Arlo Ultra home security system
4.4Overall Score
Name: Arlo Ultra
Price (RRP): $from $1049 plus a range of accessories and plans
Manufacturer: Arlo

Arlo Ultra is the latest offering from Arlo – now a separate company from its parent NETGEAR. Perhaps that is a good thing. It can focus on the Ultra system as a security system and down the track, as part of the burgeoning smart home systems market.

The following review is for the new Arlo Ultra system comprising the SmartHub base station, Ultra 4K cameras, Pro 2 cameras, lights, doorbell and chime. Warning – it is over 4000 words and is the most comprehensive review by far that we have seen anywhere. We invite Arlo Ultra users to contribute via the comments section at the end of this article about their experiences with home security systems – as we’d love to hear from you.

We reviewed the Arlo Pro in 2017 and the Arlo Pro 2 in April 2018 – both were good gear but in our opinion, the they didn’t quite meet some of the loftier marketing claims.

What is the Arlo Ultra System?

The Arlo Ultra system is essentially a 4th generation system that has addressed many of the past shortcomings. It has new 4K cameras and backwards compatibility with Arlo Pro/Pro 2 cameras (great to keep that investment). It is also compatible with the Arlo Doorbell and Chime, Arlo Security lights and some earlier products like the Arlo Q/Plus and Baby cameras. You can even have an Ultra SmartHub and the older Base Station sharing the same app.

It uses a cloud-based app that makes everything just that little easier to set up and use. The one App supports all products and makes it easy to see what is going on in one place. And that is important – there is much pain using multiple brand cameras as they all require separate apps. Arlo is one of the few suppliers that can cover most bases in one app.

It now comes with the first year of Arlo Smart Premier cloud (value $12.99 per month) for up to 10 cameras (Pro/Pro2 owners take note), and 30 days (rolling) cloud recordings. The cloud records in 1K (1920 x 1080) unless you upgrade to Arlo’s premium PVR 4K (3840 x 2160) package at extra cost. 4K is possible for live streaming over the local Wi-Fi network and to the microSD card in the SmartHub.

The endgame of the Arlo Ultra is to harness its SmartHub capabilities. The SmartHub has Zigbee, Z-Wave, ArloRF and should have HomeKit support for many more IoT devices. Let’s just say Arlo’s ambitions are along the lines of  “Works with Arlo” starting in H2, 2019. In the interim, it has an Alexa skill (not tested) and is Google Home compatible (flawless setup).

Arlo Ultra system – SmartHub and two Ultra 4K cameras

We will update this review as battery life settles down (based on the number of events) and we get more familiar with the system. A review over a few weeks does not quite get to the nitty-gritty that we like. To that end, Arlo has supplied the equipment for a long-term review.

Arlo Ultra kit

The Arlo Ultra System comes in a variety of different configurations, and there are some accessories as well. Here’s a quick list: (Prices from JB Hi-Fi)

  • An Arlo Ultra SmartHub and one or more Arlo 4K wire-free security cameras (website here). Two/three camera and SmartHub packs are $1049/1499. A single additional camera is $449.

In addition you can connect other Arlo products

  • Pro 2 camera (website here) Single camera $319
  • Security Light and Light hub (website here) – Two lights and bridge $399
  • Doorbell and Chime (website here) Pair is $129/99 = $228

Out of the lots of boxes

Arlo packs everything in nice retail style boxes. The Arlo two Ultra camera kit has

  • Two cameras (model VMC5040)
  • Two batteries A-4a (4800mAh, 3.85V/4.8A, 18W) not compatible with existing Arlo cameras
  • One USB-A charger 5V/2A (10W)
  • One magnetic charge base cable to USB-A charger port (ditto)
  • 2 x Magnetic mount screws for wall mount
  • Ultra SmartHub station, Ethernet cable and charger

Ultra camera charging

Initially, it is a pain to have to charge two cameras with only one charger and a proprietary magnetic base to USB-A cable (meaning you cannot use a standard USB cable). I guess that after that it will not be so much of an issue but remember that these cameras have a proprietary charge base so do not lose the cable.

