(Pocket-lint) - Arlo is a big name in home security, with a wide range of cameras, so extending its offering to the front door makes a lot of sense.
Having originally launched an Audio Doorbell - which connected to an Arlo system - the obvious leap was to integrate video and audio to make it a complete doorbell viewing and answering solution, either as part of a wider Arlo system or as a standalone device to rival Ring.
Which is exactly what you get with the Arlo Essential Video Doorbell Wire-Free. But is it good enough to stand up against the competiton?
Design and installation
- Doorbell dimensions: 47 x 143 x 37mm
- Includes flat & angled mounting plates
- Weather-resistant design
- Battery powered
We've all become familiar with video doorbells following the rise of Ring, which dominates this market. The Arlo Essential Video Doorbell Wire-Free is larger than Ring's equivalent device, so it's a little less subtle on the door, standing out more. It's both taller and thicker than Ring's devices.
At the top of the Arlo sits the camera, while the large doorbell button is towards the bottom, encircled with LEDs which illuminate as someone approaches it.
The Arlo doorbell comes with both flat and angled mounting plates in the box, along with screws and plugs if you are mounting to a wall. In reality you can use any screws, but mounting is a simple case of screwing the mounting plate in place and then clipping the body of the device into place.
The camera body itself detaches from the backing plate via a pin release mechanism, the sort of thing you'd use to open a SIM tray of a phone. That needs to be considered when mounting, as you'll need access to this hole on the top. That also means that anyone who wants to steal it only needs a bent pin, but they'd be doing that while being captured on camera.
The device is weatherproofed, too, designed to withstand rain.
Unlike with Ring, you'll have to remove the entire Arlo unit to get to the battery inside. In some ways that's easier, because you don't have to mess around with a tiny screw or face plate. You can buy spare batteries too, making a quick change possible.
The battery version of the Arlo Doorbell can also be connected to existing doorbell wiring, with connectors on the rear - although we didn't test this aspect of the device.
The Arlo Essential Video Doorbell Wire-Free doesn't come with a chime - i.e. the ability to sound a ringer elsewhere in your home - so that's something else you might consider adding. That will mean it can audibly ring in any room of your house, so you're not dependent on your phone, or hearing the sound from the device itself on the front door. But also consider you can have it alert you via an Amazon Echo if you create a simple Alexa Routine.
Connectivity and the Arlo app
- Hub or Wi-Fi connection
- Setup via the Arlo app
- No desktop app
Connecting to the Arlo Video Doorbell is much the same as connecting any other Arlo device. You'll need to use the Arlo app on your phone or tablet and this will walk you through the process for both installing the doorbell and getting it connected.
The Arlo Essential Video Doorbell Wire-Free can connect to either Wi-Fi or an Arlo hub. Supporting Wi-Fi means you don't have to be an existing Arlo system user to get started. If you have a hub and want to connect to that you also have that choice. The advantage of connecting to an existing hub is that you'll then have the option for local video storage on microSD - so you don't have to then have an Arlo Smart subscription to store video.
The doorbell then appears within the Arlo app. If you're an existing Arlo user, that means it will sit alongside your other Arlo devices; if you're new to Arlo and only plan to use have the doorbell then that's all you'll see in the app.
The app then gives you all the controls you'll need for the device. That includes the option to disable the LEDs on the button when motion is detected, manage what happens when someone pushes the doorbell, change the video settings, set activity zones, and adjust the audio.
You also get control over the mode that you'll use for the Video Doorbell. These will be familiar to Arlo users, but on the doorbell they only really define what happens when motion is detected. You might choose to remove motion alerts when you're at home, in which case you can "disarm" the doorbell, keep them on all the time using "armed", or have them turn on when you leave home using geofencing or according to a schedule - such as only at night.
You can create custom modes too, which will be more relevant to those with existing Arlo devices. It's here that you can create a mode that, for example, turns on your Arlo Light when motion is detected on the Doorbell, or begins capture on another Arlo camera you might have.
This gives plenty of flexibility for what happens from Arlo's end, but it's worth noting that because you can link Arlo to other major smart home platforms - like Alexa, Google Home and SmartThings - you can also set up Routines on those platforms involving other devices. For example, turning on a Hue light when your Arlo doorbell detects motion.
One downside, however, is that there's no desktop app. Yes, you can log-in through a browser, but when working at home, having a proper desktop app just for your doorbell makes everything easier. Ring has one and it's something that's currently missing from Arlo's offering.
Do I need an Arlo Smart subscription?
Arlo's original devices didn't need a subscription. You got a week of cloud storage for free - and that was a major advantage over other systems. With the release of more advanced devices, Arlo has tied 30-day cloud storage and a range of advanced features to its Arlo Smart plans.
For a doorbell, you might question whether you need those extra features. You can run the Arlo Essential Video Doorbell Wire-Free without a subscription, but you lose the cloud storage of motion captures if you don't have an Arlo Smart plan.
As we said above, if you've connected the doorbell to an Arlo hub, you can use the local storage option to record to microSD - but there's no way of monitoring those backups from your phone, you have to physically remove the card and view it on another device. That might work for some, but we suspect part of the appeal of a connected camera is being able to look back at what's happened on your phone and download the videos you want to keep.
