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An affordable video doorbell with a ton of great features
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We’ve got to say, from the start, the Arlo Video Doorbell intrigued us. Before we even got our hands on the device for our series of tests, we learned that in a recent upgrade, Arlo now has two versions of their affordable doorbell cam: The Arlo Essential Wired Video Doorbell and the Arlo Essential Wireless Video Doorbell.
We picked up the wired version, which handled quite well when all was said and done. The box claims it is “designed to capture what traditional doorbells can’t,” and it boasts a wide array of unique, advanced features including programmable activity zones to reduce false notifications, artificial intelligence integration to differentiate between vehicles, people, animals and packages, as well as an alarm function that can notify 911 at the click of a button.
Pro Tip: What’s even better than a video doorbell? A video doorbell that can tell you exactly who’s at your door. The futuristic Nest Doorbell with Nest Aware can do that, and more. Learn more from our Nest Doorbell review.
All this for less than $150? Call us skeptics, but we were worried Arlo was overpromising. Most offerings in this price range, like some of Ring’s doorbell cams, don’t offer anywhere near this functionality, and the ones that do, like Nest Hello doorbell, are considerably more expensive. (Note: Nest replaced the Nest Hello with more affordable doorbell cameras in Nest Doorbell (wired) and Nest Doorbell (battery).)
However, after several days of use and in-depth testing, we’re happy to report we liked what we found. Simply put, the Arlo Wired Video Doorbell looks great, it works well, and it’s got some neat offerings that set it apart in a crowded market – particularly for the price tag. Is it perfect? Not quite, but we’ll get into that later.
The packaging is purposeful and, we’ve got to say, makes a statement. When you open the lid, the first thing you see is the unit itself against a white cardboard background. There’s something to be said for simple presentations, and Arlo really nails it.
Underneath, we found everything we needed to install the unit, including the power kit, the mounting plates, the hardware, and some additional wire extenders in case we needed them.
The unit itself is smaller and narrower than the bulkier doorbell design of Ring. We really liked the sleek look of its rounded edges, too – a lot of video doorbells sort of look like bricks. And even in the wireless version, Arlo has managed to make a rechargeable battery pack small enough to fit behind the device pretty comfortably, so that the whole thing lines up nicely with our doorframe.
We were a little concerned that the install process would be challenging. Note that the Arlo doorbell we picked out needs to be hardwired, but the wireless version would have given us options for hardwiring or battery-only use – for $50 more, of course.
Aside from the savings, this meant we knew we had to do some (very light) electrical work. You’ve always got to be careful when working with electricity – if something goes wrong, you could be in for a shock! Luckily, our fears were assuaged by Arlo’s step-by-step walkthrough.1
Their quick-start guide didn’t offer a whole lot of information, but the app sure did. After the usual setup (entering your name, email address, etc.), we were greeted by Neal Skura, Arlo’s senior product manager, in the form of a five-minute introduction video. While you might be tempted to skip this, we really recommend you watch it all the way through – particularly if this is the first time you’re installing a video doorbell. Skura walked us through the process, telling us exactly what we needed and what we should expect.
Once we watched the video, the app walked us through the install – step by step – and provided really helpful diagrams. We first had to install the power kit to our existing chime box, and then we simply replaced our existing doorbell with our Arlo.
We found the power kit in the box underneath the unit – it’s a small white oval with two wires coming from it. The app told us this needed to be installed to our chime box, and helped us locate it, saying it’s usually near the door or in a nearby hallway. Once we located it, we were prompted to turn off our power at the breaker.
Pro Tip: For the install, we needed a power drill, a flat-head, and a Phillips-head screwdriver as well as some painter’s tape. If you don’t have a drill, you’ll want to borrow or purchase one.
Now, it’s possible to turn the power off only to the rooms of the house that provide power to the chime and the doorbell, but you really want to be sure everything’s truly killed. We suggest flipping the breaker and trying to ring the existing doorbell. If there’s no sound, there’s no power running to it. Or – if you’re like us – you can kill the power to the whole house to be doubly sure. Did we mention we’re overly cautious when we work with electricity?
With the power off, we followed the instructions on the app to get the power kit installed. We took the housing off of our chime and matched our wiring configuration to one of the in-app choices. From there, we knew exactly where to attach the connectors and stick the adhesive-backed power unit. We made sure to follow the diagram so we didn’t place it where it might interfere with the doorbell’s operation.
Next, we had to remove our old doorbell and install the new Arlo. Disconnecting our old, generic doorbell was a matter of removing a couple of screws and detaching two wires – easy enough.
Pro Tip: You don’t want these wires to fall into the wall. If they do, getting them out is a tremendous headache. We know – because we’ve done it! Save yourself the hassle and tape the wires to the doorframe once you’ve removed your old doorbell.
Again following the app’s guidance, we installed the face place by screwing it into the doorframe with the provided hardware and then the doorbell by attaching our two wires to the Arlo’s connections. Be sure to tighten them down well, or else you run the risk of having them disconnect when you snap the unit into the mounting plate.
