Arlo Essential Indoor Camera: the subscription is essential

Arlo's basic camera works well enough, but you're buying an Arlo mostly for its subscription service.

by Justin Choo

As one of the leading cameras in the market, the Arlo commands a premium. But is it worth the extra cash?

One of the most distinctive features of the Arlo Essential Indoor Camera (henceforth referred to as Arlo) is the privacy filter. Outside of that, there aren’t many wow features. What the Arlo does well, if you remember from our previous review of the Arlo Essential Video Doorbell , is the subscription service (from $4.49 monthly for a single camera), which gives you all the perks of a surveillance camera network sans the hassle. The Arlo comes with a free three-month subscription so you can decide for yourself if the service is indispensable to you.

Having once experienced the Video Doorbell, I was quite certain what the answer to that question is – it’s a resounding yes. Partly because the Essentials is as the name describes it – as far as the hardware goes, it only has the bare essentials to make it useable; it’s the software that gives it life. To clarify, I don’t mean that it’s cheap; it only has the key features required to do the job properly. So the video quality is 1080p; no LED (for illumination) built-in; there’s no battery, and it only connects via Wi-Fi or to an Arlo SmartHub. It’s powered via a USB cable, which is convenient so there are fewer limitations as to where you can install the camera. However, it’s not waterproof, so if you decide to place it outdoors, do consider the wear it will go through when exposed to the elements (to be fair, it’s named Indoor Camera).

What it does have is IR, a microphone and speaker for communication, as well as motion and audio detection, which is its primary trigger source. The camera starts working when it detects activity, but not without a moment’s pause, so you might want to set the trigger to happen earlier (from further away). I think it’s still acceptable and I think that how you set up your camera is far more important.

Similarly, the 1080p camera is sufficient for most basic purposes. Whenever there isn’t enough light, the night vision mode kicks in, so either way, the resulting footage has enough clarity to make out facial features. The wide 130-degree field of view is pretty useful and it’s very unlikely you will need to mount the camera in extremely awkward locations to have a good view of the proceedings.

Much like the Video Doorbell, setting up the Arlo Essential Indoor Cam is painless, and getting it up and ready was rather uneventful. Note that it supports only Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant if you are using it as a standalone. Unfortunately, it doesn’t support HomeKit unless you are attached to the Smart Hub, which does.

The camera’s party trick might sound rather lame if you didn’t take a moment to think about it – an actual physical shutter that covers the lens on top of turning off the camera. In other words, there’s no way for someone to spy on you after you turn the camera off or when the camera isn’t active.

Couple that with the way the Arlo works – it only operates when called upon – and you have that added assurance that there’s a visual way to detect that something is amiss. The main perk is that you can set it to activate only after you leave your home, so you don’t have to always walk to the camera play a stretch or reacharound game to remove a lens cap.

There’s no one-look way to confirm that your camera is being intercepted while it’s legitimately in use, but this should cover the other 99 per cent of the time. The only way to have the camera on constantly (live view) is controlled by the app, whereby it’s under lock and key with password or biometrics.

In all honesty, the software is the main reason why you would be looking at this camera because there are many options for that price. Either that, or you already have an Arlo eco-system at home, or if you like the subscription features.

One huge upside of the subscription is that it archives footage for 30 days, so you don’t have to worry about storage, and simply download the files that you need – of course, you need to do it within 30 days. And because it’s cloud-based, you can access it even when you’re out of the country. These features aren’t groundbreaking to savvy users, but at the same time, you don’t have to manage and do maintenance on the backend.

Other useful features include specifying triggers for the camera and enhanced notifications that clip a screenshot of what triggered the camera so that you can decide at a glance if you need to intervene or not.

In all, what the Arlo offers is a basic feature set, but a premium experience sprinkled on top of it. I can see why this is package is appealing – not everyone would want to spend time setting up their own network of cameras. It’s worth it if you interact with the camera every day and you want something that just works on demand just like a Netflix subscription.


Arlo Essential Indoor Camera

Features – 7/10
Value Proposition – 7/10
Performance – 8/10
Design & Build Quality – 7/10

An easy to use camera with all the bells and whistles with a subscription, but seems pricey without it.

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