Arlo Essential Video Doorbell Wire-Free review: Connecting your front door to your phone
Arlo Essential Video Doorbell Wire-Free review: Connecting your front door to your phone
Arlo, I see you...
If you’re looking to upgrade your home with smart features, one of the easiest places to start is your front door.
A smart, connected video doorbell doesn’t require much work to install, and instantly adds a layer of connected security and convenience to your home. This can be especially useful in an age of online shopping where unexpected parcel deliveries happen more than we like.
Connected devices company Arlo promises a fuss-free way to instantly upgrade your front door with its Essential Video Doorbell Wire-Free. Thanks to an easy-to-install design and battery power, there’s no need to undergo any sort of wiring to get started.
However, it’s a bit on the expensive side and requires an additional monthly subscription to unlock all of its software features.
Read on to find out if it’s worth it for you.
|Arlo Essential Video Doorbell Wire-free|
|Interface & Controls||
|Smart Home Support||
|Battery & Charging||
Features and setup
The Arlo Essential Video Doorbell Wire-Free has impressive hardware features.
At the very top of the gizmo is a high-definition camera with a 180-degree horizontal field of view that is capable of HDR to balance out the bright and dark areas so you can see more details.
It also supports a 12x digital zoom so you can get a closer look at any person or thing outside your door.
The camera has a rather unique resolution of 1,536 pixels by 1,536 pixels which exceeds Full-HD and gives it a square 1:1 aspect ratio. This great feature helps you see all the way down to the caller’s feet, and anything else that they might potentially be hiding or holding. Here's a quick example of what we experienced from Arlo's own promotional video:-
An ambient light sensor measures the surrounding light and automatically switches the picture over to night vision when it gets too dark.
Built-in mics and speakers let you communicate with your visitor or delivery worker via video call on your Android or iOS device.
The doorbell has a removable, rechargeable battery that is rated for around 6 months of use. Obviously, your mileage will vary depending on how many visitors you get a day but battery life shouldn't be an issue to most users.
The battery snaps into the camera body easily and is hidden from view in daily use. To access the battery, you'll need a small pin like those used to remove SIM cards from smartphones to pop open a cover.
Despite its claims of an easy-to-install design, you’ll still need to do some drilling to get the video doorbell secured to the wall.
However, with a weight of just 249g, you could just use strong adhesive tape to attach it to the wall. Any heavy-duty double-sided tape by 3M, for example, should do the trick. But do so at your own risk!
Arlo has included some basic instructions in the box and was also kind enough to provide the screws needed. Still, it’s best to get an expert in to do the mounting if you’re not as handy with power tools.
But before you mount it, I suggest setting up the software first. It’s much easier to do it in your living room sofa at a spot nearer to your router.
When you launch the Arlo app for the first time, you’ll be taken through a setup process that includes device pairing and firmware update.
The app also serves up an extensive list of options that you can use to customise the doorbell, from video quality and brightness to the volume of the speaker.
It’s all pretty par for the course, except for one annoying step: your phone has to be connected to Wi-Fi in the 2.4GHz band or the set-up won’t work. My pairing failed several times until I realised I missed that little factoid in one of the app’s previous instruction screens.
Other than the small hitch, the rest of the set-up went smoothly. One other interesting step that I thought was cute was how instead of using your phone camera to scan a QR code printed on the doorbell, the app generates one on your phone and then tells you to hold it up for the doorbell itself to read.
This suggests interesting potential use cases for the doorbell. For example, it could be used to authenticate trusted visitors to your home by generating a QR code for them upon your approval. Or perhaps your next package can come with an Arlo-supported QR code that can be scanned by the doorbell to ensure its arrival.
But let’s focus first on the doorbell’s primary use as a, well, doorbell.
Arlo? Anyone home?
Once it’s mounted securely on your wall, the doorbell uses its in-built motion sensor to detect if anyone is nearby. If it detects a person, a ring of LED lights appears at the bottom of the doorbell to clue them in about where they need to press.
Even so, it might be just a little too subtle. Someone oblivious to their surroundings, or a delivery worker in a rush to drop a parcel off, may just miss the cue entirely.
Once the button is hit, Arlo directly gives you a video call so you can see who’s at the door and converse with them. Note that while you can see them, they have no way of seeing you.
It works well enough. Being able to see who’s at the door and tell them to hide my shopping behind my shoe rack, or just leave it at the door because I’m five minutes away from home, is a very useful quality-of-life upgrade.
Once the video call connects, you’ll also note a slight latency between what you say into your phone and what’s played out of the doorbell.
Everything I say takes about one second before it’s played back to the visitor. And when the visitor replies, it takes another one second or so before I can hear them.
I can imagine this being frustrating to some people, especially if I’m in the middle of work and need to wrap it up quickly. But overall, it works smoothly enough that I didn’t notice the lag most of the time.
