ONEmazon’s evolution from ubiquitous shopping platform to ubiquitous surveillance platform continues apace, having drastically expanded its Ring security camera system lineup in recent years. Today, the company offers video doorbells, outdoor cameras, indoor cameras, drone cameras, lighting systems, alarm systems and vehicle security packages — the latter of which is why we’re here today. I put a Ring camera in my car.
This is not to say that the Ring Car Camera is a poorly designed or built product — far from it! The $250 dashcam features dual-view (showing both the road and the cabin), 1080p infrared-capable imaging sensors, optional LTE connectivity, voice commands via Alexa, and remote vehicle monitoring via the Ring mobile app.
I was actually surprised at how quickly and easily I was able to set up the system. The camera assembly itself is a single piece that is wedged into the lower edge of the windshield-dash horizon and bonded to the glass with a high-strength adhesive. It’s not strong enough to keep a car thief from pulling it off, but it will hold the camera in place as you travel over and through America’s crumbling highway infrastructure. One important point I could see coming up is that the camera needs access to a home Wi-Fi connection during the setup/app pairing sequence. I was able to walk around my driveway until I was on the outside of the wall from my home router, but if you live in an apartment complex, things can get rough.
“If you can’t connect to your home Wi-Fi during setup, you can set up the device using LTE through Ring Protect Go,” a Ring representative told Engadget. “Simply skip the ‘set up with Wi-Fi’ step in the setup flow and follow the on-screen instructions. Every new customer will get a free 30-day trial of Ring Protect Go, which provides LTE connectivity.”
I wasn’t a big fan of the camera’s hard-wired power connection to the vehicle’s OBDII port, which also monitors the battery voltage so the camera can turn itself off before it runs out of power. First, this physical requirement limits the vehicles this system can work with to only those with OBD ports located to the left of the steering column. Another thing, I now have a 6 foot cable running over my previously flawless dash, wrapping around my drivers door frame to connect to the OBDII port just above my brake pedal. Even with the included 3M adhesive cable mounts (which, might I add, were instantly nullified by the tiny scratches and dings of my dashboard surface), I can hear the cable moving and sliding around the bends, I’m constantly aware of it when I lift my feet out of the car in case I accidentally catch it on a finger and rip the connector out of the port. Which I did the first time I drove after installation — and then the next, too.
The other issue is that not every car has an OBDII port located in the passenger compartment and for those vehicles the Ring Car Cam will not work. Neither do any of the vehicles on this fairly extensive list of incompatible models for one reason or another – some cut power to the port when the key is removed, and Teslas, for their part, don’t even use the OBDII interface. Additionally, if your dongle is already in use, either for an insurance tracker or an interlock device, you’re SOL using the dash cam. Same if you buy it in a jurisdiction that restricts the use of cameras – except you also go to jail.
At 1080p, the dash cam’s video quality is fine for what the average driver would use it for, and the interior-facing infrared sensor will ensure you’ll have a good view of whoever walks past your center console at three in the morning. But since it’s mounted on the dash itself and doesn’t hang from the mirror like the commercial-grade ones you find in Ubers and Lyfts, you won’t get much of a view of the interior below chest level. Accessing these videos also takes a hot second since the clips aren’t transferred directly to your phone (if you’re using Protect Go). They must first be uploaded and processed in the cloud before you can watch them.
The camera offers a variety of recording options. You can set it up for continuous use, just like you would a traditional dash cam — and if you don’t want it to record you, the unit thankfully incorporates a physical lens cover for the internal camera. You can also use it specifically for traffic stops with the verbal command “Alexa, Record”, in which the system will record continuously for 20 minutes even after the ignition is turned off. Finally, there is the Parking Protection function which activates the camera if it detects movement or an impact when the vehicle is parked.
All recorded data — up to seven hours worth — is stored locally on the device and is available once the camera is back in range of a Wi-Fi connection. Again, this isn’t great if a thief or a cop rips the drive before the information can be uploaded. There’s also no loop recording, so if something major happens when you’ve already saved 6 hours and 56 minutes of video, you’d better hope the issue resolves itself in less than 4 minutes or the recording will just stop.
To get around that, you’ll need cloud access and shell out $6 a month (or $60 a year) for the Ring Protect Go subscription service for that. Additionally, Protect Go unlocks access to the camera’s built-in LTE connection, enabling two-way viewing and talking, notifications and GPS tracking from anywhere with cellular service. Without this subscription access, these features are only available over Wi-Fi.
Ring’s business decisions have made it abundantly clear that it’s on the side of the police — even if the homeowners themselves aren’t — volunteering data to law enforcement agencies across the country and often cooperating with law enforcement agencies. When asked if safeguards have been put in place to prevent hidden dash cam spying by law enforcement, the Ring spokesperson noted, “Ring makes products and services for our customers, not for law enforcement. When parked, the car camera only records when the smart sensors detect an incident (such as a crash or a broken window) or if the device owner or shared user launches Live View.” What happens to this data when it’s off the device and on Ring’s cloud servers it was not made clear.
Even if I could put aside the Ring’s cozy relationship with the police, $250 for what Car Cam offers is a big ask, especially with that $6 a month cherry on top to work anything out of your driveway . That said, if you’re already part of the Ring ecosystem, like what it has to offer, and want to extend this platform to your vehicle, definitely give the dash cam a shot. But if you’re in the market for a standalone vehicle security system, there are plenty of options available to choose from that offer many of the same features as the Ring at a fraction of the price and without the baggage — or that blown power cord.
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