If you really can’t put a price on security, then this is the camera you want but most won’t need it
- Crystal-clear, wide-angle 4K footage
- Generous free cloud storage
- Records in colour at night
- Higher subscription price for 4K
- Expensive camera
- Most people can’t view 4K footage easily
- Best Deals
I’ve reviewed a few security cameras and going into this review my frank verdict was that while the Blink XT is good enough for the majority of people’s’ needs, the Arlo Pro 2 is as good as it gets if money is no object.
Arlo has other ideas, however, and has introduced the Arlo Ultra.
Arlo Ultra: What you need to know
The Arlo Ultra has all the same wonderful features as the Arlo Pro 2, but brings 4K streaming to the party, along with a few other nice extras like HDR, a 180-degree field of view, automatic focus on motion, an LED spotlight and colour night vision.
If the Arlo Pro 2 was overkill for most people, then this is overkill supercharged to a whole new level. Nonetheless, for those with the budget, it’s pretty hard to see what more it could offer, even if its main features feel a touch unnecessary.
Arlo Ultra: Price and competition
Those features come at a cost. The cheapest Arlo Ultra kit comprises a single camera and the hub (the Arlo Ultra isn’t compatible with existing models) and will set you back £450. A two-camera kit goes for £700, a three-camera kit is £900 and a four-camera set comes in at £1,149.
That makes the Arlo Pro 2 look like a bargain in comparison at £290 for a single-camera pack. Again, the price goes up in line with the number of cameras but you can get four for under £800.
This is before you even get into subscription fees. While both of these Arlo cameras have a year’s free “Premier” cloud storage, you’ll have to pay if you want it to continue after a year of use.
You don’t need to pay anywhere near this amount, though, if you’re willing to compromise on image quality. Budget buyers will be more than happy with the Blink XT, which costs £150 per camera with free cloud storage. If that still sounds too pricey, then consider the Neos smartcam, which is essentially flawless considering its ludicrous £20 price, although it’s designed for indoor use only, unlike the others mentioned.
Arlo Ultra: Subscription costs
On top of the initial outlay, it’s worth looking at the subscription costs involved. Arlo does pretty well here including a year of Premier subscription in the box, which covers up to ten cameras uploading up to 10GB of footage over 30 days. When the trial expires, that costs £6.49 per month or £64 per year.
If you choose not to pay after the year is up, the free offering is pretty good. You get seven days of cloud recordings (up to 1GB) from five cameras. That makes rival Ring’s meagre offering look pretty poor: you have to pay £25 per year per camera in order to record anything at all.
But back to Arlo. There’s also an elite tier that keeps 60 days of recordings from 15 cameras with a 100GB capacity limit. That costs £9.99 per month or £99 per year.
Arlo is pretty unusual in this space by also supporting CVR – or Constant Video Recording – which saves a constant stream to the cloud. It’ll cost £6.99 per camera per month for 14 days’ worth of storage, or £12.99 for a month’s worth of storage.
There’s one more detail but it’s quite an important one. While the Arlo Ultra will stream in 4K to devices on the same Wi-Fi network and can record to a microSD card in the hub if you choose, if you want to keep that 4K footage in the cloud, you’ll need to upgrade to Premium Video Recording. This costs an additional £14 per camera per year. Not a huge amount in the greater scheme of things but the drip feed of extra costs certainly gets wearing after a while, doesn’t it?
Arlo Ultra review: Performance
Before I get into the quality of the footage, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on something: do you really need HDR, 4K security footage? To be clear, you don’t have to endure the logistical nightmare of hooking your clips up to a 4K screen – this is more for being able to zoom in on fine details, but you may still find it unnecessary.
This is especially true as zooming in on live streams isn’t all it’s cracked up to be if your other devices let you down. On my 1080p P20 Pro, live footage looks delightful at a glance:
…but zooming in doesn’t add a great amount. It’s still pretty blurry.
That said, the difference in quality between the Arlo Pro 2 and the Arlo Ultra is still startling. I had both set up at the bottom of my garden capturing footage of whatever wildlife came into shot. Here’s Humphries going for a stroll in the middle of the day, first on the Arlo Pro 2:
And here he is again, this time in glorious 4K. You may need to click the cog to see it in the right resolution but, even streaming at low bit rate, the difference is obvious. Both, by the way, capture footage at the same frame rate: 24fps.
That’s good but things get even more impressive after nightfall. Night vision is a bit of a luxury feature in security cameras but the Arlo Ultra goes two better. First,it has an optional spotlight, designed to ward off intruders but, better still, the night vision is in colour. Once again it’s time to compare and contrast. First up, the Arlo Pro 2 capturing a friendly, neighbourhood urban fox:
And here’s that scene again in 4K in glorious technicolour on the Arlo Ultra:
Do you need colour? Well, it’s certainly helpful to the police if you need to share footage, as they can get a better description for patrolling officers. For fox spotting, it’s probably not essential, mind.
On the subject of fox spotting, there’s one other feature I should highlight: you can set the camera to zoom in and track areas of movement. Enabling this mode disables 4K recording, unfortunately, but it’s a nice option to have all the same. Here it is, tracking another (or possibly the same) fox:
As you can see, in this mode it doesn’t cope well with fast movements, only catching up with the elusive vulpine critter once it’s jumped the fence to terrorise my neighbour’s petunias, but it’s handy if you routinely find yourself confused by alerts that seem to show nothing when you click through. You can at least see why an alert has been triggered.
Otherwise, it’s the same deal as the Arlo Pro 2, which is to say it’s very thoughtfully designed and put together. The battery charges via microUSB cable, can be measured in months rather than hours, and topping it up is very easy thanks to its clever design. In the box, you’ll find a concave magnetic fitting which you drill into the wall of your choice. The camera clips on to that and can be pulled down when it needs charging. The shape of this means it can be easily adjusted to take in whatever view you like.
Arlo Ultra review: Verdict
The Arlo Ultra is by far the best smart security camera I’ve used. The footage is sharp, the features are top notch and Arlo’s subscription package is both generous to those that don’t want to pay and flexible enough to include those that do. As I said earlier, CVR is a rarity in this field, and it’s telling that Arlo offers it.
This certainly doesn’t come cheap and the blunt truth is you probably don’t need all the extras. I certainly don’t in an area where my only visitors are inquisitive foxes.
All of which means, for most residential use, the Blink XT remains our pick. If you absolutely must have the best, however, then go pick up an Arlo Ultra today.