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The Arlo range of security cameras has been a big success for Netgear in recent years -- so much so that the company decided to spin-off the Arlo division and float the new Arlo Technologies Inc. on the stock exchange last summer. The new Arlo had big plans, announcing a range of security cameras and lights, as well as a more extensive security system, due later this year, that's capable of detecting dangers such as smoke, carbon monoxide and even water leaks. The company has also made it clear that it's aiming to expand beyond the home security market, and appeal to business users in offices, as well as locations such as hotels, warehouses and car parks.
However, 2019 got off to a bad start as early shipments of the new flagship Arlo Ultra camera encountered a number of technical problems affecting battery life and the ability to stream high-resolution video.
The company suspended sales in the US, and the UK launch was delayed, as the company issued a series of software updates that were intended to correct these problems. It's only recently that the camera has gone on sale via Amazon in the UK, so there's a lot riding on the Arlo Ultra as it attempts to get the company back on track once more.
At first glance, the Arlo Ultra looks very similar to previous Arlo cameras, with the compact camera housed in a white plastic casing that stands just 89mm high, 52mm wide and 78.4mm deep. Like its predecessors, the camera is rated IP65 for water and dust-resistance, and includes a rechargeable battery so that you can place it in any convenient location, either indoors or outdoors. There's also a wall-mount kit included with the camera, which makes it easy to set up the camera in an office or conference room, or in outdoor locations such as construction sites or car parks. The magnetic mounting system is handy too, making it easy to quickly remove and replace the camera when you need to recharge it.
Arlo already offers several cameras with similar features, but the Arlo Ultra goes further and offers a range of features matched by few of its security camera rivals. It boasts an 8-megapixel sensor that provides full 4K video resolution (3840x2160) with HDR (High Dynamic Range) to enhance image quality. It can record panoramic video with 180-degree viewing angle and 12x digital zoom, and there's a spotlight built into the camera that can be activated automatically in order to provide full-colour recording when using its night-vision mode.
The spotlight should also help to deter intruders, and if you really want to give unwanted visitors a shock then the SmartHub control unit provided with the Arlo Ultra includes a siren as well. As with previous Arlo cameras, the SmartHub needs to be connected to a broadband router in order to provide remote access and internet connectivity, and you can further upgrade your security system by purchasing individual cameras as required and controlling all the cameras through the SmartHub.
Following its recent software updates, Arlo now quotes the battery life at 3-6 months. That wide variation depends on the use of features such as the spotlight, which will have a significant impact on battery life.
The impressive features of the Arlo Ultra come at a price, though, and the single-camera kit reviewed here costs £375 ex. VAT (£450 inc. VAT, or $400). If you need to monitor more than one location then a kit with two cameras is available for £583.33 ex. VAT (£700 inc. VAT, or $600), while Arlo's top-of-the-range option with four cameras comes to a total of £958.33 ex. VAT (£1,150 inc. VAT, or $1,000).
Those prices include the Arlo cameras and SmartHub, as well as a 12-month subscription to Arlo's Smart Premier subscription service. This allows the Arlo app to control up to 10 cameras simultaneously, and also provides a number of additional security features that aren't available without a subscription. These include 'activity zones', which can tell the camera to focus on specific areas, such as a hallway or window, and the ability to differentiate between people, pets and vehicles in order to avoid false alarms.
Most importantly, that subscription also includes cloud storage for video recordings for up to 30 days -- but only at HD (1920x1080) resolution. It's a little disappointing to see that storing 4K video online requires an additional 'premium' subscription of £1.67 ex. VAT per month (£1.99 inc. VAT, or $1.99). There is a MicroSD slot built into the SmartHub, which can be used to store 4K video recordings on your premises -- although, of course, any damage to the SmartHub in the event of a break-in could mean that you lose important video evidence.
When that initial subscription expires, you'll still be able to stream live video from the camera, but will no longer have access to online storage and recording, or notifications. To be fair, that's also the case with many rival security cameras -- but it's annoying to find that the Arlo Ultra requires a second premium subscription in order to fully exploit its 4K video capabilities.
We already have an older Arlo camera set up in our office, so adding the Arlo Ultra to the iOS app was a quick and easy process. The app is also available for Android devices, while Macs and PCs can use a web browser interface to view and control their cameras. Like the other Arlo cameras we've tested, the Arlo Ultra was a little over-sensitive at first (a car headlight passing a window in the evening could trigger an alert, for example), but the app does allow you to adjust the level of motion-sensitivity.
The quality of the 4K video is impressive too, and the wide-angle video works well in outdoor locations and venues such as hotels and restaurants. Again, though, there are some details that you need to be aware of when using 4K video recordings. Arlo suggests that streaming 4K video requires an upload speed of 4Mbps, which may not be available if you rely on an ADSL broadband connection with slower upload speeds. Using some options, such as motion-tracking and auto-zoom, also require the camera to drop down to 1080p resolution. And, given that storing 4K video online requires an additional subscription fee, some users might simply prefer to opt for the more modest -- and less expensive -- 1080p video of the older Arlo Pro 2 camera.
With its teething problems now -- hopefully -- behind it, the Arlo Ultra proves to be an impressive and versatile security device. It's expensive, and might be a case of overkill for homes and small businesses that don't want to pay the premium subscription fees. However, features such as its sharp and detailed 4K video, enhanced night vision and built-in spotlight ensure that the Arlo Ultra is one of the most advanced and versatile security cameras currently available.
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