Review: Ring’s iPhone-connected Spotlight Cam Solar falters without a paid subscription
Ring’s Spotlight Cam Solar kit is a decent option for outdoor security.- but hard to recommend to most people unless you can check very specific boxes.
There’s been a growing push to bring smarthome accessories outdoors in the past year or two, which should be expected given how commonplace platforms like Apple HomeKit and Amazon Alexa are becoming. You can even get HomeKit-enabled water controllers.
Security cameras have been one of the trickier propositions, since they have to be not just waterproof but tamperproof, with access to power and the internet in places where those are normally absent.
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The Spotlight Cam Solar manages to solve at least one of these problems. The product is essentially Ring’s existing Spotlight Cam Battery, but bundled (at a discount) with a solar panel accessory. No need to buy a spare battery, or make sure the camera is mounted in place that’s easy to access.
Installation and setup takes about an hour, maybe less, but is relatively straightforward thanks to video-enhanced guidance provided on Ring’s YouTube channel and in an official iPhone and iPad app. The company supplies all of the necessary parts and tools including bits and screwdrivers, though you might still want to bust out a power drill, especially if you’re working with anything tougher than wood.
It should be said here that one of the biggest challenges may be solid internet access. There’s no LTE, so you’ll have to connect to Wi-Fi, and many people may have weak or non-existent outdoor range without an extender. We were lucky enough to have a mesh router with a satellite, and we still had to reposition the satellite to get a reliable connection. The camera also operates only on the 2.4 gigahertz Band, though that’s what you want for maximum range.
What you get once everything is up and running is 1080p, 140-degree video, infrared night vision, motion detection, and a set of extremely bright spotlights. There’s also two-way audio and a 110-decibel siren.- we didn’t test the siren, given a house in a crowded neighborhood, but we weren’t too impressed by the camera’s microphone, since it’s supposedly noise-cancelling but still picked up plenty of wind.
The nexus of everything is the Ring app, as the camera lacks Apple HomeKit support or even a Web portal. Because Ring is owned by Amazon, it does support Alexa for viewing feeds through an Echo Show or Spot if you happen to own one.
Thankfully the app is extremely well-organized, making it easy to toggle settings, and see alert history and power status. There’s also built-in access to Ring’s Neighbors platform, where local individuals and police can share footage of suspicious incidents. Some civilians tend to be a little paranoid, so take their posts with a grain of salt.
One thing you may have to do right away is narrow the FOCUS of the Solar’s three motion zones. A 140-degree view is impressive, but by default the app triggers push notifications for a good portion of that, which can be a little extreme.
Even with narrower cones, detection can be sensitive.- we would get notifications only to discover that it had been set off by something like a distant bird. For that reason you’ll probably want to take advantage of the app’s motion schedules, which can mute notifications when you know you’ll be home and awake. You can also cut back on notifications by lowering the sensitivity of Smart Alerts, which identify continuous movement and suppress multiple notifications until action stops.
The beating Texas sun certainly supplied enough power during testing. When we installed the camera its battery had about 58 percent charge, and a little less than two weeks later that had risen to 73 percent, despite regular overnight draining. We’d recommend that people in cloudier regions cable-charge to 100 percent before installing, and/or consider a second battery, for which the camera has an extra slot. Those in climates with heavy snow might want to stick with wired or battery-only cameras, since the solar panel could easily get blanketed with snow or ice even if the camera itself is warm and protected.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the Solar was its response time. Even if we tapped on an iPhone notification immediately, by the time we were watching the live feed, we were often catching the tail end of an event. And if the event was happening mid-day, video would usually start washed out by the sun for a second or two until auto-brightness kicked in.
This would be less of an issue if Ring weren’t stingy with video recording. Any kind of recording requires a Ring Protect plan, starting at 3 per month or 30 per year, and the Solar comes with just a month-long trial. Netgear’s Arlo cameras record 7 days of highlights for free, forever, and companies like August and Logitech offer at least a day’s worth of free storage. Heck, you can get 14 days with a 30 Wyze Cam.
One advantage the Solar does enjoy is night vision. It has infrared sensors, but more often scenes are illuminated by the spotlights, which are powerful enough to guarantee well-lit images. Those lights also serve as a deterrent naturally, since by default they come on whenever motion or a live view is triggered at night.
The Ring Spotlight camera allows me to mount the camera above a front door or what I have done down the side of my house and just like the doorbell it is designed to detect motion and comes with bright lights on either side of the camera lens to illuminate an otherwise dark area. The spotlight camera also has a very loud siren (110Db) to scare off unwanted intruders.
