Review: Arlo Ultra is a 4K HomeKit-ready smart home camera with endless features

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Arlo Ultra is the most capable smart home camera yet, with a laundry list of features including forthcoming HomeKit compatibility to back up the hefty price tag. AppleInsider tests it out.

Arlo Ultra

The ultimate security camera

Arlo debuted the Arlo Ultra at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show in January. It made waves with its sleek design, impressive feature set, and 4K resolution. Although it still doesn't have the promised HomeKit support at the time of the review, it is an otherwise incredible security camera.




Installation and setup

The Arlo setup is relatively straightforward. The camera itself has a clean, white exterior sans the magnetic connection and button on the bottom. The front is black with the torch LED along the top and a bulbous 180-degree lens in the center.

Arlo Ultra battery compartment
Arlo Ultra battery compartment


In the box, it comes without the battery installed. You will need to pop open the housing using the sole button and snap it into place. Once the battery is inserted, the magnetic charger can be used to power up the camera. The new charger is a big step forward and thoroughly welcomed. With a full charge, users should expect three to six months of use from the camera depending on the volume of use.

Arlo Ulta magnetic charger
Arlo Ulta magnetic charger


There are a few options to mount the Arlo Ultra, which is a bit on the hefty side. It does have a flat base, so if used indoors, can be just placed on a shelf. Additionally, there is a quarter inch thread on the back for attaching to standard camera mounts.

Arlo Ultra magnetic mount
Arlo Ultra magnetic mount


Those familiar with Arlo may also recognize the wonderful magnetic mounts that are included. It is easily attached to a wall and magnetically holds the camera securely in place at a variety of angles. The camera could just be snatched right off, but with good placement, it won't be easy and few people at all would think of trying to rip a security camera off to steal it, especially with you having the footage of them doing so.

The Arlo app walks you through the placement process, ensuring there is a proper connection with the SmartHub. The Arlo SmartHub is included in the box and is necessary for the camera to function. The app then helps you assign the camera a location and sets up any motion zones, resolutions, etc you prefer.

The SmartHub

To make the Arlo cameras work, you need the SmartHub. This white, vertical device plugs directly into your router and then puts out its own network for the wire-free cameras to connect to. It acts as a bit of the brains behind the cameras and offers storage by way of a micro SD slot.

Arlo Ultra SmartHub
Arlo SmartHub


This hub is necessary for the cameras to operate and connect to your actual network. It is also the reason we have motion zones on a wire-free camera. The usual issue is that doing zone monitoring on-camera is far too much of a power hog. It would drain the batteries incredibly fast. So instead, Arlo detects motion anywhere in the frame, sends a frame to the SmartHub which then identifies if it is within the designated motion zones, and if it is it starts recording and sends the alert to you. All of this happens in a fraction of a second.

This hub is also responsible for allowing HomeKit support -- when it comes in a future update. Apple to date has disallowed wireless cameras to work with HomeKit. The Logitech Circle 2 famously only supports HomeKit on the wired version for this reason. HomeKit requires the device to always be reachable and drains a battery far too fast. Arlo instead just has HomeKit ping the SmartHub which is able to give a response and only taps into the camera when requested or sending a notification.

In the latter half of 2019, more will come to the SmartHub. A software update will bring Zigbee and Z-Wave support. Other third-party devices will be able to connect directly to the Arlo SmartHub and be operated from within the Arlo app.

Video quality

Arlo Ultra is capable of shooting video in 4K resolution, with up to 12X digital zoom within the Arlo app. This gives you an unprecedented view with the camera, enough to read license plates from the street and recognize faces -- problems other security cameras are up against.

There is a bright torch LED placed on the front of the camera which produces full-color night vision rather than a spotty greyscale image. The subject still has to be fairly close for that to work, however. They can't be across the yard and be outside the scope of the light.

Arlo Ultra torch light
Arlo Ultra torch light


In our testing, we did notice some drops in resolution. And, it can only stream 4K to a local device, but it has very solid visuals.

Dual motion sensors alert the camera to any activity, which can also be sequestered to designated motion zones so that errant movement doesn't continuously trigger the camera and light.

