Ring is well known for its video doorbells – a concept that so impressed Amazon, they bought the company. But you can only use a Ring doorbell in a self-contained dwelling, whereas the majority of city dwellers live in blocks of flats – or 'apartments' if you are American. Until now. Announced today at Berlin tech-fest IFA 2022, Ring Intercom turns your entry phone – or, erm, 'intercom' if you are American – into a fully-fledged smart entry phone or intercom. As a result, you can answer the door from anywhere, buzz people in or tell them to buzz off and give access to trusted individuals, from your cat-sitter to your kids and, inevitably, Amazon delivery operatives.
It's audio-only for now, and you will have to do a little amateur electronics to set it up but this still looks like a very clever, and welcome addition to the Ring (not quite) video doorbell range.
Ring says that Ring Intercom is easy to install on 'most' systems. It will be providing a wealth of explainers and video tutorials for all the most popular entry phone handsets. Rather like installing a smart thermostat, all you have to do is whip it open, locate the right wiring terminal and run 'between one and five' wires to the Ring Intercom itself.
Interestingly, Intercom runs solely on batteries, with no option to plug it in. Ring is promising long battery life and the option to purchase secondary batteries, so you are never without charge. It would be nice just to be able to permanently plug the thing in via USB though, wouldn't it? On the plus side, the battery-only approach means installation is very simple and mess-free, which is particularly useful if you rent.
The Intercom itself is audio only, even if your entry system supports video. It does integrate with the rest of the Ring ecosystem though, so if you're a Lord of the Rings, you could get visuals once you’ve buzzed someone in and they subsequently enter your flat. Delivery people leaving parcels in a mail room or safe space will remain invisible though.
Intercom is compatible with Alexa – although curiously, not with home assistants that are not made by Amazon – so you can talk hands-free if someone comes to the door while you're changing the baby or kneading some home-made sourdough.
Being added to the Ring app means your humble door entry phone is now considerably more useful. Friends and loved ones can buzz themselves into the building if they're without a fob or PIN, and if you fall out with said friends and loved ones, rest assured that you can block their remote access. It's the modern way to end a relationship.
There's also something called Auto-Verify for Amazon Deliveries. This allows an Amazon delivery guy access, but only during a narrow time window, ie: when they arrive to deliver your stuff.
Being a devious sort of person, all these remote access features strike me as open to abuse by a clever hacker. Ring will no doubt be working to ensure everything is 110% encrypted and super-secure, and it's worth bearing in mind that most entry phone systems only give access to the building, not your actual apartment.
The additional functionality of Ring Intercom is very smart and could be incredibly useful for some people. For me though, Intercom will be worth its asking price just for letting me answer the door without having to run in a panic to the utility room before it times out. That's good news for me, and great news for the endless stream of put-upon couriers who deliver tech to my home most days.
Ring Intercom price and availability
Ring Intercom is available in the UK from September 28 via Ring.com and Amazon, with shipping from October 26. Stand by for the UK pricing…
Ring Intercom: £119.99
Ring Quick-Release Battery Charging Station and spare Quick-Release Battery Pack: £89.99 – this is an introductory offer, with pricing reverting to the standard £149.99 at some point down the line.
We don't have pricing for the USA or Australia yet – this launch has been timed for Europe's IFA expo – but we will add it as soon as it comes in. We'll have a review at around the launch date as well.
Smart home privacy, an insider view: some insights from a recent T3 Q&A with Amazon's Leila Rouhi
The importance of ease
"I think a lot of people have a little bit of a fear of smart home. They think it’s only for, you know, a certain, very technologically savvy part of the population.
"But I think Ring has done a really phenomenal job of making it usable by everybody. So you don’t really have to have a tech background installation… It’s much simpler to use and easier to install than people expect.
"We definitely see customers, once they get that first experience, kind of expand the universe of products that they have, and, you know, start adding lighting or smart locks, or other products that just innovate nicely to that first initial product that they purchased.
Privacy concerns need to be addressed
"I think a lot of people still have concerns around privacy, and what it means to have those types of products, and what companies are doing with the information that might become available to them by virtue of a customer’s use of those products.
"I think it’s incumbent upon companies, including Ring, to really do an effective and thorough job of helping our customers understand what options are available to them, and encouraging them to use options that we know will make them safer and more secure. And, of course, just making those types of options available to them.
"At Ring, we really think about really putting the Ring experience in their hands. When you think of something like end-to-end encryption, I think it’s a wonderful feature, and some of our customers absolutely will, and do, use it. But it does change the experience of your Ring Doorbell – in that, for example, you wouldn’t be able to have a shared user because you are the only person that has access to your videos.
"We’re always a little bit reticent to tell a customer how they should use their devices, or what options are right for them. We understand that privacy and security are not 'one size fits all,' and we really want to put that control into the hands of the customer."
On educating Ring's customers
"You don’t want to do it so much where people just ignore you, and hit 'skip'. But I think there’s definitely points where we have the customer’s attention, where it’s really important for them to understand the options that are available to them.
"We talk about it on our site. We talk about it on the product pages. We talk about it in the app experience. We send email campaigns. So I think we are taking multiple angles in terms of educating our customers.
"It’s an area where we are always evaluating what is working, and what is not working, to continue to think of better and more effective ways to really communicate to our customers about privacy choices."
How smart home needs to improve
"I think it does start really with that behind-the-scenes experience. I think you need it to work seamlessly on the backend for the customer to have a good experience.
"Having six apps to manage your smart home… it’s difficult. And some of those apps use different terminology, or they’re not as intuitive as others. So certainly at Ring, I think that simplicity is really something that we hold dear.
"I think a lot of people notice that there are features that other people have that maybe Ring doesn’t. It’s not because we’re not capable of building those features. It’s because we’re very intentional about features, and what we make available, because we want that customer experience to be seamless and simple. We want the apps setup and the device setup and controlling your settings to be easy.
"To me, the winner is going to be who can create that better app experience for the customer, and really make connecting that smart lock or that third-party thermostat or lights or whatever that other thing is, super-easy for the customer within their app.
"That’s something that we at Ring put a lot of effort into, into making it very simple for customers to use our app, to use our product, and then to also expand upon their smart home if they so choose."
What does the future hold?
"I could certainly see, five years from now, an affordable single device, similar to the Always Home Cam, that can really monitor your entire home. That's both from a security perspective, but also using sensors to really monitor it from a safety perspective, and give you signals that there is a water leak or, you know, a gas leak, or CO2. One affordable device that is very purpose-driven: protecting your entire home."