Netgear Arlo Review – Put together the ideas of home automation and internet-connected gadgets, and what do you get? Up to now, usually a bit of a mess that’s less convenient than turning things on and off yourself. But that’s starting to change. Last year, Apple announced HomeKit, which lets iPhones and iPads control compatible products such as lightbulbs and door locks. And in early 2014 Google bought Nest, maker of the first smart thermostat that looked like more like something out of Star Trek than Plumb Center.
Will Apple’s or Google’s system win? It may not be that simple, because there are all kinds of ways for devices to talk to each other. Here’s a great example. Arlo is a home-security system that uses a special kind of Wi-Fi to connect batterypowered cameras to a central base station, which in turn plugs into your broadband router.
Battery-powered networking is something of a compromise. After all, you want a sound connection over a reasonable distance, without worrying about batteries draining too fast. Arlo does better than other standards we’ve tried, such as ZigBee. We even put a camera in the garden, separated from our router by two plasterboard walls, a cupboard, a patio door and a short walk, and it was able to stream reliably to the base station. As long as the signal stretches that far, the internet does the rest, and you can watch your cameras’ views from anywhere.
And yes, the camera worked fine in the garden – they’re rated IP65 weatherproof. Each one has infrared lights to see in the dark up to 4.5 metres, and a magnetic base that’s easy to point where you want. They take four CR123 batteries (the stumpy ones that look like half an AA). Thanks to motion detection, the cameras only come on when something happens, so the batteries can last up to six months. If you were recording constantly, they’d run out in just a few hours.
The 1500mA/hr 3v lithium ‘photo’ batteries cost just over a pound each if you shop around. You could use rechargeables, at about twice the price, but watch out for lower milliamp-hours, meaning they won’t last as long and the battery-level indicator will be less accurate. The kit we tested comes with two cameras, so that’s eight batteries. Unhelpfully, the batteries are often sold in packs of six (somebody could get a great maths exam question out of this).
The cameras record at 720p ‘HD’ resolution, so the pictures look really clear – a lot better than those you’ll see on Crimewatch. Of course, if you’re not around to watch live, you can play back the videos later: unlike its rivals, Netgear stores them for you free of charge. You’ll need a monthly subscription (from £6.49) to use more than five cameras or keep recordings longer than a week. Netgear is planning an update that’ll let you record your footage to a USB stick.
You can get the Arlo software as a free app for your Apple or Android device, or use it in a web browser on any PC or Mac. It’s easy to see all your camera feeds and schedule when to record. You can adjust the motion sensitivity, although it always monitors the whole field of view, meaning you can’t set it for a designated area. If you have the app, you’ll get a notification when anything happens. If not, you can tell Arlo to email you.
Arlo isn’t cheap (a single-camera system is £190), and replacing the batteries will be a bit of a hassle. If you don’t mind running wires and want zero maintenance, it won’t be your first choice. But it’s a truly wire-free system that works exceptionally well.
Netgear Arlo Specifications
- 2x 720p cameras
- Motion detection
- Infrared LEDs
- 71x64x41mm (HxWxD)
- Base station with Ethernet
- 216x165x57mm (HxWxD)
- Requires 1Mbps or faster internet connection