Review: NETGEAR Arlo Smart Home Security Camera (VMS3230)

When it comes to managing the modern smart home, it’s been the area of home security that has proved to be the most frustrating – IP cameras, in particular. Now, networked cameras have been around for almost twenty years – the category was launched with devices like the Axis Neteye 200 and Microplex Network/Eye 270 back in 1996 but their progression has been slow – both in terms of hardware and control software.

Most IP cameras available today look like they’ve received a tap from the ugly stick and they can be a nightmare to install – particularly if you’re mounting externally. While many modern video devices are now pushing beyond high definition, it’s taken an age for surveillance cameras manufacturers to even reach 720p. Please don’t get me started on IP camera software – here at WGS, we’ve had a procession of terrible IP cam apps come in for review. Tricky to configure, often riddled with bugs, poor UI translations and a user experience dating back to the days of the Y2K bug.

It’s fair to say that the IP camera category is ripe for reinvention and NETGEAR’s Arlo Security System may just be the device to do it. Announced at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, NETGEAR’s new smart home device took home a CES 2015 Innovation Award from the show and more recently picked up a Red Dot Award for Product Design. That’s due, in part, to a different, more modern approach to smart home security which has led to a compact and convenient product solution.

Unlike many of its competitors, Arlo cameras are battery-operated, so are completely wire-free. That makes installation a breeze, with no power and network cabling to run around the home. They’re “outdoor-ready” as NETGEAR claim, with the ability to operate in temperatures between 14° to 122° F (-10° C to 50° C). Wind, rain and sun are all welcome, although they may not survive the kind of winters we get here in Canada. But with such dinky proportions – 2.8 x 1.6 x 2.5 in (71.2 x 40.64 x 63.5 mm) – you can use them both inside or out as needed.

Add night vision support, motion alerts, plus a dash of cloud storage and you have the recipe for a very modern smart home surveillance system. But I hear your concerns already. Battery-powered? Cloud storage? I’m about to be fleeced on Duracells and monthly subscription charges, right? Well, let’s get this Arlo system up and running and we’ll see!

NETGEAR sent over their $349 Arlo Security System with 2 HD Cameras (VMS3230) for review – alternative options range from a single camera system, priced at $199 (VMS3130), up to a four camera package retailing at $499.99 (VMS3430).

What’s in the Box?

Developed in conjunction with Oakland’s Enlisted Design (who also worked on the excellent NETGEAR Click Switch – check out our review) Arlo signals a fresh approach to smart home security from first glance. The see-through packaging puts product design on a pedestal – literally – with the twin cameras raised up for all to see.

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You’ll have noticed that the Arlo product branding stands distinct from NETGEAR’s manufacturer branding – a strategy that extends through to the Arlo website and community forums. You can find Arlo listed on the NETGEAR website, but you’ll be quickly linked through to a standalone site. My guess is that we’ll see a wider range of smart home products coming down the line with Arlo branding – much as Belkin do with WeMo – but that’s conjecture right now.

In the pack, you’ll find:

  • 2 x Arlo HD Cameras
  • A Smart Home Base Station
  • Ethernet cable
  • 4 x Magnetic camera mounts
  • 4 x Mounting screws
  • 8 x Batteries
  • Window decal

Once you have everything unpacked, you can see it’s quite the collection. I challenge you to reassemble the box after unpacking the contents – there’s some serious voodoo origami required to get that clear plastic box sitting neatly on top of that carton!

As you can see from the photos, the Arlo Security System requires a base station, plugged into your router, to communicate with the network. I’m seeing a growing trend now for smart home products to bundle their own base stations and it’s becoming an issue. If you’re using smart home products from multiple vendors – lighting, network audio, surveillance then you’ll be collecting proprietary network hubs for fun. Alongside the Arlo system stealing another Ethernet port, it’s pretty bulky – the size of a last generation router – so it’s going to need some desktop space alongside your other network devices. Surprisingly, it lacks a wall mount, which may have been useful for homes with tight space around the router.

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The front of the base station includes small indicator LEDs for Power, Internet and Cameras connections. Two additional indicators – a home icon with wireless signal and USB icon – are “reserved for upcoming features” according to the manual. Certainly looks like the base station could support more devices along the way.

Flip the base station around and you’ll find twin USB 2.0 ports, the LAN port for the router connection, a reset button, On/Off switch and power input.

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