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Arlo Essential Indoor Cam review: Kinda fancy, but still vanilla

It's the vanilla bean of home security cameras.

If Arlo's home security devices were flavors, the video doorbell and outdoor cams would be the inventive, delicious ones like pistachio honeycomb or triple chocolate rosemary -- you know, the ones blowing people's minds at those bougie ice cream shops in the hipster part of town. The Essential Indoor Cam, on the other hand, would be the dependable, if a little basic, alternative, like vanilla bean. It's good, but it's not why you shell out for artisan ice cream (OK, I'll admit I'm craving ice cream right now).

Arlo's Essential indoor cam is a solid security camera, but it lacks anything exciting. If you already own Arlo's excellent video doorbell or outdoor cameras and you're looking for an indoor cam -- Arlo's Essential Indoor Cam will be perfect for you; keeping everything on the same app is probably worth $99. For everyone else? Well, it's still hard to beat the super-affordable alternatives.

7.6

Arlo Essential Indoor Cam

Like

  • Dependable performance
  • Security and privacy conscious

Don't Like

  • No free cloud storage
  • Expensive without any standout feature

Little, but fierce

Arlo's biggest strength is its quality control across devices. I haven't tested a bad Arlo product, and the Essential Indoor Cam continues that trend. Setup is painless, and out of the box you get a respectable 130-degree field of view, 12x digital zoom, 1080p HD live stream, two-way talk, night vision, a built-in siren, an automated privacy shield and integration with loads of smart home ecosystems, including Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and IFTTT (Apple HomeKit is on the way, according to an Arlo rep).

Read more: Best home security cameras for 2021

All this for $99 isn't bad! That price puts it just above the more basic $80 Amazon Blink Indoor cam and right on par with the upcoming $99 Nest Cam (wired) -- but also well above more affordable options like the $36 Wyze Cam v3.

Arlo's most notable feature on this device is the privacy shield -- a small plastic disc that flips into place when scheduled to physically block the lens from capturing footage. It's a nice feature, especially for an indoor cam that will likely be capturing more sensitive footage than your video doorbell, but is that worth the significant price hike compared to Wyze? I'm not so sure.

image-from-ios-25

The privacy shield is white, so you can tell at a glance whether the camera could be recording.

David Priest/CNET

This is perhaps Arlo's biggest problem: there isn't really a standout feature to recommend the indoor cam over and above the best competitors in the same or lower price ranges.

Nest's new indoor camera, which Google hasn't given a hard release date on yet, costs the same and does basically the same things (though if it has the 3 hours of free event storage the other new Nest devices have, that'll lend it a clear edge over the Arlo indoor cam). Wyze has nearly all the same features, save the privacy shield, and it costs less than half as much. Sure, $99 isn't a huge expense for many people, but why spend more for the same features -- especially when Wyze is weatherproof, in case you ever want to use it outdoors?

Testing it out

In my week testing Arlo's indoor camera, I generally enjoyed working with it. The 130-degree field of view isn't quite as expansive as some more expensive security cameras, but it's sufficient to cover a room from the right angles. The feed had about 3 seconds of latency, and two-way talk was a little laggier, but generally performed well. The sound quality wasn't too tinny or flat.

The motion detection worked, and the siren was satisfactory -- not earsplitting, but definitely loud enough to wake someone sleeping in nearby rooms. 

The privacy shield, which Arlo's representative described to me as "the hero feature" of the device, fell a little flat for me. You can open or close the privacy shield on the app, or schedule it -- but that's about all. I like being able to tell if the camera is recording or not with a single glance, but frankly, I prefer a privacy shield like those on Amazon Echo Show devices, where you can manually cover the lens and be certain no hacker could (even theoretically) disengage the shield.

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Arlo's cam isn't weatherproof, which means no outdoor possibilities for this little guy.

David Priest/CNET

But my biggest disappointment using the Arlo was the lack of free storage on the device or in the cloud. This feature remains hit-or-miss among home security cams, with some recent ones offering cloud storage only with their monthly subscriptions. Arlo goes this route, offering smarter notifications and unlimited cloud storage for 30 days for $3 per month.

Wyze, by contrast, offers 14 days of free cloud storage. Google's newest devices offer three hours of free event footage storage.

Should you buy it?

The Arlo Essential Indoor Cam is a solid camera -- especially if you already use other Arlo devices on the same app. It does everything you'd expect it to do, and two or three years ago, that would've easily been worth $99. In 2021, that value proposition isn't quite so clear. More affordable alternatives -- especially with free cloud storage -- make this indoor cam look slightly less enticing than it could be with better out-of-the-box features.

That said, if the value is less important to you than the performance, you won't be disappointed by Arlo. As usual, their device is well-designed, dependable and easy to use... even if it is a little vanilla.