Review: Arlo Pro wireless cameras

The world of home security cameras is a literal minefield. There are few okay options and hardly any good ones. Netgear's Arlo Pro solution has great potential but like so many others the system is crippled by closed environments and proprietary cloud access.

Pros

  • Cameras are well built and stylish
  • Setup is easy and quick
  • Cameras don't consume WiFi bandwidth

Cons

  • Battery life is less than advertised for most situations
  • Local backup option isn't reliable
  • Cloud recording is mandatory
  • Setup and control interface is only accessible through Netgear's website
  • Must use an arlo base station

Hardware

The Arlo hardware is great! It is sleek and stylish. The cameras have a good solid feel to them and they communicate to the base station on their own network, so your WIFI isn't consumed by the video feeds. The downside to this is that you need to use the base station from netgear and each base station only supports 5 cameras. This is that big a deal, because most people don't need more than 5 cameras and if you had 5 IP cameras on WIFI you would have bandwidth problems anyway.

The cameras are designed to mount magnetically to a half sphere bracket. This makes pointing the cameras easy, although it also makes them easily stolen as there is nothing to keep someone from just walking up and snagging the camera. Fortunately, Netgear also offers an outdoor mount that screws into the camera. In reality this only slows down a would be thief a grand total of maybe 15 seconds, but that may be enough. The base station also has an alarm function, but the alarm is so loud (hurts your ears 20 feet away loud) I would only want to use it to deter an active robbery.

Setup

The Arlo system is very easy to setup. First you register for an account on Netgear's site arlo.netgear.com. Each camera can be synced to the system by pressing the sync button on each device. I was able to setup the system in a matter of minutes. The scheduling of the cameras was less intuitive than I would have liked, but not burdensome.

One of the nice features about the Arlo system is that you don't need to use the phone app to setup the system.

Battery Life

Cameras that have moderate use (a few minutes a day of recording time) end up with about 2-3 months of battery life. However, I had one camera that recorded a couple hours of video a day and it didn't last a month. There's a lot of variability here based on what level you set the motion sensitivity (and the amount of activity) and for how long you record after each trigger and to what resolution.

Video Storage

By default the main video storage option is the netgear cloud storage for 7 days, which is plenty for most applications. However, there is not an option to turn off the cloud storage. This is a privacy concern, since you don't really want just anyone to have access to your videos especially if those videos show when and where your kids play and when you are not in the house.

The system also supports a local backup to a USB stick. Oddly enough, despite the fact that Netgear has network storage products (e.g. NAS) they neglected to add an option to stream the data to any other storage device. In my very limited testing I pulled the Ethernet cable out of the Arlo base station to simulate a network failure and to my surprise the system did not record video to the USB stick. This was probably a one time glitch, but it defeats the purpose of having a local backup if it doesn't work 100% of the time.

Management Interface

Most of the issues so far are annoyances (well except for the mandatory cloud recording), but the deal breaker for me was when I found out there wasn't a way to locally manage the system. That's right if you want to adjust the profile for when a particular camera records video you must log into Netgear's Arlo website and make the changes from there. Besides being horribly inefficient this means the system only functions as long as Netgear supports the product. The day the Arlo site shuts down you have several hundred dollars in paperweights.

Summary

The Arlo camera system has great hardware with a few issues, but Netgear completely fumbled the software to create a rather ordinary product offering.