Arlo Essential Wireless Video Doorbell review

Arlo Essential Wireless Video Doorbell: keep an eye on things (review)

100% human

Letting you see who’s at the door, even if they don’t bother to knock, the Arlo Essential Wireless Video Doorbell lets you watch over your doorstep from afar.

Smart doorbells once seemed like a bit of a novelty, but they’ve really proven their worth over the last few years. While family and friends couldn’t always come around to visit during the pandemic, you’ve probably had more couriers come to the door than ever – something that’s likely to continue. If they fail to knock or ring the doorbell, your precious delivery can sit on the doorstep for hours – hopefully not seen by a passerby with sticky fingers.

Beyond simple motion detection, the new generation of smart doorbells are smart enough to recognise people – meaning they can alert you when someone walks up the driveway, but not hassle you every time a tree moves in the wind.

While the tech giants like Google and Amazon offer smart doorbells to round out their smart home offerings, security camera specialist Arlo also offers an extensive range including the Arlo Essential Wireless Video Doorbell. It has a few strengths and weaknesses which make it a worthy contender for pride of place alongside your front door.

Review: Arlo Essential Wireless Video Doorbell

Australian websiteHere
Price$299 RRP
Warranty1 year
Other  More GadgetGuy Arlo news and reviews

First impressions

The Arlo Essential Wireless Video Doorbell isn’t quite as sleek as the Google Nest Doorbell (Battery), and you don’t have the choice of coloured faceplates available with the Amazon Ring Video Doorbell 4. That said, the Arlo doesn’t look too out of place – with a choice of black and white to help match the style of your house.

One bonus is that it’s much easier to install alongside your front door than the fiddly and cumbersome Amazon Ring Video Doorbell 4. It’s also easy to remove the battery and recharge it every few months via micro-USB. The front of the Arlo pops off with a special tool, designed to stop would-be thieves from making off with it.

Like the others, the Arlo comes with an angled mount wedge, so you can install the camera at an angle rather than facing directly away from the wall. The angle isn’t as sharp as you might want, so you could end up wedging something else behind it.

It’s best to install the doorbell about 1.2 metres off the ground, so you get a good view of people’s faces. The camera offers a fish-eyed square view of the world, almost 180 degrees in each direction, to grant a wider field of view than the Google and Amazon doorbells. That said, you can’t always see a parcel sitting directly underneath on the doorstep, Google has a slight advantage there.

Arlo Essential Wireless Video Doorbell product shot
The slender Arlo Essential Wireless Video Doorbell won’t look too out of place alongside your front door.

Setting up the Arlo Essential Wireless Video Doorbell

Setting up the doorbell requires downloading the Arlo Secure app for iOS or Android. Like Google and Amazon, Arlo also offers a range of indoor and outdoor cameras for around the house, which you can view via the same app.

The instructions say the doorbell will only connect to a 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi network, meaning you need to connect your phone to 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi to set it up. This is tricky if, like me, you have a dual-band Wi-Fi router and your smartphone wants to favour the 5 GHz network. Despite this, somehow it all went smoothly.

There’s also the option to wire the doorbell into your existing doorbell power, but I tested it running on batteries. I’m a homeowner, but the fact it doesn’t need to be hard-wired makes it a more practical option for people who are renting.

One strength of the Arlo ecosystem is that it also offers the $79 Arlo Chime 2, which also connects to your Wi-Fi network. This way you can install one or more chimes throughout your house to hear the doorbell without needing to rely on annoying alerts through your smart speakers (yes, Google, I’m looking at you). There’s also the option to wire up an existing door chime.

Along with this, you can also receive alerts on your smartphone when the camera sees someone approach, as well as when they push the button. Unfortunately, these alerts aren’t as flexible as you might prefer, which could be a deal-breaker in some homes.

The Arlo Secure app can also be a bit counter-intuitive at times and doesn’t always group together features the way you might expect.

Arlo Essential Wireless Video Doorbell specs

Dimensions47 x 143 x 37 mm
Weight249 gm with battery
Field of view1:1 180-degree 
Video1536×1536 (optional 1080×1080, 720×720) HDR
ZoomDigital x12
Night visionInfrared LEDs (850nm) with IR Cut FIlter
AudioSingle Microphone ArrayFull duplex 2-way audio, SIP audio/video call initiated at doorbell press
Weatherproof-20 to 45 degree Celsius
ColoursBlack, white

Features

These days people expect all their devices to be smart and the Arlo Essential Wireless Video Doorbell does a pretty good job of delivering on those expectations – with a few interesting exceptions.

You can receive smartphone alerts when the doorbell detects movement. You’re also notified when someone presses the button, with the ability to talk to them through your phone (we’ll get back to that in a moment). If you’re unable to respond, there’s the option for them to leave a voice message.

You can also see a video history of events up to 30 days past, but only if you pay for one of Arlo’s subscription services; Arlo Secure ($4.99 p/m single camera, $14.99 p/m unlimited cameras) or Arlo Secure Plus ($21.99 p/m unlimited cameras). You can also download the videos to your phone.

Additionally, you can upgrade to continuous video recording but it’s not cheap, at $12.99 p/m for a 14-day archive or $24.99 p/m for 30 days. Funnily enough, while I was testing the Arlo doorbell the cops rang the doorbell one day.

A stolen car had been abandoned across the road and they were checking to see whether my doorbell might have captured something, but they were out of luck because I wasn’t using the continuous video service. If only they’d rung the doorbell, the cops might have nabbed them.

Arlo Secure stores 2K video clips, while Arlo Secure Plus stores 4K video – which is overkill if you only have this doorbell and not a 4K Arlo camera somewhere else in the house. Apart from the video resolution, both subscriptions are the same, offering animated previews, interactive notifications, activity zones and smart object detection. 

