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Monday November 20th 2017

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Ring or Skybell – Which Is The Better Doorbell?

satin-nickel-ringRing or Skybell, which is the better doorbell?  You would think that all video enabled doorbells are the same wouldn’t you?  Well they aren’t and there are two that are real standouts, ok maybe even three

Vtech, the cordless phone maker, has a pretty cool gizmo that takes a snapshot when someone presses the door bell and sends it to all the phones in the house.  A little better than most of the other video door bells or door phones because you don’t need to have a separate little TV to see who is at the door.

Then along come Ring and Skybell.  Both Retail for $199, Both have wide angle HD cameras, both have automatic motion sensors and both send the video to your smart phone, and let you answer your door with your smart phone.  Both are resonably compact and good looking, but for some reason the slightly larger size of the Ring make more like what I expect a doorbell camera thing to look like.

With all of this in common, you would think “Pick one, it doesn’t matter.”  And you’d be wrong.silver_front_large_skybell

Before bringing one of these WiFi enabled video doorbells home, I spent an hour reading everything I could on their websites.  Here are the key highlights.

Ring, has a monthly fee.  That alone was a deal breaker for me.  Cellular bills, telephone bills, water bills and electric bills among others come every month.  I don’t need another monthly bill, or annual bill or ever bill.  I like to buy it, own it and be done with it.   That’s just me, I don’t work a 9-5 with a steady income, so I don’t want steady outgo.

The monthly fee wasn’t the only difference.  Skybell is made in the USA.  I like that.  A key feature with Skybell is that it requires you to have a working doorbell.  I didn’t.  So before I could install my Skybell I had to figure out why my doorbell didn’t work.  45 minutes later, I was sure it was the transformer.

After replacing the transformer, I noticed that the Skybell wouldn’t work with a “digital doorbell”.  Ironically, the two stores I found the Skybell at, didn’t sell the old mechanical type doorbells.  The adapter for digital doorbells is available for $12.95 on Skybell’s website, but my OCD won’t let me wait three days for shipping.

After digging around the local hardware stores, I found one old beat up mechanical doorbell at Lowes.  The box was opened and they even took 10% off it looked so bad.

Ring, works either with your existing doorbell or without a doorbell.  It can even run on batteries as a wireless replacement if you don’t have a doorbell or like mine yours isn’t working and you don’t want to deal with it.

After taking my door bell button off and connecting my Skybell, the button started to flash red just like the manual said, and then the headache started.

Of course I decided to get this little project done on a Friday evening with a planned date with my wife on the books and baseball tickets in hand.  She was sitting there rolling her eyes as I tried to connect the Skybell to WiFi.

After 15 minutes, I gave up and we went to the game.

This morning I got up and started the process over.  Basically you download the app to your smartphone.  iPhone 5S in my case, and the app walks you through the rest of the set up.  Too bad it didn’t work.

The app asks you to connect to the Skybell’s WiFi, easy enough.  The next step is where the bug is.  It then asks you to connect to your home WiFi. a. my WiFi network has broadcasting turned off, and there is no way in the app to manually enter a name.  b. I have only Apple Airport Extreme WiFi and the Skybell can’t see it.

So I turned broadcasting back off and turned on my Verizon FiOS Router.  Boom there it is, so I enter the 13 character password and the little icon starts to spin on the Skybell app.

30 minutes later, nothing is happening.

I canceled the setup and went back to double check the password.  Sure enough I fat fingered one letter.  App bug report number 1.  If password is incorrect, say so please.

Eventually, went back and created a “guest” network on my Apple Airport Extreme and left that open to the public with a WPA password, and tried to connect that way thinking the Verizon router might be too far away even though I can connect to it almost a block away with my laptop.

15 minutes later, still the little icon just swirling around on my iPhone screen.  I restarted my router, made sure it was 2.4 Ghz as per the instructions, and logged of and back on with my iPad to make sure I had the password right.  Still nothing.

Let me change bug report number one, how about a someone useful status indicator?  Even text like “connecting to network”, “connecting to Skybell”, “Syncing” would be helpful.  The website says 1.5 Mbs is the minimum.  I have a 100 Mbs internet connection over FiOS and it is early Saturday AM.  Speed definitely isn’t the issue.

So I did what all impatient tech geeks do and started over.

This time it was totally different.  My iPhone immediately connected to the Skybell and the Skybell stopped flashing red and started flashing green.  Within seconds the process was done, and the app said, “Please wait 5 minutes before using skybox and remember that Skybell takes 30 seconds to reset after use.”

So I waited five minutes and approached my door to see what would happen.  There is was, a little delayed but it worked.

The only worry I have is about the app.  Who is running the servers that connect it to my phone?  The diagram for Ring explains that they have the secure servers and that is why there is a monthly fee.  Skybell looks like my ring is talking right to my iPhone?  Can they really do that is such a little box?

Finally, now time for a feature request.  How about a snapshot when the motion sends the alert, so if the people leave before I get to it, I can see who it was?

If you don’t want to drive all over town looking for a Ring or Skybell, of course Amazon has them right here.  If you don’t have a doorbell or have a wireless one, then Ring is the one for you, and you are stuck with the fee.  If you do have an old fashioned door bell that has two metal plates and makes the “ding dong” sound, then I think you’ll like Skybell.

Either way, it is a big improvement in comfort and convenience when it comes to people at the front door.

Living With Skybell Day Two Update – The motion sensor is a great idea, and I just discovered the “activity monitor” on the app.  Funny thing is by the time the recording starts, the person has come and gone.  Not really effective for knowing who left something at your door.

Second interesting thing, after adding my wife’s iPhone, mine quit getting the alerts.  I can still see the activity and answer, just no alert.

 

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