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Wireless security camera easy to install

Arlo makes some of the best wire-free home security cameras in the market. But they are pricey and require a smart hub that connects to the home router.

These downsides have been rectified in the new Arlo Essential camera. At $239, it is more budget-friendly than others in the range, especially when compared with the price tag of $799 for two Arlo Pro 3 cameras and a smart hub.

The latter is no longer necessary for the Essential, as the new camera can connect directly to your home Wi-Fi via the 2.4GHz channel.

If you already have a compatible Arlo smart hub, the Essential can connect to it for better wireless range and performance.

This hub can also be a repository for recorded videos with a USB-attached drive or memory card.

As its name suggests, Arlo has stripped the extras from the Essential. It captures 1,080p videos, not quad-HD ones like the Arlo Pro 3.

There is no support for high dynamic range (HDR) and the camera's field of view has been reduced to 130 degrees from the Pro 3's 160 degrees.

These changes are reasonable. The Essential's video quality is decent without barrel distortion.

But a change for the worse is that, unlike the Arlo Pro cameras, the Essential does not have a removable battery.

This means you cannot swop batteries when the Essential camera is running out of juice. Instead, you have to remove the entire camera unit by unscrewing it from the included mount for charging, which can be a hassle if it is placed in a less accessible location.

  • FOR

    •Cheaper than previous Arlo cameras

    •No hub required

    •Easy to set up

    AGAINST

    •Mediocre battery life

    •Non-removable battery

    •Siren could be louder

    •Push notifications slow to arrive

    SPECS

    PRICE: $239

    VIDEO RESOLUTION: 1,080p

    VIDEO FORMAT: H.264

    FIELD OF VIEW: 130 degrees diagonal

    NIGHT VISION: In colour up to 25 feet (7.6m)

    MOTION DETECTION: Yes

    MOBILE APPS: iOS and Android

    WEIGHT: 331g

    RATING

    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 3.5/5

    VALUE: 4/5

    OVERALL: 3.5/5

To make matters worse, the Essential's battery depletes quickly when used in a high-traffic location like a common corridor or lift lobby.

In my test, the battery loses 13 per cent of its charge in just three days, even though it is active only from midnight to 7am.

The Essential retains the Arlo Pro 3's spotlight and siren. The former enables colour videos even in low light and is also a deterrent for would-be intruders.

If more deterrence is required, you can manually activate the built-in siren through the app or set a rule to turn on the siren when the camera detects motion. At 80 decibels, the siren is not as ear-piercing as the 100 decibels produced by the Pro 3.

Like other Arlo Pro cameras, the Essential's full potential is unlocked only with an Arlo Smart subscription plan, which starts at $4.49 a month (three months free included with the Essential).

This service provides 30-day rolling cloud video recordings and taps artificial intelligence to distinguish whether the motion detected by the camera is caused by a person, a vehicle or an animal.

Arlo Smart also lets you adjust the motion-detection feature to focus only on custom activity zones in the camera's field of view, which helps to reduce false alarms.

In my test, the Arlo app (available for iOS and Android) is slow to alert me when motion is detected by the camera, taking up to eight seconds for the notification to arrive.

Turning on the camera's real-time live view also takes around four to five seconds compared with three seconds for a rival camera brand.

I am not certain if the delays are due to the lack of a smart hub, but the Essential feels slightly off-pace compared with the Arlo Pro models.

On the bright side, the Essential is easy to set up. Simply point the camera at a QR code in the Arlo app and enter your Wi-Fi network credentials when prompted. There is no need to set up a smart hub or insert removable batteries, unlike with the Arlo Pro cameras.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2020, with the headline 'Wireless security camera easy to install '. Print Edition | Subscribe