(Pocket-lint) - The inevitable deluge of smart home devices has covered three main categories: lighting, heating and home cameras. Whether you're looking for a security system, or just a way to keep an eye on what's going on at home, connected cameras are available in abundance.
Unlike Nest Cam or the new Hive Camera, Netgear Arlo isn't part of a wider system, instead standing as a separate entity. Arlo is the system and there are lots of options within that system for different types of cameras and accessories.
Inevitably, as connections are made, Arlo works with Samsung SmartThings and will work with the Amazon Echo Show, as well as IFTTT (If This Then That), meaning there's a lot more you can do with this camera.
Netgear Arlo review: Design
- Hub: 55 x 215 x 165mm
- Arlo camera: 72 x 44 x 66mm, 123g
- Wireless cameras for easy positioning
- Battery powered
However, much hinges on having an Arlo hub and using the Arlo app first and foremost. Because there are a range of different cameras within the system. The standard is the Arlo: a camera that's wireless, waterproof and comes with a magnetic mount so you can place it at any angle. There's also the Arlo Pro which steps things up: it's rechargeable, can be wired if you want, offers 1080p, sound, and features a siren in the hub for added security.
We're focusing on the standard Arlo Smart Security system here, which comes with two cameras and the hub in the box, along with the necessary mounts, which retails at about £300, although there are a wide range of options when it comes to assembling your Arlo system.
Starting with the hub - which is white and plastic, features a run of status LED lights, and provides the link between your cameras and your router - this is a rather large unit compared to the sort of thing you might be used to for your Hue lights or Hive home. It's about the size and shape of one of those digital photo frames that were all the rage about 10 years ago. And that means you can't hide it behind your router, as it very much needs its own place to sit.
The cameras themselves are nice and compact by comparison. Each is wireless, meaning lots of flexibility for installation, as you can position them anywhere you like. There's a standard tripod mount in the base and the magnetic attachment point at the back - all you have to do is attach the metal dome mount to the wall and then the camera magnetically attaches to it, free for you to position it to an angle of preference.
As they are waterproof these cameras can be mounted outdoors and are easily retrieved when you want to change those batteries which sit behind a door accessed through the base. There's no hard-wired mains option for these cameras (some of Arlo's other cameras, like the Arlo Q, do have a wired connection, while the Arlo Pro has wired as an option), so you'll have to keep battery replacement in mind.
In terms of design the white colour is pretty obvious, which might not be what you want. You can buy coloured skins to cover the cameras and make them more discreet, with a choice of black, or a multipack with black, green and camouflage.
Netgear Arlo review: Setup and app
- Magnetic or tripod mounts
- App or browser monitoring
- App can be a little unstable
There's quite a lot to consider when it comes to setting up the Arlo system. That large hub wants an Ethernet connection to your router, which is something to keep in mind, but we've found that it will happily work over a Powerline adapter, so you don't necessarily need to have it sitting right next to your router.
With this Arlo system there's nothing stopping anyone removing the camera from its magnetic mount - but you'd know who it was.
Camera placement very much depends on what you want to be monitoring, but you can easily get a live feed on your phone to judge framing. Testing the motion can be detected in a range of conditions is important. We found that with an outdoor placement and on a dull day that the camera didn't manage to pick out a person walking up a path because there wasn't enough to differentiate the moving object from the background. A higher placement to create more of a contrast between foreground and background corrected for this problem.
The Arlo camera gives a wide 110-degree field of view and operates at HD quality (1280 x 720 pixels), which means it has a wide angle of view, although the Arlo Pro and the Arlo Q both extend this to 130 degrees. All the cameras will detect motion, but the Pro and Q also offer sound detection, as well as a talkback function.
When it comes to setting up the cameras, the Arlo app (iOS, Android) will take care of things and walk you through the process. Once the hub is connected to the cameras via setup, you can easily add new cameras to the system using the app. We've been running with two Arlo cameras and one Arlo Q and everything integrates into the same app.
The app offers 24/7 access so you can view a live stream from any of the cameras, listen to audio (where applicable), as well as control the monitoring modes and view the cloud-saved clips.
Netgear Arlo review: Performance and stability
- 1280 x 720 pixels, daytime and night vision
- Motion detection with alerts
- 7-day free cloud recording of motion events
The Netgear Arlo cameras provide good enough video quality and great IR illumination for nighttime viewing.
In our experience the video quality performed better indoors where the light levels are more predictable. In an outdoors setup the range is listed as 25ft, or about 7.5m, which is likely to cover most British front gardens and a respectable range to the rear.
Within the app, there's also the option to "zoom" although this crops out some of the frame and resolution as a result. That would mean you could narrow the field of view for example, perhaps to exclude the road and only cover the path to your front door.
Motion is quickly detected, sending an alert through to the app and recording 10 second video snippets each time motion is detected (if that's the action you've selected). You can also opt for email alerts and these will send an attached image so you can quickly glance at what's happening and decide whether you need to open the app and view the activity.
