In the security camera landscape, Arlo is one of the biggest names to operate in the space, with its multiple variations of security cameras to suit the situation. One of them is the Arlo Essential Wire-Free Video Doorbell, which serves the dual purpose of providing video security and functioning as a doorbell.
As a person who is used to the regular chime doorbells, this device seems almost futuristic in comparison. And by adopting a wireless approach, Arlo aims to make this product as accessible as possible to everyone.
Setup and Installation
Opening the box for the Arlo Essential Wire-Free Video Doorbell reveals the camera, sporting an ovular design and has a black exterior that covers the entire device — the aesthetic is very sleek and minimalistic overall.
Digging deeper, the box also comes packed in with mounts and screws for installing it. There are two parts to the mounting plates, allowing for either flat or angled mounts depending on where you plan to install the device. Finally, the battery and its charging cable complete the list of items, though you’ll need to charge it first before the device can be fully set up.
Installing the Arlo Essential Wire-Free Video Doorbell requires some arm work beforehand where you’ll need to drill two holes into the area where you plan to place the device. Once that is sorted, you can screw in the mounting plate at the end and then secure the doorbell onto it.
There’s a satisfying click when the doorbell camera is fitted onto the plate, and the entire setup stays relatively secure, not budging even when weight is put onto it; it is reassuring to know that brute force is unlikely to faze it.
A potential worry does arise, though, from its unlocking mechanism. To detach the camera from the mount, you’ll make use of a release pin to eject it — working very much like those pin tools used to take out a phone’s SIM tray. While this makes the process of removing the camera for charging much more accessible, there’s an inherent risk of it getting stolen by someone using something similar like a paperclip, for example. At the very least, the perpetrators are recorded if they do try to steal it.
Setting up the Arlo Essential Wire-Free Video Doorbell for use is relatively straightforward. Once you’ve downloaded the Arlo app, it takes only a few minutes to complete everything from the instructions (which is easy to follow from the step-by-step guide) to get your device ready.
The Arlo app is where you’ll find everything that the video doorbell ‘sees’. The devices tab displays a snapshot of the most recent activity that it has detected, and if you tap on the play icon for it, you can view the live feed from the camera, which includes sound. But it isn’t just one-way; you can speak into it as well to interact live with someone at your door.
You can do other things with the live feed, such as recording or even taking a snapshot of what is happening. All of this is then stored in your library for you to peruse at your convenience.
Speaking of the library, all activity that the Arlo Essential Wire-Free Video Doorbell has recorded can be found here too. The default view presents the most recent activities captured, and scrolling down shows you earlier recordings. The recordings are separated by date as well, so there’s no need for you to swim through a mess of videos to find a particular one on a specific day.
You can also filter it further by other categories such as the type of motion detected, like a human, animal, or even a package dropped off. Overall, the organisation for your saved recordings is fleshed out well to allow you to find what you need quickly.
The only gripe with the system is the navigation. Sometimes, the app will place you back at the most recent video after you’ve viewed something. It is particularly annoying when there are many recordings, and you have to scroll back down to where you’ve last stopped.
There are more features to be had with the Arlo Smart service, which you get a three-month trial for when you finish setting up the Arlo Essential Wire-Free Video Doorbell. With it, it brings advanced features like AI object recognition, activity zones and 30 days of cloud storage for your videos (the default is just seven days).
At $4.49 a month, it is a subscription plan that doesn’t break the bank, but its worth might differ between users.
Activity zones might be a feature that could be of use, allowing you to highlight specific areas and helping to lessen notification spam for every instance the camera detects something in its periphery. And for the most part, it works as intended.
AI object recognition and extra rolling cloud video recording storage are a little more ambiguous. While object recognition is a neat feature, it isn’t necessarily needed in Singapore’s context. Among the things it can recognise nighttime are vehicles and animals. For HDB owners, the former is something you’ll never find in the vicinity, while the latter might not apply to those living at high levels as they are unlikely to see a stray roaming around.
