In recent history I’ve spent time testing & reviewing various WiFi cameras for home security. All of those devices I’ve blogged about before required a nearby power outlet to operate. In this post we’re shifting gears and looking at an option that is entirely wireless: the 100% Wire-Free Arlo Smart Home Security Camera System.
Earlier this year my friend and I spent some time checking out and comparing the Nest Cam vs Withings Home vs Netatmo Welcome devices. Of that group we came away really loving the Nest Cam more than the rest for our favorite wired WiFi camera. We’re excited about a recently announced Arlo Q by NETGEAR camera, due to be released in about two months. Once that arrives we’ll be sure to let you know how it stacks up! But since all of those are WIRED devices, they aren’t part of this review.
Instead this review is going to focus on the wireless Arlo device from NetGear. And since I have been using the Nest Cam hardware around my house you’ll see some direct comparisons of those here. Though not a true head-to-head comparison, I’ll use the experience I have with other wired home security cameras to give the wireless Arlo unit a benchmark to try and match.
NetGear has been around for nearly 20-years, and most people know of them for their routers, and other connectivity devices. But last year they unveiled their latest product into the already crowded WiFi camera market. With players like the Nest Cam leading the way, NetGear had an uphill battle. However, if the chart in this article is to be believed, the Arlo line of product is coming out of the gate strong in 2015, and heading into 2016 with purpose.
Right now NetGear offers only their wireless camera option. But as of November 2015 they have announced they will start to deliver their new Arlo Q camera in January of 2016. That device is up for pre-order right now, and features a wired connection, 1080-HD video, audio/microphone, and is extremely similar in specifications to the Nest Cam we love. But again, more on that device when it is released.
NetGear’s wireless camera has been out for over a year now. Not only is the Arlo Wireless Security Camera 100% wire-free, it also features a completely weatherproof housing. This makes it ideal for both indoor & outdoor use. Up until now I’ve been using my Nest Cam outdoors by means of a weather-resistant outdoor wall-mount enclosure. Having a camera that can be placed in the elements has a direct usefulness for me, and I’m excited to tell you more about it!
Let’s dig in… but first, enjoy some photos & some video samples.
Below are two video samples taken with the camera that is mounted outdoors, plus one indoor sample video. This gives you a sample of both indoors and out, night vision, and color/daylight.
Unboxing & Setup
When I purchased my Arlo Smart Home Security Camera System my intent was to mount one camera indoors, and one outside, which is what I did end up doing. At time of purchase I wasn’t sure how I’d secure the outdoor unit, so just to be safe I also purchased the Adjustable Indoor/Outdoor Mount. Thus far I’ve not actually utilized the extra mount, but it looks like a solid mount if you should need one.
Included with the camera kit is everything you’ll need to get started, as shown in the photos above. I really appreciated the fact that the kit includes four metal dome mounts, even though it came with only two camera units. Since the camera is entirely wireless you can easily move the camera from one room to another on a whim, which some users will find quite useful. Hence having extra mounts makes this function easier to utilize and avoids unwanted added mount costs.
Getting started begins with plugging in the big white box (the hub) into your existing router or modem. While this does take up an Ethernet port, and the device is anything but small, the trade-off that I’ve found is that the range of the cameras here seems far superior to the Nest Cam devices that I’ve been using. This is especially true of the Nest I had outdoors, which would drop signal quite often, even with an Apple Airport Extreme being used as a range extender. My outdoor Arlo seems locked on, even being wireless, with low latency and amazing reception. I’m thinking this has to do with the quality of signal strength pumping out of that white hub, but whatever the case, I’ve had 100% perfect results at the same distance and location that my Nest was failing miserably at.
After the hub is found by the app, syncing up the new cameras was a breeze, and I was up and running in less than 10 minutes total start-to-finish. One of the first things you notice here is the quality of the NetGear Alro app, which is superb. Though not quite as simplistic as the Nest app, it is still quite easy to use. And it has proven to load faster than the Nest app, both in primary app connection times, as well as individual camera load times.
Once the cameras are linked to your hub you can mount them wherever you want. As I said, both of mine are mounted using two of the four included single-screw domes, one inside, and one outdoors to monitor our little “cat house” we have. If you’re mounting them in a location where the white shell isn’t ideal you can chance their appearance with some of the nifty Arlo Replaceable Silicone Skins, offered in various colors such as black, or camouflage!
I’ve included various screen shots of the settings you can make with the software/app in the gallery above. Besides being able to rename your base station (hub) and cameras, you can also control how and when things record, or notify you. We’ll talk more about recording video in the next section, and the settings that pertain to recording.
Additional settings include adding friends to share your cameras, though to do that the recipient must create their own Arlo login. This works great for my wife, who wanted access to the cameras. You can also adjust your subscription, which by default includes 7-days and up to 1GB of free storage for a maximum of 5 cameras. As I’ll talk more about later, my findings was that my Arlo units indicated no need to upgrade. I suspect those who do upgrade will do so probably based on your desire for more cameras, or longer video retention.
Because there is a magnet in the base of the device that holds it to the metal mounts, you can actually mount the camera anywhere you want that has a metal surface. However, doing so does limit the adjustability angles since you typically attach it to a flat surface. Instead you’ll want to probably try and use the provided mount, which is dome shaped, and mates with an indent in the back side of the unit. This allows a nicely adjustable range of motion to make sure you capture just the right angle. And built right into the app are modes you can put the camera into that will allow you to help aim the camera during setup, as well as set optimal sensitivity for motion, to maintain accurate triggers without too many false alarms.