Arlo Smart plans also drive other features - like AI detection of what's been spotted, which can tell you if it's a person, vehicle or animal. If you're in a protracted argument about whether the neighbour's cat is leaving deposits on your front lawn, this might be exactly the feature you need.
Arlo Smart also enables rich notifications, which will highlight what you're looking at when those notifications appear on your phone.
The Arlo Essential Video Doorbell Wire-Free comes with 3-months Arlo Smart as a trial, so you can see how you get on and make your decision. We've generally found that Arlo products run smoother if you have a paid subscription, as you get access to all the features.
Without a subscription you can still live-view the video, get notification alerts, and will have the doorbell ring your phone when the button is pressed. And for some that's all you'll want - without ongoing costs.
Camera features and performance
- 180 degree view, 110 degree motion sensor
- 1536 x 1536 resolution, 1:1 aspect ratio
- HDR, IR night vision
The big difference between Arlo's doorbell and Ring's is the camera. Arlo has gone for a 1:1 aspect, a square sensor behind that ultra-wide lens, rather than rectangular. The practical benefit is that you can see a lot more of the person at your door. Rather than just seeing a face, you'll get a better head-to-toe view of that person.
Depending on the arrangement of your door and the surrounding area, this might be a lot more useful than some rival cameras. For us, it means you can see a lot more of the area surrounding the door and porch, rather than the wider view that Ring offers.
The doorbell is effective at detecting motion, often alerting you to motion just before the doorbell is pressed, so you can get a double notification. The detection for us turned out to be a couple of meters, so will detect people coming up the path, although it's more effective as people get closer.
We've not had the same long-distance alerts that we've sometimes had from Ring, which included vehicles on the road when the sun was reflecting off them. Such sensitivity can be adjusted, as well as having the option to specify detection zones (another Arlo Smart feature) if you need to obscure something.
The quality of video capture is good, with HDR (high dynamic range) allowing the camera to balance out scenes when lighting is uneven. There's IR (infrared) extending the skills to low-light conditions too. While darkness reduces the effective range, IR does paint the subject nicely when approaching the doorbell, so it's still easy to recognise who it is at night.
The camera is a good wide-angle too, as we mentioned above, although on a doorbell this is less important than it might be on a security camera covering a wider area of view.
The experience of using the Arlo Essential Video Doorbell Wire-Free is excellent, with the video results generally better than some close rival products. Certainly, the 1:1 aspect offers a natural advantage giving a more useful view for objects closer to the camera, appropriate for a doorbell.
Calling your phone has an advantage
- SIP calling
- Rich notifications
One of the other advantages that Arlo offers is how the "ring" comes through to your phone. Rather than it being served up via a notification, it comes in as a SIP call. The technicalities don't matter, but it means that when someone presses your doorbell, your phone rings like an incoming call.
You'll see that someone has pressed the doorbell, leaving you to either accept that call - and talk to that person - or decline the call and just go and open the door.
When you accept the call, you're shown the live feed from the door and you have the option to unmute the microphone to talk, or to use messages instead - with responses like "we'll be right there" or "you can leave the package outside", meaning you don't actually have to talk to whoever is at the door. These options provide great versatility in how you answer the door - and you can use these whether you're at home or not, the caller won't be able to tell the difference. They're also captured on the recorded video (as in the example above), so you'd have a record of the conversation.
If you're already on a call on your phone, Arlo will burst in on that call too, so you'll quickly have to multitask to either put your other call on hold or send a quick reply to whomever is at the door.
We're also a fan of the notifications that Arlo sends through. These rich notifications are the same as you'll get from Arlo's other cameras (if you have an Arlo Smart subscription), telling you what type of occurrence has triggered the motion and giving you a preview thumbnail. That means you can glance at your phone and see whether you need to pay attention to it or not.
The battery life on the Arlo Essential Video Doorbell Wire-Free has seen us through a month of use and still has about 50 per cent remaining, so we're on course to get the best part of two months from it - and this includes several weeks around the 0°C mark.
Arlo says that you'll get three to six months from it, so we're not hitting that sort of figure - but it still compares favourably with other battery-powered doorbells. Warmer temperatures will undoubtedly extend the usage. And, of course, you can adjust various features to prolong the battery life.
Arlo's first venture into doorbells with the Audio Doorbell never really captured the spirit of what people wanted from a connected device. Fortunately, the Video Doorbell offers a lot more, rivalling and bettering competitors in a number of areas.
The downsides are few: the lack of chime in the box means you'll have to fork out for one separately, while an Arlo Smart plan will see an ongoing cost to really get the best out if this model.
Yes, this doorbell is a little on the large side, but the calling mechanism and quick replies, quality of the video, and potential for integration into other systems - not to mention folding it into an existing Arlo system - make it rather easy to recommend.
Alternatives to consider
Ring Video Doorbell 3 Plus
The Plus version of Ring's video doorbell adds a unique function: Pre-Roll video. This will capture 4 seconds of black-and-white video before the motion was triggered, so you get a wider window of capture for any given event. Wide support from Alexa and other platforms, as well as a complete package from Ring itself, makes this video doorbell rightly popular.