Arlo Essential Spotlight 1080p camera – focus on quality for a lower price

Arlo Essential Spotlight 1080p camera

The Arlo Essential Spotlight 1080p camera is its lowest cost Gen 2 security camera. It is tempting to compare it to other Gen 2 cameras like the Arlo Pro 3 (2K) or Arlo Ultra (4K), but that is not fair.

Why? Because the Arlo Essential Spotlight 1080p camera meets a lower price point of $229 (even less in multiple packs). To do so, it has dropped things that Arlo Gen 2 users expect but are not necessarily what the competition offers at that price either.

Instead, we need to compare it to other 1080p cameras like those from Swann, Uniden, Ring, Nest and indeed the original Arlo Pro 2 (review here 3.6/5)

Let’s call the Arlo Essential Spotlight 1080p camera Gen 1.5 – what are the differences from Gen 2

It is micro-USB (cable supplied) powered but no charger – saving a few dollars. Gone is the Gen 2 innovative and waterproof magnetic mount/cable and charger. That means you can’t use a Gen 2 solar panel – you need an Essential Solar panel.

Arlo Essential Spotlight 1080p camera
Pro 3 (L) showing quick release housing button and magnetic cable. Essential (R) is micro USB.

It has a non-removable, rechargeable battery. That means you have to unscrew it from the mount and take it inside to charge. It also means that when the battery dies, it is a throw-away item. Gen 2 has a fast release, removable and user-replaceable battery.

It is 1080p – 4:3 ratio that means the clarity you get with Gen 2 digital zoom is not as good. Nor is the colour depth. And the FOV is reduced to 130° compared to up to 120-180° (Ultra).

It has dual spotlight LEDs versus four for the Ultra and two for the Pro 3.

It does not need a smart hub either. With the Arlo app, it will work happily as a Wi-Fi only security camera. But you get more features with a hub (local storage, HVEC compression, faster connect times, more reliable connection, etc.).

Existing Arlo Gen 2 users will be taking a step back, and my strongest recommendation is to hunt around to bag a bargain on the Pro 3 (review here 4.6/5) or Ultra (review here 4.4/5).

For everyone else, it’s a cut above the typical offerings.

Australian review: Arlo Essential Spotlight 1080p camera VMC2030-100AUS

  • Website here
  • Price: $229 for one, $429 for two from Arlo retailers in September
  • Warranty: 1-year ACL
  • Elevator Pitch: Lower cost 1080p Arlo quality security camera to attract a new market
  • Country of manufacture: Vietnam
  • Arlo Technologies is a U.S. home automation company making wireless security cameras. It was part of NETGEAR, before its initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange in August 2018.

We use FAIL, PASS or EXCEED against the various test paradigms. These are relevant to Wi-Fi 1080p cameras.

Setup – EXCEED

Arlo’s hallmark is its extremely easy to use app. Download, set up an account, add a device, and it steps you through it. This worked the first time, updated the firmware and was ready to go in under a minute.

It comes with the Arlo Smart Premier 3-month security cloud trial so you can try out various cloud features such as Activity Zones, cloud storage (30 days), object detection, package detection, phone a friend and more intelligent alerts.

I initially tried to take the low-cost route but found that there was some amazing value in the cloud offerings.

I guess that value buyers will be happy with the free plan.

Wall Mount – PASS

Remembering that you need to unscrew this from the tripod mount, Arlo suggests that it be at 1.5-1.8m above the floor and slightly to the side for best activation.

Arlo Essential Spotlight 1080p camera

It has a gimbal wall mount and screws.

Battery – PASS

We cannot estimate battery life yet, but it should be a few months. Charge time using a 5V/2A charger was about six hours.

Arlo claims six months at 4000 seconds a month in 30-second streams or 130 activations per month. This could be a little light on as my Arlo cameras get about 1000-1500 activations a month.

Take care when mounting it out of reach as you have to unscrew it from the tripod mount to charge it. I much prefer the push button, quick release on the Arlo Gen 2 cameras.

You can use the Arlo Esstential VMA3600 Solar Panel with a 2.4m micro-USB cable. No price yet – probably around $100. I am a real convert to Solar-powered Arlo cameras.

But the one fail here is the fact that it’s a non-removable battery (as are most of the competition).

Image quality – EXCEED for 1080p

I said it was not fair to compare it to the Pro 3 or Ultra – and it is not. What is missing is the dynamic range, depth of colour and detail.

Pro 3 day
Arlo Essential Spotlight 1080p camera day

12X zoom (claim) but it will only do 8X. There is way too much image noise at 8x.

Pro 3 12X
Pro3 12x
Arlo Essential Spotlight 1080p camera 8X
Essential 8X

But compared to a Reolink Argus 3 1080p (also non-removable battery) it offers superior colour and detail.

