Home security cameras are frustrating. Dealing with all that wiring, hooking everything up, and then storing it all on a hard drive inside your house. The Netgear Arlo is an entirely wireless, 'net-connected security system — which means you can mount those little cameras anywhere.
What Is It?
- In The Box: 1-4 cameras, base station, 4 magnetic mounts
- Wi-Fi: Yes, low-power
- Video Quality: 720p HD
- Recording: Yes — motion & on-demand
- Photo Capture: Yes
The Netgear Arlo is a wireless home security system comprised of two key elements — the Arlo cameras themselves, and a wired-network base station that hooks up to your home network. Arlo kits start at $349 for a one-camera system, and extend to $589 for a two-camera setup, or a $799 three-camera system. You can buy additional Arlo cameras individually for $249.
Because Arlo is wireless within a 300-foot range, roughly equivalent to 100 of our metrically patriotic Australian metres, you can place its cameras basically anywhere on any property that isn't more than an acre in size. Battery power usage increases the further you take each camera from the base station, but you'll still get four to six months of battery life per Arlo camera according to Netgear.
Like any modern piece of technology worth its salt, Arlo has an app. Available for both iOS and Android, and also available via a Web browser and Netgear's own Arlo website, the Arlo app lets you view a live-stream from any one of your cameras, or multiple cameras at once, all while making manual recordings or snapping photos.
For the most part, though, Arlo will sit quietly monitoring activity, and will only activate and start recording when it senses motion. You can also configure the system to send you an email alert with a small MP4 file of some of the video it has captured. This way, the cameras don't use a great deal of power unless they're actively capturing data.
What's It Good At?
Arlo is really easy to set up. Like, really. Put the batteries in one or all of the cameras in your kit, hook the power and network cable up to the Arlo Base Station and make sure it's well positioned and plugged into your home Wi-Fi router or modem, then run the Arlo app on your iOS or Android smartphone or tablet, follow the prompts, and you're ready to go. That's it. The setup procedure is pretty straightforward, too — the app takes you through signing up to an Arlo account that also works for Netgear's online community forum too, shows you the major features of the software and cameras, then you're done.
What's surprising about Arlo is how responsive its cameras are despite being entirely battery powered and wireless. When you request a live stream from an Arlo camera, whether you're on 3G or 4G or connected to Wi-Fi at your work or within your home, everything works smoothly and only takes a couple of seconds; you can play or pause live playback and take photos or start recording video on demand as well as adjust brightness in dim scenes.
Video quality is great, too, again especially despite the battery power. 720p video is smooth and clean, and there's a bunch more detail than I was expecting to see. Think of the Arlo's video quality as roughly on par with the camera in your smartphone — maybe a little lower resolution than for still photo capturing, obviously, but with a good lens that lets in enough light for the Arlo to handle bright daylight or dim evening scenes equally well. Infrared recording makes for relatively decent short-range monitoring at night, too.
The cameras are sturdy enough to handle outdoor use being IPX5 rated. Anywhere you can drive a single screw in to hang the magnetic mount, or any naturally magnetic surface, you'll be able to mount an Arlo camera. Range, too, is more than good enough for any suburban Australian quarter-acreage; even with one Arlo camera on the absolute furthest point possible away from the base station — about 20 metres straight through a couple of double-brick walls — I got clear and detailed footage albeit at slightly higher battery usage.
What's It Not Good At?
These cameras don't have any internal microphones, and that means you don't get any audio from your recordings — and that means Arlo is less of a surveillance system than a monitoring system. It's not really a big deal, since the vision is what actually matters for catching a crook or seeing someone eat that last cookie you were saving in the biscuit jar. But since the Arlo is aimed at everyday users, it would have been nice for some kind of audio recording capability to be included. A speaker on each camera would be great, too.
Battery life is also variable, and seems to highly depend on the distance you place each Arlo camera from its wired-network base station. One of the two cameras I set up was still reporting 100 per cent power after two weeks of use a couple of metres from the base station, while another camera outdoors and much further towards the Arlo's stated 100-metre maximum range was reporting 80 per cent charge.
The Arlo's batteries aren't rechargeable, either. That means you'll be paying a solid $30-$40 each time a camera runs out of juice, which you can expect to happen on a four-to-six-monthly basis. You can buy rechargeable CR123 cells used by the Arlo, but you'll be shelling about $50 for a set of four. That maximum 300-foot (100-metre) range, too, is only achievable if you have absolutely perfect connectivity and no brick walls or obstacles in between.
If you want to store your recordings for more than 7 days, which is entirely free, you'll need to shell out for a $13-per-month 30-day backup plan or a $19-per-month 60-day backup. This might not sound like much, but I'd question whether you need to keep recordings that long in the first place and considering the amount of data used by the Arlo's recordings, you're paying a lot for a relatively small amount of online storage.
Should You Buy It?
The Netgear Arlo is a straightforward camera system, but one that is surprisingly versatile. Because the cameras are wireless, you can put them anywhere. Setup is simple, which is an absolute blessing considering the difficulty that wiring up and installing a traditional home security system presents for the average user.
The app is powerful and easy to understand. Live-streaming works well, and having the ability to snap photos or record video on demand from your smartphone is great. It's also good to see that Netgear is presenting Arlo as a community, too, where its users can share ideas and trade stories about the security system and its uses.
My main concern with the Arlo is its battery life, which will make it more expensive in the long run than a comparable wired security camera. If you're intending on using Arlo in the long term, I highly recommend investing in a set of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries for each camera and simply recharging them whenever they run out.
The price of an online subscription, too, adds extra cost to Arlo if you're using more than four cameras or if you're intending on storing your recordings for more than a week at a time. If you're willing to pay, though, Netgear's Arlo is a versatile and powerful security camera setup.