(Pocket-lint) - The original Ring Video Doorbell was released in 2014, borne out of founder Jamie Siminoff's amazement that a doorbell didn't exist that would work with a smartphone. In 2018, Amazon bought Ring, but aside from the excellent availability on the Amazon site you actually wouldn't know.

The app still looks and works the same and doesn't try and push products via shopping links. Plus Ring still runs its own store online and Google Assistant control is supported as well as Alexa (but not Apple HomeKit). Crucially Ring still does what it knows best: providing a doorbell with video, so you can answer whether you're at home or away.

While Ring now has numerous other products it's the Video Doorbell that's the key product. While a second-generation Full HD version was released in 2017 it's now, in 2020, that we have the Ring Video Doorbell 3 Plus. So what's so Plus about it?

Which Ring to choose?

The 3 Plus we have on our wall here is very similar to the also new Ring Video Doorbell 3. Indeed, over and above that device, this has one extra feature - Pre-roll - which we'll talk about shortly.

The Ring Video Doorbell 3 and 3 Plus also now have some competition from Ring itself - Ring's entry-level Video Doorbell has also been revamped with Full HD video and is available at a much lower price.

There are some doorbells that sit above the 3 Plus, too - the Doorbell Pro, which is wired; Doorbell Elite, which is pro-grade; and the Door View Cam, which replaces the peep-hole in a door. 

What is Pre-roll? 

  • Enables you to preview four seconds
  • Continuously recorded in black and white
  • Uses small extra camera on device's front
  • No audio recorded with Pre-roll

So why opt for the Ring Video Doorbell 3 Plus? Pre-Roll is the key feature of the 3 Plus. It enables you to replay four seconds of video from before the Video Doorbell senses movement and starts recording the Full HD video stream.

So rather than seeing a person or animal when they're right in front of your doorbell, you can see them when they first step onto your property. 

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For most instances, it's a little unnecessary, while the video quality of Pre-roll is lower and crucially in black and white because your Ring doorbell is having to record it all the time. It also isn't that great at night because there is no Night Vision on Pre-roll unlike the output from the main video camera. 

But if you often have incidents outside your home - even if it's a dustbin that keeps getting stolen or knocked-over - it'll be very useful for both seeing the incident and getting an image of the person involved.

That's also a great thing about pre-roll: when someone is up close to your property, often a face is obscured or they're not looking straight at the camera. But when the subject is caught on Pre-roll, they're more often than not coming directly towards your home so you can see their face, though it's difficult to see their features.

In the Ring app, the Pre-roll section of any video is shown differently to the main video, too, which is useful. 

Design and installation

  • Doorbell measures: 128 x 62 x 28mm
  • Box includes backing plates, drill bit, screwdriver and plugs
  • Silver and brown fascias included (Satin Nickel, Venetian Bronze)
  • Can be hardwired with 8-24 VAC, 40VA max, 50/60 Hz doorbell transformer

Design-wise, the Doorbell 3 is similar to its predecessors - the now-defunct Ring Doorbell 2 - and older Ring Video Doorbell. However, there is a slight difference in look because of the extra camera for the Pre-roll feature. 

Ring's setup has always been excellent and it's clear it has taught owner Amazon a thing or two about the ease of setting up devices. This extends to the physical accessories to fit your Ring doorbell to the wall - even for unusual types of walls or fitting it in a corner. The backing plates are welcome, as is the screwdriver, screws and plugs - though you will, of course, need a drill.

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You screw the mounting plate onto the wall and then the doorbell is connected to the plate. Security-wise, someone could unscrew it, but they'd be recorded by the time they did and it's unlikely people would bother too much.

However, if it is stolen, Ring will replace it in the first year as standard and, if you have Ring Protect (see below), it'll be two years. The doorbell comes with a choice of silver and dark brown fascia plates and it is possible to buy plates in other colours if you wish. 

Coincidentally, you'll almost certainly want to get yourself a Chime - i.e. the 'ringer' that plugs into a standard plug socket to make the sound in your house when the doorbell is pressed. The Ring Chime and Chime Pro have also been redesigned in 2020, offering a much louder output. The sound is customisable, just like the alert on your phone, so you can opt for a typical doorbell-like sound, or go off piste and have barking dogs, screeching cats, and much more.

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The Chime Pro takes this a step further and offers a nightlight and dual-band Wi-Fi. It also acts as a Wi-Fi extender which means it can bridge the gap between your router and your front door which can be an issue if your router isn't at the front of your house. 

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Indeed, dual-band Wi-Fi is included as standard in the Ring Doorbell 3 and 3 Pro - it's one of the key reasons to get one of the more expensive models if you have a busy Wi-Fi network as it improves the reliability of the connection - providing you have a compatible network.

We also found it cured the problem we had with the Ring Video Doorbell 2 and older Chime Pro - essentially that the doorbell occasionally dropped connection. 

Setup and features

  • Two-way talk
  • Customisable motion zones 
  • Dual-band 2.4 and 5GHz b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Two-way audio with noise cancellation

The app takes you through the initial setup process in a relatively straightforward manner. But it's when you get further into the setup that things can get a little complex.

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By this point, however, you will have a functioning Ring Video Doorbell and you'll be able to use it quite happily. You do need to dive a bit deeper to get the value of having this premium product and so embrace a bit of complexity.

The motion settings are OK if you work through them but to some people, we can think of they would seem like a complete maze. Smart Alerts, for example, enable you to only be notified of human (rather than animal) movement aren't part of the normal motion settings. 

