One of my favorite movies when I was growing up was Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. In it, the main protagonist, Wayne Szalinski, is a nerdy scientist-slash-home-gadget-inventor who develops a shrink ray in his attic that accidentally shrinks his kids and two neighbor kids down to the size of gnats.
But it was Wayne’s other inventions that always caught my eye — in particular, his Rube Goldberg-esque system for announcing when the mail has arrived. I’m no Wayne Szalinski and I’m certainly not an accomplished engineer, but building a system to let me know when the mail has arrived has been an ongoing smart home goal of mine.
I’ve tried using Zigbee contact sensors mounted inside my mailbox, and I’ve even tried using a motion detector shoved in the back of the box to trigger alerts on my smartphone. But since my mailbox is roughly 70 feet from the front of my house — and is a metal box that’s great at blocking wireless signals — most of the time, those sensors are out of range of the hub and their alerts don’t trigger.
Ring’s new $29.99 Mailbox Sensor is specifically designed to address this. It’s a motion sensor from Ring’s Smart Lighting platform with an external antenna that you mount to the back of your mailbox, neatly extending the device’s range and avoiding the interference issues a mailbox presents.
The Mailbox Sensor communicates with Ring’s Smart Bridge (which can be purchased along with the sensor for a total of $49.99). The Bridge lets you program smartphone alerts when the sensor detects motion. You can link it to the Alexa app and have Alexa broadcast a message such as “Mail has arrived” on every Echo device in your home or use it to trigger other smart home gadgets such as lighting.
Mounting the sensor in your mailbox is a simple procedure. Ring includes double-sided tape for both the sensor and the outside antenna. There’s also a drill bit in case you need to drill a small hole in the mailbox and rubber grommets to route the wire through. I was able to avoid drilling by running the wire through a gap in the back of my mailbox, but your mileage may vary. Ring’s literature shows the sensor installed on the door of the mailbox, but I was able to install it more discreetly in the back of the box and haven’t had any issues. The sensor itself runs on three AAA batteries.
It’s the first mailbox alert system I’ve tried that actually works reliably day in and day out. Whenever the mail arrives, I get a ping on my phone, and every Echo device in my house chimes an alert. It’s a silly little convenience, but it’s one that brings a little bit of joy each time it works.
That isn’t to say there’s no room for improvement here. Ring has done the bare minimum to differentiate this motion sensor from others in its Smart Lighting system, so the only alert I can get on my phone is that it has detected motion. It’d be great if I could customize it to say the mail has arrived instead.
Silly little conveniences are the best part of playing with smart home gadgets
It also sends an alert every time it detects motion, instead of just the first time. So when we get an alert that the mail has arrived and one of my kids checks it, a second alert is triggered. It’d be nice if I could set a timeout to avoid multiple alerts in a row (or block alerts at certain hours, such as when I’m putting outgoing mail in the box in the morning).
But despite its flaws, the Ring Mailbox Sensor makes me feel a little bit like Wayne Szalinski every time it goes off — and it lets me stop worrying about when the mail has arrived. Fortunately, I can’t shrink my kids with it.
Photography by Dan Seifert / The Verge