Have you met my friend Arlo? A does-it-all customisable smart home security system, Arlo replaces old-fashioned CCTV, does away with wires and monitors, and allows you to check in on your home using your phone whenever you like. As the Winter months roll in, it's even more important to protect your home: a study by Co-op insurance claims that burglaries spike by 34 percent on average after the clocks go back. In the run-up to Christmas, opportunist thieves often target family homes where they know presents will be hidden.
This is where Arlo comes in. Use it like a burglar alarm, use it to see who comes to your door, use it to record any intruders in your home . . . you can even use it to spy on your pets. It consists of a base "hub" and a number of add-ons, so you can choose from a half a dozen different camera types depending on your personal requirements (and budget). From the original wired options to new Pro and Ultra wireless models with up to 4K HD video, the system is constantly being upgraded so you can improve the security of your home. Even just having Arlo installed can help: Co-op insurance also spoke to a panel ex-convicts about burglaries, and a whopping 89 percent said that they would be deterred from targeting a smart home.
I took the plunge and invested in an Arlo system two years ago, opting for the Arlo Pro 2-Camera Kit (£330, originally £500). It was expensive, but I got a reduction in my home insurance premium as a result, and so far I think it's been worth the investment, as it provides me with reassurance whenever I need it. I was recently able to test out the new Arlo Pro 3 2-Camera Kit (£550) and Arlo Ultra Camera (£450) for review purposes, upgrading my system in the process. They offer an increase not only in video quality, but in field of vision and customisation options.
It only took an hour or so to set up my Arlo system (including mounting the cameras), and since then it's been a doddle to maintain. The cameras record in HD (1080p for the Pro 2, 2K HDR for Arlo Pro 3, and 4K HDR for Arlo Ultra) and the iPhone app I use to control the system is slick and generally easy to use (a recent upgrade with the launch of the new devices also fixed some previous bugs with the Android app). Now the rules are in place, it just takes a couple of clicks every time I leave the house, and I know my home is being watched while I'm not there, and I can check in whenever I want.
How Does Arlo Work?
Arlo creates its own network using your home WiFi, with each camera connecting to the base station (which is best kept by your router). Some of the earlier camera styles are wired, but newer ones like the Pro 3 and Ultra are wireless and come with a choice of simple magnetic mounts or more flexible (and secure) screw mounts that can be easily fitted anywhere inside or outside the home. Most Arlo cameras are also suitable to be used outside.
Where Is the Video Stored?
Arlo will store up to seven days' worth of motion- and audio-detected video in the cloud for free. You can download those videos (and any photos you take) at any time before they expire. If you have the more advanced cameras, or need more than this (e.g. saving continuous video or filming over a specific time period), you can sign up for one of the Arlo Smart plans, which also offer a number of other extras, like customisable "smart zones" and lock screen notifications. The base station (known as a "Smart Hub" with newer models) has either USB slot or microSD slot so you can connect your own external hard drive to save video and photos locally as well. Obviously, since it uses the cloud, there is a concern that the supplier may stop the service in the future and data could be lost. But it's worth noting Arlo is now a huge enterprise with multiple devices and a long history, so it's unlikely it would disappear without plenty of warning and options, and the option to back up by USB means the cameras won't be rendered useless, even if the cloud disappears.
What Happens If My WiFi Goes Down?
Unfortunately, if your WiFi drops or disconnects, Arlo will stop working, too. This is one of the major downsides of the technology, and it's definitely something to bear in mind if your ISP is unreliable or slow, or if you live in an area prone to power cuts. Once your connection comes back, the cameras will reconnect to the base station automatically, but you'll still have a window with no protection.
Is There a Lag Due to the WiFi Connection?
There does seem to be a lag of about two to three seconds on the cameras that I have. It is discussed quite a lot in the Arlo forums and seems to be related to your ISP's upload speed (something I am aware is a problem with my supplier). However, it's never been enough to stop the cameras picking up what's going on when they've been recording.
What Happens If There's an Intruder?
