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Ring Alarm (2nd Gen) review: Still the best DIY home security system

Ring Alarm has been our favorite home-security-focused smart home system since its launch, and the second-generation system is even better. That said, Ring hasn’t yet delivered on its implied promise to make the Ring Alarm the unifying core of a complete smart home system. Fulfilling that promise—which Ring Solutions president Mike Harris spoke of in 2018—would have bumped up our bottom-line score by a half point.

I’ll assume, however, that your primary interest in reading this review is to learn about Ring Alarm as a home security system. So, I’ll focus on that aspect first and summarize its shortcomings as a smart home system later. This is an in-depth review of a complex system, written after living with the product for a couple of months with the professional monitoring option enabled. Click here if you’d prefer to skip to our bottom-line recommendation. If you’d like to read more of our smart home system reviews, click here.

ring alarm keypad Michael Brown / IDG

The new Ring keypad (right) is much smaller than the original, and it has dedicated buttons for summoning emergency responders (although you need to pay for monitoring to enable that feature).

Ring Alarm 2 is available in several starter kits. Ring sent us a eight-piece kit consisting of the Ring base station, a keypad for arming/disarming the system, four contact sensors, one motion sensor, and one range extender with a battery backup. This kit sells for $250. To get the most value out of the system, you’ll also want to sign up for a professional monitoring service that will summon first responders in the event of an emergency. That will add $10 per month to the overall cost of the system, but it doesn’t require a long-term contract. We’ll get deeper into that in a bit.

The system can be expanded and enhanced with a wide range of specialized add-on products from third parties (via the Works with Ring certification program) and Ring itself. But again, the focus of all these products—ranging from cameras to smoke detectors to connected lighting products to smart locks—is on home security, not the comfort and convenience aspects that define a smart home.

Hardware evolution

With the exception of the base station that connects the Ring Alarm system to your home network, every Ring Alarm component has been hit with a shrink ray. The keypad for arming and disarming the system is smaller. The contact sensors you’ll mount to your doors and windows are smaller. The motion sensor is smaller. Each of the new sensors and the new range extender have an LED-backlit button that lights up when the sensor is activated, although you can override that behavior.

The reductions are thanks, in large measure, to Ring’s decision to use the new Z-Wave 700 chip in those components. That should yield a second important benefit to consumers: Longer range and improved battery life. Chipmaker Silicon Labs says sensors using Z-Wave 700-series chips should be able to last 10 years or more, although Ring itself more modestly says only that battery life depends on usage. 

ring alarm base station front Michael Brown / IDG

The base station is the only component that didn’t benefit from a redesign in the second-gen Ring Alarm system.

The new keypad used for arming and disarming the system now has three dedicated buttons for summoning police, fire, or medical assistance. But these buttons are non-functional unless you sign up for Ring’s professional monitoring (more on that later).

All 18 buttons on the keypad are now backlit, where only the numeric buttons on the original model were. The keypad comes with a wall-mount bracket or it can be left on a tabletop. It has a rechargeable battery, or you can run it on AC power with the included adapter. All the new components are backward compatible with the first-generation Ring Alarm, and all first-gen Ring components can be used with the new system.