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Making a truly wireless security camera truly wireless

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Testing the solar-powered Ring Stick Up Cam on a 3G hotspot

I recently stumbled upon an oddball mix of technologies that I’ve cobbled together into something so geeky that I can’t help but admire it. I have a $49 Ring Solar Panel powering a $199 Ring Stick Up Cam security camera that connects to the internet via a Wi-Fi hotspot running on an old Android phone plugged into a power outlet. Right now this amalgamation is mounted in my family's weekend getaway spot where it functions as an intruder alert system, weather camera, and daddy-can’t-come-to-the-beach-today video proxy.

When the summer’s over, I can unplug the phone for a go-anywhere wireless security system that’ll run all day — longer if I attach the phone to a portable battery pack. It’s a so-called truly wireless security camera that’s truly wireless. It can then be repurposed as a wildlife blind, a pet cam, or mobile security cam to keep an eye on my belongings while on vacation, to list but a few uses.

Ring Stick Up Cam A weather-worn Stick Up Cam showing cable connecting the solar panel (Thomas Ricker)

The weatherproof Ring Stick Up Cam is currently mounted high on the exposed terrace of a surf shack on a beach about 30 minutes away. The tiny beach house is basically a shipping container with a nice wooden deck, plumbing, and 6 watts of power. It lacks internet, though (thus the mobile Android hotspot).

ring stick up cam plus solar panel Black Solar Panel visible in the top-right corner (Thomas Ricker)

I’ve been testing the Stick Up Cam in this configuration for a few weeks and find that it serves my needs surprisingly well. I receive alerts when the maintenance workers arrive. I can check the weather and kite surfing conditions at any time, and see if it’s too crowded for this inexperienced kook to go out. I can even watch the kids play when I’m unable to join the family. Video is automatically streamed to my phone and recorded in the cloud whenever motion is detected, or I can initiate Live View (a feature Ring is rolling out today for Stick Up Cam owners) to see what’s happening at any given moment.

Of course, my experience with the Ring Stick Up Cam is heavily constrained by the weak data connection at the beach. Usually it’s 3G, but sometimes it drops back to Edge. Ring tells me that its cameras aren’t designed for such slow connections. Why would they be? The Stick Up Cam is meant for home security and that means relatively fast residential Wi-Fi and broadband. As such, my video streams are choppy with lots of visible compression artifacts. The audio drops in and out, and sometimes Live View just won’t connect (though it always kicks off a recording that’s stored in Ring’s cloud service). These issues all go away when I bring the Stick Up Cam home, where my fast Wi-Fi network streams the 720p video fluidly and facilitates two-way audio conversations.

Prior to this, I’ve been using a Ring Video Doorbell (the company’s flagship product) for about a year. What I like about Ring’s Doorbell, compared to many other smart doorbells, is that it works in tandem with my old wired doorbell. When someone presses the Ring, I receive an instant alert from the familiar mechanical bell. If I’m not expecting anyone, I can wait a few seconds for the alert to appear on my phone so I can check the video. If it’s my DHL guy or a friend I’ll go downstairs to open the door. But if it’s some rando who wants me to worship their god, their petition, or their cause, I can just ignore it or tell them to go away.

Ring Stick Up Cam screen grab A screen grab of the Live View feature just launched today (Thomas Ricker)

As a happy Ring customer, I jumped at the chance to test the Stick Cam with optional Solar Charger when it was announced. After a few weeks of testing, I can confirm that it’s a highly flexible and effective home security solution that can monitor more than just your home.

Key specs and observations:

  • Over a period of six days, the Stick Up Cam streamed 70 videos for a total of 581MB of data, or almost 100MB per day, on my mobile hotspot. Of course, the camera was under abnormally heavy use for the purpose of product testing. Under normal use, I imagine my data consumption dropping to about 10MB–30MB per day which is well within the limits of my data plan.
  • The Stick Up has an internal rechargeable battery (5,200mAh) that’s rated for six to 12 months depending upon use. I saw the battery dip to 95 percent a few times under extremely heavy use when set to the most power-hungry motion detection settings. By noon the next day it would be recharged to 100 percent.
  • The 2 watt (6 volt) Ring Solar Panel measures 7.50 x 6.0 x 1.25 inches which is smaller than a stack of US Letter paper. It’s designed to trickle-charge the Stick Up Cam over a 5-foot-long USB cable for uninterrupted service.
  • As a security camera, Ring should include the option to enable motion detection at set times of the day or the week. Right now, motion sensing must be manually set to on or off, with six configurable zones.
  • At $199 the Stick Up Cam is $50 more than the Arlo single-camera kit which looks better and offers most of the same features (minus audio) plus a week of free cloud recording.
  • The Cam’s adjustable mounting bracket is easy to install and adjust. My Stick Up Cam is mounted in a very windy location popular with kite surfers. The wind causes the Stick Cam to shake — vigorously at times — when the wind hits 5 BFT (about 20 mph). Fortunately, this didn’t seem to trigger motion alerts but it did create noticeable shake on the video.
  • Night vision is passable, but fairly dim at the edge of the 30-foot motion detection limit.
  • The field of view is only 80 degrees compared to the 180-degree view provided by the Ring Doorbells. Ring tells me the Stick Up Cam is meant for monitoring a specific area, like a driveway or side yard.
  • The Cloud Video Recording option costs $3 per month, or $30 per year for each Ring Stick Up Cam. No discount is given for people that also own a Ring Doorbell. If security is your main interest then you’ll want to subscribe.

I love repurposing technology in new ways, or ways the manufacturer never imagined. That’s why I adore the combination of the Ring camera, solar panel, and Android phone running a 3G Wi-Fi hotspot. It’s more functional than I had imagined, and it's the most wireless, wireless camera solution we'll see until power can also be transmitted over the air.