Sunday, May 17, 2020

Why Arlo Cameras Suck for Security and A Few Great Alternatives

Simpli-Safe is a better option
Why Arlo Cameras Suck for Security and A Few Great Alternatives

A few years ago, we decided that in addition to our security system we wanted to add some Arlo cameras for wireless flexibility beyond our wired system under the assumption they would be easy and flexible to use - We were wrong.

Initially, the idea of the Arlo camera marketing hype is easy setup, HD video, and remote anywhere video monitoring all with the convenience of wireless battery operation. The Arlo system has a lot of limitations that make it almost useless as a security system; notable problems are significant live video latency, very short battery life, poor night vision, very limited range, flaky app and overall system, requirement for high number of resyncs, and some truly mind-reading mystical stuff that seems to shut the system down any time you actually want to use it for something important.

We bought the Arlo system via a Costco value pack and once we had laid out that $300, we added to it with replacement, upgraded and newer camera versions - looking back we should have just returned the whole thing. With that noted, if you want a completely wireless system that is battery operated the Arlo Pro is still a horrible choice with better options being the Blink XT2 and EufyCam E with solar panel option for significantly less money.

The dependency on the very limited range of the base station is problematic at best in a realistic home setup. The overall latency on the system with live video is pretty bad at about 10-30 seconds depending on the teenage-girl mood swing of the Arlo system that day. Arlo also seems to have an extremely sketchy voodoo-esk ability to sense when you need to see what is going on the most and then go completely offline. There is also the insanely short battery life on the Gen 1 models which eat CR123 batteries at a rate that was shocking. The Gen 1 cameras also had a high failure rate for me of 50% in the first two years. The newer rechargeable versions with audio were better, but the range was still horrible with the base station and a new updated based station did nothing to improve my performance. 

When they do work, the Arlo system is still problematic, only working 20-30% of the time and are slow to respond even when they are working right. The joke in our household is to shoot first and look at the Arlo later and a friend jokingly noted that Arlo cameras are basically to record the aftermath. Access to Arlo has three major problems, the range and connectivity to the base station is horribly short, when Arlo video does work it is slow to start up with a huge lag between the live feed and reality and the entire system mysteriously goes offline with high frequency. If you do have power failures, mini-blackouts like we do, each Arlo has to be power-cycled individually and sometimes completely re-synced with each power cycle. There is also an obvious scaling issue - the more cameras the slower your camera response will be.

So I don’t get deluged with Technical Tom to the rescue of how awesome Arlo is, be assured I already went the route of working with the retailer, working with Arlo support, and spent weeks online cruising support sites. The reality is that hundreds of others have the same issues I have experienced. The problems are not isolated to the Arlo components I have, my network, my wireless carrier, or the app on my phone. In short “I” am not the issue, the Arlo system is just extronarily lacking compared to many other systems like wired systems, Simplisafe or other wireless options I have tested in my home. For the money SimpliSafe seems to be leagues better with video when you need it, but a wired system is the way to go for reliability and speed every time.

Troubleshooting my base station’s range issues required me to relocate a hard wired connection to a geographically central base station location to allow connection to the cameras around the house and accommodate the ridiculously short base-station range. That did resolve the range issue, but every camera still has average level connectivity. It is ridiculous a system designed to be used in a home that requires the base station to be moved around to tune in the cameras like an old fashioned TV antenna. Not sure how I can have triple the range of my WiFi around the outside of my home, but a security camera manufacturer only has a realistic 25 ft range in a home - the Arlo tech is just a bad system all around.  Simpli-Safe has a base station and does not have this issue at all. 

Response, lag and latency - Whatever the lag or delay is, the battle is over to see who is at the door before the Arlo image comes online. Even your more patient friends are screaming “WTF dude answer the door”. When the system is actually online, it is a good 30-60 second wait to see what is going on 90% of the time.  Arlo will not deliver the information you want to see at the speed you want to see it when bumps and bangs happen in the night. If this is why you are buying Arlo move on to something else.

The night vision is OK but very limited in the range, the Gen 2 with talk-back and listen features is marginally better. If you think that you can put an Arlo on your deck overlooking your driveway, the built in IR light is just not powerful enough to deliver visibility. My workaround was to leave my drive lights on all night and it actually did work well, but there was no night vision involved. Realistically the IR night vision is good across one “smalls” room only.

The last problem is so infuriating it makes me want to turn all the cameras into skeet fodder for my shotgun. The problem is that somehow Arlo seems to sense when I have left the house and have a pressing need to remotely see if the delivery was left, why a sensor alarmed, or just to check that my Dad and dogs are alive while traveling. Arlo works perfectly when I am home, but any time I really want to see what is going on, ARLO is freaking OFFLINE. Why it does this apparently Arlo or no one on the internet knows, however there is another work around for a system that has worked somewhat. We use a Wemo WiFi plug and remotely reboot the Arlo base station and hope like hell that it comes back online and that the cameras do not need to be resync’ed when they come back online. It works about 40% of the time, but the rest of the time Arlo requires multiple reboots and sometimes requires an insanity inducing process of pulling down all the cameras and resyncing all the cameras which never…. ever want to sync up the first time. 

Here are some options that I think work well as alternatives:
Run the Wire for wired Camera System - If you want reliability and fast response without latency, just run the wire for a $1000+ multi-camera wired system. I have yet to talk to someone who notes these wired systems do not work right. My recommendation is to stick with POE - Power Over Ethernet using CAT5e or CAT6 ethernet cable. This is basically network cable but carries power. Almost all the outdoor security systems use this as a power source - thought they may need a power adapter. CAT5e and CAT6 cabling are thicker wire cables than standard CAT5 and in theory can carry more current/power. I used all CAT6 in my wiring and have never looked back. As I added SimpliSafe cameras to my wired system, you can buy POE power adapters to run anything that is USB powered, so even the USB plug-in powered SimpliSafe cameras can be powered via some remotely located POE CAT6 Ethernet network cable. You can daisy-chain things together with POE CAT6 like also powering an outdoor wireless hotspot or support very long runs for wired security cameras. If you have long-runs and want to support longer ranges, I would go with a wired system. A word of advice, if you are going to take the trouble to pull one CAT6 wire, pull two or three as spares.

USB Powered System - We recently added a Simpli-Safe system as a replacement for Arlo and it worked well, but has the condition that it needs constant USB power provided via a very long USB power cord and AC adapter. I have powered a few exterior Simpli-Safe cameras with POE adapters and overall been really happy with the system overall and the camera doorbell is excellent.

Other Wireless - It is too bad that the Arlo system just does not work as advertised, the idea is cool, however with competitors like SimplySafe, XT2 and EufyCam E with solar panel option, there is no reason to consider Arlo as the only option.

TrailCams -  If you really just want to capture what happened from a historical perspective, I highly recommend a HD Trail Camera. There are now about $100, deliver higher resolution and better night vision than any security camera I have tried and can record hours and hours of video and thousands of pictures. Most people use security cameras to see what happened in the past versus to see real time feeds, so in my mind this is a better option for most people.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I have Arlo and I am with you 100%. If you live in cold climates these cameras are almost useless. The battery, the zones, the inability to auto iris adjust and finally...the speaker is an absolute joke. I will be looking at some hard wired options now!