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Arlo Essential Review 2021
Arlo’s first-ever SmartHub-free outdoor camera.
If Arlo puts you off because you have to buy the company’s expensive base station to make its cameras work, your days of frustration are over. The Arlo Essential doesn’t require extra hardware to function, and it has almost every safety feature a camera could use.
As with most Arlo cameras, you’ll need to pay for a plan before you can use all of the Essential’s features. But since you aren’t shelling out money for a base, the plan is a lot more affordable.
Amazon.com List Prices (as of 06/17/2021 11:20 MST). Full disclaimer
Arlo Essential features
In our estimation, the most significant difference between the Arlo Essential and other Arlo outdoor cameras is the Essential’s lack of SmartHub.
That’s right; you don’t need an Arlo base station or SmartHub to connect with this camera. Arlo recommends using the hub if you have one (for one thing, you need it to access local storage), but it’s not required.
But that’s not all this camera has up its sleeve. Here’s a full list of what you can expect from your Essential.
Arlo Essential features:
- 1080p video without subscription
- 130° viewing angle
- Indoor-outdoor use
- Two-way audio
- Color night vision
- Motion detection
- Customizable motion zones
- Package detection
- Person detection
- Vehicle detection
- Animal detection
- Solar capabilities
- Rechargeable batteries
- Local and cloud storage
- Two color options
According to the Arlo website, the Essential Wireless Security Cameras come in both white and black. That’s a new step for Arlo, a company that’s known for its white camera shells.
That’s a lot of features! But some of them are out of reach unless you choose to use a paid subscription.
Advanced object detection
This camera is far from the first to include person, package, vehicle, or animal detection, but it’s one of the few we’ve seen with all four.
The different motion-detection settings are scattered across the app, making it challenging to manage them. Essentially, though, you can toggle all settings on or off. So if you want to get notifications for your Amazon delivery and your neighbor’s cat, you can. Likewise, if you want to exclude people, packages, vehicles, or animals from your motion detection, you can do that, too.
Said exclusion option is more helpful if you live on a busy street. If you live on a street with average traffic or choose to use the camera indoors, we recommend keeping all motion detection settings on.
This camera offers a test that helps you determine if your motion detection is working, which we like.
The spotlight definitely has the potential to startle intruders! We placed the camera on a landing for most of our tests. It gave us a bit of a shock every time the light snapped on when we walked up the stairs in the dark.
You can set the siren to activate automatically, or you can activate it manually from the app.
The siren comes with a warning that it’s “extremely loud,” but it didn’t sound very loud to us. The Essential siren doesn’t hold up next to the Arlo Ultra siren; we’re not sure you’d be able to hear it unless you’re close by.
This camera will work with Arlo’s upcoming Essential Solar Panel. We’re not exactly sure when the panel will be ready, but we like the idea of harnessing solar power vs. recharging the batteries.
The batteries in the Essential Camera are supposed to last six months on a charge. But we found that after a few days of use, the battery levels dropped by 9%. While that’s nothing to sneer at, it’s not promising if you want your batteries to last half a year without taking the camera down to charge.
Arlo Essential pricing
To buy this camera on its own, it’s $170. If you want three, it’s $349.99, and if you want four, $479.98.* While Arlo isn’t the most budget-friendly camera manufacturer out there, these prices aren’t astronomical. Especially if you compare the price to Google Nest.
It looks like Arlo also plans to sell this camera as a bundle with the solar panel, although we don’t yet know when or how much it will cost.
*Amazon.com List Prices (as of 03/03/2021 1:00 MST)
The Arlo Essential comes with a three-month-long trial of Arlo Smart Premier. After that, if you want cloud storage or anything else that comes with a higher-tier plan, you need to pay.
|Features||Arlo Smart (no plan)||Arlo Smart Premier||Arlo Smart Elite|
|Price||Free||$2.99/mo. for 1 camera; $9.99/mo. for up to 5 cameras||$4.99/mo. for 1 camera; $14.99/mo. for up to 5 cameras|
|Custom activity zones|
|Advanced object detection|
|E911 emergency call service (with multi-camera plans)|
|Details||View on Amazon||View on Amazon||View on Amazon|
Data effective 06/17/2021. Offers subject to change.
As you can see, many of the best features are hidden behind the paywall, which is disappointing. It’s hard to justify buying the Essential without the features when you can get a cheaper camera with everything included.
But the subscription is pretty affordable for a single camera, so if there’s a feature you really want, the cost likely won’t be insurmountable. Take the money you didn’t spend on the base station and get a few years of video storage instead! We would suggest the Smart Premier over the Smart Elite, unless you feel you can’t do without 4K.