If you’re unable to talk, the doorbell offers several pre-recorded answers that you can playback to your visitor, such as “Leave the package at the door” and “We’ll be right there”.
Call quality was bright and clear overall, and neither end had difficulty understanding each other in my tests. But the speaker volume is extremely loud by default, and will definitely annoy your neighbours, so be sure to tone it down in the settings.
My chief complaint is that it takes about five seconds from the time the doorbell is pressed to the ringing of your phone. During those five seconds, the doorbell gives no indication that it’s trying to dial you. If you take another five to ten seconds to answer the call, an impatient visitor might have already left.
There’s also no way to turn off the video calls or re-programme the doorbell button. If I can’t take video calls at the moment and just hang up on the caller, then I’d have paid S$300 for essentially the same function as a cheap “dumb” doorbell.
One saving grace in this respect is that guests can leave you a voice message if you can’t answer, and you can then listen remotely once you have the time. But that technology already exists, and – you might have heard of it – it’s called “the phone”.
Fortunately, the Arlo Essential Video Doorbell Wire-Free redeems itself by being a fairly effective security monitoring camera, albeit a basic one.
With its motion detection software, the camera springs to life whenever it detects motion and starts recording. You’ll also get a notification on your phone that motion has been detected, so you can hop into the app and check in on the situation.
For those wondering if the motion detection will kick in every time your neighbour walks in and out of his own home (since HDB units can sometimes be quite closely spaced), thankfully, the Arlo Essential Video Doorbell Wire-Free only picks up activity within a meter from it. So it's only registering activity from close proximity, which sounds about right for the purposes of a digital doorbell.
Additionally, if you have an Amazon Alexa Echo Show or Google Home Hub, you can add the Arlo Essential Video Doorbell Wire-Free device as one of the devices to control or monitor. This means you can speak to your smart home device to show what the Arlo doorbell is seeing in real-time.
If what you see is alarming (be it on the app or on your smart home device), you can activate a loud, piercing siren on the doorbell from the app, which should hopefully scare away any intruders or troublemakers.
If you live in a larger property, you can also programme the doorbell to watch only a specific zone, such as your driveway instead of the garage.
The app will keep recording until the motion stops and is intelligent enough to tell you if it’s one of four things: a person, an animal, a vehicle, or a package. Based on my tests, it’s a hit-and-miss and the app seems to prefer identifying things as “Person” more than anything else.
All recordings are stored in the cloud, and you can play them over and over in the Arlo app for up to 30 days.
Unfortunately, the intelligent motion detection, recording, and cloud storage of said recording requires an on-going paid subscription called Arlo Smart. You get a three-month trial with every purchase of the video doorbell, but it will cost you S$4.49/month at a minimum after that.
Without Arlo Smart, your doorbell’s functionality will be severely reduced, limiting you only to its core video calling function, general motion detection with notifications pushed to your phone, and a live view through the doorbell from your phone. There’s no recording or cloud storage.
But if you’re going to use it mainly for surveillance, Arlo has a range of other great camera products that are focused on doing so. There's also no shortage of other brands with similar offerings.
My three-year-old D-Link IP camera, for example, can do motion detection and cloud recording without a subscription plan. Granted, I need to run a wire and it only has 720p video recording, but at least I only need to pay for it once.
The Arlo Essential Video Doorbell Wire-Free is a nifty little piece of kit that adds a touch of smart home functionality to your front door. It lets you chat with visitors and helps you keep an eye on what might be lurking outside your door at any point of time. It’s also wireless, which makes setting up a lot easier even if you still need some work to install it to your door or wall. Battery life isn’t bad either.
There are however some issues with it. The key one is speed. Compared to a traditional doorbell, it feels slow. Notifications take time to reach you, at which point, your guest or delivery people might have already reached out for their phones to call you. And if they do, then that almost completely negates the point of the Arlo Essential Video Doorbell. The two-way audio also feels laggy.
The second one is price. Even with its surveillance capabilities, at S$329, this is one expensive doorbell, and that’s not even factoring in the monthly subscription to Arlo Smart that you'd need to get the best out of it. If you don’t mind wires, there are a ton of affordable security cameras that cost a fraction of what Arlo is asking. And even if you want a wireless setup from Arlo, the brand has a cheaper and arguably more capable surveillance option in their Arlo Essential camera (S$199).
Ultimately, you’ll have to consider how important the smart doorbell functionality is to you. If it were me, I’ll stick to a traditional doorbell and augment it with the Arlo Essential Camera. Or if you want to go all out for high-end sentry needs, there's also the weather-resistant 4K recording, dual-camera + hub set, the Arlo Ultra.
You can find the Arlo Essential Video Doorbell Wire-Free on the Arlo Smart Home Official Store on Shopee.