“A great software experience is dragged down by cheap-looking hardware that doesn't match the price.”
- Great software with a lot of options
- Good quality video, day and night
- Easy installation
- Cheap-looking hardware
- Prominent fish-eye effect
Package deliveries are becoming increasingly more common these days. On the day this was written, I received two separate deliveries to my door. Arlo recognizes this and wants to help. Its latest doorbell, the Arlo Essential Wireless Video Doorbell, has a 180-degree field of view and package detection, and doesn’t require any wires at all if you don’t want them or already have them. Arlo’s successes have been deeply rooted in its line of home security cameras, like the mighty Arlo Pro 4. Does its new video doorbell stand a chance of remaining a relevant player in the space?
You can install the Essential Wireless Doorbell with or without wires. If you have a wired doorbell, the Essential’s button will ring your interior chime. Otherwise, you can mount this battery-powered doorbell anywhere, wire-free. Arlo claims this doorbell will last for six months on a single charge. My testing indicates something closer to two or three, but in fairness, it has been crazy cold outside, so that may affect battery efficiency. All the same, it’s nice to have a doorbell that you can just put any place you might need it.
When you’re setting up the app, you need to have the doorbell scan a QR code to get the Wi-Fi credentials. I only mention this because the process worked very well, which in my experience is unusual. Well played on that one, Arlo. During the setup process, you are asked what kind of subscription plan you want to sign up for, which was a little off-putting.
The Arlo Essential Wireless Video Doorbell is a big chunk of a doorbell. It’s the largest doorbell I’ve tested thus far. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if your door invites a more svelte offering, it’s important to keep that in mind. The doorbell is 47mm x 143mm x 37mm, which is pretty massive. By comparison, the Netatmo Doorbell I reviewed a few weeks ago is also huge, but smaller than this doorbell in every dimension at 45mm x 135mm x 29 mm.
The doorbell hardware is a combination of matte and shiny polycarbonate that feels solid and sturdy but exudes a cheap aesthetic. The camera protrudes from the top of the bell a bit, lending to its 180-degree diagonal field of view. At the bottom is a round button with a ring of LEDs that light up when you approach. The LEDs aren’t bright enough to illuminate the area; they’re just there to indicate where to push. The 6,500 mAh battery lives inside the plastic casing. The included pin, similar to a SIM tray pin you find with most phones, allows you to detach the doorbell from the mounting plate, remove the battery, and plug it into a Micro USB cable to recharge.
The video feed (1536 x 1536 resolution) is pretty good during the day and at night, though there is a very noticeable fisheye effect around the periphery of the feed. There is also a noticeable delay when the camera transmits audio and video, often by as much as three seconds. This can make conversations difficult, but not impossible.
On the software side, the app is very comprehensive. You get the usual options like activity zones, notification configurations, and the like. What impresses me about Arlo’s software is the plethora of options it gives you. The doorbell can detect people, animals, vehicles, motion, and even package delivery. That last option is limited to a single Arlo camera at a time for some reason. You can’t have your front door camera and doorbell both detect a package, which seems like an odd limitation.
You can also set up an E911 notification and a phone-a-friend option. When an intruder appears at your door, you can have the doorbell contact emergency services. If a package appears while you’re on vacation, the app can dial a predetermined contact for you. You can also activate a built-in siren. The siren is not particularly loud, but it is ear-piercing. Passersby on the sidewalk in front of your house will hear it. Your neighbors may or may not.
The Arlo Essential Video doorbell also works with Alexa, Google Assistant, and even Samsung SmartThings and IFTTT. Silent mode bypasses app notifications and/or the physical chime. That’s valuable for when you have small children sleeping. There are call settings, video settings, motion-detection sensitivity settings, and more. Overall, I’m impressed with the software experience because it has a ton of features.
While the software is some of my favorite software to date, the hardware leaves a lot to be desired.
That can be a weakness, too, since there are two settings areas in the app. There’s one for device-specific settings and one for overall general settings for Arlo. It takes a bit of time to wrap your head around all of them, but that also ensures you can really make this doorbell your own.
Overall, this doorbell provides an excellent software experience with great video capabilities, but with less-than-impressive hardware. The software is where this doorbell really stands out. While the lag on the audio and video isn’t great, it’s not terrible either. But the absolute wealth of settings and features this bell has to offer makes it very compelling. It’s also $200. The last two doorbells I’ve reviewed were $30 and $60 respectively, and this doorbell feels like it’s going against the grain in that regard.
Is there a better alternative?
The 180-degree diagonal field of view is great, but the Vivint Doorbell Camera Pro has a 180-degree vertical and horizontal field of view, making it taller and wider. Plus, the Arlo Essential Wireless doorbell is just plain huge and will have trouble fitting next to some doors. While the software is some of my favorite software to date, the hardware leaves a lot to be desired.
Will it last?
The Arlo Essential Video doorbell is backed by a 30-day return policy and a one-year limited warranty. The construction is durable and solid. The operating temperature range is from -4 to 113 degrees Fahrenheit, which is good. You can even replace the battery (for another $50) if the original one dies over time.
Should I buy it?
No. Video doorbells prices are trending down, and considering this doorbell retails for $199 and requires a subscription, that’s too steep. For that price, I want a premium look, feel, and software experience. In this case, I only get one of those three. The upcoming Ring Video Doorbell Pro 2 adds radar sensors and a bird’s-eye view for just a little bit more. The more frugal Ring Video Doorbell Wired also gives you a premium software experience and costs less than half of the price of this one. The software experience here is great, but the hardware really drags it down.
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