When motion is detected, smart alerts appear with rich notifications that give you a preview video of the ongoings. A quick tap jumps you directly into the Arlo app for further viewing, saving a clip, or speaking with whoever is on the camera. The Arlo app gives you signal strength, motion notifier, and battery life for each camera in your setup.

Arming the system
Arming the system


The Arlo system as a whole can be set to be either armed or disarmed. When armed, it will monitor for both motion and audio detection and when disarmed it will do neither. You can switch modes manually through the app or it can be changed by a schedule or geofencing.

Geofencing is very useful for automatically enabling whenever you leave your home and has been quite reliable for us. Others may prefer it come on during the evenings to watch outside their home while they sleep.

Arlo smarts

The normal assortment of camera features are present within the Arlo Ultra -- motion sensing, motion zones, notifications, etc. What really set the Arlo Ultra apart from other competing cameras is the wealth of "smart" features.

Arlo Ultra at 4K -- Wide angle (top) and 12X digital zoom (bottom)
Arlo Ultra at 4K -- Wide angle (top) and 12X digital zoom (bottom)


First of these features is Smart Notifications. This option uses AI to determine what is the frame and then only notify you for what you are most interested in. For example, we positioned ours over the parking lot. This results in cars setting off the motion sensor every ten seconds.

Fed up, we disabled vehicles using Smart Notifications. In our testing, this works amazingly and saves us a barrage of unnecessary notifications. Now we only get notifications for people, animals, or other motion but not vehicles.

The second smart feature, which includes a blue "beta" tag, is package detection. This can be enabled with the camera placed above a door and will notify you whenever a package is dropped off -- or possibly more importantly -- picked up. It receives its own rich notifications and is denoted by a bouncing package.

Arlo app
Arlo app


One of our favorite smart features is e911. The idea is with a normal security camera that prompts you to call 911, is that it sends emergency responders your location, and not the location of your home.

If you are out of town and you get notified someone is breaking in, when you call 911 you will be routed to the local services rather than that of where your home is located. Conversely, e911 automatically routes you to the local emergency services by your home so they are quick to respond to any emergency. We didn't pester 911 with test calls but it did give us the option when we were away to get a security alert that something was going on.

Lastly, we have Call a Friend. This allows you to call a friend when you see activity on the camera. A rich notification will appear giving you the option to call a friend that you've added in the settings. This way they can go check out whatever may be going on and you don't have to dig through settings.

Enhanced notifications, e911, person detection, and activity zones are all part of the Arlo Smart Premium package, so if you want to keep using them you will need to be sure to subscribe once your free trial expires. Fortunately, an entire year of Arlo Smart Premium comes bundled with the Arlo Ultra.

The Arlo team expressed their desire for people to get the most out of this camera which is only possible with Arlo Smart Premium. It has been so helpful to us we will certainly be re-upping our subscription as ours expires.

Arlo Smart Premium includes 30 days of cloud recording too, though is limited to 1080P footage.

HomeKit support

At launch, HomeKit was missing from the package but is inching closer and close to release. Arlo has already implemented HomeKit in other cameras such as the Arlo Baby so we don't doubt their ability to follow through.

This will tie it into the larger Apple HomeKit ecosystem where motion detected by your Arlo Ultra could trigger your Philips Hue outdoor lightship along your sidewalk. You could also use Siri to enable/disable the torch light found on the front of the Arlo Ultra.

As the first wireless HomeKit camera we are eager to try this out. Once HomeKit does come to the Arlo Ultra we will update this review with our impressions.

Would we recommend Arlo Ultra

In a heartbeat. The Arlo Ultra is the ultimate security camera. There are countless smart features that use AI and machine learning to pull off. HomeKit is imminent to tie it perfectly into the Apple ecosystem. Features like e911 are unique and not seen with other smart home cameras.

Arlo Ultra
Arlo Ultra


In our experience, the only deterrents to picking up the Arlo Ultra is the slight delay in launching the live feed as well as the price. The delay isn't substantial but is slower than we like. We're sporting gigabit fiber at our location so we know it isn't the network that is slowing this down.

