Ring Peephole Cam review: A video doorbell designed for apartment dwellers

A Ring data breach exposed the personal details of over 3,000 customers, according to reports. We are removing all Ring products from recommendation. The original review, published on June 20, follows.

Ring’s $199 Peephole Cam is a lot different than the other doorbells I’ve tested. Rather than a doorframe-mounted, hardwired or battery-power doorbell, this buzzer is mounted to the middle of your door.

It’s designed specifically to go on apartment doors with peepholes, replacing your old peephole, and installs without any wires or screws. Otherwise, this doorbell looks, performs and has similar features to Ring’s other cameras. Set it up using the the same Ring app, where you can view the live feed, adjust settings and more.

The Peephole Cam works with Alexa, if you have a compatible smart display. Use a smart display to see the video feed on a larger screen and talk directly to the person at your door, all with simple voice commands.

There’s still a charge for even the most entry-level cloud storage option, Ring Protect, which begins at $3 per month and gives you 60 days of access to saved activity-based video clips. This will be even more disappointing after Apple introduces its 10-day free clip storage for its HomeKit-enabled cameras when iOS 13 launches. 

The portion of the doorbell mount that goes inside your door is more flimsy and plasticky than the camera on the outside. Because there aren’t any screws mounted directly to the door, it feels even less secure when I remove the faceplate to get to the rechargeable battery installed in the baseplate.

That certainly isn’t a dealbreaker, but I do think $199 is pushing it slightly for this product because of its simpler hardware, more minimal installation and plasticky inside mount.

The bigger potential concern relates to privacy. Ring and local police departments in the Unied States offer discounted — and occasionally, free — Ring doorbells to residents. In exchange, residents agree to hand over security footage to law enforcement on demand.

Ring doesn’t currently offer facial recognition in its cameras. However, the Amazon company filed two patents related to facial recognition in 2018, specifically an ability to identify “suspicious” people through law enforcement databases.

Overall, this doorbell is the best option today for anyone who can’t or otherwise doesn’t want to bother with hardwiring or messing up their doorframe with screw holes. It’s designed for apartment-dwellers, but any home with a peephole could make good use of this product, provided you’re willing to pay the $3 monthly fee — and understand the current privacy landscape of these technologies.

What’s in the box?

Out of the box, you get the camera, which mounts to the front of your door, and a backing that mounts to the inside of your door. The inside and outside portions still have a built-in peephole so you can see who’s at your door just like before.

The inside portion comes in two pieces, a baseplate and a faceplate, so you can remove only the faceplate to access the battery inside. As I mentioned above, the baseplate pulled away from the door nearly every time I removed the faceplate, since it isn’t really tethered to the door at the bottom. It’s only connected to the door via the peephole at the top. So while it didn’t feel like it was going to break, or fall off — it is held in place by the included tightening nut — the bottom half pulls away from the door too easily.

The installation process is extremely simple, certainly the easiest I’ve ever experienced. There’s no need to bother with circuit breakers, electrical wiring — or even using a screwdriver. It literally took me 20 minutes from start to finish, including configuring the Peephole Cam in the app. And it only took that long because I was borrowing a coworker’s door to test it, and was extra careful along the way to not mess up the paint or otherwise ruin her door.

Note: Small bits of chipped paint here and there as you’re removing the peephole should be the extent of the problems you encounter installing this thing. In the case of my coworker’s door, the original peephole was mounted through a door knocker. Removing the door knocker did chip the paint very slightly, but removing the peephole itself didn’t cause any damage.

Check out the gallery above, as well as my video, embedded on this page, for the full installation details. But this process was incredibly simple. There’s even a peephole extender if the opening in your door is a little larger than the one attached to the Peephole Cam.

The camera itself is shorter and has a slimmer profile than Ring’s other doorbells, but looks similar to the Ring Video Doorbell Pro in terms of style. It also has the same feature components — a camera with a 155-degree horizontal field of view, a motion detector, a speaker, a microphone and a button to ring the doorbell. And even though it is installed in the center of the door, no one will have trouble recognizing it as a doorbell.

Ring gives you a lot of options to customize your settings based on your needs. Even during configuration, the app asks a series of questions, like, whether you have a storm door, if your street is particularly busy and accounts for those things accordingly in the settings. With a storm door, for instance, Ring automatically shuts off night vision, since the lights used for night vision could reflect back into the camera when there’s a glass door in front of the camera.

You can also go into the Ring app any time and make changes.