It’s worth pointing out here that we were impressed with how sturdy the Arlo doorbell felt. Although the unit itself and the mounting bracket are plastic, it would really take some determination for a thief to get it off the frame.
Now that we had everything installed properly, it was time to flip the power back on and get the Arlo connected.
Did You Know: Although the Arlo is designed to be DIY, the company has partnered with HelloTech to help more tentative home improvers install their products. If the idea of wiring freaks you out, no worries – they’ve got you covered.
Once everything powered up, we were prompted to hold a QR code in front of the Arlo to connect it to our phone; however, we were told by the app we needed to be on our router’s 2.4 GHz channel – that’s the only Wi-Fi the Arlo will connect to. Keep in mind that while the 5 GHz channel usually offers faster speeds,2 2.4 GHz has an easier time traveling through walls and other material, yielding a better overall experience.3
After it connected, we were prompted to name the unit. We went with “Front Door” because we weren’t feeling particularly creative that night. Then, the automatic firmware update initiated, taking about five minutes or so. After testing to make sure it was working through the app, we were off to the races.
Did You Know: Like Lorex’s new video doorbell, the Arlo allows you to toggle your chime between “mechanical” and “digital.” Select mechanical if you want your doorbell to operate traditionally – press the button and you immediately hear “ding-dong.” Selecting digital will allow you to put a delay of up to ten seconds between the button-push and the sound.
With our purchase, Arlo included a three-month trial to Arlo Smart, their subscription service that enables 30 days of cloud recording and some of the unit’s more advanced features like object detection, e911, and customizable activity zones. Then, after the free trial period ends, it’s a pretty reasonable $2.99 per month. We recommend subscribing to continue using some of the doorbell’s unique features.
Right off the bat, we were very happy with Arlo’s performance. It felt super responsive, and both the video and audio quality were more than adequate. It doesn’t offer the super-high, 1920 x 1440 definition of the August video doorbell, but its 1536 x 1536 resolution certainly gets the job done – and gets it done reliably. That consistency, in our opinion, is far more important than being able to read the tracking number on a package left on your doorstep.
We certainly were able to see our packages, though. With an impressive 180-degree viewing angle, we were able to see pretty much everything in front of our door. Even though we had to install the Arlo where our doorbell had been – on the left side of the door closest to the wall – it’s wide field of view was able to capture everything going on with ease.
We were also really impressed with the Arlo’s two-way talk functionality – and more impressed with how we accessed it. When a guest rang our doorbell, our phone would ring, which meant no more missed push notifications! We answered it through the app, and almost immediately we were in a live view and speaking with our guest. Although there was a bit of lag, that’s to be expected with any doorbell camera.
The live view and talk function also worked great. After opening the app, with one click we were watching and listening to a live feed from our front door within seconds. On that note, while we were testing the Arlo video doorbell, our HOA sent someone out to replace the tile in our stairwell. Using Arlo’s talk function, we were able to ask him how long it would take for the tile to set without having to get off the couch (or mess up his work!).
And related to that work – we found that our notifications were going off like crazy during the day because of the tile guy. Thankfully, we were happy to discover Arlo let us mute notifications from between 30 minutes and 24 hours with a couple of clicks. Don’t worry – even if notifications are muted, the Arlo still records any motion for later review. We were also able to put it into silent mode or quickly disarm the unit entirely with a couple of clicks if we wanted total privacy.
So we found the basic day-to-day operation of the Arlo worked really well – but what about all the interesting add-ons and bonuses the box promised? We went through them one by one to decide if they actually improved the functionality of the Arlo, or if they were just gimmicks. While all the options were all super easy to set up and operate, honestly, their benefit was a bit of a mixed bag.
Activity Zones: The Arlo gave us the option of setting up what it calls “activity zones.” These were basically boxes we could draw over the camera’s field of view to exclude areas from which we didn’t want to receive motion notifications. It’s a pretty cool idea, but it ended up being kind of unnecessary for us. That said, we could definitely see this being a selling point for someone who lives on a busy road or who has a lot of foot traffic going by.
Smart Notifications: We thought this was pretty interesting – when smart notifications are turned on, the Arlo’s motion detector differentiates between people, vehicles, animals, and other motion. While it still records everything, it will only send a push notification when the selected categories are turned on. We set ours to only notify us if people were detected, and we weren’t disappointed.
Quick Reply Messages: So this is a pretty interesting feature that we think you’ll really like. Rather than having to answer our doorbell if an unwanted guest arrived, Arlo gave us the option to play one of several pre-recorded messages including “Can I help you?” “Not interested,” and “We’ll be right there.” The masculine voice sounds natural and is far more polite than we’d be if a door-to-door vacuum salesman or sketchy stranger came around. Seriously, the introvert in us jumped for joy with this functionality.