Arlo Ultra charger

You can buy a spare 2.4m magnetic charge cable (VMA500C – about $50) and a spare A-4a battery (VMA5400 – about $100). A dual battery charging station (VMA5400C – about $100) is an option. Or an Arlo Ultra Solar Panel (VMA5600 – around $130) that we have not tested.

Arlo Ultra solar

The charger delivers 10W, but the battery is 18W, so using the supplied charger it took over five hours from 0-100%.

We charged the second camera using a 5V/3A (15W) third-party charger, and it took just over three hours. The camera battery does not support USB-PD, but it will happily charge at a higher amperage.

Arlo Pro 2 charging

Details of the Pro 2 are in our review. The 2440mAh battery uses a 5V/1.8A and 9V/1.1A charger that fills 0-100% in three hours. You can also use a 5V/2 or 3A charger as long as you have a micro-USB cable with a small shroud that fits the camera charge receptacle.

Ultra mounting

The base is flat, and there is a ¼-inch screw mount on the rear. The magnetic wall mount ($69 for a pair) requires you screw it to a surface and then its magnet will hold the Arlo camera’s internal steel frame. It is not compatible with other Arlo cameras.

Arlo Ultra hero

The optional screw mount (VMA1000/B white or black – about $25) has a standard ¼-inch tripod screw mount and fits all Arlo and Go Pro style cameras. It gives 360° rotation and 90° tilt.

Arlo Ultra 1/4 mont

Pro 2 mounting

The Arlo Pro 2 that has a magnetic ‘rear’ that will stick like glue to steel poles and door frames. You can also use the half golf-ball magnetic mount.

Arlo Pro 2

Setup – all

Download the Arlo app for Android (tested) or iOS. There is also a browser portal that you can access via PC or Mac.

First, set up an Arlo account. It needs to know a fair amount of information and requires camera, location, storage, phone and contacts access. While this is a lot, it needs this to operate as a remote security camera service. You can turn contacts off if you don’t share the account with family or friends.

Then, add the SmartHub. While it is simple, it does take time to update firmware (if needed) and has a quirk that every time you add another device, it checks if the SmartHub firmware is up to date – a pain adding a few minutes to each new device addition.

The SmartHub has microSD slot for local recording. It accepts from 16-256GB, FAT32, Class 10, UHS 3 cards. A 60-second 4K clip will be about 30MB so buy the largest card you can afford.

The only app changes are for time/zone and flicker adjustment (Auto 50Hz for Australia).

Next, add devices – in this case, we went for them all!

The Ultra camera is easy – plug in a charged battery, place it near the hub and use the app to ‘Add Camera’. It finds the camera (if not, there is a hidden manual sync button) and you name it. It will update the camera firmware.

Arlo Pro/2 requires that you plug in a battery and press the camera sync button. If you have existing Pro/2 cameras, make sure, the firmware is up to date first via your old base station.

Lights require adding the Well Light Bridge first (it connects between the lights and the SmartHub) and then you add and name lights.

Add the Doorbell first followed by the Chime. Then pair them (or you can use an existing wired chime as well).

Apart from the endless firmware checking Arlo have done an excellent job in flawlessly adding the devices to the app. The app will also indicate battery state and in the Arlo Ultra camera case – signal strength.

Arlo Ultra

Now here is where it may get interesting – you can add extra SmartHubs and Base Stations to the app.

If you have a typical large Aussie split-level home, the chances are that your Wi-Fi router is in the worst area like a cupboard or back room away from most of your Wi-Fi devices.

Our recommendation is to place the SmartHub in the best possible location – equidistant from the cameras, doorbell, lights etc. But you don’t necessarily want to run a long Ethernet cable to the router.

Instead, get a pair of NETGEAR Ethernet-over-Power – Powerline adaptors (about $199 for the pair). In fact, you can use more than two Powerline adaptors to distribute Ethernet ports around the house!

Now here is the conundrum about using a base station versus Wi-Fi attached cameras.

As you can now use the base station where it works best or add another (using Powerline to the router), you can now escape the typical 10-30 metre Wi-Fi 2.4Ghz range.

