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Shortly after moving to a home in the metro Atlanta area last year, I knew I needed a video doorbell. UPS and FedEx would often drop boxes and would never alert me (it’s not great when package thieves are everywhere!). In addition, the vendors had the nerve to ring my doorbell, unmasked and oblivious to the global pandemic. And if I was playing with my toddler in the yard or working in the basement, I had a hard time hearing if someone was at my door. A video doorbell would solve all of these problems and give my family some peace of mind.
Then I realized how useful it would be to have cameras all over the house. One through the basement door would be ideal for keeping track of potential intruders and wildlife. It would be very helpful to have a camera on our patio to watch my child play. Another one in our yard would be useful whenever we hear strange noises at night, or just to keep an eye on things when we occasionally leave the neighborhood.
After weighing a few options, I quickly ruled out Amazon’s Ring cameras, due to the myriad of privacy concerns surrounding them. This would technically have been the easiest option, since we are already using the Ring Alarm security system (which does not share data with the police and narc on our neighbors). But in the interest of better privacy, we opted for the Arlo family of cameras. Arlo Essential Video Doorbell ($ 200) is much sleeker than most of the other competition, it delivers 1080p video with HDR, and it has the nifty ability to make our phones ring as soon as someone presses the doorbell button. I also picked up a pair of Arlo Pro 3 cameras and a base station that were on sale.
Here’s one thing they don’t tell you about doorbells: they require a small transformer, which maintains voltage just for them to work. Why am I talking about these obscure devices? They turned out to be pretty crucial in my video doorbell journey. Installing the Arlo video doorbell itself was a relatively painless process, which involved wiring a small device to our chime, unscrewing the old doorbell, adding a mounting bracket, and connecting the Arlo. But once everything was put together, the lights around its home button glowed amber, indicating that there was some sort of power issue.
After some research, we realized that our existing doorbell transformer exceeded 12 volts, while the Arlo (and pretty much every other competitor) required at least 16 volts. It took about 10 minutes to find a $ 25 upgrade on Amazon, but then came the task of finding our existing transformer. The problem was that it could be all over. There is no standardized location; it’s entirely up to whoever built your house. We checked in our front closet, in our garage and by our electrical panel.
Finally, my wife and I found it tucked away behind the doorbell chime, something we could only see by pulling it completely out of the wall. After we rewired the new transformer, the Arlo Video Doorbell LED went to a healthy white glow. Success! Now, every time someone presses the Arlo Doorbell button, the mechanical bell rings and my wife and I instantly get phone calls to chat with anyone at the door.
After this installation fiasco, we dreaded having to use more camera hardware. But it turns out the Arlo Pro 3s were easy to set up. We connected the base station to our router, installed the two included brackets near our basement and patio door, and magnetically snapped onto the cameras. The brackets provide plenty of room to adjust the cameras, so we were able to find the ideal angles for our space without too many issues. The cameras themselves feel sleek and sturdy, and I appreciate that they’re completely wireless.
We’ve signed up for the $ 10 Arlo Smart Premier monthly plan, which includes 2K video downloads, 30 days of backups, and the ability to designate specific activity zones for motion alerts for up to five cameras. I’ve grown to appreciate Parcel Alerts, which do a relatively solid job of telling me when UPS drops off a box, as well as Animal Alerts, which help us keep an eye out for critters around our house.
Because of these alerts, we learned that there is a raccoon that loves to stop on our deck several times a month to look for food. After seeing how much he enjoys spending time in my daughter’s cabin, we also make sure to wash him more regularly. On a few lucky occasions we also saw deer frolicking along our front yard. Luckily we didn’t have any major safety issues, but it was always nice to make sure no one was hovering around the house on our occasional hikes.
The Arlo app makes it easy to view our library of video alerts, which we can also save on our phones for offline viewing. I was delighted to find that the Arlo Pro 3 cameras were compatible with Apple HomeKit, which allowed us to connect them to all of our Apple hardware. This includes the Apple TV 4K – all we need to do is ask Siri to show the basement or patio doors, and the live video feed appears in a picture-in-picture window. The Arlo Video Doorbell recently received HomeKit support, although I haven’t had a chance to test it.
For the most part, Arlo’s camera suite has lived up to my cloud-connected home surveillance dreams. However, there are still some annoying issues. Sometimes it takes up to 20 seconds to see a live stream from the video doorbell. It’s especially annoying if you’re quickly trying to figure out who, exactly, rang. Sometimes the motion detection would go haywire, leading to unnecessary alerts regarding movement on my platform. (We could usually track them down in the shadows of the trees and the toys that move slightly.) And if 30 days of cloud video storage is good, that would be nice if we could have some more.
The only major downside to Arlo hardware is that much of the hardware is expensive, especially compared to cheaper offerings from Eufy and others that don’t require monthly subscriptions for cloud storage. But, in my experience, you get what you pay for. Once I add a few more cameras, I’ll have an almost 360 degree view of what’s going on around my home. And that will go a long way in calming the brain of my anxious pandemic father.