(Pocket-lint) - There's always been something incredibly approachable about Arlo's home security camera systems. Contract free, regularly featured in Black Friday sales and well connected, Arlo is an easy system to start and an easy system to grow.
The launch of Arlo Ultra, however, changes things a little. If you were looking for a coming of age moment for Arlo, this is probably it - because the Arlo Ultra brings with it a new range of things to think about.
A step-up in design
- Magnetic mount included
- White plastic weatherproof design
- Magnetic contact charging
The Arlo Ultra has a new feeling of design about it. Some of the core Arlo principles are maintained - like magnetic mounting so that cameras are easy to install - while still being battery powered and therefore easy to site around your home, inside or out.
But the industrial design, with the body of the camera sliding into the shell, moves forward the look that we've seen from Arlo in the past. Design, perhaps, isn't the most important thing, but here it brings with it a new magnetic charger, improving the charging experience over previous devices.
Like the Arlo Pro and Arlo Pro 2, the Ultra uses a rechargeable cell, which can be charged in the camera or taken out to charge via an accessory charger. The battery life depends on how much you're asking it to do - in a busy street, that might be a fortnight, in a quiet area where detection is infrequent it might be months. If you want it permanently powered, you can do that too - which is easy to achieve indoors using a direct connection, but more challenging outdoors.
Part of the Ultra's redesign is to allow for more versatile attachment to a wall. It's still magnetic, but now more flexible in exactly how you want to orient the camera. The mount itself is simple to install, although unlike the previous mounts that simply slotted onto a screw, the Ultra mounts require you to use the supplied screw and plastic insert for a more precise fit.
As this camera attaches via magnets, however, anyone could steal it without tearing the mount off the wall - something to think about when you install this £450 camera. Placing it out of easy reach should be the first priority - although there's a screw mount on the back which will offer third-party mounting solutions that are potentially more secure.
The new design is something that Arlo is carrying forwards too, as the new Arlo Pro 3 also uses a similar design and is compatible with the same accessories as the Ultra.
Setting up the Arlo Ultra
- Needs Arlo Smart Hub
- Setup through Arlo app
- Compatible with all other Arlo cameras
That £450 cover price is for the Arlo Ultra camera and the Smart Hub. You'll need the Smart Hub to take advantage of the Ultra's features like the streaming and recording of 4K resolution HDR (high dynamic range). You can also get the Hub separately for £179 should you want to upgrade parts of your Arlo network piecemeal, as it can also control all your other Arlo devices (even if you don't own the Ultra).
Adding the Ultra to an existing system is easy: it's literally a case of replacing the old Hub you have with the new and then connecting it through the Arlo smartphone app. You will then have to go through the process of adding the cameras - after the Smart Hub has updated its firmware - and it doesn't care what system you build, all the existing cameras are supported, each offering up their supported features.
If you're setting up a brand new Ultra as your first device, you simply follow along the instructions to get things connected. Usually this is straightforward, but sometimes things will time-out and you might have to repeat the process if the camera isn't found first time.
We've found Arlo's Hub products to get progressively better. From the original Arlo Hub, through the Pro and to the Smart Hub of the Ultra, the design has got less intrusive and the stability has got better. The original - going back several years - was slightly more temperamental. The Smart Hub has been totally stable over the 4 months we've been using it.
Arlo Ultra really needs an Arlo Smart subscription
- Individual or groups of cameras
- Brings a range of features
One of the things you get when you buy an Arlo Ultra is a year's subscription to Arlo Smart Premier. Arlo Smart unlocks some of the features of the Ultra; it gives you access to cloud processing that will give you customisable detection zones, identification of what has moved (person, vehicle, animal, package delivery), as well as thumbnails in notifications.
It's not just the Arlo Ultra that gets these benefits, older cameras will too, so if you have an Arlo Pro, Pro 2 or Arlo Q, you'll find that as soon as the Arlo Smart Premier subscription starts, you can add detection zones and so on to those devices too. Arlo Smart Premier supports these features on up to 10 cameras and costs $9.99/£6.49 a month, as well as giving you 30 days of cloud storage.
It's here that the proposition of Arlo Ultra changes things: all the other existing devices will operate without an Arlo Smart plan, with a week of cloud storage of video for no monthly cost. Once you've tried Arlo Smart, you might struggle to go back from the smarter offering and we suppose that's why it's bundled with the Ultra.
Of course you don't have to have Premier: Arlo Smart is available for one camera from $2.99/£1.99 per camera per month - at which point you can see how you might enable those features for the camera that really needs them, while saving yourself money elsewhere. Cancel the lot and you'll still have a great camera in the Arlo Ultra, it just won't be that smart.
All this is controlled through the app, which acts as the central point for everything Arlo. Make friends with the Arlo app and you'll make friends with the rest of the system, although the recent update has been a bit messy, certainly for Android, with Arlo releasing a new app (that appears to be much the same) and changing the old app to Arlo Legacy. It you're prompted to update, make sure you do, as it won't happen automatically.
But that's not the end of the subscription experience - it affects 4K too.
Arlo Ultra 4K camera performance
- Stunning 4K HDR capture
- Lots of caveats
We've got this far without really talking about the star of the show - the Ultra camera. It represents a step-up in quality with 4K resolution and HDR - the latter of which means that it can balance out light and dark in a scene to give you a better overall picture.