Just imagine – set up your old Arlo Pro 2 cameras outside the house connected to a nearby Pro base station, set up the 4K cameras where you need extra detail and the SmartHub where it offers maximum signal strength. Greater flexibility.

Rule One: A properly planned home Wi-Fi network pays huge dividends as you add more devices.

Now back to the Ultra SmartHub.

We have now solved the positioning dilemma – do not put it in a cupboard away from devices!!!

I can see the logic in keeping the Arlo devices off the main home Wi-Fi network only talking to the SmartHub. The only time the SmartHub accesses the Internet is to upload events (in 1K resolution or less) to the Arlo cloud, so you can remotely view them. Or you can just set it to record locally to a microSD card, but you must remove the card to view on a PC.

There is little to say about the hub – an Ethernet port, a LED to indicate its state, a reset pinhole and a sync button (for older Arlo products). But it hides a lot more inside. Apart from its SmartHub IoT potential (Works With Arlo mentioned earlier), it does much of the cameras work and helps manage power use.

So, I am now more convinced – no more video and audio traffic overwhelming my other IoT devices on the smart home network.

Voice Assistance

I added Arlo to Google Home, and it found all devices apart from the Doorbell and chime. That is no big deal, and I will get to the bottom of that later. Google Home allows you to view each camera or device but not make granular setting changes. It can also cast the camera image to a TV or smart screen.

Arlo Ultra Voice

There is a very small range of voice commands. “OK Google show FrontDoor on Sony”. I am sure that we will discover more things like Google’s geofencing or IFTTT (If this then do that), but that is for another day.

Camera VMC5040

Arlo is chuffed at the 4K camera – 1K (1080) or 720 or 480p is so yesterday. It says, “See your recordings in super sharp, 4K HDR detail.” So, we dug a little further and its pretty good.

Specifications: We have added the Arlo Pro 2 for comparison

Arlo Ultra Arlo Pro 2
Video resolution 4K, 3840 x 2160, HDR and falls back to 1K, or 720 depending on signal strength 1080p and falls back to 720 or 480 depending on signal strength
Frames per Second Not stated but we expect 30fps. However, it appears to be 15fps depending on signal strength Stated 30fps but we found the that varied from 15fps or less depending on signal strength
Video Format H.264 MP4 software decode/encode and
HVEC H.265 MP4
Requires hardware decode/encode on playback device
H.264 MP4 software decode/encode on almost any device or browser
Field of View 180° – software selectable to 155° and 120° 130° fixed
Zoom 12x digital, fixed focus. If using auto-zoom, it disables 4K 8x digital, fixed focus
Power A-4a, 4800mAh A-1, 2440mAh
Charge 5V/2A USB-A charger
Proprietary magnetic charge cable.
Can use Ultra Solar Panel
5V/1.8A and 9V/1.1A
USB-A to micro-USB
Can use Pro Solar Panel
Battery Life Claim 4-6 months
We think it is about 10% use per week – 10 weeks
Charge time about 5 hours in camera and faster with optional dual battery charger.
Claim 3-6 months
Our tests were closer to 2 months
Charge time about 3 hours

Two-Way Audio Dual, noise-cancelling microphones and full-duplex audio. Effectiveness depends on signal strength Two-way audio – effectiveness depends on signal strength
PIR Motion Detection Claimed 8M
Test showed maximum efficiency to 6M
Same
Motion Zones Yes but requires mains power as for CVR and lookback (pre-buffering) Up to 3 activity zones when plugged-in
Mode Armed/disarmed
Schedule
Geofencing
Only one mode at a time per camera
Same
Person/Animal Detection Subscription required Same
Night Vision Colour Night Vision if within in-built LED range 850 nm LEDs for improved mono vision
Requires a Base Station Arlo SmartHub Arlo Pro Base Station
Max # of Cameras per Base Station 2 x 4K concurrent streams but more for lower rates – TBA 15 but maximum 5 x 1K concurrent streams
Siren In camera 76dB In Base station – 80+dB
24/7 Recording Optional PVR package at extra cost Optional when plugged-in
Local Backup Storage SD Card in SmartHub USB in Base station
Cloud Storage Includes a one-year subscription
to Arlo Smart Premier
7-Day Free / Subscription
App Support Android, iOS, FireOS, Web Same
Rich Notifications With Subscription Same
Weather-resistant IP65 same
LED Lights Spotlight, 6500K, 42 lumens at 1m Arlo Security Light sold separately
Voice Assistance Google Assistant
Amazon Alexa
IFTTT
Same

These are good specs but do not really tell you how it works.