Generally speaking I found the adjustments allowable in the Arlo app to provide a greater sense of control than what the Nest offers. It truly felt like a real piece of home security equipment. I do wish you could record events without any notifications whatsoever, but you can only globally turn off push notifications, not specific per camera. As I didn’t need a push notification every time my cat visited his outdoor house, I set Notifications for the Arlo app to provide badges only. This gives me viability of the event without being bothered. For those times where I needed more robust alerts I have email turned on.
Video Recording & Review
Recorded video is taken in 720p, not the 1080-HD that many of the wired cameras we have tested utilize. This lower resolution provides more than ample quality, as the video samples above will show. During my review I had my friend look over my work, and she commented at how “crisp” the videos looked. This 720p resolution also probably helps extend battery life, which is handled by four A123 batteries that are supposed to last a few months. You can also adjust the video quality to three settings, optimized of battery life at one end, video quality at the other end, or a balance in the middle. It defaults to the middle setting which is where I’ve left both.
Setting up your cameras to record allows a great deal of settings, such as how long of a video clip you desire based on Rules, and other details. Once you create Rules you can then create/set Modes, which designates a higher tier of recording for the Arlo cameras you have in your home or business.
For example, let’s say you’re normally home from 6pm till your typical 10pm bedtime. You could set your Arlo‘s Schedule in the software to not record during those hours. Then, while you’re asleep (let’s say 10pm till 6am), you could have an Asleep Mode. In that Mode you would have Rules that designate which of the cameras you want to record (when triggered by motion), set specific sensitivity, designate recorded video length, and if you want email notifications or not. Then you may have another/different Mode for Away (when you’re at work), which could handle a different set of Rules (or some of the same Rules, if you wanted). This allows an extremely finite level of control of what cameras record, at what times of the day, and so forth. And you can manually switch to these modes anytime you want, or just leave the device to run your pre-defined Schedule. Think of the Arlo like your do your thermostat, which has a schedule, but also manual over-ride whenever you want.
When a video is recorded you’ll get a push notification and/or email, depending on how you have things configured in the Arlo app. Watching back these videos has proven to be instant, with less than two-seconds of buffer time typically. And the video quality has been crisp, on-par with the 1080 videos of the Nest. Of course there is no microphone, so you do not get any audio playback, nor the ability to trigger recording based on sound. The forth-coming Arlo Q will have that feature, but will lack the wireless and weatherproof benefits of the wireless Arlo device.
Another great feature here for Arlo is their web portal. Just like with the Nest products, you can login from any browser. And just like Nest, the interface looks just the same as the iOS app, providing a familiar setting in which to control your hardware, watch your recorded videos, and manipulate your devices and storage. My wife and I loved that you can do this, since at work we’re both typically on our desktop machines and prefer not having to dig out our phones just to check on the outdoor cat, or the house in general.
On average we filled up our cloud with about 70-80 MB of videos per day, or a rate of roughly one half-gig per week. This is with two cameras, so we think with 5 total cameras (the maximum allowed on the Free subscription plan) you’d possibly come close to filling up your quota. On the flip side, though, we had about 60-70 videos per day of our cat (he comes and goes quite often!), which most people won’t probably have. Overall the Free subscription option was impressive, giving a great majority of users more than ample storage for the allowed 5 camera maximum.
If you do upgrade, the costs are similar to most competitors, and allow you to add more cameras, and more base stations too. What will prove interesting is to see how this pricing, and these options, possibly change or shift when the Arlo Q arrives in a few months. They’ve published some figures that show rates identical to the Nest for the Q-device, but my bigger concern is for the wireless devices. We hope it doesn’t change, because the wireless Arlo is a great camera, priced nicely, and the free recording really pleases us.
Beyond recorded videos, you can also pull up any camera on-demand, to start a live stream of video. While you’re watching it you can take still-shots that save to your cloud storage, not your local device/phone. And you can also start recording on-demand if you want to, though if motion occurs while you are live-streaming, it will start to record automatically.
Video taken with ample light is in color, and night vision video is black & white, as per the samples above. You can set these modes to occur automatically, or manually force the cameras into either light/vision mode if you need. While watching a video feed you also can adjust the brightness, though we found this setting had minimal effect on the image. But since the image quality was typically above average, we never really felt any need to tinker with it anyhow. We found the camera performed admirably on all levels.
If you hadn’t figured it out by now, we’re quite pleased with our Arlo Smart Home Security Camera System. These cameras have managed to take all of the features we loved most from the Nest and bundle it into a small, wireless, weatherproof option. Though we don’t expect we’ll move the cameras around location-to-location, we appreciate this option.
Our only two gripes with the Arlo right now are the inability to set the device to record while not sending notifications, and the lack of 3rd party integrations. For example, the Nest Cam allows the cameras to force into record mode when your Nest Protect detects an alarm. We’d love to see the Arlo work with IFTTT to allow this type of action, which could also allow for IFTTT’s geofencing to also force the Arlo to switch between Modes. Perhaps they’ll add this down the road?!
But beyond those two “desires” the Arlo wireless camera is truly great. Short of the need to replace batteries periodically, a trade-off of having a wireless device (though it would be nice if it could be rechargeable instead), we’re so excited about these that we hope to add a few more to our home soon!
Questions? Comments? Sound off below!