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Netgear Arlo Smart Home Security review:

Netgear's Arlo defies typical security camera limitations

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The Good Arlo's 720p video works well whether it's resting on a table near your router or hidden in a tree hundreds of feet away.

The Bad It doesn't have any audio capabilities and the battery life will vary a lot depending on usage.

The Bottom Line Netgear's Arlo is your answer to un-tethered indoor and outdoor DIY home security -- just make sure you have spare batteries handy.

CNET Editors' Rating

7.7 Overall
  • Features 8.0
  • Usability 7.0
  • Design 7.0
  • Performance 9.0

Of the DIY security cameras we've reviewed, battery-powered models are not particularly common. That's because you usually have to give up key features like live streaming and HD video quality so you aren't constantly swapping out batteries. The trade-off, of course, is a camera that's plugged into an outlet 24/7.

Interestingly, Netgear didn't do away with those power-hungry options when it made its battery-only, 720p-resolution, motion-sensing, night-vision-equipped, indoor/outdoor Arlo cameras. They retain the resolution and on-demand video feed of a typically-tethered camera and add on the free-roaming flexibility of one that's battery-powered. The result is an elegant solution to a classic security camera conundrum.

Plant these beauties in and around your home for an impressively solid system that's unmoved by shifts in the weather. Just make sure you keep CR123 lithium batteries handy, as battery life will vary a lot based on usage and proximity to the included Netgear Arlo hub. Still, I recommend Arlo to anyone in need of an adaptable indoor/outdoor camera system. The two-camera kit I reviewed here costs $350, but you can also get a single-camera kit for $200 and additional cameras for $160 each. (The Arlo is slated to be available later the first quarter of this year in the UK and onverted pricing is about £233.)

In Australia you can get the two camera kit for a rather hefty AU$588. The one camera kit is AU$349 -- individual add-on cameras are AU$249. In all, this is a pricey product in Australia.

Arlo in action

The kit I reviewed comes with two HD cameras, eight CR123 lithium batteries (four per camera, they can run with just two batteries, though), four magnetic mounts with included hardware and a hub that connects to the router. The hub and cameras are finished in glossy white plastic. The hub seems unnecessarily large and utilitarian-looking, but otherwise fine.

The palm-sized cameras are much more discreet. Each one has a 130-degree field of view and automatically-adjusting night vision. Netgear claims that Arlo cameras have an operating range of up to 300 feet from the hub and a 4 to 6-month battery life. This is where Arlo's impressive adaptability breaks down a little bit for me.

That 300-foot range appears to be true only under optimal conditions -- with few to no obstacles interfering with the signal. Also, the distance between each camera and the hub, how often you access features like live streaming and whether or not you set the cameras to "best video," "optimized" or "best battery life" mode will all influence how long the cameras last before needing new batches of CR123's.

The indoor-only Homeboy camera I recently reviewed has a rechargeable battery that's supposed to last for three months on a single charge. To achieve this long-battery-life feat, the team employed its own low-power Wi-Fi tech, a 640x480-pixel resolution and did away with live-steaming capabilities altogether.

Arlo is a battery-powered camera rated for both indoor and outdoor use. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

However, after a week of testing the Arlo cameras mainly in "best video" mode, both cameras still have a full charge. Interestingly, though, when I take the fully-charged cameras outside in the below-freezing weather, the battery status indicators drop swiftly. When I return inside, the status bars go back to their previously fully-charged setting.

Arlo's operating temperature range is 14 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit (about -9 to 50 degree Celsius) -- some complaints have surfaced online showing that a cold Arlo camera could claim to have a lower battery life than it really does. Netgear says that this is a known issue that it is working to address. We aren't exactly in the arctic tundra here in Kentucky, but the winter temperatures regularly dip below freezing and 14 degrees Fahrenheit certainly isn't an impossibility. Since that's also true for a large portion of the country, I wonder about this system's outdoor reliability by season.

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