The usefulness of having additional cloud storage is dependent on users. Some might want the month-long duration if they have a lot of activity happening, while others could be just fine with just a week of recording saved.
At the very least, you have three months to try it out and see if these features are essential for you. But it is a shame that they are locked behind a subscription plan that adds more cost in the long run.
One final neat aspect about the Arlo Essential Wire-Free Video Doorbell is that it integrates with Alexa, Google Assistant, IFTTT and Samsung SmartThings to allow for more flexibility in using the device.
The offices of DANAMIC are smart-equipped, and the video doorbell was able to connect and be seen within our smart network on Google. Admittedly, it isn’t perfect; issues like live feed orientation issues on our Google Nest Hub and not being able to cast onto the TV are some that we experienced. But this is primarily an issue with Google rather than Arlo eventually able to get things working after some tweaking.
Our Arlo Essential Wire-Free Video Doorbell device was tested at our office location, where it was installed onto the front door.
The device captures up to a maximum resolution of 1536 x 1536 and comes with HDR, and that quality does show in the video recordings, showcasing a clear and bright image. That also helps when zooming in within the video, which goes up to 12x zoom, with the image still discernible.
The dark of night does not hamper its quality. There’s Night Vision included with the Arlo Essential Wire-Free Video Doorbell, which illuminates darker settings. More importantly, it also comes with an Infrared LED that helps you see the video feed even if the area is completely dark. Both work exceptionally well — the Night Vision makes it look almost indistinguishable from daytime, while the IR LED provides a clear feed even though there is a lack of light.
Sound from the recordings is typically clear enough to hear, but they tend to be on the softer side — I usually had to pump up the volume to properly hear something. It’s an issue made stranger because the sound volume plays normally at the start but softens dramatically after a few seconds. All the videos share this same problem, and I’m not sure if this is limited to our unit or happens for all of Arlo’s wire-free video doorbells.
Moving on to its detection system, the Arlo Essential Wire-Free Video Doorbell is usually quite precise, even detecting movement that is around 15 metres away. But it isn’t all perfect. I’ve noticed that the motion detection can be overly sensitive, picking up minor swaying from leaves which might wrongly alert you; that’s probably one reason to start using the activity zones.
While we are still on the subject of the notification system for motion detection, there’s quite a big gap between detecting the movement and receiving a message for it. It takes an average of 10 seconds till you get the notification, and by then, the subject could have left the vicinity.
Videos are also recorded strangely at times. Some recordings only show the last few seconds of movement at the start and linger too long, while some cut the recording while there is still movement going on. Other times, they provide only a solitary second of footage to look through, which offers little to no context of what is happening.
Overall, I’ve found that the video capture system to be inconsistent. Recordings are captured well from start to finish for around 70% of the time, but the rest consist of the problems I’ve just listed.
For its AI object recognition feature, it works as intended most of the time. It usually can distinguish a person from other types of motion. There were only two occasions where it defined something wrongly, incorrectly detecting a woman’s hair as an animal. Amusingly enough, it was the same woman both times on two different occassions.
Now onto its most crucial feature — functioning as a doorbell.
I’m pleasantly surprised with the speed of the Arlo Essential Wire-Free Video Doorbell. Within 3 seconds of pressing the doorbell, the phone was alerted that somebody was at the door.
There are options on how you want to address the person at the door. You can send over pre-recorded messages like ‘we’ll be right there!’ or ‘leave the package outside’, and it’ll filter over quite seamlessly with almost no delay.
You can also choose to engage directly with a two-way conversation via the speaker. As the camera is also feeding you the live footage, some lag is expected, but it is a reasonable amount — around 5 seconds. It’s a short enough delay that you’ll be able to catch a person’s attention before they leave.
However, there is a noticeable flaw with using this device. The Arlo Essential Wire-Free Video Doorbell only alerts you on your phone or the smart devices you connected it with. If you don’t have your phone with you or do not have a smart-home system, there is a chance that you might miss someone from the lack of an audible alert.