LAG – barely PASSable

When connected to a smart hub, there is at least a one extra second lag compared to a Pro 3 or Ultra. That makes two-way conversation difficult. There is considerably more wind noise in the single mic as well.

When connected to 2.4Ghz on an ASUS AC11000 (the beast of all routers), the delay was up to six seconds making two-way conversation impossible.

Night vision – PASS+

The dual LEDs allow it to record colour at night. Arlo claims up to 8 metres – we think five metres is more realistic.

Pro 3
Pro 3 – total darkness
Arlo Essential Spotlight 1080p
Essential – pretty good

It also has dual IR LEDS for mono night vision.

Pro 3
Pro 3 IR
Arlo Essential Spotlight 1080p
Essential IR


Arlo claims 7 metres PIR detection, and frankly, that is conservative. In our tests, a bird flying past at over 12 metres away triggered it. You can adjust sensitivity in the app (no Plan required) and set trigger zones (Plan required).

Base station signal strength – EXCEED

As we have come to expect, it was still showing a strong signal at 15 metres from the smart hub. We have cameras at up to 25 metres from the hub. But you need to understand that the Arlo hub has a stronger signal strength than typical Wi-Fi A.C. routers so limit distance on Wi-Fi to about 10 metres inside a home and 30 metres outside.

Voice assistance – PASS

It works with Apple, Google (tested) and Amazon. Google has an easy cast feature to display the image on a T.V.

Privacy – EXCEED

These days almost every camera is made in China, uses its servers and have unconscionable privacy terms. I certainly would not use them.

Arlo is a U.S. company, makes the cameras in Vietnam and has an incredible privacy pledge that no other maker has even tried to emulate because most sell your data!

GadgetGuy’s take – The Arlo Essential Spotlight 1080p camera is a lower-cost alternative for value users that want Arlo quality

It has pretty good specs; it meets or exceeds all paradigms for 1080p cameras and has LEDs for colour night vision. This will appeal to a new market that may not have bought Arlo as it required a smart hub and extra costs.

Me – I would still go with Arlo Pro 3, but that is because I have the Arlo kit. And that is precisely what existing Arlo owners will do.

Arlo Essential Spotlight 1080p Camera specs versus Gen 2 cameras

TypeEssentialPro 3 (uses Ultra tech)Ultra
A.C. Adapter Output Not supplied – uses 30cm micro-USB cable supplied and up to 54V/2A charger5V/2ASame
Audio Half-duplexFull Duplex 2-way Audiosame
Battery LifeDepends on use but should be 3-6 months3-6 months depending on usage and uses Ultra BatterySame
Charge Time to Full (via camera/charger)6 hours3.5/2.9 hrsSame
Digital Zoom8x12xsame
Dimensions and Weight 87 x 52 x 78.4 x 331gSamesame
Indoor/OutdoorWeather-resistantOutdoor UV and weather-resistantSame
Lens Field of View130°160° diagonal 120-180°
Maximum Video Resolution1920×10802560×1440
1/3” sensor
½” sensor
Half-duplex, no noise reduction
Single microphone
One speaker
80dB Siren
SameDual with noise cancellation
One speaker
Minimum upload speed per camera2Mbps2 Mbps4Mpbs for 4K
2Mbps for 2K
Motion DetectionSingle Motion Detectors, 110° 
PIR to 6m
Single Motion Detectors, 130° 
PIR to 6m
Dual motion detectors, 150°
PIR to 6m
NetworkingTo Base Station or 2.4Ghz Wi-FI Link
Claim 90m but closer to 30m
Wi-Fi Link
Night vision colourYes to 6mSameSame
Night Vision mono850 nm LEDs: illuminates up to 8m with I.R. cut-off filter  Samesame
Operating Temperature-20 to 45°-20 to 45°-20-60°
SpotlightYes – not specified but similar to the Pro 36500K, 42Lux @1Msame
Status LightsLED2x LEDs (blue and amber)same
Video FeaturesH.264Auto Zoom and Tracking, HDR, H.264 and H.265 Encodingsame
Video Modes1080p@15fps, 720p2k, 1080p, 720p4k, 2K, 1080p, 720p
Warranty1-year warrantysamesame
Single price (approx.)$229 or $429 for two pack$419 but shop around$449 – ditto
GadgetGuyThis articleReviewReview
Arlo Essential Spotlight Camera
Arlo Essential Spotlight Camera is a wire-free 1080p video, two-way audio and an integrated spotlight with colour night vision.
Value for money
Ease of Use
Class-leading 1080p colour day and night images
Does not need a smart hub (only Wi-Fi)
Affordable for an Arlo
You need a paid Arlo Security cloud subscription to make the most of it
Non-removable battery and unscrew the camera to charge