Arlo’s Essential series has completely redefined the reliable smart home security brand. I’ve been thoroughly impressed by the balance of price and performance with devices like the Arlo Essential XL Spotlight Camera and Arlo Essential Doorbell. It’s no surprise that the Arlo Essential Indoor Camera continues the series’ dominance over the category, offering a lot for an entry-level price.
Arlo has given you options here. The Essential Indoor Cam can be either freestanding or wired to an outlet, which is useful seeing as outlet real estate is hard to come by in modern smart homes. Unless you want to overstuff a powerboard. Another valuable design choice is making this camera as neat and compact as possible. I think this actually might be the smallest smart indoor camera available from any of the major brands – Nest, Arlo, Ring, D-Link – in smart security tech. That’s exceptionally useful and makes the camera flexible when it comes to positioning.
Arlo has had the good sense to also include a mounting kit in the box, in case freestanding doesn’t quite cut it for you. If you do choose freestanding, expect the rounded camera which, with its ball-like joint, to sit at around 4.5cm high. You simply place it on a circular base plate but can angle it however you like.
The black-on-white panda design is nice and minimal, fitting in well with any home design. The front is obviously where you’ll find the sensor which can record footage in Full HD with a 130-degree lens, which takes in a lot despite being a bit narrower than Arlo’s outdoor cameras. Flip around to the back and you’ll find the speaker and a micro-USB port for the mains power cable.
Personal privacy may be a bit of a concern with indoor cameras as opposed to outdoor cameras, and Arlo has obviously considered this. The lens can be automatically covered with a plastic privacy shutter that rolls down over the camera much like an automated set of curtains would block out the view at a luxury hotel. Once activated, the shutter simply rolls down to cover the lens while the camera’s motion detection and audio features are turned off. The shutter feature can be selected via the companion app.
Set-up couldn’t be easier, and having tested out Ring, Nest, and Arlo products, I can still say Arlo has the best set-up process and app of the bunch. Download, follow instructions, press the sync button. If you’re taking longer than a few minutes, you just aren’t doing it properly.
Obviously, an indoor camera is mostly going to be used to keep an eye on the home when either you’re away, or during the night when everyone is asleep. motion and sound detection is important in either case, and Arlo is exceptionally responsive when it comes to this. An alert is almost immediately sent to the phone with very little delay. So far so good. Next on the “most important” list is night vision. A lot of older cameras would blur with motion at night, and clearly, Arlo has made it a priority to improve this. 1080p video taken at night is clear and intelligible, although not as crisp as the higher-end cameras, with a few glowy outlines that might make it hard to detect smaller details. There’s also no colour at night. The camera records in black and white by using an infrared, as opposed to a spotlight. If you wanted to latter, the camera would probably be much more expensive – and there’s no doubt Arlo will make one of these in the future.
The Essential Indoor Cameras most fascinating function is that plastic privacy shield mentioned above. If it’s a freestanding camera, and isn’t connected to the Arlo Base Station as part of a large ecosystem, then the shutter is rapidly responsive and consistently rolls down in a few seconds. On the other hand, if you do have this connected to an Arlo Base Station, you’ll need to disable all the other cameras as well as default. Do take note of this, because you are able to customise what cameras can be automatically armed and disarmed, and you’ll have to set this up via the app.
The camera uses duplex audio for clear two-way communication and this works well enough, although I have had a few issues where the listener wouldn’t hear me clearly. The built-in siren triggers fast as you’d want, but it also sounds a bit muffled. This is a small issue of course – it’s still loud enough to freak out any unsuspecting thief.
In terms of smarts, Arlo is agnostic with digital assistants, so you can use both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, as well as easily connect them to any of the respective branded devices like the Echo Show or Google Hub. Like all other Arlo cameras, you can also use IFTTT and this works incredibly well with customised if-this-than-that commands easy to set-up and trigger reliably. For example, if you’ve got some Philip Hue smart lighting, you can work it in a way that your light would turn a certain colour if motion is detected.
Verdict & Value
If the Arlo Essential Indoor Camera was expensive, I might reconsider being so enthusiastic about the device. But Arlo’s sense of value is truly impressive. The camera isn’t perfect and there is plenty of room for improvement – 2-way audio, 4k support, colour night vision – but it’s hard to be mad at an indoor camera that costs $159. That’s a great price tag for smart home security tech, which is still a pricey market to get in to – especially if you want to built up a proper ecosystem of indoor and outdoor cameras, plus a doorbell. I look forward to seeing what Arlo’s Essential series reveals next, because while Nest and Ring take their sweet time iterating every year or so (albeit doing it very well), Arlo is steady putting in work for all budgets.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Very affordable; great design and small profile; privacy shutter works well; can be wired or freestanding; very flexible with wall mount; very responsive and accurate motion and sound alerts; works well with smart assistants.
Lowlights: Would have liked a wider field-of-view; B&W night vision could be a bit crispier; 2-way audio can be slightly restrained.
Product sent by Arlo for review.