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 compared to $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) while the camera's field of view has also been reduced to 130 degrees, from the Pro 3's 160 degrees.
These changes are reasonable enough. The Essential's video quality is decent without any 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 that you cannot swop batteries when the Essential camera is running out of juice. Instead, you'll 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.
To make matters worse, the battery in the Essential depletes quickly when used in a high-traffic location like a common corridor or lift lobby. The battery lost 13 per cent of its charge in a mere three days when it was active only from midnight to 7am, not round the clock.
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 full potential of the Essential is unlocked only with an Arlo Smart subscription plan that starts at $4.49 a month (3 months free included with the Essential).
This service provides 30-day rolling cloud video recordings and taps artificial intelligence to distinguish if 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 testing, the Arlo app (available for iOS and Android) is slow to alert me when motion was detected by the camera, taking up to 8 seconds for the notification to arrive. Turning on the camera's real-time live view also took around 4 to 5 seconds compared to 3 seconds for a rival camera brand.
I cannot be certain if the delays are due to the lack of a smart hub, but the Essential feels slightly off the pace compared to 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 asked. There is no need to set up the smart hub or insert removable batteries, unlike with the Arlo Pro cameras.
Cheaper than previous Arlo cameras
No hub required
Easy to set up
Mediocre battery life
Siren could be louder
Push notifications slow to arrive
Video resolution: 1,080p
Video format: H.264
Field of view: 130 degrees diagonal
Night vision: Yes, in colour up to 25 feet (7.6m)
Motion detection: Yes
Mobile apps: iOS and Android