the company switched to the white box with the kits. The company did offer to send me the white box to enclose the board, but I made do with the existing board.

You can see a snapshot of my fancy writing, below:

Circuit board installed

The doorbell itself was simple: just remove the old doorbell, attach the wires to the Ring Pro, screw it into the outside wall, pick one of four face plates, remove the security screw, and you're done. The outside only took about 10 minutes.

Installed ring doorbell

It took a couple of efforts to connect the device to my router, but that was because of ongoing issues I'm having with my OnHub router. I couldn't connect the Chime to my OnHub, and had to connect it to a secondary router (more on this in a later story).

The Ring doorbell is simple to control via the Android application I have on my smartphone. You can set up a master installation on one or more smartphones or tablets, as well as provide limited access to other people, such as family members or friends who might be watching your home while you're gone. They'll be able to access the videos and interact with the visitors, but not change any of the existing settings.

The first thing we did was to establish motion zones for the doorbell.  It's simple to add a new motion zone, but one of the problems with the interface on my Samsung Galaxy 7 Edge is that the toolbar overlaps most of the zones, making them difficult to access directly.

ringmotion

Another issue with the interface is there's no way to temporarily turn off motion detection. You have to go into the motion settings and individually deactivate each zone to turn off motion detection. If you go outside to fuss with the plants on your porch, you either have to go through a convoluted routine to turn off motion detection, or you're going to trigger motion detection.

Luckily the Ring Chime sound for motion detection is wind chimes, and not abrasive.

The motion detection is good though you will get some false positives. I discovered that car lights reflected in the rain in our driveway, and the plants swaying strongly in the breeze could trigger the motion detection. However, the false positives are infrequent, and if they are annoying, you can remove motion detection zones altogether.

Where the Ring comes into its own is when someone does come to the door. Within a couple of days after installing the device, a salesman trying to sell pest extermination plans came to the door. He knocked instead of using the bell, but I got a motion detection notice. I was home, but out on the deck. I didn't want to deal with the individual, so used my Ring app to ask him what he wanted.

His reaction was priceless. He started looking all over for the camera and then finally peered closely into the doorbell. He had a huge grin on his face—the experience was as much fun for him, as it was for me. Without having to leave my comfortable seat out on back yard deck, I was able to handle his visit quickly. More importantly, I didn't have to open my door to some unknown person.

If I had not been at home, I could have responded in the exact same manner to the visitor. There is a one to two second lag in communication between the App and the device, but it's not so noticeable that it interferes with communication.

Whether you answer a motion or doorbell ring or not, Ring records video of both. However, if you want the device to persist the video you do need to subscribe to cloud-based video storage at Ring.com. The cost is a very reasonable $30.00 a year, for six months storage of any video. You can review videos on a regular basis, keep those you want to keep, and delete the rest. If you want to keep one of the videos, you can download it. You can also generate a link for any video, and share it to Facebook or Twitter.

Without the motion detection and videos we wouldn't have known a package was dropped off by FedEx, since we weren't expecting it. We also wouldn't have had that interesting video of the large spider, crawling across our doorbell.

The videos can serve another unintended purpose which we discovered fairly recently. A person who lives nearby was burning an open fire in their yard, generating thick smoke that filled the entire neighborhood. We're in a strict burning ban area because of air quality issues, so I called the Fire Department to report the illegal fire. As usual in these types of events, the police accompanied the fire personnel. After the fire and police professionals visited the residence with the fire, the police came to our home. As soon as they entered the porch, the motion detection started the video recording. Our entire interaction with them was recorded on video.

After they left, we checked out the videos. The very first one showed the two police officers checking out the unusually shaped planters on our porch (Vegtrugs), and the prolific plant growth. We could hear one police officer say to the other, "Is that marijuana?", as both shined their flashlights over the plants.

Police checking our our planters

No worries, the only weeds in our gardens are the kind you ruthlessly yank up when you can't stand the sight of them anymore. But it did demonstrate an interesting and unintended benefit of the Ring smart doorbell.

Quibbles with the motion zone interface and installation issues aside, the Ring smart doorbell has become one of our best smart home investments. If you have no qualms about wiring devices, I recommend the Pro version, for the best video interface.

I have a Samsung SmartCam that's monitoring our basement entryway. Though the camera has a motion sensor, my smart home hub, SmartThings, doesn't yet use it. We've been assured that a future upgrade will incorporate support for the camera's motion sensor. Right now, I'm using a SmartThings motion sensor.

The motion sensor monitors all basement motion in the evening or when I'm away. If there's any motion, it sends me a text alert, turns on all lights that are currently connected to my hub (most of the house), and records a video clip of the motion using the camera. It also incorporates buffered video of the 15 seconds before the motion. This video clip is attached to the alert that's sent to my cellphone. It's also attached to the alert in the SmartThings app.

It works remarkably well. If we're home, all the lights coming on will definitely wake us up. They should also give anyone breaking in pause before continuing. And the triggering happens immediately. The lights will still come on when we're away (to scare whoever is breaking in). But when we're away, we'll also have the video so we can check if the motion was triggered accidentally, or we have a problem and need to call the police immediately.

I'm using the SmartThings hub to control the camera rather than the native Samsung camera app. I believe it does better than the native app and web site. Plus I can inactivate the camera when I want to deactivate its recording capability.

I turn the camera on at sunset and off at sunrise using an IFTTT rule.  I also use the SmartThings Smart Home Monitor smart app to monitor the motion sensor in the basement, and part of its alarm notification process is to grab a clip from the camera (in addition to the lights and text message). This is a premium service that's free until the end of 2015, and which will cost $4.99 a month starting in 2016.

screen shot of OnHub device bandwidth pageOne interesting effect from using a Google OnHub router with this setup is that you can actually see the upload bandwidth between the camera and the SmartThings hub. I originally thought the upload was going to a cloud via my internet connection and was alarmed at the amount of bandwidth being used. The engineers at SmartThings explained that the upload is only going to the SmartThings hub, and once I looked at the OnHub's readings more carefully I could see this was so.

The lights, themselves, are a mix of switch, bridge, and bulb. I am using Cree light bulbs, several GE z-wave light switches, in addition to a Philips Hue Bridge and bulbs. The Hue bulbs are outdoor lights, and I'm changing them to red during an alert. Otherwise, they're normal white during the night, and off during the day.

The brains of the entire outfit is the SmartThings Hub. Well, and me. Primarily the Hub, though.

How-to: install the motion sensor and Samsung SmartCam as Things in the SmartThings Hub. Add them to the room (in this case, our basement). In the Smart Home Monitor, click the gear box and then create a Custom rule. I use a Custom rule because I can set the monitoring to happen only at a certain time. In the page that opens, add a New Monitoring Rule. In the next page that opens, select your motion sensor.

Next, configure the device by setting its type and in which mode it's active (Night and Away), and during what times. In the next page, configure the Text & Push notifications, Alert with Sirens, and Alert with Lights.  You can also select the camera to use during the event. In my case, I'm setting up a push notification, turning on lights, and using my basement camera.

If you want different times for different modes, you can create multiple rules. For instance, I could use the Security routine to monitor the motion sensor 24 hours a day when I'm away from home, and reserve the Custom rule for when I'm home.

I set up an IFTTT rule to deactivate the camera during the day, and activate it only at night. No need to clutter up the LAN with activity during the day when I'm home. If I leave the house, it's simple to turn it on manually. Eventually, I'll probably create another rule to turn it on automatically when I'm Away.

Use the IFTTT Date and Time channel for the trigger, and the SmartThings channel for the action.