Ring has tried to help things along with a 'motion wizard', but it still feels like there are options within options. The result of this is that the period after you've setup is quite confusing. It's like a post-setup setup - and it's not that clear you need to go through it to get the most out of your doorbell. The result of this work is worth it, it's just whether people will know to get there. 

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Indeed, you could accuse Ring of a little bit of feature creep, where numerous features are added without being pruned.

For example, a pop-up presented to you after the end of the setup told us we can specify how long Ring devices record motion events you don't answer. It's the order of things that can be a little confusing. 

The motion detection is now fully customisable, plus you can block out zones you don't want recorded - perhaps an area of a neighbour's drive or garden, for example. The reliability of alerts is generally very good.

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The ability to fine-tune is good, but a little simplification is needed. 

Camera, battery life

  • Viewing angles: 160 degrees horizontal, 84 degrees vertical
  • Main camera: 1080p / Full HD resolution
  • Customisable motion zones
  • Night vision and Live View
  • Removable battery

The camera's Full HD image is generally great - you can see the full detail of what's going on. As we mentioned, even the Pre-roll footage is good enough to pick out events but isn't good enough most of the time to pick out facial features, for example.

High dynamic range (HDR) is available for daytime recordings as it was in the Doorbell 2, but you need to turn it on yourself in the video settings within the app. This can help in bright sunlight when the front of your abode is in shadow. 

The quantity of motion alerts - and doorbell rings, of course - does have implications for battery life. In terms of the motion alerts, you need to be careful if you're in a busy thoroughfare. If your door is right on the street, you'll probably want to turn motion alerts off; there's no getting away from the fact you'll be constantly alerted, even though the setup asks you if your door faces the street directly. 

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We have a driveway and little pedestrian traffic passes the door, so the only erroneous alerts were actually in bright sunlight when sunshine reflected back off of a passing vehicle. 

Ring definitely wants to draw you into the app to view alerts and other events - notifications don't give you a snapshot image which is a shame. The benefit of going into the app is that you can tap to listen to audio or engage in a conversation with someone at your door with two-way talk. 

Battery life on the Doorbell 3 Plus seems extremely good - you should be looking at between one and two months but that depends on HDR, the number of alerts, and the amount you Live View - which we do a lot.

Having a removable battery - unlike the basic Video Doorbell - means you can buy a spare battery for it, which is pretty handy. If you don't want to worry about batteries at all then we'd advise getting a Pro, along with an electrician to install, as this has its own dedicated transformer and requires mains wiring.

Cloud storage

  • Ring Protect Plan 30 day trial included
  • Ring Protect Basic covers one device for $3/£2.50 a month
  • Ring Protect Plus covers multiple devices for $10/£8 a month.

The downside of many recent home security products is that to get the most out of them, they require that disease of recent tech purchases - the ongoing subscription. Everyone's at it.

But while you can use an iPhone OK without shelling out for extra iCloud storage, it's not really the case with Ring gear, because otherwise, the doorbell's past recordings aren't accessible. I'll still act as a doorbell, of course, and you can answer in the app, you just can't see past events is all.

In the app, there's a feature that enables you to go back 30 days in the UK and 60 days in the US - although you can download recordings to keep them for longer. But you might as well not have it if you don't have a Protect subscription. 

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You can also Live View the camera at any time - this is useful when you're expecting a tradesperson or similar, but it does eat a significant amount of battery. It's quicker than earlier generation devices, too. 

For a single device, the cost of the Ring Protect Plan isn't too bad, but if you start adding other Ring products you'll need the more expensive plan. However, if you've got a bunch of devices it's not so high a price to pay. Although, in the UK, there are a lot of products not yet available - such as lighting and alarms, which is available in the US.

Coincidentally, if you're swapping over to a new doorbell from an older version, you'll also have to contact Ring to get the Ring Protect plan swapped over - but we found it was fine to do over live chat.

Verdict

Choosing Ring's Video Doorbell 3 Plus hinges on one feature - Pre-roll. If you want capture before events happen then you'll see the benefit of this feature. If you're not interested in that, save the $30/£30 and get the standard Ring Video Doorbell 3 instead.

The Video Doorbell 3 and Video Doorbell 3 Plus have distinct advantages over the much-cheaper Ring Video Doorbell (2nd generation). But the pricing is such that you do pay quite a bit extra for the newer generation models.

There are really three reasons to go for the more expensive doorbells - you want the dual-band Wi-Fi, you want Pre-roll in the 3 Plus, or you need or want the convenience of the removable battery.

That's generally worth it in our experience, while Amazon's regular sales might mean you can get the Doorbell 3 or 3 Plus at a lower price anyway. 

Ring is still the doorbell king.

Also consider

Ring

Ring Video Doorbell (2nd generation)

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Ring's basic video doorbell also got a power-up in 2020 and also now has Full HD recording, just like the 3 and 3 Plus. It doesn't have a removable battery, only operates on 2.4GHz Wi-Fi, and there's no Pre-roll of course - but it's a great option if you want a simple doorbell without the bells and whistles. The price is pretty appealing, too. 

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Google Nest Hello Video Doorbell

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Like Ring's own high-end Ring Video Doorbell Pro, the Nest is a wired doorbell, so you need quite a complicated setup to use it if you don't have wiring in your home already. It's a good comparison on price for the Ring Video Doorbell and 3 Plus though, and so if you're already wedded to the Google Nest ecosystem it's definitely one to consider. 

Writing by Dan Grabham. Editing by Mike Lowe.