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Security Cameras

Security camera showdown: Nest Cam IQ Outdoor vs. Arlo Ultra

Two high-end outdoor home security cameras go head to head.

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The Nest Cam IQ Outdoor and the Arlo Ultra are high-end outdoor security cameras.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The Arlo Ultra and the Nest Cam IQ Outdoor are two high-end home security cameras, by far the most specced-out DIY outdoor models I've tested.

Both cameras have 8-megapixel image sensors, which allows them to automatically zoom in on a person, a car -- or some other motion activity -- and track it more closely than a standard cam. The Ultra and the IQ Outdoor are weatherproof and designed to handle changing temperatures, rain, snow and more without breaking. They share a couple of other standard home security features, too, but they also have some significant differences.

So I thought I'd put together an in-depth comparison so you can see where each model stands out and if one makes sense for your home. Let's dive in.

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Performance

The IQ Outdoor has a slight upper hand on the performance front. This Nest camera sent me fast alerts, accurately tracked activity within its field of view and recognized most faces with its optional "familiar faces" facial recognition feature.

The Arlo Ultra also did a good job in general, but struggled a bit with some of the advanced features. For instance, the Ultra is supposed to differentiate among people, vehicles and animals. It even has a beta feature for recognizing packages when they arrive and sending out a custom alert. 

The Ultra did a great job detecting a person — it won't tell you who it sees, just that it sees a person.

It was less successful at correctly identifying vehicles, animals and packages. Since the package feature is in beta testing, I gave that one a pass, but the other two aren't and that was disappointing.

As with most of the cameras I've tested, the Arlo Ultra's ability to identify specific things will likely improve over time, but the Nest Cam IQ Outdoor is more consistent today. 

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You'll get an alert when Nest thinks it sees someone you've added to your facial recognition database. 

Screenshots by Megan Wollerton/CNET

Features

Both cameras have impressive specs, making this section a draw, but there are some key differences worth discussing. While the Nest Cam IQ Outdoor streams in crisp 1080p HD, the Arlo Ultra streams in 4K. 4K streaming won't work if your Wi-Fi quality doesn't meet Arlo's minimum requirements, but if it does, expect to be able to make out more details than you would with lower-res cameras. 

The Arlo Ultra is also more of a security camera than the Nest model. The Ultra app lets you arm and disarm the system, and the camera itself has a built-in siren and spotlight. Motion activity that happens at night time will turn on the spotlight automatically, startling the person and making it easier for the camera to capture who it is and what they're doing. Adjust the settings in the app to turn on the siren automatically whenever the system is armed and the camera detects motion -- or turn it on manually whenever you want. 

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Person alerts worked well; the others weren't as consistent.

Screenshots by Megan Wollerton/CNET

At the same time, the IQ Outdoor offers person detection for free as well as a three-hour window of saved images, taken whenever the camera detects activity. Nest also offers facial recognition and cloud recording services through the optional Nest Aware service in case you want to access the camera's most advanced features. the Nest Aware service starts at $5 per month. Learn more about Nest Aware.

The Arlo camera isn't quite as advanced -- and doesn't offer as much for free as the Nest's IQ Outdoor. Arlo used to offer 7 days of free motion-activity-based cloud video storage. Instead, Arlo gives you one free year of the Arlo Smart subscription service, which gives you access to Arlo's most advanced features in hopes that you'll continue to pay after that one year subscription ends.

But unlike the Nest camera, which offers person alerts for free, Arlo's person, vehicle, animal and package detection capabilities are reserved for Arlo Smart subscribers. And the Arlo Ultra doesn't offer facial recognition, even with Arlo Smart. Learn more about Arlo Smart. The Arlo Ultra does come with local storage, though, in case you want to skip some of those fancier Arlo Smart features and use a microSD card for free. 

Privacy note: Nest offers opt-in two-factor authentication -- read more about it. Arlo doesn't offer this feature.

Take a look at the chart below to see how the Ultra and the IQ Outdoor compare side by side:

Comparing security cameras


Arlo Ultra Nest Cam IQ Outdoor
Price $400 (one-camera kit); $600 (two-camera kit) $349
Color finish White White
Weatherproof Indoor/outdoor Outdoor
Connection type Wi-Fi Wi-Fi
Power source Rechargeable battery Plug-in adapter
Resolution 4K 1080p
Image sensor 8-megapixel 8-megapixel
Digital zoom 12x 12x
Live streaming Yes Yes
Continuous recording Yes, with Arlo Smart Yes, with Nest Aware
Cloud storage No free cloud recording; optional Arlo Smart subscription service starting at $3 per month Yes, free three-hour image history; optional Nest Aware subscription service starting at $5 per month
Local storage Yes, via the included base station (microSD card not included) No
Mobile app Yes Yes
Web app Yes Yes
Night vision Yes Yes
Alerts Motion and sound; person, package, vehicle and animal with Arlo Smart Motion, sound, person; facial recognition with Nest Aware
Activity zones Yes, with Arlo Smart Yes, with Nest Aware
Third-party integrations Amazon Alexa; Google Assistant Amazon Alexa; Google Assistant

Design

Arlo is easier to install and configure in the app than the Nest camera.

The Arlo is battery-powered, with a removable, rechargeable battery that's supposed to last between three to six months and takes two to four hours to charge again fully. Press the button on the bottom of the Arlo camera and the front of the camera will separate from the back, making it simple to access the battery, whether you're removing it or putting it back.

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Press this button to access the battery.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The Ultra also has a clever magnetic backing that attaches to the included magnetic stand for a very quick installation. Arlo also includes a standard swivel mount if you'd rather screw the stand into the back of the camera for a more permanent, secure installation.

The Nest camera isn't difficult to install, but it is it isn't as simple by comparison. Specifically, the IQ Outdoor relies on an adapter for power, meaning you're somewhat limited in terms of where and how you can install it -- unless you have hundreds of feet of extension cords you want to enlist for the job. 

The Nest stand, too, isn't as functional as the stands Arlo includes. You really can't set the Nest camera on a table or or the railing of your back deck and expect it to stay put. Instead, this camera really needs to be wall-mounted to optimize its positioning.

Final thoughts

This was a really close call, but the Nest Cam IQ Outdoor is a slightly better bet overall. It's more affordable, offers more features for free, and, if you decide to pay for Nest Aware, you get facial recognition too. 

The Nest model performed more reliably as well, whereas the Arlo Ultra had trouble recognizing cars, animals and packages. The Ultra's lack of facial recognition is disappointing, too. Even so, the Arlo Ultra is also a strong contender. It's a particularly good option if you're interested in a high-quality camera with the flexibility to move around without being tethered to a power cord. 

Think about what makes the most sense in your home and go from there. Still stumped? There's good news: You really can't go wrong with either one if you want a high-end outdoor camera with crisp live streaming and a variety of advanced features. 

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