Screenshots by Megan Wollerton/CNET
Screenshots by Megan Wollerton/CNET

Testing it out

Privacy zones are a new feature I tested first with the Peephole Cam. Unlike motion zones, which are only available with hardwired Ring products, privacy zones are “dead zones” per this Ring support page. You can select up to two privacy zones and no video will be recorded in those areas, although you will still receive motion alerts.

I find it a bit odd to be unable to see what was causing the motion — only that there is motion — but Ring says it’s a way to be respectful of your neighbors’ privacy, such as a neighbor’s apartment door. Fair enough.

Regardless, they’re easy to set up and worked well during my testing.

In fact, everything about this testing was pretty seamless, and roughly identical to testing any other Ring doorbell. The main exception was the positioning of the doorbell camera itself. Whereas every other model I’ve tested has been mounted to a doorframe or to the side of the door, this model sits right in the center, making for a better view of what’s happening.

One odd thing is that Ring went for a fisheye lens view to give it a “peephole effect,” despite the fact that the camera itself isn’t connected to the peephole and could just as easily be designed without that distortion. Ultimately, it wouldn’t keep me from recommending it, but it’s an unnecessary effect that doesn’t add to the experience of viewing the live feed.

There was only a few-second lag time and no pixelation, or any other issues that stood out to me during testing. A lot of that depends on the quality of your Wi-Fi connection, though. Fortunately, the Ring app has a section where you can check the “health” of your device, which includes the strength of your Wi-Fi connection at the location where you plan to install it.

The Peephole Cam only works with Alexa — no Google Assistant or Siri. So, I grabbed a spare first-gen Echo Show from our office, enabled the skill and said, “Alexa, show me the front door camera.” The video feed promptly pulled up and I was able to see the same view I’d get in the app, just on a larger display.

Privacy chat

Ring and police departments offer discounted and free doorbells to local residents across the United States, with the understanding that the residents will provide security footage to law enforcement.

The company has since issued a statement saying it’s working on changing this:

Ring customers are in control of their videos, when they decide to share them and whether or not they want to purchase a recording plan. Ring does not support programs that require recipients to subscribe to a recording plan or that footage from Ring devices be shared as a condition for receiving a donated device. We are actively working with partners to ensure this is reflected in their programs.

The patents Ring filed related to facial recognition present additional problems. While its cameras can’t recognize faces today, Ring appears to be working on a capability that goes far beyond creating your own database of friends and family members. Instead, Ring would theoretically be able to scan through law enforcement databases and ID “suspicious” people.

Racial bias in facial recognition technology is a known problem, something CNET wrote about back in March. The piece specifically referenced a study by the American Civil Liberties Union of Amazon Rekognition, a software designed to recognize whatever it sees, including people.

The report said almost 40% of Amazon Rekognition’s errors included people of color. Police are using this tool. Combine all of that with the potential that we’ll get Amazon Rekognition software in a Ring camera (Ring is owned by Amazon) and the problem extends to a large percentage of the DIY smart doorbells being used today.

Ring sent the following statement regarding the patents it filed:

We are always innovating on behalf of customers to make our neighborhoods better, safer places to live, and these patents are some of many ideas to enhance the services we offer. However, a patent filing does not necessarily indicate current development of products and services. Like many companies, Ring files a number of forward-looking patent applications that explore the full possibilities of new technologies. Ring takes the privacy and security of its customers’ extremely seriously and privacy and security will always be paramount when Ring considers applying any of its patents to its business or technology.

The verdict

The $199 Ring Peephole Cam only works with peepholes, but it’s an important niche to fill, given that renters are typically not able to hardwire or even screw in a battery-powered doorbell if there’s a chance it could mess up a doorframe. But a lot of rentals have peepholes, something that NestAugustSkyBell and other main Ring competitors haven’t figured out.

Ezviz and Remo+ have somewhat similar products, but we haven’t tested them out yet. The Yale Look Door Viewer is probably the closest, but it costs $179 and has an LCD screen mounted to the inside of the door, rather than Ring’s plastic mount. We’ll have to test it out soon to compare the two.

But overall, the Peephole Cam is a solid doorbell camera. It’s easily the simplest model I’ve ever installed and it performed well. Ring should have made this product a little more affordable — and I’m still holding out for a free cloud storage option — but I recommend this product if you have a peephole and want a minimally invasive device to watch over your front door.

All Rights Reserved for Megan Wollerton

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