One of my favorite movies when I was growing up was Honey, I shrunk the kids. In it, the protagonist, Wayne Szalinski, is a nerdy scientist-inventor-house-gadget-inventor who develops a shrinking ray in his attic that accidentally causes his children and two neighbors to shrink to the size of mosquitoes.
But it was Wayne’s other inventions that always caught my attention – in particular his Rube Goldberg-like system for announcing when the mail arrived. I’m no Wayne Szalinski and I’m certainly not a skilled engineer, but setting up a system to let me know when the job arrives was an ongoing goal of mine.
I tried using Zigbee contact sensors in my mailbox, and I even tried using a motion detector on the back of the case to trigger alerts on my smartphone. But since my mailbox is about 70 meters from the front of my house – and it’s a metal box that’s ideal for blocking wireless signals, the sensors are mostly outside the center of the hub and their warnings are not activated.
Ring is new $ 29.99 PO Box sensor is specifically designed to address this. It is a ring sensor of the Smart Lighting platform of Ring with an external antenna that you mount on the back of your mailbox, to neatly extend the range of the device and avoid the problems that a mailbox presents.
The mailbox sensor communicates with Ring’s Smart Bridge (which can purchased with the sensor for a total of $ 49.99). The Bridge allows you to program smartphone alerts when the sensor detects movement. You can connect it to the Alexa app and have Alexa broadcast a message like “Mail has arrived” on every Echo device in your home, or use it to activate other smart home devices like lighting.
Mounting the sensor in your mailbox is a simple procedure. The ring contains double-sided tape for both the sensor and the outdoor antenna. There is also a drill bit if you need to drill a hole in the mailbox and rubber bolts to pass the wire through. I could avoid drilling by passing the wire through a gap in the back of my mailbox, but your mileage can vary. The literature from Ring shows the sensor installed on the door of the mailbox, but I was able to install it discreetly in the back of the box and have not experienced any issues yet. The sensor works on three AAA batteries.
This is the first mailbox alert system I have tried, and works reliably daily. Every time the email arrives, I get a ping on my phone and every Echo device in my house gives an alert. It’s a silly little convenience, but it does offer a little joy every time.
This is not to say that there is no room for improvement here. Ring has done the minimum to distinguish this motion sensor from others in its Smart Lighting system, so the only warning I can get on my phone is that it detected motion. It would be great if I could adjust it to say that the mail arrived instead.
It also sends an alert every time it detects movement, instead of just the first time. So if we get a warning that the mail has arrived and one of my children is checking it, a second warning is activated. It would be nice if I could set a timeout to avoid multiple alerts in a row (or block alerts at certain times, like when I put outgoing mail in the box in the morning).
But despite its flaws, the Ring Mailbox Sensor makes me feel a little like Wayne Szalinski every time it goes off – and it makes me stop worrying when the email arrives. Luckily, I can not shrink my children with it.
Photography by Dan Seifert / The Verge