Ring offers the spotlight camera in 2 colour options – Black or White and allows you to use the rechargeable 6000mAh battery or you can have it installed via the mains. There is even an option to connect a solar panel for battery charging via daylight. In this review, we simply used the rechargeable battery. In terms of viewing angles, the spotlight cam offers 140-degree horizontal and 78-degree vertical angles. Now you can find a wider viewing angle camera on the market but in terms of where I have positioned this device down the side of my house, this viewing angle was more than enough.
Last but not least the Ring spotlight camera links up to the Ring App which you can use for all of the products we are going to cover. If you want to review footage either on this camera or your doorbell you will need to subscribe to Ring Protect. If this is your first time using a ring device you will get a 30-day trial then it’s £2.50 a month or you can pay for it for the whole year at £24.99. Ring Protect also allows you to customize the motion zones and you can also set it to people only useful for when you do not want the motion alarm to go off every time the cat goes past.
Ring has provided you with everything you need to install the spotlight camera they have provided you with the camera as well as the following accessories:
- Spotlight Cam Battery
- Mounting Base
- Quick-Release Battery Pack
- Installation Tools and Screws
- USB Charging Cable
- User Manual
- Security Sticker
The first thing you will notice when you have unboxed the spotlight camera is its size and shape it’s not very easy on the eye. It’s oddly shaped with a rounded rectangular prism at the top and a dome-shaped PIR sensor at the bottom. It comes in at 4.96 x 2.72 x 2.99 inches. It may not be the best-looking camera but what it makes up is in the security features for example under the main lens is a two-way speaker and also comes with three spotlights two on either side of the main lens and one located below the lens.
On the back of the spotlight camera is the mounting plate that can be adjusted to how you want the security camera. You are provided with a drill bit and raw plugs if you want to drill into a brick wall. Ring even provides a double-headed screwdriver for attaching the bracket to the wall.
Ring even provides a double-headed screwdriver for installation.
When fitting the spotlight camera it’s recommended to place the camera 10ft above the ground. Installation should only take you about 10 minutes however when we installed the camera it was double that. Under the space where the sensor sits, you will find space for two batteries but you are only provided one in the box if you want to buy an extra battery you will need to take a trip to Amazon they cost £24.
The camera will work with just one battery but I advise getting that second battery as it will extend the time between charges. Ring claims the battery life from a single battery will last 6 months and by adding the 2nd battery you can double that claim. I expect this will depend on the amount of motion and how many times the spotlight is triggered and also the amount of live-view footage you view via the app. Unfortunately, we have not had the device for over 6 months to validate this claim but will update this review in the coming months. What we will say is it took some time to recharge the batteries using the USB cable provided.
The Ring Spotlight Cam will also work in temperatures from.5 degrees to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. It also comes with an IP55 rating which was a little surprising as the industry standard is IP65. Considering this camera is designed to be outside you would have hoped it would be completely dustproof. The camera is protected against dust just not completely dustproof. The Spotlight cam will also be fine in the rain just keep it away from any water jets in the garden.
Ring Spotlight installation
But now that we’ve taken a look at what comes in the box, let’s get these things set up. We’re gonna take this thing outside and find a place to install this light. I’m gonna want it somewhere up high, because obviously it’s a spotlight. I’m gonna stick it up on my roof, facing my backyard, where I usually install my security cameras. And get a better demo of what kind of light 400 lumens is going to look like. I’m gonna put the motion sensor around the corner by the back gate. If someone comes in the back of the gate, it’ll trigger the light that’s around the corner by the back door.
Now, one thing with installing this light is that you notice it’s kind of at an awkward angle right there. I didn’t like how you position this light. You can point it up and down, but you can’t really move it to the exact spot that you wanted to. So I turned it to the side and tilted it down. But I wish I could rotate in any direction. So I wasn’t a big fan of the setup of that, but I tried my best to get the angle that I was trying to get.
Ring Spotlight testing
Let’s see how fast it takes for the light to turn on when I just walk up to it. Here we go, it is now turned on. And there was a slight delay with that. It took me almost getting up to the lights, but here is an idea of what it looks like and how much light it is casting out here right now. Pretty good.
But, now that we’ve seen how bright this light gets, let’s test it out using the motion sensor. Okay, so I set up the camera in the corner of the yard. Here I am walking in the side gate here and tripping that motion sensor over by the gate. And you can see how fast that light turns on. Having the light turn on with a motion sensor that is farther away or around a corner is ideal.