To go a little further into the smart home alert, Google’s integration with the doorbell is not ideal. The alert from the smart system is dictated by the volume of what you currently have, so if your speaker is at a low volume, you won’t be able to hear the alert. It also uses the assistant voice instead of the ‘ring’ sound that is familiar with doorbells. It’s less noticeable to the ear, and there were occasions when the alert missed because of that.
The only real solution for the lack of an audible doorbell ringer is to either use an Alexa-compatible device — which does sound off a doorbell ring as an alert— or get Arlo Chime to link it with the video doorbell. Both add cost to an already not cheap device, just to give a feature that should have already been there. Besides these few weaknesses, the Arlo Essential Wire-Free Video Doorbell is still a tremendous functional addition to our office. At least it did in the beginning.
The performance mentioned above was what we observed from using the device for the first month and a half. The Arlo video doorbell did its job of detecting motion and sending notifications to our phone. At the same time, our Google Nest Hub only alerted us whenever the doorbell was pressed — it was a routine we were satisfied with, but that changed quite suddenly.
Our Google Nest Hub began to holler at us all day; alerting us that somebody was at the door when there wasn’t. It turns out, the video doorbell was picking the motion from people walking by and triggered the Google alert system. This new behaviour happened without us changing any settings and was very much becoming a nuisance.
Our efforts to find the cause were fruitless and we could only limit the annoyance it was causing us. We also reached out to Arlo’s support about this. Unfortunately, their initial support wasn’t exactly helpful — providing solutions that, whilst somewhat fixed the issue, consequently limited the device’s other functions.
The problem was eventually resolved, with it stemming from the Arlo Smart Notification system, which was seemingly updated in the background by Arlo themselves. Particularly amusing was that support staff continued to be vague when asked about how the issue came about in the first place.
Arlo claims that the battery can last up to 6 months. From our experience, it is a highly optimistic projection. Our Arlo Essential Wire-Free Video Doorbell lasted around two weeks on average, from a full charge to a dead battery.
Now to preface this, we absolutely expected the battery not to last as long. The area where the video doorbell overlooks sees a decent amount of foot traffic; it averages to around 60 to 70 recordings in a day. We were also using it in its highest video resolution.
So we knew that through our use case, the battery was never going to last six months. But two weeks is very much well off the mark for its projection. Speaking to Arlo, they have indicated that a weak Wi-Fi connection could be a cause for the increased battery drain.
Even so, it is disappointing that the battery isn’t able to handle it much better, given its lengthy original claims from Arlo. The company should have indicated what kind of use case would allow the six-month duration to set better expectations for potential customers.
There’s also the matter of charging the device. It takes a couple of hours to get it fully charged, and if this is going to replace your home’s doorbell, you are left with nothing to alert you during those few hours.
In general, the Arlo Essential Wire-Free Video Doorbell does well in what it sets out to do. It helps monitor your area well, providing clear video quality to the recordings and is typically accurate in detecting anything within the vicinity. Using a video doorbell is also quite handy in seeing and interacting with someone at the door, especially if you are away; the device has helped us numerous times when there wasn’t a person available at the office.
There are flaws with the device. Video library navigation can be iffy, and no built-in chime alert is somewhat frustrating. The sub-par battery life is also a problem. But the most concerning thing about it is that its behaviour can change without you doing anything. Our experience with their support has also been unsatisfactory.
Keep in mind that you might not be able to get these due to housing restrictions too. For HDBs in particular, there are restrictions on the placement of such cameras, and if your house overlooks a neighbour’s, privacy concerns may ensue. Gates may also obstruct the camera’s periphery view, hindering recordings.
Ultimately, the Arlo Essential Wire-Free Video Doorbell isn’t a necessity, especially since it isn’t cheap. But if you are looking to be a little more secure with your area or want to be flexible in addressing visitors, it is a decent option to purchase.
Photos by Darren Chiong of the DANAMIC Team.