Power cords are ugly, especially when they run down the side of your house. Even the nicest-looking outdoor home security cameras can become an eyesore with a cord dangling below.
Wireless outdoor security cameras, like the Netgear Arlo Pro II and the Blink XT, offer solutions to the problem. But there is a downside to wireless offerings — eventually, you’ll have to replace the battery. That can be a huge pain in the you-know-what, depending on where the camera is mounted.
The Ring’s Spotlight Cam Solar ($229) offers a solution. It’s an outdoor camera that comes with a small, separate solar panel, meaning that sunlight does the work for you. We put it to the test to find out how it performed.
The camera that comes with Ring’s Spotlight Cam Solar bundle is the same as the company’s Spotlight Cam Battery ($199), but with a 7.75-by-5.5 inch rectangular solar panel that you connect to the camera and mount next to it. You can buy the camera and solar panel separately, but that adds up to $250; you get a discount when you buy the bundle.
Ring’s oddly shaped camera won’t win any awards for styling, but don’t let the lack of looks fool you. The camera is weatherproof and rated for temperatures between minus five and 120 degrees Fahrenheit. It features 1080p HD video, a 140-degree field-of-view lens, two-way audio, and a 110-decibel alarm. It also has two motion-activated lights that run vertically down each side of the camera.
Sunlight will do all the work for you.
We found the camera easy to mount above the garage of one of our test homes, as Ring provided ample mounting hardware to choose from. The bundle comes with an adjustable and sturdy connector cord for easy hook-up of both devices. In all, it’s an easy job for one person who knows how to use a drill.
The Ring app, available for both Android and iOS, walks you through all setup instructions, making the process easy. Like with all cameras, you’ll likely need to do a bit of adjusting before you manage the right angle and sensitivity level. We needed to tone down the sensitivity of the camera, as the neighbor’s cat and bushes blowing in the breeze sent motion alerts to our phone.
The siren, two-way speaker, and built-in light all did their job. As with all cameras, video quality is best during the day, but we found the night vision workable. Had we mounted it closer to the ground — ours was about 15 feet above – we might’ve managed better results. But overall, video quality is great with this camera.
As residents of the dreary Pacific Northwest, we wondered if the solar panel would do a decent job of keeping the camera powered through the gray, rainy spring. Ring provides tips on how to mount the solar panel properly, which we appreciated. Once mounted, we were surprised to see the panel worked well, as the battery power stayed above 97 percent for the month we had it up. It’s nice to know we’ll likely never need to replace the battery, but if we ever do, Ring provides an extra battery pack with the bundle.
There are some people who might find the solar panel to be a bulky addition. If you’re looking to be discreet about the fact that you have a camera mounted, you might not want an extra-large piece of hardware next to it drawing attention. In that case, you should look elsewhere. Consider buying the Spotlight Cam Battery without the solar panel. Just keep in mind that at some point, you’ll be pulling the camera down for a battery replacement.
You can Ring my phone (or Echo Show)
The Ring app offers lots of features. You can add other Ring devices in the company’s lineup, like their doorbell cam or floodlight cam, and control all your devices in one place. The Ring Alarm home monitoring system integrates seamlessly with the camera as well. You can also view live footage from the camera or scroll through your recorded motion alerts. You can check to see whether your battery is charged, snooze motion alerts altogether, adjust camera sensitivity, or download video clips.
As residents of the often-dreary Pacific Northwest, we wondered if the solar panel would keep the camera powered.
One of the things we like is that you can invite friends to “Ring Neighborhoods,” which is a way to connect with neighbors to stay safe and share video footage. That could come in handy if, say, you’re looking for footage of a possible porch pirate hitting your street. Ring also provides crime news alerts occurring in or near your neighborhood. While sometimes we wish we hadn’t known about that armed robbery a few blocks away, we liked being informed when something big was going down.
While the app is intuitive to use, we noticed it could be slow to switch between features. Toggling from the live view to a recorded clip can mean waiting 20 seconds. On a couple of occasions, motion alert recordings failed to load at all, and we had to shut down the app and open it again to access it. That’s not a good thing if you’re concerned that someone is trying to break into your car. Still, we found the app to work well about 85 percent of the time.
All of Ring’s devices are Amazon Alexa compatible (Ring is owned by Amazon, after all), and the Spotlight Solar Cam is no exception. We happen to have an Echo Show in our test home, and viewing live footage on the Show was easy. Anytime we received a motion alert at home, all we had to say was “Alexa, show me the driveway,” to see what triggered the alert. Luckily, we never captured footage of anything bad happening.
Cough up the cash
You can use the Ring Spotlight Cam Solar without paying for a subscription, but its free functionality is limited. After an initial trial period, you are unable to view recorded video with the triggered motion alerts unless you pay up monthly. You’ll still see a motion alert on your phone, but won’t be able to see what caused it, which defeats the purpose of having a security camera in the first place.
We found the camera easy to mount above the garage of one of our test homes.
Ring offers two separate subscriptions — Basic and Protect. Basic costs $3 per month, or $30 per year per device, while Protect costs $10 a month, or $100 a year, and allows for unlimited devices. You also earn 10 percent off other devices with the Protect service.
After setting up the camera and enjoying the free trial period with viewable motion alerts, you’re not going to want to default to the limited free access. While it’s a bummer to pay, it’s common to pay for premium features and cloud storage in the world of smart security cameras.
Ring offers a one-year warranty on parts and lifetime purchase protection.Our Take
We think the Ring Spotlight Cam Solar is a great camera, and not having to bother with a battery replacement — ever — is a sweet set-up.
Is there a better alternative?
If you’re in the market for an outdoor wireless camera but aren’t interested in the solar panel charger, go with the Ring Spotlight Cam Battery. Other options include the Swann Smart Security Camera, which is a great value at $150 and is weatherproof. The Netgear Arlo Pro II is the gold standard, but at $480, it’s not cheap.
How long will it last?
Ring is a well-established home security company that has a great reputation for quality products. Now owned by Amazon, we expect Ring to add to offerings while continuing support for existing products.
Should you buy it?
Yes. The Ring Spotlight Cam Solar is a simple, effective, low-maintenance way to monitor your home.
Updated in July 2018 to include information about the Ring Alarm system.