At top settings, the Arlo Ultra captures stunning quality video, pin sharp and crystal clear, making it really easy to identify people, cars, and everything else. 4K capture allows zooming for more detail with discernible results, while a 4K live stream will give you up to 12x zoom - and a lot better quality than you get from lower-resolution systems. But you'll have to jump through a lot of hoops to get there.
If you want to cloud store 4K video, you'll need a Premium Video Recording subscription in addition to the Arlo Smart package you already have - and that will cost you an additional $1.99/£1.49 a month per camera. You can stream 4K video across your network and there's the option to fit a microSD card into the Smart Hub to record 4K video - so you have a local version saved.
Unfortunately you can't view locally saved content without removing the microSD card from the Hub, but a 1080p version is saved online as normal, so this is really a fine quality backup. It also applies to all compatible cameras, not just the Ultra, and it can be set to overwrite old files once the card is filled. Whip the card out and plug it into your PC and you'll get access to those glorious files.
Streaming in 4K presents some other challenges. Firstly, you can only stream 4K through the Arlo app when you're connected to the same network as the camera - so you have to basically be at home to do it. It's not on by default either, so you'll have to dig out those settings to enable it. This was initially a bit hit and miss, sometimes a 4K stream and sometimes 1080p (you'll know when it's 4K because you'll get a 4K logo in the top left corner) - but it's got a lot more stable since launch.
Is 4K essential? We're not totally convinced that it is, because Full HD capture is still very good and if you're mostly capturing overview footage of an area then 1080p is good enough. Given how affordable microSD cards are, however, we'd be tempted to throw in a big card just as a backup for 4K video.
Arlo Ultra's biggest sell is the wide-angle lens
- 180 degree wide-angle lens
More so than other Arlo cameras, the wide-angle view that you're offered by the Ultra is something of a game changer. It means that you don't need to think so hard about where the camera points, because so much is covered.
The Arlo Ultra has a 180 degree viewing angle, a huge increase over the 110 degrees of the original cameras. Mount it on your front wall and you'll see not just your front garden, but your neighbours' too - depending on the size of your house of course. You do get the option to narrow this through the settings, however, if you don't want it as wide.
Place the Arlo Ultra in a room and you don't get deadspots - it can basically see everything with that wide-angle lens. We swapped an Arlo Pro for the Arlo Ultra and the difference is huge - and that goes some way to explain the price. The Nest Cam IQ only gets 130 degrees (the same as the Arlo Pro 2) and the new Arlo Pro 3 only offers 160 degrees, so the Ultra is the wide-angle king.
There is a zoom and follow function you can engage which will crop into the action for a more direct view, but we'd advise against it. The zoom and follow means you can't have 4K capture, as it's using sensor cropping to zoom, and once it starts zooming, it will keep zooming on motion, which might mean it zooms in on a moving branch once a person has left the frame. It's also quite jerky. Still, for some, it might serve a purpose.
The Arlo Ultra adds another skill: night vision in colour. This means you can view live footage in colour rather than greyscale, although all our captured and stored night video appears to all be in black and white.
There's also a built-in LED light which can be enabled or disabled, but this means the Arlo Ultra can be used as a security light, or provide illumination to assist with capture, another big benefit as a welcome home light.
There's audio detection and the option to speak through the camera too, which adds another layer of security, although the sound quality is rather weak and we can't see that outdoors anyone would hear your crackly rasping. Audio detection is a lot more useful though in remote areas.
Arlo works with Alexa and Google Assistant, too, meaning you can view camera feeds on other devices, like an Amazon Echo Show. You can, after a fashion, enable and disable the cameras using voice, but we've always found this to be pretty troublesome.
The Arlo Ultra represents some of the best outdoor security video that you'll find. The combination of 4K and HDR, good night vision and control over motion detection and the notifications you can receive all goes some way to justifying the lofty price.
There's no avoiding that this is an expensive camera and once you start adding in Arlo Smart and 4K video storage, there's an ongoing subscription cost too - and a departure from the ethos established by the rest of the Arlo system.
With that said, even if you step back and cancel the smart functions in the future, you'll still have a very capable camera. Free online Full HD storage with 4K backup on a microSD card locally will have its appeal too.
Ultimately, the feature set of the Arlo Ultra makes it hard not to recommend if you have deep pockets, but there's no avoiding that it's a camera that can be frustrating to get the best out of initially. If nothing else, it will make your 720p cameras look embarrassingly low-res and entice you to upgrade.
First published June 2019.
Alternatives to consider
Nest Cam IQ Outdoor
Nest has built a respectable system, coming with the advantage of working a little closer with devices like the Google Home Hub. It's a wired camera which makes installation more tricky and it's limited to 1080p capture. The ongoing costs are increased however, as you'll need Nest Aware to get the most from it, but it's a very smart little camera.
Logitech Circle 2
The Logitech Circle 2 comes with the advantage of a hugely wide view view, 1080p capture and the choice of a wired or wire-free installation. You get 24 hours of free storage online after which you'll need a subscription. It's a more affordable proposition overall, but doesn't offer all the smart functions that other outdoor cameras do.