Smart home security is constantly advancing, squeezing more functionality into smaller, neater packages that are increasingly affordable.
Arlo’s Essential Spotlight Camera is one such device, combining the sort of features you would have spent big on a few years ago – a spotlight, two-way audio and a siren – into a compact wireless camera that takes about 15 minutes to set up and install.
Design and build
What’s immediately noticeable once the Essential Spotlight Camera is installed is how discreet it is, with a chunky design that’s practical yet sleek. At just over 11cm tall and 5cm wide, the camera itself is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand and light at 122g, while the mount is similarly unobtrusive.
It’s designed to be resistant to the elements – its USB charging port is underneath and it’s covered with a protective flap.
It could be assumed to be a security light and nothing more. A glossy white or black plastic exterior with subtle branding and a black fascia do nothing to dispel this assumption. The camera’s spotlight, which illuminates at night so you can see in colour, is situated just above the lens.
Perhaps the only quibble comes from installing the mount – the wall plugs supplied didn’t bite into a brick wall properly, so had to be substituted for suitable fixings.
Performance and features
- User-friendly app
- Battery will not last six months with high usage
- Person, vehicle & animal differentiation subscription only
There’s a quick start guide supplied with the Essential Spotlight Camera but all it does is tell you to charge your camera and direct you to the app.
We found connecting to the app straightforward: setting up the necessary long-range 2.4GHz bandwidth for it to work properly actually took more time.
There are some thoughtful touches in the set-up, such as the ability to bypass some of the settings until later and a section to name your camera – useful if you add others in the future.
The app’s user-friendly interface shines; it’s rare that you’re ever more than a couple of taps away from finding different settings, which include toggling video quality (choosing best battery life will reduce this, while the best quality video means you’ll be recharging more often), changing activity zones and deciding which notifications you want to receive.
This last option is vital if you only want to know when people have been spotted, rather than be alerted to vehicles and other motion.
When setting up activity zones, flexible shapes would have been useful – the only choice is squares of vision, meaning you’ll have to draw lots if you want to avoid particular motions triggering notifications.
There’s also the ability to adjust how sensitive the camera is to motion. We found that ours was inconsistent in picking up animals (cats, a night-time fox) until we turned up the sensitivity to high. That will have an effect on battery life.
If you’re wondering how long the battery will last, Arlo estimates six months between charges. But that seems to be based on minimal events, low video quality and low sensitivity. If, as we did, you toggle video quality to high and increase the sensitivity to maximum, it’ll run down much more quickly.
In our test, it dropped from 100% to 50% in about 10 days, although there were a lot of comings and goings, which again does impact battery life.
Another inconsistency was the two-way audio. It’s not obvious how to use it – it requires going live with the video before you have the option. Even then, it worked infrequently, although this may have been because of a poor connection. However, the siren worked well and without fail.
The video the camera provided was crisp and clear, both day and night, thanks to the spotlight. We found that the 130° view covered most of the front of the house.
Price and availability
In the UK, it’s available from Arlo for £130, from Currys for £129.99, or from Amazon for £127.96. For its feature set, its price compares favourably with the Netatmo Smart Outdoor Camera, although no subscription is required for Netatmo products.
There are two tiers of subscription, Secure and Secure Plus. In the UK, the Secure subscription costs £2.79 per month for a single camera, or £8.99 for unlimited cameras. Secure Plus will set you back £12.99 per month, but you can have as many cameras as you want.
In the US, the Secure subscription costs $2.99 per month for a single camera, or $9.99 per month for unlimited cameras. The Secure Plus subscription costs $14.99 per month for unlimited cameras.
While Arlo’s Essential Spotlight Camera won’t be for everyone (those who want features that allow them to fine-tune monitoring, for example), as an easy-to-use device, it’s great for anyone who’s previously avoided smart home products for fear that they’re complicated to set up or use.
It does the basics of home security, and does them well.
However, there are compromises to be made. Cloud video history, rich notifications and detecting the difference between vehicles, people and animals are subscription-only after an initial trial period. That means you’ll either need to sign up, or be prepared for a certain number of false-alarm notifications.
But if you’re happy with general motion notifications and live video streaming, it’ll continue to work as a better than basic security camera.
The other issue is that if your camera is used a lot, you may find that you have to recharge the battery much more often than every six months. This may mean that it’s best suited to a home with some smart home security already, where it’ll make a handy extra to keep an eye on an outbuilding, back garden or garage.
For more security camera options, and to see how Arlo’s offering stacks up against the competition, have a look at our round-up of the best indoor and outdoor security cameras.
Arlo Essential Spotlight Wi-Fi Security Camera: Specs
- Product dimensions: 8.88 x 5.2 x 7.74 cm
- Weight: 350g
- Colour night vision
- 1080p camera
- Two-way audio
- weather resistant
- Compatible with: Alexa, Google Assistant, IFTTT & Stringify
- 130-degree diagonal field of view
- 12x digital zoom
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