Home Security Cameras: Arlo’s Rough Road to the Ultra

An Arlo Pro 2 mounted on its magnetic base.
An Arlo Pro 2 mounted on its magnetic base.

The Arlo Ultra — Arlo’s first security camera since its spin-off from Netgear — is once again available for purchase, starting today. The camera’s initial launch was back in January, but soon after, Arlo pulled it from the market due to some technical issues.

Compared with the existing Arlo Pro 2, the Ultra is an entirely new, and much more expensive, surveillance solution. So, is it a worthy upgrade? Well, I’m about to get a set and find out myself. In the meantime, to put things in perspective, here’s how my overall Arlo experience has been.

Arlo: The wire-free novelty

I first learned about Arlo way back in my past life when covering a special event in San Francisco where Patrick Lo, Netgear’s CEO, unveiled the original Netgear Arlo Smart Home Security Camera Kit. It was the first wire-free security camera at the time and proved to be a novelty. Without any wires, you can place the tiny camera anywhere around your home.

The early generations of the Arlo, however, didn’t impress me much. Among other things, they all had low video resolution (720P) and short battery life, and you can’t even plug some into power.

It wasn’t until the Arlo Pro 2 and the Arlo Q that I started trying them out and, soon later, got hooked. Between the two, I have purchased a few dozen for both personal and professional uses. In fact, since mid last year, I have no longer used Synology’s Surveillance Station as my go-to security camera solution, which had been the case for years.

The Arlo Pro 2 and Arlo Q are far from perfect. But they both have three things that caused me to switch: ease of use for multiple locations, high-quality videos, and — most importantly — the included 7-day of free cloud storage.

The base of the Arlo Q is magnetized and you can place it right on a steel beam of a house.
The base of the Arlo Q is magnetized and you can place it right on a steel beam of a house.

Arlo Pro 2 vs. Arlo Q vs. Arlo Q Plus

There are a lot of similarities between these cameras. They all share the highly customizable recording features, viewing angles, video quality, mobile app and so on.

But they do have some distinct differences and knowing which is which will help you pick the right cam for your needs. Let’s walk through these.

Arlo Q vs. Arlo Q Plus

The Arlo Q is a straight forward, plug-in Wi-Fi security camera — you need to place it near a power outlet. It includes a power adapter and a 7-foot long power cable. It uses standard micro-USB cable so you can buy a longer aftermarket one when need be.

The Q can connect to any home Wi-Fi network — the setup process is incredibly easy –, after that the camera syncs with the vendor’s cloud storage via Arlo account, and then you can use the mobile app to manage it. You have up to 7-day of video detention for up to five cameras. If you want to use more cameras per account or longer video retention, you’ll need to pay for a monthly plan.

The Q is not weatherproof. You need to place it under a roof.

The Arlo Q Plus is the same as the Arlo Q with two pluses:

  • PoE: You now have the option of using a network cable to deliver both network connections and power it, allowing you more flexibility in terms of placement and a more reliable network connection.
  • SD card slot: This is for local storage. Recorded videos will be stored here until the card is full — the system will then automatically remove the oldest ones to recycle the space.

Arlo Pro 2 vs. Arlo Q

The Arlo Pro 2 shares the same 7-day free online storage, apps, features, and interface. But hardware-wise, it’s a different camera entirely.

The Arlo Pro 2's Base Station has two USB ports and needs to connect to a network via a network cable.
The Arlo Pro 2’s Base Station has two USB ports and needs to connect to a network via a network cable.

Base Station – No Wi-Fi at all

The Pro 2 requires a Base Station to work. Consequently, you can’t connect the camera to any Wi-Fi network. Instead, the camera links to the station using a special low-power Wi-Fi-based wireless connection. Supposedly, this helps to prolong its battery life.

The Base Station itself connects to a network via a cable; it won’t work with Wi-Fi — you’ll need to place it near your router. The station has two USB ports to host two storage devices (like portable or thumb drives). Thus, you can get lots of local space to store recorded videos.

Arlo’s videos are optimized to require so little storage space that a 1TB portable drive could store years of footage. This duration, of course, depends on the number of cameras you have and how often they need to record. To view the recorded video, by the way, you’ll need to unplug the drive from the Base Station and plug it into a computer — a bit inconvenient. But truth be told, you hardly ever need to view footage older than seven days.

The base station has an extremely long range in my experience. But if you have a sprawling property, chances are you’ll still need more than one station to cover it all. Sometimes, I wished I could connect the camera directly to a Wi-Fi network, instead.

Battery

Each Arlo Pro 2 includes a 2440mAh Lithium Ion battery that supposedly lasts up to up to six months as Arlo claims. In my experience, though, this depends a lot on the usage. Most of the time, I’ve been getting about a month out of a full charge. After that, you’ll need to recharge or swap out the battery.

Charging the battery can be a hassle because of a few reasons:

  • It takes about two hours to charge each battery to full from empty.
  • There’s only one charger and one power adapter included with a set of multiple cameras. Consequently, you can only charge one battery or camera at a time.
  • There’s no extra battery included in a set so each time you need to charge, your camera is down for a couple of hours.

Right from the beginning, I decided to purchase an additional battery to charge the system one camera after another. There’s now no downtime since the battery swapping takes just a few seconds. But the whole thing still is a hassle. It’s not fun to get the ladder out and move it around a property every few days — the cameras never run out of juice at the same time.

READ NOW:  Arlo Ultra Review: Outstanding Video Quality at the Expense of Almost Everything Else

After a while, I moved up a level and decided to plug the cameras in at all times, instead. And that proved to be quite expensive.

