I've been waiting for Arlo to offer a more affordable outdoor security camera for a long time -- and it's finally here. The new $130 Arlo Essential Spotlight Camera isn't as cheap as the $50 Wyze Cam Outdoor or the $100 Ring Video Doorbell, but it's yet another example of the growing trend of more affordable home security cameras.
LikeIt's affordable (for an Arlo camera)It has a lot of alert options and extra features (if you pay for Arlo Smart)
Don't LikeThe battery isn't rechargeable
The Essential Spotlight Camera has a lot of the stuff I like about Arlo's Pro line of outdoor cameras -- livestreaming and a lot of alert customizations and other advanced features via the optional Arlo Smart cloud service. That said, this $130 camera strips out some things too. Instead of a removable battery, you have to bring the whole camera inside to charge it and the USB charging cable Arlo provides is comically short.
Unlike the majority of Arlo's other outdoor cameras, this model doesn't require a base station. It isn't sold with one, but it is compatible with select Arlo base stations as an optional add-on (specifically, base station models VMB5000, VMB4540, VMB4500 and VMB4000). Arlo base stations are supposed to help extend the camera's battery life and your router's Wi-Fi range. I tested out my Essential Spotlight Camera without the optional base station and I did experience a slightly longer delay (up to 10 seconds) between a motion event and getting an alert on my phone. (I am testing its battery life long-term, so check back for updates on that.)
The $130 Essential Spotlight Camera is a decent entry point into Arlo's lineup of battery-powered weatherproof cameras that's worth consideration, but the inconvenience of having to remove the entire camera to charge it and the alert delays I experienced hold it back a bit.
I mean, it works, but you probably have a better Micro-USB cable in your junk drawer at home.Megan Wollerton/CNET
Despite its different battery design, the Essential cam looks a lot like Arlo's other battery-powered outdoor cameras. You can buy it in either a glossy white or black finish and the camera comes with an optional stand and hardware for installation.
Instead of a button on the bottom of the camera you press to remove the battery, there's a tab you open to access the Micro-USB charging port. Arlo says this camera can last for up to five months on a single charge, while Arlo Pro cameras that require base stations claim to last up to six months.
I started testing my Essential camera on Aug. 11 fully charged, and the battery is at 95% as of writing this two days later. Extreme temperatures, lots of activity alerts and other factors can cause a battery to drain more quickly, so expect your results to vary too.
You can go from the initial setup to receiving motion alerts in about five minutes.Screenshot by Megan Wollerton/CNET
Setting up the camera in the Arlo app is straightforward. Select Add New Device, Cameras and Essential and follow the brief instructions to connect your Essential cam to Wi-Fi. This process should only take about five minutes. Factor in more time if you plan to drill holes and install your camera more permanently.
This camera comes with three months of the Arlo Smart cloud service for free. While optional after the three-month period ends, Arlo Smart is necessary if you want to view saved video clips in the app, create motion activity zones and receive custom person, animal, vehicle and package alerts. The service starts at $3 per month; read more about Arlo Smart here.
Everything else about the Essential Spotlight Camera was pretty similar to the Pro cameras. I got mostly accurate motion alerts, with a couple exceptions. One time I picked up the camera to reposition it and I got a vehicle alert; another time a bird flew in front of the camera and it sent a genetic motion alert rather than an animal alert. But, for the most part, I got person alerts whenever my husband, Kevin, or I ventured into the backyard -- and animal alerts when our dogs ran around outside.
I set the camera on the railing of our back deck where our Wi-Fi network was good, but not great, and I received alerts anywhere between three and 10 seconds after motion took place. Later on, I set up a motion zone to reduce the coverage area to our little backyard garden to make sure no more pests were stealing our tomatoes (I had no idea squirrels ate tomatoes, but apparently they do). That helped reduce the number of alerts I received and slowed the drain on the battery.
I enlisted Kevin to test out the camera's two-way talk feature and it was remarkably clear. There was a one- or two-second delay and we occasionally talked over each other because of it, but I was surprised how clearly I could hear him, both talking to him through my phone and through the camera itself from the back deck.
The Essential camera has customizable armed and disarmed modes, including the ability to set rules like, "If motion is detected (and the camera is armed), then record video and turn on the camera's built-in siren." If you don't want the siren to sound every time motion is detected (and I didn't, because neighbors), you can turn it on manually in the app. As the camera's name suggests, the Essential Spotlight Camera also has a built-in spotlight. If the spotlight is enabled in the app, it will flash or pulse light when motion is detected at night. I forgot to tell Kevin about this feature and it startled him when he was taking the dogs out one evening. You can turn this feature off or adjust the brightness in the app as needed.
This camera is compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant. I don't have a smart display at home to test this out with the Essential camera, but I have successfully viewed live feeds on smart displays when testing other Arlo cameras at the CNET Smart Home pre-quarantine.
At $130, the Arlo Essential Spotlight Camera isn't exactly cheap. But when you consider that a single Arlo Pro 3 camera costs $200, the Essential cam is a pretty good deal. This model had a lot of the stuff that makes other Arlo cameras great -- HD livestreaming and tons of options via Arlo Smart.
Like the Wyze Cam Outdoor and the Ring Video Doorbell, you unfortunately have to bring the entire Essential Spotlight Camera inside to charge it. And because it doesn't require a base station, this camera could have a shorter battery life; I'm testing out its battery life now and will get back to you all with updates.
You might also find that this camera has a shorter Wi-Fi range without a base station. Although I can't say for sure the lack of a base station was the culprit for the slightly longer delay in motion alerts, it's certainly possible. If you do experience these issues, you can connect your Essential camera to the compatible Arlo base stations I listed above and it might help.
Overall, the Arlo Essential Spotlight Camera is a good camera at a good price. I wish you could remove the battery to charge it, but that probably won't be a major deal-breaker for most, given its lower price.