Arlo throws in an Arlo Secure three-month trial to get you started. With a subscription, you can cut down on unwanted notifications thanks to the ability to specify zones within the camera’s field of view. Meanwhile, its smart object detection can distinguish people, animals, vehicles and packages – although it says for the best results with package detection you should have the camera installed up high, which isn’t very practical for a doorbell.

Arlo’s Foresight feature shows you a few seconds of video leading up to the event, such as motion or a doorbell press. This significantly reduces the chances of missing something important. Unfortunately, unlike Ring’s equivalent Pre-Roll feature, Arlo doesn’t offer Foresight when the doorbell is running on batteries. 

While you can answer the door in real-time from your smartphone, it’s worth noting the doorbell won’t actually save any recordings unless you sign up for Arlo Secure. It’s the same with Amazon’s Ring, but Google is more generous – you get three hours of free video storage, as well as people, animal, vehicle and package detection along with custom activity zones. 

There are a few other Arlo features that might come in handy, like a built-in siren and the ability for the indoor chine to make noise – such as a dog barking – when the camera sees people at the window.

The Arlo ecosystem can talk to Alexa, Google, SmartThings and IFTTT if you’re looking to integrate it into your existing smart home setup. This means you can view the camera’s live feed on a smart display such as an Amazon Echo Show or Google Nest Hub.

Arlo Chime 2
Arlo Chime 2

Alerts

Like most video doorbells, the Arlo Essential Wireless Video Doorbell lets you talk to unexpected visitors on your doorstep, but there are a few quirks when it comes to alerts.

Firstly, when you get a motion notification on your phone, it insists on making the same sound as an incoming text message. There’s no way to change this, which is very frustrating as sometimes you can miss one type of notification because you mistake it for another. Google has the same limitation, but Ring is more flexible.

Secondly, when someone rings the Arlo doorbell, the Arlo Secure app insists on ringing, as if it is receiving an incoming phone call. There’s no way to disable this and opt to only receive a smartphone pop-up notification instead.

This is incredibly frustrating – Arlo assumes that you want to talk to everyone at the door and that it’s as important as a phone call. If the call comes in when your phone is locked, you can’t even hit a red button to decline the call if you’re in the middle of something. If the phone is unlocked, the pop-up notification at least has a decline button.

All of this is surprising considering how much the younger generation doesn’t like to make calls these days.

There is a partial workaround through the app’s Silent Mode, although it can be temperamental. It gives you the option to disable the phone call when someone presses the button, while retaining the inside chime alert. If you do this, the camera won’t record a clip when someone rings the doorbell.

To cut down on alerts, you can also automatically enable and disable them, based on a schedule or use geofencing to detect when your phone leaves the house and returns home.

Quality

When it comes to video quality, the 1536×1536 resolution is pretty good for making out faces, assisted by High Dynamic Range and auto night vision. The Arlo Essential Wireless Video Doorbell is quick to switch off night vision when the porch light comes on, unlike some doorbells, so the picture isn’t so overblown that you can’t see anything. Unfortunately, it can struggle a bit with bright backlights which means faces can sometimes look a little dark.

The zones on the camera’s field of view help reduce false positives, such as people walking along the street. The trade-off, as with all such doorbells, is that it takes the motion sensor longer to realise that someone is actually walking down the driveway towards the door. This is where the lack of pre-roll can be frustrating.

When it comes to response time, even with the zone only focused on the driveway, the doorbell’s camera still kicks in quickly enough to catch a family member’s face as they let themselves in the door.

It’s not smart enough to tell the difference between someone walking up to the door and someone walking out of the door. So you get a smartphone alert whenever someone leaves the house, even if you’re going out the front to the bins.

As for when someone rings the doorbell, the device makes a sound and the chime inside usually responds in one to two seconds. Both offer a range of sounds to choose from, but most options are hideous.

If you’ve set the smartphone app to ring when someone presses the button, your phone tends to respond in about seven seconds when you’re on 5G. That’s likely fast enough to ensure that you’ll actually get to talk to the person before they walk away, unlike some smart doorbells I’ve tested.

GadgetGuy’s take

The Arlo Essential Wireless Video Doorbell is a worthy contender in the smart video doorbell space, but whether it’s the right doorbell for your home depends on which features you value and whether or not you’re prepared to pay for a subscription.

Running on Wi-Fi and battery mode, the Arlo is certainly more responsive than some video doorbells, although the lack of Foresight pre-roll is disappointing. Its wide horizontal and vertical viewing angles are a plus.

It all comes down to what you want from a smart doorbell. Do you want it to notify you when someone comes to the door, or do you actually want to talk to whoever is at the door? For me, it’s the former, so I just can’t get past Arlo’s inflexible notifications – insisting on ringing me when someone presses the button is ridiculous. It might not be a big deal for some people, but for me, it’s a deal-breaker. 

Having spent a few months each using the Google, Amazon and Arlo doorbells, they all have their strengths and weaknesses. At the end of the day, the Amazon Ring is my pick of the bunch thanks to the flexibility of its notifications.

Would I buy it?

Only if I was already wedded to the Arlo ecosystem and I was happy with the doorbell calling me.

Arlo Essential Wireless Video Doorbell: keep an eye on things (review)
Arlo Essential Wireless Video Doorbell ensures that your front door never goes unanswered, regardless of where you are.
Features
8.5
Value for money
7.5
Performance
9
Ease of use
6
Design
9
Positives
Reasonably fast response times
Wide field of view
Can record messages when you don't answer the ring
Negatives
Inflexible notifications
No pre-roll video when running on batteries
Most features require a subscription (impacts value for money)
8