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Arlo Ultra review: Can this home security system keep you and your family safe?

The Arlo Ultra offers impressive image quality, but you have to pay a monthly subscription in order to access 4 K resolution video.
The Arlo Ultra offers impressive image quality, but you have to pay a monthly subscription in order to access 4 K resolution video. (BestReviews)

In recent years, entryway cameras that send information to your smartphone have become popular, but not every model is able to provide a complete and crisp image of what’s happening on your property.

The Arlo Utra claims to provide a security camera system that delivers clear details in a variety of light conditions using 4K video to illuminate logos, license plates, and other potentially important details.

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We wanted to see if Arlo's claims were true, so we ran the Arlo Ultra through a series of tests to see how it performed over the course of a month. We wanted to find out if this home security system really could provide peace of mind and the cutting-edge images it claimed.

To determine this, we installed the cameras using the instruction manual, experimented with the features, tested compatibility and range, and took notes of any problems we encountered. Here’s what we found.

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How to install Arlo Ultra

The Arlo Ultra has a sleek design and it's available in either black or white. We picked the white version. Each camera has a smooth, plastic enclosure and a solid weight that indicates its durability. The only button on the device is for the battery compartment that is located next to a set of metal contacts that are used for the magnetic charging dock.

We found the setup required few steps and the instructions were easy enough to understand. First, we plugged in the base station and downloaded the app. Then we brought the camera close to the base station and simply hit the sync button. The instructions are clear and easy to follow and, on the app, it was easy to add or remove cameras from the system.

Arlo Ultra performance

Sound

We installed three cameras. The overall sound on all three is pretty clear. We get a decent amount of ambient noise in the front of the house due to traffic and general street noise, but all this noise didn't seem to diminish the audio quality from the Arlo camera we installed at the front door. From our experience, it seems the noise-canceling ability of this device functions as advertised.

Image quality

Straight out of the box, the image quality is pretty good — 1080P, the industry standard. One minor complaint, the Ultra is advertised as being able to shoot in 4K. While that is true, it’s slightly misleading because it will only shoot in 4K if you have a subscription to Arlo's cloud service. The most affordable tier is $3 per month for a 30-day history for one camera or $10 per month for a 30-day history for up to 20 cameras.

Video quality

We found the video quality to be dependent on both the lighting conditions and the subject's distance from the Arlo. If it was dark and the individual wasn't close to the camera, details were lost. If it was a large object, such as a car, and it was close to the camera (within 20 feet) during the daytime, it would be possible to pick up details like the letters and numbers on a license plate. To test the limits of this camera, we focused it so it could record street traffic that was about 30 feet away. At that distance, it was unable to clearly show license plate details. It did, however, provide incredible detail when someone was at the front door.

Night vision

We were impressed by the black and white night vision mode on this camera. The images obviously aren't as clear as they are in the daylight, but they aren't that bad. In general, this camera seems to function well, resolving plenty of detail within about a 20-foot range.

The color night mode is a little misleading because it basically involves turning on a small spotlight so color is visible. While this does allow you to have color footage at night, it might not capture it in the manner in which many imagine.

Arlo Ultra features

Motion sensing, tracking, and recording

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The Arlo Ultra has a motion sensor light that turns on whenever it detects motion within the frame. While the camera can digitally zoom in on a movement within the frame and follow the object that is moving, the camera, itself, is unable to physically move. The recording feature is triggered when the device senses motion and starts recording to either the base station or the cloud (if you are a subscriber). To record from the base station, You will need to purchase a micro SD card.

Range and connectivity

We placed the three cameras in our system at 15 feet, 25 feet, and 35 feet away from the base to determine effective range. All three cameras operated at full strength with no connectivity issues. Additionally, it was easy to connect the Arlo Ultra to any supported system. Alexa offers an Arlo "skill" and since the apple watch pairs with your phone, you can receive motion alerts and battery alerts through an apple watch, which is convenient.

Weather resistance and battery life

We mounted one of the cameras in a location that ensured it would receive a fair amount of exposure to the elements. Over the trial period, there was no diminished functionality due to this exposure. However, the Arlo's battery life seems to decrease in colder weather. In fact, the battery life was one of the weakest points of this entire system. Of the three cameras, only one is mounted to a charger. The other two only last about a week before needing to be replaced. Recharging the batteries once a week might not seem to be a big deal, but it does get a little tiresome, and if you forget, the cameras will not work. Also, we noticed it can be difficult to reconnect a camera after replacing a battery that has died.

Accessories and add ons

For our needs, the accessories were not necessary. If you had a remote camera, something mounted on a shed, you may benefit from a solar panel attachment. The only add-on that we thought was necessary was the subscription service that enabled 4K video.

What is the Arlo app

The Arlo app is easy to use, and it allows you to get the most out of your security system. We tested the two-way audio feature to communicate with someone at the front door and found it to be very beneficial, especially for deliveries when you are not home. The motion alerts plus the ability to remotely monitor your cameras are invaluable. There was an incident that occurred at 3:30 a.m. when, luckily, no one was home.

Burglars broke into the house while we were on vacation. We were able to discourage them through the audio system and dispatch police within minutes of them breaking in. We accomplished all of this while we were more than 1,000 miles away.

Arlo Ultra cost

The Arlo Ultra retails for $399.99 for a one-camera package. The Arlo Ultra also comes in two-camera, three-camera, and four-camera kits, so you can customize your security system to fit the needs of your home.

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Arlo Ultra pros

The Arlo Ultra provides remarkable peace of mind. It has a no-fuss setup, a straightforward operation, and it’s dependable. The audio functions well, the image quality can be great, and the remote operation is exceptional.

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Arlo Ultra cons

The two standout downsides to this model are the short battery life and the need to subscribe to experience the benefits of 4K recording.

Is the Arlo Ultra worth it?

We were impressed with the Arlo Ultra's sound image and video quality. If you're looking for a higher-end security system that is reliable, well supported, and offers a robust feature set, the Arlo Ultra was designed just for you.

Allen Foster is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.

BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. BestReviews and its newspaper partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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