The Arlo Video Doorbell Wire-Free is the updated version of their highly regarded Video Doorbell. As the name suggests, it is essentially the same camera, but designed with a rechargeable battery built-in. The upgraded version is slightly bigger than its predecessor due to the extra bulk from the battery, but what you get in exchange is full wireless operation.
It’s a big deal because the battery lasts for up to six months before you need to remove it for a few hours of charging. If you like, you could get a second battery to reduce downtime, but that’s a little unnecessary, I would think, unless you are constantly receiving visitors round the clock.
Alternatively, you can opt to use it wired (or just get the wired version) if for whatever reason you do change your mind. All you need to do is to commandeer the existing transformer powering your current doorbell. Do check if it’s rated for 8-24 VAC, otherwise, you will need to get an electrician to sort it out. In any case, it’s nice to know that Arlo has given you the option to do either.
Arlo is simple to use
The Arlo is the epitome of simplicity; there’s a camera on the top half and a button for visitors on the bottom half. To remove the battery, which charges via USB, disengage the mounting plate via a pinhole at the top a la removing a SIM card from your phone. That’s pretty much all the physical interaction you will have with this device. It’s so straightforward, the more difficult task is to find the right spot to mount your doorbell. And that isn’t tough either, as the wide-angle camera will more or less capture everyone within its field of view unless that person happens to be Lady Dimitrescu.
The 180-degree, wide-angle camera captures footage in a square format and records a lot of information about your subject or subjects, along with items in his or her immediate surroundings. The downside is that it is ultimately a ‘fisheye’ image, but it does display the visitor from head to toe, which makes it harder for unsavoury characters to hide their shenanigans from your doorbell’s watchful eye.
The video quality is rather good, even when the lighting is poor; given the rather dim state at my front door, the camera is able to pick up faces with sufficient detail, face masks notwithstanding. If it gets too dark even for the HDR, Night Vision takes over. Together, they can overcome most lighting scenarios unless your camera is facing the blazing sun directly and causing contrast issues.
Once you’ve picked a spot you’re happy with, the app lets you make additional changes on the fly; you can adjust brightness (exposure), enable or disable features like Auto HDR or Night Vision. You can also set motion alerts and the trigger zones for motion sensing. The smart element of the camera can’t be understated; after all, it’s the bread and butter of Arlo’s feature set. It also supports IFTTT, Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa and Samsung SmartThings, so you can expand its features. Examples include enabling Google Assistant to arm or disarm Arlo on your vocal command.
Do note, though, that the Arlo doesn’t chime on its own – there’s an audible acknowledgement if you pressed the buzzer, but it might not be loud enough to be heard indoors. The camera will call your mobile instead and open a line of communication with the visitor. If you don’t want to speak to the person you can also use a couple of preset messages to respond (they will be voiced to the visitor). The sound quality is adequate, so communication is loud and clear for the most part. As you can share access, other users can also step up to address the visitor if you aren’t available.
While it makes sense to pair the Video Doorbell with an Arlo Chime ($69), you can also reuse your regular chime with some rewiring. Alternatively, you can utilise your Smart Home assistant to manage the notifications or calls instead, especially if you already have a smart speaker in a convenient location in the house.
Detecting and recording
The main reason why the battery can last up to six months is down to the fact it’s not constantly recording, and only triggers when motion (defined by you) is detected. So if you have a rather busy verandah or walkway, it will be prudent to cut that projection. Then there’s the other question: is the lack of constant recording or monitoring a bad thing? Well, I can’t imagine why anyone would need constant recording in this context, so I don’t think it’s a detriment – you can always get surveillance cameras for that.
That said, there is a short lag between detection and recording and it’s not always constant; sometimes the lag is short, and sometimes it’s long, but you do get there in the end. However, if this still bothers you, you can always define a larger trigger zone or fine-tune your camera position to compensate.
You can only define three zones, which in my view is fine. But if you stay in an apartment in Singapore, lobby or verandah space is essentially more cramped, and the angles to initiate early detection (without picking up passers-by) might not be there. If your doorstep is part of a common walkway, you have to accept that the trigger zones will most likely be irrelevant. But I think it’s fine to have a whole stream of recorded clips on your server since they are sorted by day and it’s still relatively manageable should you need to sieve through the pile for a particular clip.
What I found more annoying is the fact that stepping out of the house also triggers the camera. There’s no way to prevent that short of setting up an automated sequence to disarm the camera before you step out and rearming it when you leave, or manually doing it yourself through the app. Hardly an elegant solution considering that there will be a slight lag, but there aren’t many easier options. But I suppose I’m REALLY nitpicking since you can turn off trigger notifications.
Small niggles aside, the Arlo pretty much does what’s advertised, so what’s the real catch? Basically, to get anywhere close to maximising all the features of the Arlo, you need to subscribe to Arlo Smart. To this end, Arlo gives a free three-month trial subscription, where it tries to convince you of the subscription’s strengths. To be honest, I have mixed feelings about this, because the Arlo is essentially crippled without the service, with only the camera quality going for it. And the premium, ‘smart device’ experience is basically why you are paying top dollar for one of these fancy toys.
With the subscription, Arlo stores daily videos in the cloud for up to 30 days, and the clips are logged and it’s really conducive for browsing. However, regardless of whether you have a subscription or not, you need the Arlo SmartHub and an external hard drive to store the clips permanently. Either way, you just have to be aware that there is an additional cost on top of the camera’s price tag. The upside is that the basic plan – $4.49 per month for a single camera, and about $54 a year – is still within reason for the convenience that it offers.
Arlo Essential Wire-Free Video Doorbell
Features - 8/10
Value Proposition - 7/10
Performance - */10
Design & Build Quality - 7/10
Overall - 8/10
Arlo's video doorbell is perfect for those who want a simple solution that works without too much setup out of the box. The downside is that convenience comes at a price, but since when has that been any different elsewhere in life?