Two Ultra cameras (max) can simultaneously stream 4K to the SmartHub. If you enable things like auto-zoom or auto-tracking, it drops to 1K or lower. You can connect the cameras to the older Pro Base Station, but you only get 1K video at best. And you can only stream 4K to your smartphone on the local network – not remotely from the cloud – or the microSD card unless you pay for a PVR cloud upgrade.

Power management options are best video, optimised, or best battery. That leaves the resolution at 4K but changes the bit rate. A lower bit rate means a lower quality image.

Lowlight settings include colour/mono (bandwidth changes), night vision and brightness. And we love the software settable field of view.

You can upgrade the Arlo cloud subscription at extra cost to get smart alerts that can be customised to identify people, vehicles, animals, or other motion. We did not access that feature.

Compared to the Arlo Pro 2 it has more accurate colours and sharper details as well as software selectable field of view.

You can set activity zones (the default is everywhere) to trip the motion sensor. You can turn motion detection to its lowest setting (for example if used as a straight live stream camera). Motion detection sensitivity is a trial and error thing to lower the risk of false positives.

The two-way audio works within the confines of a small speaker (very harsh) and signal strength (if it’s low, forget audio).

We noted that the Ultra Camera has a signal strength metre (camera positioning) and the Arlo Pro 2 does not. Our observation is that the Ultra has longer range from the SmartHub than the Pro 2

How does it look?

Arlo Ultra IR vision
Arlo Ultra – IR vision

Pro

  • 4K HDR video capture (dependent on signal strength) is clear, crisp and brighter
  • Can auto-track and auto-zoom but only at 1K
  • Colour night vision to about 2 metres (sorry no examples)
  • Well-made and the new unibody outer cover design makes it more weather resistant
  • Choice of field-of-view and multiple motion detection zones
  • Audio is better but not perfect

Con

  • Different battery to Arlo Pro 2/Security Light
  • 4K cloud recording costs extra
  • HDR does not make a significant difference indoors – its optimised for outdoors
  • Only one proprietary magnetic charging cable and charger supplied
  • No magnetic ‘rear’ like the Arlo Pro 2
  • Maximum two concurrent 4K streams (additional cameras stream at 1K or lower)
  • Siren is 76dB – could be louder
  • Most streams were [email protected] – not 30fps, but that could be a signal strength issue
  • No Apple Home Kit
  • Adobe Flash Player required to view video on web-portal

Mixing Arlo Pro 2 (earlier Pro not tested but does work)

The Arlo Pro 2 camera is a [email protected]/15fps camera, 130° FOV, IR and costs $319 (versus $449). GadgetGuy reviewed it here but to be fair our 3.6-out-of-5 rating was more about the overall package than the camera. It is a competent 1K camera – more so now when attached to the Ultra SmartHub.

It really should be the base of your Arlo Ultra camera setup. Use them where its more about live streaming or where its magnetic ‘rear’ is more convenient to stick to a metal pole or door frame etc.

More importantly, Existing Arlo users can continue to use them with the new SmartHub, using the 4K cameras sparingly where you need additional definition. And if you are a savvy shopper, you might just find them at around $200 online (no base station).

Arlo doorbell and optional chime

We could devote an entire review – but time is precious. The doorbell does not have a camera but has a motion detector. You can pair it to an Arlo Ultra camera (with LED spotlight) or an Arlo Pro/2 (IR light only) and Arlo Security light for darker areas.

Arlo Ultra Doorbell andn Chime

The doorbell runs off two AA batteries. It can work with the Arlo Chime and/or an existing wired mechanical or digital chime. We did not test this as wired chimes use between 8-24V AC (not DC) and you should use sparky to connect AC.

It connects to the Arlo SmartHub

We have tested it at 10 metres (and down one floor), 20 and 30 metres (after pairing first to the SmartHub). It was reliable at 10 metres, and reliability dropped off markedly from there.

