For me, the last year or so has been mostly about smart home gadgets. In 2017 I got my first Hue lightbulbs, robot vacuum, Amazon Echo and Nest learning thermostat. And as much as I love true toys, it’s hard to deny the joy behind buying a gadget that satisfies my constant need to tinker, while also enabling me to convince my wife the expense is worth it; but, none of my foray into the smart home market over the last 12 months has entered far into the realm of safety and security—namely, camera systems.
Security systems from 10 or 15 years ago are, in comparison, so incredibly archaic to what is on the market now. Not that long ago I stumbled across an indiegogo campaign for a $9 security system based on social operation instead of traditional monitoring companies. And while that is on the more extreme side of the shift, it seems as if the security market (to some extent) is headed in a new direction like Uber did a handful of years ago: the notion that we already have the infrastructure and the resources to complete the job, all we need is a new way of looking at it.
The closest I came to safety and security was with the purchase of a Nest Learning Thermostat (let’s call it “comfort”), which was possibly the most underwhelming tech purchase of my entire life. The tinkerer in me was incredibly dissatisfied at something so easy to connect and use—but upon reflection, that in some ways is the way it should be. Because, when it comes to safety and security, bugs and glitches have a much more significant impact than the blue shift on your Pixel 2 XL. Still, features are important, especially in a market where the security systems of yesterday rely heavily on a monthly monitoring service (AKA, revenue stream) that you may be able to live without.
The product reviewed here is the Netgear Arlo Pro system, this one with 2 included cameras, but the system is expandable to at least 15 cameras with some extra up front and recurring costs. With 5 cameras or fewer, you can take advantage of the basic Arlo account, providing you access to a weeks’ worth of recordings at no additional monthly cost. Additional options are available—like longer storage, additional cameras, and continuous recordings—for additional fees on the Arlo website.
Unboxing and set up was surprisingly fast, even considering the base station and cameras all needed firmware upgrades out of the box. Plugging these in and getting them up and running was extremely easy. The base station has an attractive matte white finish that will look good on an end table; the cameras have a glossy white finish and come with optional magnet mounts for wall/ceiling mounting. Included in the box was a battery for each camera and a single USB cable that is used for recharging the batteries; it is worth noting that although the charging can be done while the batteries are in the cameras, there is an optional charging station that can charge two batteries simultaneously.
The batteries themselves will need to be charged based upon use—the more the camera is used, the sooner you will have to recharge. I have a coworker who has the same system and only needs to charge batteries once every 30-45 days; those cameras look at his front entry way within range of the street, so passing cars trigger recordings all the time. But, when and how the cameras become armed is all customizable in the app and will be different for everyone who uses it.
The cameras feature night vision, two-way voice, 1080p recording and are weather-tolerant for those in warmer or colder climates. I found the quality in lowly lit environments to be adequate, not tremendously impressive, but nonetheless functional if needed to be. The two way voice has a very slight delay, but the speakers and mics on the cameras themselves are very good and get the job done well.
All of these things are as expected from Netgear, with products that are easy to set up and maintain. But where this system shines is not in the hardware, but the accompanying app that controls the whole system. The main page gets you quick access to all of the connected devices, including the live video and two-way voice capabilities. Recorded events are available in the “Library” tab, which will remain available based upon your account / subscription level. The “Mode” tab allows for customized arming based upon a schedule or your location, and can also be manually armed or disarmed as needed. The interface is simple, intuitive, and works really, really well. Also, additional people can be granted access to the same features without extra cost or sharing logins, so my wife also can have access to the same stuff as I do.
In most ways that count, the system works incredibly well and is easy to use. But, it comes at a price: the two-camera system retails at $479, and although it will be on sale from time to time, this is quite a bit of money for only two cameras. The Pro 2 cameras themselves are $220 each, so it makes sense that the 3- and 4-camera systems are substantially more. Maxing out the free basic service plan capabilities (5 cameras) would be over $1000.
But then again, safety is something that you typically are going to be willing to pay a little bit more for. And, Netgear is early to an emerging market that is going to pick up some more traction this year, as Nest and Ring have new products regularly coming to retail. That said, the advantages of Arlo Pro 2 over the earlier generation Pro cameras may be a place for you to save some cash but still get into the market—even the previous generation has received good reviews. Ultimately, though, it’s down to your wallet. If you’re looking to get into the game, sticking with a name like Netgear (or Ring, or Nest) will ensure that you have access to upgrades and support as time goes on, as well as accessories (think: solar panel). And, if you’re looking to get into the game, the competition is not a lot cheaper than what Netgear has provided, and may not doesn’t provide the same app-rich experience that Netgear does.
So if you can justify the cost, I don’t think the performance will disappoint—and at the end of the day, the safety of your family is worth the extra cost.