I have a love-hate relationship with home cam monitors; they work, and they’re necessary, but I’ve still not found the perfect device that does everything I need it to. I’m currently using two affordable options that I found on Lazada: this Xiaomi Mijia IP Camera (approx. $44), and the VStarcam eye4 (approx. $66). They’re far from perfect but they serve their basic purpose of providing me with footage of the home when I’m away.
ABOVE: THE XIAOMI MIJIA IP CAMERA
Now a HUGE step up from these cameras would be the branded (and pricey) Arlo Ultra. This top-of-the-line IP camera was announced in March this year, and made available in Singapore in July 2019. This past month, I’ve been testing out a review set to see how much better (or not) it is from much cheaper options.
ABOVE: THE ARLO ULTRA CAMERA IN MY KITCHEN
NOTE: This is not a sponsored post, and all opinions below are genuine and my own.
ABOVE: THE 2-CAMERA SYSTEM BOX SET
WHAT WORKS WELL
DESIGN: The Arlo Ultra camera’s design is sleek and beautiful. This is a good-looking device that fits into any home decor easily.
APP DESIGN: The smartphone app is intuitive and actually useful. It pools together all the devices in one home view, and they can be played live simultaneously. I can turn individual devices off through the app, and see their battery percentages as well.
PLAYBACK: What good is a security camera if you can’t view saved history right? I like that the Arlo Ultra instantly records moments where there’s movement and/or sound, which is a similar function to Withings’ obsolete Home camera (they discontinued the product when Nokia bought over the company) — and there’s a clear timestamp and thumbnail for each recording so you can zero in and play the one you want easily. You can also scroll along the recording (a necessary function) and it loads pretty quickly. I had a lot of issues with scrubbing footage on the Xiaomi and VStarcam devices I have — this function on both these cameras is unresponsive and frustrating; they are slow, and I have to watch the entire clip without the ability to scroll to the part I want.
WHAT CAN BE BETTER
NO SWIVEL: Both my Xiaomi and VStarcam cameras can swivel left, right, up and down; and that’s a super useful function that I constantly use. The Arlo Ultra has a fixed view, so I really have to set my angle right and hope the kids don’t turn it any other way.
LOADING TIME: Whenever I open the app, it “logs” me in to my account, and takes a while to load the devices (anywhere between 10 to 30 seconds). Then it takes another 10 or more seconds to load the “live” view. It could be that my internet connection speed at home isn’t great, or the SmartHub isn’t placed in an ideal spot for efficient transfer speeds, but it really is a bit too slow for urgent use.
UPDATE: A week after I started using the Arlo app, a completely new version was pushed out onto the App Store and now loads fine!
ABOVE: THE RECHARGEABLE BATTERY THAT COMES WITH EACH CAMERA. EXTRA BATTERIES CAN BE BOUGHT ON LAZADA AT $99 each
BATTERY LIFE: Somewhere in the product’s reviewer’s guide, it mentioned a battery life of 3-6 months — this of course varies based on user settings, such as the frequency of clip recordings. I have mine set to record for motion and sound. I can barely go two days without having to charge the units. It drained from 100% to 68% within a day, which got me thinking if that’s normal. What I do find useful though, is that Arlo sends me an email when a unit’s battery is extremely low, reminding me to charge it.
ABOVE: THE LOW BATTERY REMINDER EMAIL FROM ARLO
And on that note, I checked with the brand, and the devices can be kept plugged in constantly; although the box set only comes with one charging cable. A second cable will cost you $69 on Arlo’s official store on Lazada.
CHARGING TIME: Full charging time is said to be 3.5 hours; it’s so far taken me much longer to charge each device from zero to full (about 5-6 hours), and once again, there’s only ONE charging cable in the box, while there are two cameras. There were times that I needed to charge both units at the same time because the battery drains so quickly.
I could spend on the Dual Battery Charging Station, which is said to charge slightly faster than the cable, but it’ll set me back $169. I might consider investing in an extra cable instead and keep both units constantly plugged in.
MOUNTING BRACKETS: Both mounting units that come with the Arlo Ultra set require drilling into the wall. The VStarcam has a screw-on clip that I can conveniently clip onto the underside of the kids’ bunk bed, like this:
And just for that reason alone, I can’t replace the VStarcam with the Arlo Ultra for this spot in the house. Plus the turning ability on the VStarcam is necessary here.
THE REASONS TO BUY
PORTABLE: The cameras are wireless! These camera units can be moved around and placed anywhere! Which also means my three-year-old can pick it up and hide it anywhere she wants (that happened in the first 24 hours of unpacking the Arlo Ultra). Hopefully the novelty of this “new thing in the house” wears off.
above: arlo ultra camera placed next to the doll house
WIDE ANGLE: While it can’t swivel, the camera does have a 180-degree wide angle field of view, which really is sufficient to capture an entire room when placed at the corner or even the centre of the room against a wall.
VIDEO QUALITY: You really get what you pay for with the video quality on the Arlo Ultra; it has an 8-megapixel image sensor and delivers 4K video quality that is unrivalled in its category. If you want extra clear IP camera video, this is definitely the camera to buy.
NIGHT VISION: Needless to say, night vision is good. Even in near pitch dark scenarios, the camera picks up what little light is available, and presents a clear scene with little noise. Very impressive.
above: day and night views of my kitchen
CLOUD SPACE: The Arlo Ultra system comes with a one-year subscription to Arlo Smart Premier, which includes cloud recording of video clips at 1080p resolution for up to 30 days, for up to 10 camera units! I recall having to pay around $6 a month per camera for cloud storage for my previous Withings Home device, and I had three devices, which worked out to be $18 a month ($216 a year) — not worth it, now that I think about it.
CLEAR TWO-WAY AUDIO: Audio is as fairly clear with little lag time between responses. There’s noise cancelling technology that reduces wind and general noise, which I’m sure helps with the clear audio.
EASY SET UP: The set up of the SmartHub and cameras was very easy and quick. I had no such luck with the Xiaomi and VStarcam cameras — those had me resetting my router, plugging in ethernet cables, adding, deleting and then re-adding the devices to the iPhone app, among other horror stories. My experience with cheap cameras really makes me appreciate the ease of setting up fancy systems like those from Arlo — but of course, you’re paying top dollar here for this brand so I wouldn’t expect anything less.
SPOTLIGHT: There’s a spotlight that can be manually or automatically turned on, and it’s really BRIGHT! I imagine this would be great for outdoor use when someone creeps up to the door in the middle of the night, and the camera detects motion and automatically shines the spotlight on the person.
SUBSCRIPTION PLANS: There are higher tiered plans that support more cameras (up to 20!), up to 60 days recording, and recording of 4K video. There’s also the ability to record continuous footage — so not just whenever there’s motion or sound, but the camera needs to be plugged in to a power source for this function.
The camera system is pricey — especially considering the much cheaper options on Lazada — but if you can afford it and want peace of mind for device warranty and after-sales support, you can’t get any better than the new Arlo Ultra system. The live video quality is superb, the recordings are good, and the connection and streaming are reliable.
THE ARLO ULTRA IS PRICED AT $1,199 FOR THE 2-CAMERA SYSTEM, WHICH INCLUDES A ONE-YEAR SUBSCRIPTION TO ARLO SMART PREMIER. Available at the official arlo store on LAZADA, harvey norman and challenger.