We paired an Arlo Pro 2 and Light, but the lag between motion detection and recording was over 30 seconds. The Arlo Pro 2 does not have a signal strength (video bandwidth) metre. We then paired to the Arlo Ultra, and the video signal was ‘weak’ at 10 metres (and down one floor). The lag between pressing the doorbell and video reduced to about 10 seconds.

We suspect signal strength is the doorbell’s Achilles heel.

The app knows your mobile phone number so as well as activating the chime it can ring your mobile. You can turn this feature off but its remarkably handy and two-way voice quality is good, but the loudness is a little low.

Arlo Ultra doorbell

It also prompts callers to leave a voice message if you do not answer your phone. You can set up family mode to allow others to answer the call. You can also put it in silent mode and enable email alerts.

The Chime plugs into a 240V outlet. It is loud enough at 78dB, and we understand (not tested) that you can have up to five chimes around the house. The base station supports two doorbells.

Pro

  • Works with the Arlo Chime, Arlo Ultra or Pro 2 camera and Arlo Security Light
  • Can use most existing wired chimes
  • Weather resistant
  • Reasonably fast press-to-call time
  • Two-way conversation is possible but can be laggy

Con

  • Doorbell speaker volume peaks at 65dB – hard for callers to hear in a busy area
  • Audio quality and lag is variable (depends on signal strength)
  • Motion detection can suffer from too many false alarms – placement is critical. Cannot adjust the sensitivity (a software issue)
  • Triggering a paired camera and light can be laggy (depends on signal strength)
  • Cannot assume 100% reliability like a wired doorbell/chime
  • Battery life depends on mAh rating of AA batteries – use Alkaline batteries with 2500mAh or more
  • Requires an Arlo SmartHub (or Pro Base station) and camera/light so that ups the investment
  • Why didn’t Arlo make it a combo camera/light/doorbell? Just announced!!!

Summary: The Arlo Doorbell is V1.0, and I suspect software updates will cure some reported issues. GadgetGuy did not experience any unworkable issues apart from lag times. It all comes down to signal strength, and we repeat the advice earlier – plan where to put the Ultra Base station, so the signal is as strong as possible for all devices.

It is really only for existing Arlo users only, and we suggest you read the Arlo Community Chime page before buying.

Arlo Security Light (2 pack)

The Security Light is an IP65, PIR (passive infrared), motion activated, 400 lumens, LED light. It is a great companion to an Arlo Pro 2 (Arlo Ultra has a LED spot) in a dark location like an alley or hallway. The lights can flash, flood (wider), spot (narrow beam), change colours, are ambient light sensitive and can trigger an Arlo camera. They can stay lit for 5, 10, 20, 30, or 60 minutes.

Arlo light

While 400 lumens may sound a lot, it is like a 40W light bulb (although with a more concentrated beam). Consider that office lighting is between 400-500 lumens and a 150W Para flood is about 1000 lumens. Colour temperature is about 4000K – cool white.

What it does is add enough light to bring colour and definition back into the camera image. Our tests showed that the effective light range is about three metres, and motion detection is about 5 metres.

The lights connect via Bluetooth LE to a Well Light Bridge (plugs into a 240V socket) that in theory can be up to 30 metres away. Our tests indicate that 10 metres inside a house or 20 metres line-of-sight distance is more realistic. There is a range finder test in the app.

The Bridge connects to the Ultra SmartHub so it can be up to 20-30 metres away.

Our tests show that 20 metres is about maximum. You can have multiple Bridges, each supporting up to four lights.

Arlo Light and hub

The lights have an A-1, 7.2V/2.44A (17.57W), 2440mAh VMA400 battery and come with a 5V/2A (10W) USB-A to micro-USB charger. The battery is the same as the Arlo Pro 2 camera uses so you can use its charger and any charging stations.

When we used the supplied 5V/2A charger, it took over five hours. However, when we used the Arlo Pro 2 charger (5V/1.8A and 9V/1.1A) the time reduced to three hours.