Just wanna give you guys another review of how bright this light gets. You can see how lit up the whole entire backyard is. Granted, my yard isn’t huge, but it is lighting up a majority of my yard. I’m actually really impressed with how bright this light does get.
Recap: Is the Ring Spotlight good?
So I’ve been using the Ring Spotlight and Motion Sensor for little over a week now. And it’s been really good. The light is nice and bright. It’s been turning on consistently and flooding the yard, which is perfect for what I want. This thing runs at 40 and does run on battery. But I think that is a pretty good deal to be able to get some Smart lighting around your yard.
Be sure to check out our review of Ring’s security system as a whole.
Video: 1080P 24fps
Field of view: 140˚ horizontal
Wi-Fi: 802.11 b/g/n 2.4GHz
Dimensions: 126 x 76 x 80mm (5 x 3 x 3.2 in)
Weight: 443g with 1 battery
This is a chunky but Smart design, in black or white, which places LED lights either side of the camera and sensors. The overall feel is quite plasticky, and the matt white plastic is surprisingly easily scuffed (though since you’re mounting this shouldn’t be an issue! It is worth saying, though, that all the moving parts are of good quality and screws have steel mounts – the packaging was also pleasingly recyclable.
At the rear is a fully removable (so easily lost) rubber cover for a USB-C socket which can be used in powered installs. It can also (with an adapter) connect to Ring’s solar panel which is a low-maintenance way of keeping the battery topped up, albeit somewhat unsubtle.
At the base of the rounded square body are vents through which the speaker, siren and microphone operate, and a rounded inverse pyramid which makes it impossible to rest on its base, but will help water drip off. This camera is meant to be mounted, and the whole base section can be rotated and removed. When it is off, there is access to the battery bay; one (as supplied) or two Ring batteries can be fitted. These have MicroUSB sockets at the top for charging, and indicator lights built in.
The base and the mount also include a screw each to fix them in a tamper-resistant way. Indeed the mount requires 4 screws, and another to tighten the hinge, so the camera is very firmly mounted compared to some.
This is a very flexible camera which captures good quality video (though only at 1080P). It does need a good Wi-Fi signal; when we tested it outdoors in our usual brick wall spot (i.e. not the best connection) the camera struggled to capture clips without dropped frames, but the issue resolved itself and, to be fair, the app is Smart enough to warn it has a poor connection.
Otherwise the video was sharp enough to identify someone at 5m / 15ft, and the sensors detected movement and correctly identified a human form from more than twice that.
Video samples: The app makes reviewing events simple and Spotlight makes the snow’s life here fascinating. In the night test, notice the Ring lights come on virtually immediately, while another sensor light in the garden joins after about 2 seconds.
We were impressed with a number of features on the app, not least ‘Snapshot’ which adds stills every 14 or 60 minutes between the events so when you scroll back you get something like a timelapse video. In general, too, the app provides clear guidance about all the settings, with human-readable explanations of the effect choices you make will have on the battery. There are also subtle touches, like the Apple Watch alert message offered to snooze alerts for a choice of time periods – we’d like to see this on more cameras.
Overall the design is very thoughtful, and we can forgive the camera one or two quirks because overall they provide options, not least the ability to slide the back out and re-position the mounting point.
Given the price, it would have been nice to include a battery for each bay, meaning one can be charged overnight without the camera being out of action. We also understand that Ring has been using MicroUSB in their batteries historically, but since the housing has been modernized to USB-C we do find ourselves asking “Why not do the batteries too?”
We can’t help ourselves from mentioning the 3.99/£3.49 per month per device charge for Ring’s subscription service, though after 3 devices you’ll be able to get a cheaper bundle. The app is very elegant, and the service allows for multiple users as well as making scrolling back to check events easy and simple, especially thanks to the integrated ‘Snapshot’ feature, but there are subscription free alternatives out there.
If you have the budget for it, and especially if you have Alexa devices, then Ring’s camera is both robust and adequate quality. The 1080P video offers only acceptable detail in 2023, especially given the wide angle. It won’t be good with license plates at even a fairly short distance and we’re surprised not to see 2.7K or 4K (especially as you’re certainly paying for the Cloud space!) Still, it remains a quality product and (since the Pro doesn’t offer extra resolution) we’d be inclined to recommend this to those building a system, especially if you’ve started with a Ring doorbell.