Reviews, Security, Smart Home

Review: NETGEAR Arlo Smart Home Security Camera (VMS3230)

netgear-arlo

NETGEAR Arlo Smart Home Security Camera

Design8
Features7
Performance8
Ease of Use9.5
Value for Money8
8.1 out of 10
Summary Weatherproof and wire-free - the NETGEAR Arlo is convenient to install and easy to operate. You'll find all the features you need to monitor your home inside and out and while geeks may rue the lack of smart home integration support, the inherent simplicity will be loved by all. A brilliant debut that I hope extends to more smart home devices from the Arlo stable.

Using the Arlo Security System is really straightforward and the management console delivers a great experience. Once you’ve spent the ten minutes or so required to configure the system to your preferences, it looks after itself. Depending on your service plan you’ll need to keep an eye on storage status – once you reach your allowance, you’ll need to delete recordings so that new clips can be stored. Other than that, managing your Arlo system is easy.

Performance

Of course, the NETGEAR Arlo lacks audio, which may well be a blocker for some homeowners that prefer to hear as well as see who’s around the house, or are seeking a security system that can be triggered by audio alerts as well as motion.

The 720p cameras deliver a 130-degree field of vision which I found to be more than adequate for my home. The 2.4 GHz 802.11n wireless connections between the cameras and base station were very stable, even with my networking kit positioned on the first floor of the house. The cameras were mostly responsive in the management console. From time to time there was a few seconds delay between requesting a camera’s live feed and it playing in the web portal – that’s something I’d like to see improved, but is a minor concern overall.

In daylight hours, the camera performed well in both shade and full sunlight, with bright, realistic colours. As with all surveillance cameras, no-one is going to win any Oscars for cinematography, though. At the Arlo’s highest settings, the video feed was good enough for security purposes, but still a little blurry for my liking. Here’s a clip showing recorded video at Best Quality.

Now for a second clip, this time recorded at lowest quality (for maximum battery life). You can see that the video becomes more blocky at lower resolutions – but note that this file was just 500 Kb – a third of the size of the highest quality clip. If you’re managing your cloud storage space efficiently, this may be sufficient for your needs.

At night, the Arlo system performed really well. The onboard night vision setting illuminated the area directly in front of the camera, with a visible range over 10 metres. Here you can see a clip from the camera positioned outside in the back garden. The spooky eyes belong to our cat, Poppy!

Summary

Smart home surveillance systems have been around for some time now. Many have tried to crack the formula for a security system that’s attractively priced, simple to use and offers great performance. The Netgear Arlo may well be the first to have succeeded. At $349, this two-camera setup is an investment for householders but is one that won’t break the bank. While the base station is cumbersome, let’s hope additional smart home kit comes down the line that can further justify its desktop real estate. The cameras themselves are unobtrusive and uniquely styled, working well in a range of current weather conditions – but I remain to be convinced how they’d handle a cold winter.

The system is super-easy to configure and manage – whether you’re using the mobile app or the web portal. There are sufficient features to ensure the system adequately protects the home without users being bamboozled by a vast array of knobs, dials and drop-downs. Those that have used other surveillance systems may miss a few advanced features, such as the ability to create alert detection zones. So what you gain in simplicity you lose in feature count – there’s a trade-off to be made.

More advanced smart home twiddlers are going to miss IFTTT integration and other cross-device support, but that’s not going to be a problem for the mainstream. In use, both local and cloud connectivity performed well, although that’s going to vary based on network availability at home, work and beyond. I’d have liked to see a little more responsiveness from the cameras, but there’s nothing here that should put you off.

For those fearing heavy subscription costs, the provision of a free basic plan – which will do a great job for many homeowners (myself included) – is good news. Sure, there are paid options which can be considered as and when your needs evolve, but for a simple home surveillance system, that entry-level plan works a treat. Over time, battery replacement may eat into your wallet but on the flipside, there are no cables to install – what price convenience?

Whether we’ll see more smart home devices from NETGEAR, who knows. But the debut Arlo Smart Home Security Camera System is a clear statement of intent and shows a lot of promise. Smart, but simple. If you’re in the market for a security system that doesn’t require an engineering degree, you just found it.

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Terry Walsh is the founder of We Got Served. He started the community in February 2007 with a mission to help families, tech enthusiasts everywhere figure out the technology needed to run the modern home and small business. He's the author of a number of guides to Windows, Windows Server and OS X Server and runs his own successful publishing business. Born and raised in Liverpool, England, Terry has been awarded Microsoft's prestigious Most Valuable Professional Award each year since 2008 for his work on We Got Served.
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