Arlo Audio Doorbell, hands on: Simple and flexible door security

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Doorbell cameras have become both popular and notorious; the idea that you could see who was at your door from upstairs, or even when you're on holiday, also exposed questions about neighbourhood surveillance (and some issues with app security). And if you already have a security camera that covers the front door, you don't need another tucked into the doorbell, which isn't always easy to position to give you a good camera angle anyway.

That's why, as well as offering a video doorbell (with 180-degree vertical viewing angle to cover both the faces of visitors and the package they might have set on the ground), Arlo also has an audio-only version, which still has motion detection -- so you get alerts before the doorbell rings, giving you time to open the app, discover who's there, and decide if you want to go to the door or just talk to them.

If you already have other Arlo devices, the Arlo Audio Doorbell (£79.99/$79.99) is very convenient, because it uses the same Arlo base station and works through the same Arlo app that you already get video alerts on. If you don't, the Video Doorbell is a good option, but you can also buy the Audio Doorbell in a pack with an Arlo camera.

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You can combine the Audio Doorbell (left) with an Arlo Chime (right) to hear the bell ring indoors.

Images: Arlo
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The doorbell uses the same base station as Arlo's cameras, and works with the same smartphone app.

Image: Arlo

We have an Arlo camera already pointed at the front door, to track courier deliveries (after a spate of couriers leaving 'while you were out' notes rather than ringing the doorbell). When we installed a Ring Video Doorbell, that was two base stations to set up and run, and two apps to use. The Arlo doorbell just needed attaching to the door frame, connecting to the existing base station through the Arlo app (which has useful diagrams and instructions to walk you through the steps), pairing with a camera and connecting to the Arlo Chime (which plugs in wherever having the doorbell ring is most useful to you, because the chime sounds both on the doorbell and through the Chime speaker). If you have two doors that need doorbells, you can pair them both to the same Chime.

Chime has a selection of rings: various beeps and boops; chimes that sound like guitar strumming or a ring of bells; something that sounds rather like Big Ben; and some traditional chimes that sound just like a 'real' doorbell from various eras. Unlike Ring, Arlo hasn't put out seasonal extra chimes -- but since Ring would turn those off at the end of the season, you're not going to be surprised by the sound of the doorbell changing overnight.

You can use the Arlo doorbell with your existing doorbell chime (mechanical or digital) if it's wired at the right voltage (8-24V); there's a three-position switch to make it work with a wider range of chimes, and even extenders in case the wire is embedded in the wall and not long enough to connect to the terminals inside the doorbell.

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We had battery issues with both of the Ring devices; after a while, the Stick Up Cam refused to charge from its solar panel or when plugged in to a USB charger. And after about 18 months we ran into similar battery issues with the Ring Doorbell, which stopped holding charge and needed to be plugged back in every couple of weeks.

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The Arlo Audio Doorbell is battery powered, and easily accessible. According to Arlo, batteries should last for a year.

Images: Arlo

The Arlo Audio Doorbell uses two AA batteries, so you can use rechargeables that you swap over or just replace the batteries, which means you're not left without a doorbell for a couple of hours while you recharge it. Arlo suggests the batteries should last for a year. When we first installed it, the motion sensing was rather aggressive and the doorbell was marked in the Arlo app as running low within a week, although it carried on working for at least a month. After a software update that let us tune the motion sensing so it wasn't triggered by anyone walking past on the pavement, the battery level was still at 96% after two or three weeks of use (including several conversations through the doorbell).

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If your door is down several flights of stairs, or you're screening visitors during lockdown, having a standard doorbell that also works as an intercom is very convenient. When you get the Arlo alert on your phone, you don't immediately see an image of the camera linked to the doorbell even though the interface says 'Arlo video' on it. Instead you get a notification that looks like an incoming phone call that you have to click to answer and then you get both video and sound. Out of the box, the app defaults to turning your microphone on so you can just start speaking, but if you prefer not to have visitors hear what's going on you can change the default to have your microphone off. The VOIP call delivers a voice conversation with very little lag (this is full duplex rather than the half duplex audio of the Arlo cameras), or you can click to send one of half-a-dozen preset messages like 'can I help you', 'someone will be right there', 'please leave the package outside the door' or 'sorry, I'm not interested'. You can change the language of these messages, but you can't record your own and all of the voices are male; women living or working alone may well prefer to have a male voice talking to visitors, but it would be nice to have the option.

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Arlo doorbell notifications look like phone calls (left). See and talk to visitors at your door, or send them a canned message (middle). See video and hear messages from anyone you missed when they rang the doorbell (right).

Images: Mary Branscombe/ZDNet

And if you're not in, or you just don't answer the notification after five rings, the doorbell will ask your visitor to leave a message, which shows up in the Arlo app along with the motion-triggered video from any Arlo cameras (by default they're saved for seven days).

With a normal doorbell, everyone can hear it; the same is true with the Chime. If there are several people in the house or office, you can share access to the Arlo doorbell to their phones; you don't have to give them the login to your Arlo account, although they will be able to share and delete videos and turn the doorbell to silent.

A few small tweaks would improve the Arlo doorbell experience: we'd like the option of seeing video before answering the bell, and we'd like more flexibility with the preset messages. But when you want to know more about who's at your door, or to have the option of answering the office doorbell from home, the Audio Doorbell is a handy addition to Arlo's range.

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