Package Detection: This functionality is included with the Arlo, but requires an additional Arlo camera to work, like the Arlo Ultra, the Pro 3, or the Arlo Go. When placed above the door, the secondary camera will alert the user when a package has been delivered. For the sake of science, we tried to get this function to work using just the doorbell installed as-is but failed. It’s a cool feature, but be aware you’ll need peripheral equipment to enjoy it.
Alarm: Now this, we thought, was really neat, and it takes the Arlo from a simple video doorbell to being a true home security product. At the top right corner of the app home screen is a red button. When we pressed it, we were prompted to call e911, call a friend, or activate a siren. The first two options require setup – namely, adding an address for the former and entering a contact for the latter. The third option set off what sounded like a car alarm. Although it’s nowhere near as loud as a car alarm, we figured it would certainly startle anyone that was up to no good.
Something to note, though. The box says the unit comes with “Tamper Detection.” This is a bit misleading – you’ll have to manually trigger the alarm if someone tries to steal your unit.
The phone-a-friend functionality worked just fine, but we decided it was best not to test the e911 function. The Arlo website says when you normally dial 911, it connects you to the dispatcher nearest to where you made the call. With the e911 function, though, you’re connected to the dispatcher closest to the address you entered into the app. That’s good news if you need to contact the authorities when you’re away from home.
This is an awesome function in our opinion, but rather than waste a first responder’s time performing a test, we decided to take their word for it.4
Pro Tip: Be sure to set up this functionality before you need it. You don’t want to be fumbling during an emergency situation.
Honestly, there’s not a whole lot of drawbacks to point out here. We found Arlo’s app to be intuitive and, at times, even elegant in its simplicity. It’s clear the folks at Arlo made user experience a top priority throughout the design process. We also appreciated the seemingly infinite ways we were able to customize our Arlo to our needs. We could easily manage alerts, toggle the motion sensitivity, even set schedules to arm and disarm the unit automatically. With the multitude of accessible options, it was easy to make the Arlo work in a way that best suited us.
Want to get more out of the Arlo Video Doorbell? The company offers a few add-ons to capture even more. This is great if you have a bigger house or want to see what’s going on at multiple entryways. Security cameras and video doorbells are both great ways to deter criminals from targeting your home, and can help police investigate if they do.5
As for the doorbell camera, Arlo’s wireless doorbell falls a bit on the high side at $200, but remember that you’re skipping at least part of the hassle of hardwiring with a built-in rechargeable battery. If you’re willing to pay the price to lose the hassle, you might find that the wireless Arlo doorbell is worth the extra cash.
Here’s a breakdown of the Arlo suite. For ways to save a few bucks on Arlo devices, don’t forget to check out our Arlo deals and discounts guide, too.
|Arlo Essential Wired Video Doorbell||HD Video with HDR, 180-degree Doorbell Cam (hardwired)||$149.99|
|Arlo Essential Wireless Video Doorbell||HD Video with HDR, 180-degree Doorbell Cam (wire-free)||$199.99|
|Arlo Pro 4||2K HDR, 180-degree security cam (no hub needed)||$179.99|
|Arlo Ultra 2||4K HD, 180-degree security cam||$299.99 (1 camera)|
|Arlo Pro 3||2K QHD, 180-degree security cam||$199.99 (2 cameras)|
|Arlo Essential||1080p, 130-degree security cam||$99 (1 camera)|
|Arlo Go||Portable LTE-connected security cam||$349 (1 camera)|
Overall, we were super impressed with the Arlo doorbell camera. Its unique functions felt like useful additions rather than gimmicks, and its consistency and reliability were two huge checks in the “pros” column. We loved how easy it was to tailor the functionality to our needs and appreciated the thoughtful design of the app.
Overall, we think the Arlo video doorbell is a great choice for entryway protection, and the low price makes it all the more appealing.
No, the Alro Video Doorbell needs to be hard-wired.
Yes, the installation process is simple, and the app provides easy step-by-step instructions.
Yes, Arlo works with all major smart home assistants.
The Arlo Video Doorbell retails for about $150, which is affordable for what you get.
For basic functionality, no, but if you want to enjoy some of the more advanced functions, yes. After a generous three-month free trial, the Arlo Smart subscription costs $2.99 per month.
Boley, M. (2019, August 27). 19 Handy Hints for DIY Electrical Work. Family Handyman.
Gordon, W. (2020, February 5). Know your Network, Lesson 1: Router Hardware 101. Lifehacker.
Cooper, T. (2020, January 31). 2.4 GHz vs 5 GHz Wifi: What Is The Difference? Broadband Now. https://broadbandnow.com/guides/2-4-ghz-vs-5-ghz-wifi
Will, J. (2019, April 30). Can a Doorbell Camera Actually Make You Safer? The Wall Street Journal.
Daily, L. (2018, November 28). Why Video Doorbells are Winning Over Residents – and Police. Chicago Tribune.