We have not been able to estimate battery life yet, and Arlo claims 4-6 months depending on use. We suspect that the LEDs draw a lot more power than a camera and as such the life may be closer to two-three months.

This would be a great candidate for a solar panel.

The pack comes with two ¼-inch camera screw mounts and screws.

We also found the light useful to illuminate dark pedestrian areas outside the house – pathways etc. But if that were your sole purpose, then there are a lot of lower cost options.

Our only issue was that every time it detected motion, we got an alert from the light and the camera. For the light to come on, you need motion detection enabled. For the camera to come on, you need motion detection enabled. The app needs more work to allow for one or the other to be the master and trigger the other.

Pro

  • Adequate light for a small hall or foyer
  • Good visible deterrent
  • Adds colour and definition to an IR camera

Con

  • All Arlo devices have a very small micro-USB cable connection ‘space’ meaning few third-party cables will fit

GadgetGuy’s take: The Arlo Ultra ‘system’ does the job well – if you plan your system

The Arlo Ultra is a holistic ‘system’ where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The hub and devices all come together via the app. Sure that needs more work in the consistency department, but it is a very good start.

The Arlo Ultra camera and SmartHub are quite an advance on the Arlo Pro/2 camera and Base Station.

The Ultra represents the way forward, and I am sure Arlo will release future SmartHub devices that will have superior performance.

Our sage advice is to plan, plan, plan and plan again. The placement of the SmartHub is critical to success. In our case with a two-level home, we will use the older Base Station on the ground floor closer to the Security Lights and Doorbell/Chime to control them and the SmartHub on the top floor to control Ultra cameras. We have not done that yet, but the app supports multiple hubs, so it is a project for the future.

And I learnt a lot from the Arlo Community and a huge range of support material. You are buying into a well-established ecosystem.

Before this review, we had two dislikes.

First, was the use of a SmartHub (or base station).

Had we tried to do this with Wi-Fi devices (camera’s, lights, doorbell etc), we would have had to use a Mesh Wi-Fi system or extenders. I doubt that would have been as reliable or convenient as the Arlo Ultra.

The SmartHub keeps unnecessary traffic off the home Wi-Fi, and that is a good thing as I suspect four cameras, two lights, doorbell and chime would have used my precious bandwidth.

Second, is ongoing cloud recording costs

In truth, my hesitance here was due to my Scottish nature, but over time, we have succumbed to Spotify, Netflix, and more so I can see the need for a subscription economy.

Arlo now offers

  • Basic cloud – free for up to 5 cameras and seven days cloud recording
  • Premier plan is $12.99 per month ($129 per year) and supports up to ten cameras and 30-days/10GB recording
  • Elite plan is $18.99 per month ($189 per year) and supports up to 15 cameras and 60 days/100GB

Plan extras

The above plans only cover ‘event’ recording – short clips when motion or a doorbell sets it off. The recording is at 1K maximum resolution – 4K is via live stream or microSD card only. Premium video add-on per camera is $2.99 per camera per month to allow 4K cloud record.

You must add $12.99/24.99 per month ($129/249 per year) per camera for 14-day/30-day rollover CVR (continuous 24/7) recording.

And from what we can see Arlo Smart (person/package/animal/vehicle detection) is an extra $3.99 per camera per month as well and part of the Elite plan.

If you are aware of the need for a paid plan, then we have done our job.

Arlo Ultra home security system
Name: Arlo Ultra Price (RRP): $from $1049 plus a range of accessories and plans Manufacturer: Arlo
Arlo is a system comprising a hub, cameras, light, doorbell, and chime all wrapped in a single appEasy set-up via the app or a browser (needs Adobe Flash)When set up properly it should be more reliable in terms of accessing cameras more quicklyIt has remote viewing capability via a smartphone and local microSD storageArlo 4K is clearer, has better colour and detailsAnd there is the future expandability of “Works with Arlo”
Sorry its damned expensive so practice arm twisting at your favourite retaillerDon’t complain if it does not work – it is likely a hub placement issue and you will get it rigth eventuallyThings like lag and poor two-way audio are signal strength related due to building materials and hub placement
Features
Value for money
Performance
Ease of Use
Design
4.4Overall Score
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