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Ring: A smart doorbell you'll actually want

The venerable doorbell is getting a modern makeover. Instead of just ringing a chime to alert you to someone at your door, smart doorbells use technologies like WiFi, cameras and smartphone apps to take a more proactive approach.

Ring is an example of the best of these new smart doorbells. It's so well executed that the value becomes obvious even to people who roll their eyes at the thought of another needlessly "smart" appliance in the home.

You can think of Ring as DoorBot 2.0. DoorBot was a largely unsuccessful attempt to reinvent the doorbell that evolved from a 2012 Kickstarter campaign to a failed Shark Tank entry to a shipping product that performed poorly in real life and earned a lot of criticism among early users and reviewers alike.

The company went back to the drawing board, though, and has recently started shipping Ring -- a slimmer, smarter and altogether better product. It includes a wide-angle camera, speaker and microphone, motion sensor and, of course, a button to trigger your home's doorbell chime.

When someone approaches the door, Ring immediately sends a notification to your smartphone that there's activity near your doorstep. You can react to that or wait until your visitor presses the doorbell. In either case, you can launch the app and see, in real time, what's happening and carry on a conversation with your guest as well.

Installation is pretty straightforward. Cut power to your old doorbell and remove it, drill a few holes, attach the new baseplate, attach the wires to Ring and slide it into place. Actually, you don't even have to hard-wire it to your home, but if you don't you'll have to remove it from the wall occasionally to charge Ring's batteries.

The app comes with tutorial videos to help you set it up, with different instructions for wood, concrete and brick installations. Regrettably, some of the videos are less than completely illuminating, shot from awkward angles without essential close-ups, so the guy doing the installation blocks the view. That's OK, though, because installing Ring is simple enough that almost anyone should be able to do it.

The magic of Ring is that it behaves like a combination digital butler and security system. You can see who's at your door no matter where you are -- at home, work or in another state. You can talk to neighbors and delivery people even if you aren't able to get to the door. And if you opt into the cloud service ($30 a year, in addition to Ring's $199 list price), you have a record of those videos, which you can play back at your own convenience.

Ring lets you confirm, for example, if UPS really did drop off a package or if someone else later came and removed it. Because video is recorded only when Ring detects motion or the doorbell gets rung, you don't have hours of it to browse to find important events.

Like smart door locks and other emerging automated technologies, it's easy to initially dismiss a device like Ring as an overengineered product. After all, who really needs a doorbell that streams security video to your smartphone? Well, Ring makes a strong case that everyone needs it.

Photo courtesy of Ring

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