Arlo Essential home automation
The Essential camera works with Alexa, Google Assistant, and IFTTT, which is pretty typical. Less typically, it also connects with Apple HomeKit and Samsung SmartThings. If you’re an Apple or Samsung stan, this is one of the only leading camera brands that will work with your favorite hub.
Arlo still lacks integration with Z-Wave and Zigbee, which means you can’t directly connect your camera or your Arlo account to many smart lights, smart locks, and other home devices. But with the existing compatibility, you can indirectly connect to almost anything. The links just have to go through a central hub or protocol.
People aren’t crazy about the Arlo mobile app. It has four-ish star ratings on both the App Store and Google Play, and users are constantly criticizing it in their Amazon reviews.
It’s not the worst app we’ve run into. But we do wish that some of the settings were easier to find. It’s way more intuitive to click on a single device and adjust all its settings from one screen than it is to hunt down settings across the app.
Arlo Essential installation
If you love DIY home improvement projects, you’ll be thrilled to know you’ll set up this camera yourself. (Unless, like some of our team members, you know someone who loves to do manual labor in exchange for dinner.)
Arlo Essential installation steps:
- Charge the camera.
- Download the Arlo app.
- Create an Arlo account.
- Select Devices > Add New Device > Cameras > Essential.
- Select your Essential model.
- Choose whether to connect the camera to a SmartHub.
- Connect the app to your Wi-Fi network.
- Follow the app instructions to complete the camera setup.
- Secure the Arlo mount in the desired location.
Make sure you secure the camera in a place you can reach again since (until the solar panel comes available) you’ll have to dismount it at least twice a year for battery recharges. Or you can mount it within an extension cord’s reach of an outlet if you’d rather bring the charge to the camera.
Recap: Is Arlo Essential good?
When all is said and done, if you’re looking for an Arlo camera, this would be one of our first recommendations. The base station-free design just can’t be beat, and the upcoming solar power function is another step in the right direction for user convenience.
- Features: This camera has a lot of safety features, including multiple types of motion detection, a light, and a siren.
- Pricing: The Arlo Essential isn’t the cheapest camera on the market, but for a leading safety brand, it’s a lower cost.
- Home automation: You’ll get plenty of indirect smart product connections with this Arlo camera.
- Installation: The Essential shouldn’t be too hard to install in your home.
If you want a fuller overview of how the Essential compares to other Arlo cameras, read our complete Arlo review. You can also check out our Arlo Ultra and Arlo 2 vs. Arlo 3 pieces for even more insight.
Arlo Essential FAQ
We’ve got answers to a few questions that might be on your mind.
Is the Arlo Essential an indoor or outdoor camera?
Most of Arlo’s cameras are indoor-outdoor, and as far as we can tell, this one is too. But regardless of the designation, you can use all outdoor cameras indoors. You just have to be okay with paying more, since outdoor cameras are typically more expensive due to waterproofing.
So, in short, there’s no reason you can’t use this camera both indoors and outdoors. But if you just need indoor use, you can always wait until the cheaper Essential Indoor Camera drops.
Is a paid Arlo Smart plan worth it?
Paying $2.99 for advanced object detection, better video quality, and cloud storage seems like a pretty good deal to us. Even if you pay more for even higher image quality, the price is still reasonable.
If you choose to use local storage, remember that you’ll have to buy an Arlo SmartHub (and an SD card). That will require a lot more money up front than a subscription plan will. And with the local storage, you’ll have to remove the SD card from the hub to view the videos on a computer. Which is manageable but not very convenient.
How does the Arlo Essential compare to the Arlo Pro cameras?
The Arlo Pro and Arlo Essential have a lot of the same features since some of Arlo’s top tech comes through the subscription plan, not through the camera model. But there are some differences.
The Pro 3 (the most recent model) is more expensive, has a wider field of view, and has local storage in the camera itself. It also requires a SmartHub. And while it has a siren, it doesn’t have a spotlight. (You can, however, buy a version with a floodlight.)
Should I get an Arlo doorbell?
Should you get an Arlo video doorbell instead of the Essential? Not necessarily. While the video doorbell is cheaper and has some of the same features, it can only be placed in one spot. You have to make sure you definitely want a camera on your door before you buy.
Should you get the doorbell in addition to the Essential? Sure. It’s a decent video doorbell, and you’ll be able to access both cameras at once using your Arlo ecosystem in the app.
Learn more from our Arlo video doorbell review.
Does Arlo sell a home security system?
No, Arlo doesn’t sell a full security system. We’ve heard rumors for the last few years that the company will soon break into the proper home security industry, but so far, nothing’s happened.
However, with its many, many cameras, Arlo is certainly a force in the security camera system space.
Which security camera is the best?
“Best” is a relative term, but we’ve broken down the home security camera scene and chosen some top recommendations. You can find our write-up here.
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