No power adapters included

That’s because each Pro 2 doesn’t have a power adapter (and power cable) of its own — it’s wire-free! Thus, to keep them plugged in, you will need to purchase these parts separately for $25 a pop — or more since often the cable is not long enough. And then there is one more thing to buy.

A few of many accessories you might need to get for the Arlo Pro 2.
[media-credit id=”2″ align=”none” width=”800″][/media-credit] A few of many accessories you might need to get for the Arlo Pro 2.

Magnetic mount

The Pro 2 comes with a simple magnetic mount. You can place the camera on the mount, and it stays put. It’s super convenient. But the mount won’t be able to keep the camera safe if someone wants to snag it out and run. Furthermore, in my experience, the mount doesn’t work well with some extended cable — the cable gets in the way.

That said, you want to keep your camera safe — it’s an expensive piece of hardware after all –, or use a third-party cable of your liking, you’ll need to opt for a new mount, which costs extra.

So the bottom line is if you want your Aro Pro 2 system to work well and hassle-free, you’ll need to spend quite a bit extra on top of its high price.

(Both the Q and Q Plus comes with a more secure mount that works with all cables.)

Weather-proof

The Arlo Pro 2 is weatherproof; you can place it out in the rain or snow. However, considering it needs to connect to the Base Station, you can’t place it far away, like at the end of your large yard.

(The irony is, the Arlo Q and Q Plus give you more flexibility in placement thanks to the way they connect — via Wi-Fi or PoE. But they are not weatherproof.)

***

So, again, these Arlo cameras are far from perfect.

The ability to monitor many cameras of multiple locations in one place is one of the reasons why I switch to Arlo.
The ability to monitor many cameras of multiple locations in one place is one of the reasons why I switch to Arlo.

My wishlist and concerns

But despite the shortcomings listed above, the Arlo Pro 2, and especially the Arlo Q, have enough to keep me coming back for more. The ease of use and the consistency of app, features, interface, and performance are valuable for those needing to monitor multiple locations at one convenient app or webpage. And seven days of cloud storage are enough for most scenarios.

Pro tip: While each Arlo account has a free cap of five cameras, you can use multiple accounts, like one for each location, and share the camera access between them. This way, you can monitor an unlimited amount of cameras — at least that’s how it’s been for me — on a single account, without having to subscribe.

In short, all things considered, both cameras are superior to the alternatives. Still, here’s my wishlist on what could make them even better:

  • Local video storage the Arlo Q
  • Weatherproof for the Arlo Q/Plus
  • Better mounting and plug-in power option for the Arlo Pro 2
  • More features with the 7-day free cloud storage, such as 24/7 recording and e911 service.

And these are what I was looking for in new security cameras from Arlo. Then the Ultra arrived. And it has none of those. And it gets worse.

Arlo Ultra: Why it seems like a bad idea

Indeed, price aside, from the look of it, the Arlo Ultra focuses mostly on video quality. It now can record video in 4K and features color night vision. Both are welcome changes, though for me the video quality of the Arlo Pro 2 (and the Arlo Q) was already excellent. After all, these are security cameras, not something you’d use to shoot a movie. But better image quality never hurts.

What does, however, is the fact that the Arlo Ultra no longer offers the free 7-day cloud storage. Instead, you get one year free of  Arlo Smart Premier, which subsequently costs $9.99/month.

Also, the higher resolution comes with a toll — the required bandwidth. Generally, 4K uses much higher bandwidth to stream than Full HD (1080p). For example, if you want to stream a 4K movie, you’ll need at least 25Mbps of downloading speed.

I have a pretty fast Internet plan but note how slow the upload speed is.
[media-credit id=”2″ align=”aligncenter” width=”749″][/media-credit] I have a pretty fast Internet plan but note how slow the upload speed is.

For cloud-based security cameras, it’s not the download speed that matters, but the upload pipe. Most residential broadband connections’ upload bandwidth is much lower than that of the download. Take cable Internet, for example; the download speed tends to be just about a tenth — or less — of the upload.

That said, the Arlo Ultra — depending on how many cameras you use — might eat up your upload bandwidth pretty fast. Keep in mind that, the way networking goes, you need both the up and downlinks for a connection to work. If one is clogged up completely, the other will come to a halt.

Arlo Ultra: What the relaunch promises

Before this post, I had a meeting with Arlo’s marketing team, and they addressed most of my concerns. Among other things, here is a list of what Arlo said its Ultra would deliver, starting with the relaunch.

  • Better battery life: Despite the integrated spotlight, thanks to the higher capacity battery, the Ultra will have a least the same battery life compared to the Pro 2 if not longer.
  • Backward compatibility: The Ultra’s Base Station will support the Arlo Pro 2. The Arlo Ultra will also work with the Base Station of the Pro 2, though only at 1080p resolution.
  • Convenient local storage access: To compensate for the lack of the free cloud storage, Arlo will allow users to store video locally — as long as they purchase a microSD card for the Base Station — and access the footage remotely. In other words, you’ll be streaming from your home instead of from Arlo’s cloud.
  • Live video is always free: Whether or not you subscribe, you’ll still be able to view live footage via the Arlo app or a webpage.
  • Low upload bandwidth usage: The Ultra will use much less bandwidth compared to regular 4K streaming — about 2.5Mbps per camera — thanks to ultra-high video compression and activity-based adaptive storage size. In other words, a video with fewer actions will use less storage space than one with lots of objects moving around.

To conclude, Arlo folks told me “the proof is in the pudding.” And now, I’m looking forward to trying the Ultra out. Stay tuned for my full review.

Update: The full review of the Arlo Ultra is now available

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