Provided your device is armed, it can do any (or all) of the following upon motion or audio detection: start recording video, send you a notification (by email, push notification, or both), or sound an alarm. Newer model csmeras also have two-way audio, so you can record the intruder's voice, or speak to them. The Pro 3 and Ultra cameras also have a built in light that you can set to switch on when motion is detected. The only thing Arlo doesn't do is notify the police or a response service. That one's up to you.
Does It Record at Night?
Arlo cameras have night vision, and the newer models even have enhanced night vision that allow you to see colour in the dark. Here's a look at that in action:
Can I Have Different Settings For Each Arlo Camera?
This is one of the things I like the most, and it makes for a truly customisable smart home security system. You can apply different rules to each camera and turn on different cameras at different times. This is useful if, for example, you want a camera at the front of the house that records every time someone comes to your door, without setting off an alarm or sending an alert. Then you can have a second rule that ensures when a person enters your house and triggers a second camera (say, one set up in the hallway) you get an alert and / or the alarm sounds. You can also set cameras to record permanently if you prefer, or just turn them off entirely. Creating these custom settings in the app takes a few minutes, but once you get the hang of it, it's quite fun to see how you can customise the cameras to do different things, especially with the added extras on the newer devices.
Can I Add Multiple Users?
Yes, you can add extra users to your devices, but there will always be one main administrator. New users can have different levels of access: from access to one single camera, to total rights to turn them on and off or activate their sensors. Because of this, there is a certain level of trust involved: anyone with access can log in and watch the cameras whenever they want if they are on, so you'll need to think about this and position the cameras accordingly. If you have tech-savvy teenagers, for example, they may quickly clock the fact their parents can basically spy on them at any time.
How Long Do the Batteries Last?
This depends on how many instances you film over a week. If you only have it set up to record intruders, you should find most batteries last three to five months. The rechargeable ones will need to be charged once every few months (I can still count on one hand how often I've had to charge mine over the last couple of years). Cameras set up to record frequently, like one set to record at a front door, will need more regular charging. Don't leave it until they've run down completely to charge, as this can cause issues with pairing; if one dies completely, it can take a while to get the system working again. I charge mine up when they get to about 30 or 40 percent to keep them juiced up at all times.
Will My Pet Set Off the Alarm?
They shouldn't. Set the camera up high, and small pets won't set off the sensor, only humans. You can also adjust the sensitivity depending on the size of your pet. I have a cat, and she has only ever triggered Arlo once, and even then it wasn't due to motion. She was miaowing so loudly she triggered the audio sensor!
But Could I Set It to Watch/Record My Pet If I Wanted To?
"People" do it (OK, yes, I do it)! You can log in to the live cameras at any time and spy on your pet, or you could set up an Arlo low to the ground set to record on motion, and it should film your pet when it's nearby.
Could I Use It as a Baby Monitor?
I wouldn't advise you use a regular Arlo camera because if it doesn't pick up small pets, it may not pick up a baby's movements either. But Arlo does make a specific baby camera, the Arlo Baby Monitor (£135, originally £270).
Would You Recommend Arlo?
Having Arlo has been worth the investment for me purely for the peace of mind. I'm the kind of person who worries at least once or twice a week that I've left the iron on or forgotten to close the front door. Being able to check in on my home from anywhere, even when I'm out of the country, is brilliant. It's super easy to install and maintain, and the app is straightforward for most users. Upgrading my system so I can record anyone who comes to the front door is also a bonus, as it allows me to see exactly what's going on while I'm out at work (and whether that courier really did try to deliver a parcel when they said they did). I've been lucky so far that nobody has tried to break into my house, but I know if I do I have a very good chance of capturing some very high quality footage of them that can be handed over to the police.
However, there are some issues to consider. First are the minor annoyances: you need really good WiFi for the cameras to work to their highest potential, and there have been times when I've struggled to reconnect the cameras after charging them. Then there's the trust issue: the cameras can be turned on and off and watched remotely at any time by anyone with the right level of access to the system. That's fine in a family home but probably wouldn't work in a shared property. Finally, you do need to consider what would happen if someone knew how to quickly disable the system: though hacking Arlo wouldn't be easy, the magnetic mounts make them easy to remove, disconnect, and tamper with. Of course, the idea is that by this point the instant upload to the cloud has caught the intruders in action so they can at least be caught!