While a few years ago pretty much anything internet-connected was cool, these days, customers are used to smart home products - and companies releasing them need to differentiate themselves from the competition in order to make any headway.
The good news? Arlo has done just that with the new 4K-compatible Arlo Ultra.
Obviously Arlo isn’t alone in trying to corner the smart security market - and companies like Ring, Nest, and even Logitech, Arlo present heavy competition - but the Ultra is one of the (very) few smart security camera to offer support for a 4K resolution, helping it to stand out in an ever-more-crowded field.
But is UHD truly enough to make the $399 (£369, AU$1,049) smart security camera worth buying? We’ve been using it for a few weeks now to find out.
Design and setup
The first thing you’ll notice about the Arlo Ultra is that it’s a great-looking product: Like previous-generation Arlo products, the Ultra has a classic-looking white-and-black design, and we quite like it.
The camera itself has a black face, while the rest of the device is white. On the front, you’ll get the camera lens itself, along with a so-called “spotlight” above it. On the bottom of the camera, there’s the charging pins and a button to open the camera, which is how you insert the battery. On either side, there’s the Arlo logo, and on the back you’ll find a screw mount for easier mounting.
Of course, the camera itself isn’t the only thing to consider - Arlo cameras work through a hub, so if you haven’t used an Arlo camera before, you’ll also be getting a hub to complete your Arlo setup. (Don't worry, one comes in the box.)
The hub design pretty much matches the camera - it’s mostly white, and looks pretty good. The Arlo SmartHub features a power input and an ethernet port, and during the setup process you’ll connect it to your Wi-Fi router.
The camera itself is pretty easy to set up, too: The Camera comes with a magnetic base, which is handy for mounting the camera on a wall or ceiling. We found it pretty simple to screw the base into a wall, then attach the camera magnetically to that base.
Speaking of setup, you'll then need to set up the Arlo Ultra app, which is as easy as following the on-screen instructions. You’ll download the Arlo app, and create an account if you don’t already have one, then tap the product you want to set up, which is the Arlo Ultra in this case. During that process, you’ll be told to plug the SmartHub into your router, insert the battery into the camera, and so on.
The whole setup process is really very simple, but if you’re at all intimidated, the app walks you through every step of the way.
Once the Arlo Ultra is physically set up, you may want to adjust a few settings in the app. For example, we quickly set up geofencing, whereby the camera turned itself on and off based on the location of a smartphone. You may also want to tweak the name of the camera, and dive into other settings, depending on your preferences.
Once the Arlo Ultra is all set up and ready to use, using it requires little attention... unless something bad happens: If your camera turns on when you’re gone, and off when you’re home, you should only get notifications when the camera detects motion or other events happen.
Of course, there’s also image quality to consider, especially because of the fact that this is one of the few 4K cameras out there.
The good news? The image quality on the Arlo Ultra is great. The resolution allows for much greater detail to be observed through the Arlo app, and it offers HDR support too. The camera offers other features too - it has a 180-degree field-of-view, and color night vision. It goes a step further with automatic zooming and motion tracking, making for a pretty smart system.
All the tech aside, all you really need to know is that footage from the Arlo Ultra offers a high resolution and bright colors, plus it has a super-wide field-of-view, meaning that it should be able to capture most of what happens outside your door, in your home, or wherever else you place it.
Even better, at night, the camera quality is pretty good, too. Details are crisp and sharp, and we found it easy to make out whatever is going on. If you want color, you can also toggle turn on the floodlight easily, which is handy.
It’s generally pretty high-quality when it comes to audio, as there’s a dual-microphone array, and the camera has noise-cancellation tech to cut out wind noise, which comes in handy for two-way audio if you need to use it.
Currently, the Arlo Ultra works with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, which is a very helpful touch - and means that you can ask your preferred assistant to show footage from the camera on your TV, view a live feed from your preferred smart home app, and so on. That said, we’re looking forward to more smart home integration later in the year - Arlo has promised HomeKit integration, and the SmartHub should get Z-Wave and Zigbee integration later in the year.
It's not all good news, though, and we found a few annoyances to note in using the Arlo Ultra. For starters, if you choose to store footage locally on a MicroSD card, you can’t access that footage in the app - you have to manually take out the SD card and view footage on your computer or another device. Arlo says a fix to that is coming, but it may not be for at least a few months.
The Ultra also defaults to HD recording, and if you enable certain settings, like auto tracking, you can’t use the camera in 4K at all. That’s a bit of a bummer - after all, perhaps the best thing about having 4K is the ability to zoom in and still have decent detail in your footage.
You’ll also need a service plan to make the most of your Arlo Ultra, even with some features unrelated to anything Arlo is doing after you buy the camera. For example, you’ll need a plan for any continuous video recording, and without a plan you won’t get any person or animal detection.
In general, the Arlo app is well-designed and easy to use, especially after you’ve had it for a few days and tweak the settings to your liking.
On the home screen of the app, you’ll find a view of your cameras that are set up, along with quick buttons to access the settings of your SmartHub and each camera. You’ll also be able to quickly and easily add new cameras and devices through this screen.
The settings for each device are also relatively easy to access. From the settings menu of the camera, you’ll be able to switch cameras on and off easily, check the battery level of your device, and change the video settings.
There are other sections of the app too. For example, you can see a list of events in the “Library” section, and set the different modes your cameras are in from the “Mode” tab. Last but not least is the “Settings” tab, from which you can set up notifications, your profile, manage your subscription, and so on.
Generally, we think most will be able to easily navigate the app, and found that it offered a nice selection of features.
The Arlo Ultra is a well-designed camera with excellent, detailed image-quality. We love the added clarity thanks to the 4K resolution, and the app made settings relatively easy to use.
That said, the whole system isn’t perfect. Some settings require you to be using a HD resolution, and there are some issues when recording footage locally. Still, those issues are manageable, and some will be fixed through software and firmware updates as time goes on.
There’s also the question of price - and it’s important to keep in mind that it’s not just the price of the camera that you’ll have to consider. Not only will you shell out $400 for the Ultra starter pack, but after your free year you may also want to get a service plan in order to get all the features on offer.
Issues aside, we think the Arlo Ultra is one of the few 4K security cameras, and we think it’s a great choice for anyone that wants a high-resolution smart security camera - especially folks who are already within the Arlo ecosystem.
- Ready to tech-out your house? Here's our list of the best smart home gadgets