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There are a couple of different monitoring plans, but the basic free plan gives you 7 days of storage in the cloud for these recordings, meaning you have some time to look at what's happened. That's far better than the three hours offered by Nest Cam or the 24 hours offered by Canary when outside of paid subscription plans.
You can download, share and favourite recordings so, for example, if your courier just dumps a parcel and walks off without touching your door bell, you can download it and share it with the courier company. From within the app you can also take photos, so if there's something happening, you can snap and save an image - in addition to that cloud video that's being recorded.
All this means that anyone in your house who shouldn't be is captured on camera - even if they then remove the cameras - because it's all being beamed to the cloud. While the basic Arlo system offers no alarms or sound deterrent, it will give you photo and video evidence of anyone who breaks in.
The system allows a number of different modes, comprising armed, disarmed, scheduled, geofencing and custom.
There is the option for constant video recording, but this forms part of a subscription plan, with a 14-day cloud option costing £6.99 a month, or a 30-day cloud option costing you £12.99 a month (that's a little pricier than Canary's subscription, but less than Nest's equivalent subscription plans). These Arlo plans allow you record everything, so you can playback anything that might have happened, rather than relying on a system of alerts as you do under the basic plan.
Geofencing attempts to detect when your phone leaves the house so it can switch on the system automatically, although we found it can get confused and often it will switch to armed when you're still at home, sending through alerts as you saunter around the house. If you're using the cameras for outdoor monitoring, this might not be such a problem.
The app is the weak link in the chain, as if you don't have a good connection, it can be temperamental, refusing to recognise login details and not providing access to the cameras. We've logged-in from foreign beaches to have it reported that there are no cameras, despite having received an alert of motion. This is where email is a good backup option. We also think it would also be great to have some sort of system monitoring, so that if the hub gets disconnected then you get an alert.
The other thing that can be frustrating is changing the mode of the Arlo system. We've found ourselves trying to switch to "armed", but the app just says that it is "getting status" and not giving you the option to change to armed. We've found the app hanging in this situation, often forcing us to restart the app to go through the process and make the changes.
It's here that Arlo's weakness really lies. While we're impressed with the quality of the video that's captured and happy with the design of the cameras and the range of camera choices offered, it's the app experience that pulls things down. When you're lying on the beach and you get an alert that motion is detected on one of your cameras, you want to be able to see that instantly, not to find that the app tells you that you don't have an account, leaving you flapping while you quit and restart to get access.
Netgear Arlo Q review: A more sophisticated indoor camera
- Wired camera
- 1920 x 1080 pixels
- Also offers sound detection, talkback function
We've also been using the Arlo Q. This is an indoor-only camera that comes with some additional skills, the biggest being higher resolution capture and audio detection.
For some that adds a new dimension to security, for others that will make this an option for a nursery camera or baby monitor. Not only will it listen and alert you to sounds, but you can talk to it as well. That might be to soothe a child, direct a delivery person or talk to your dog.
Arlo Q is slightly different in that it is powered, so needs to be plugged into a mains socket, but that means no battery changes.
The Arlo Q can also be connected directly to your Wi-Fi network rather than the hub, too, meaning it offers standalone versatility that the regular Arlo cameras don't. You will have to control it through the same app, although typically we find that access and control is better - suggesting that the hub could be behind some of the problems we encountered.
Netgear Arlo review: The prices
- Arlo 1 camera kit, £199
- Arlo 2 camera kit, £309
- Arlo 3 camera kit, £409
- Arlo additional camera, £119
The free basic monitoring means that there aren't necessarily hidden costs here, you pay that price and you get your cameras. Nest, for reference, has three cameras and higher pricing when it comes to subscription options:
Netgear Arlo's appeal largely lies its versatility: the range of cameras available means you can establish a system to suit your needs.
Whether indoors, outdoors or both, there's appeal in having a system that's wireless and waterproof, as it makes installation really easy, without having to think about drilling holes through walls to connect things up.
The downside of Arlo is the need to change batteries and the size of the hub compared to some rivals; for those opting for Arlo Pro, there's the added advantage of having an alarm speaker to warn off intruders, but this isn't the prettiest solution.
There's room for improvement on the app front, because it can be a little frustrating when you don't have a rock solid signal or when it decides not to update. We'd also like to see more native interoperability with wider systems to enable more functions, so that this standalone home security camera becomes a bigger part of your smart home.
Alternatives to consider...
Formerly Drop Cam, the Nest Cam works within the Nest system. There are different cameras for indoor, outdoor and the most recent the IQ, which is a smarter camera. Nest Cam is flexible, but to get the most out of it you really need the Nest Aware, a subscription that gives you cloud recording and more control over your cameras.
Canary offers a similar feature set to Arlo, with cameras that work day and night to detect and record motion in your home and send alerts to you. It also features a siren and an air quality monitor. At a basic level it offers 24/7 live video streaming, so you can see what's happening, with alerts including images of what set it off. However, for anything to be cloud recorded you need to sign-up to Canary Membership, giving you 30 days of video recording for £7.99 a month.