The price is also high but that is what we'd expect for the most feature-complete out-of-the-box smart home security camera. We are excited for the future of the Arlo Ultra when HomeKit is finally added and the "Works with Arlo" program rolls out to take advantage of the Zigbee and Z-Wave support in the Smart Hub.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Where to buy

Arlo's Ultra 4K camera system starts at $399.99 with free shipping at Amazon. Additional cameras can also be added for greater customization.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 41
    sirozhasirozha Posts: 550member
    Two features make this camera a no-go for me: 1. Battery 2. Hub
    edited April 23 cornchipDanManTXhmurchisonstompyjbdragonJaro360GeorgeBMac
  • Reply 2 of 41
    Andrew_OSUAndrew_OSU Posts: 243member, editor
    sirozha said:
    Two features make this camera a no-go for me: 1. Battery 2. Hub
    A lot of people prefer the battery. I for one. For an outdoor camera, a wire is a non-starter. The hub isn't a huge deal, it also will support Zigbee and Z-Wave soon which will work with other smart home products and replace their hub.

    That hub is also what enables a wireless HomeKit camera, something that has so far been impossible.
    Soliwatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 41
    JanNLJanNL Posts: 259member
    " Philips Hue outdoor lightship "

    Unbelievable at what pace Philips is introducing new products  ;)

    Thanks for the review!
  • Reply 4 of 41
    Thank you AppleInsider, but I’ll pass until HomeKit support is a certainty. HomeKit compatibility was promised by the end of the first quarter, but that time has come and passed. I am still irritated about promised Ring “HomeKit” support. Burn me once......  
    GeorgeBMacwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 41
    Andrew_OSUAndrew_OSU Posts: 243member, editor
    rainmaker said:
    Thank you AppleInsider, but I’ll pass until HomeKit support is a certainty. HomeKit compatibility was promised by the end of the first quarter, but that time has come and passed. I am still irritated about promised Ring “HomeKit” support. Burn me once......  
    The difference between this and Ring is that Arlo has already added HomeKit support to the Arlo Baby cam. Ring hasn't supported HomeKit in any way shape or form. They actually some other issues as the launch of the Ultra which got corrected first before HomeKit was rolled out. We've seen leaks of screenshots of the app that explain the HomeKit setup process. Arlo has been very forthcoming about HomeKit and it is a certainty and will be released very soon.
    rainmakerwatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 41
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 7,570member
    sirozha said:
    Two features make this camera a no-go for me: 1. Battery 2. Hub
    A lot of people prefer the battery. I for one. For an outdoor camera, a wire is a non-starter. The hub isn't a huge deal, it also will support Zigbee and Z-Wave soon which will work with other smart home products and replace their hub.

    That hub is also what enables a wireless HomeKit camera, something that has so far been impossible.
    Actually for outdoor cameras I much prefer a wire (Power Over Ethernet). Who wants to recharge and eventually deplete batteries for a static use case? Wire once and never have to charge it or replace its depleted battery (and they all get used up, as batteries are a consumable power storage device)...Better and greener. 

    Also, the review refers to “endless” and “countless” features, but that’s hyperbole. Can you use a number to give us an idea of how many features we’re talking about? A dozen? Dozens? More?
    edited April 23 cornchipDanManTXjbdragon
  • Reply 7 of 41
    mike1mike1 Posts: 1,884member
    Would love if they added HK support to other Arlo cameras.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 41
    Andrew_OSUAndrew_OSU Posts: 243member, editor
    sirozha said:
    Two features make this camera a no-go for me: 1. Battery 2. Hub
    A lot of people prefer the battery. I for one. For an outdoor camera, a wire is a non-starter. The hub isn't a huge deal, it also will support Zigbee and Z-Wave soon which will work with other smart home products and replace their hub.

    That hub is also what enables a wireless HomeKit camera, something that has so far been impossible.
    Actually for outdoor cameras I much prefer a wire (Power Over Ethernet). Who wants to recharge and eventually deplete batteries for a static use case? Wire once and never have to charge it or replace its depleted battery (and they all get used up, as batteries are a consumable power storage device)...Better and greener. 

    Also, the review refers to “endless” and “countless” features, but that’s hyperbole. Can you use a number to give us an idea of how many features we’re talking about? A dozen? Dozens? More?
    The average consumer is not going to know or want to do that wiring themselves. Personally, I'm in an apartment and can't do any of that here regardless.

    It is hyperbole, but it is basically the case. I could list dozens of features easily within this camera alone with more coming down the line in the form of HomeKit adoption, then the "Works with Arlo" program. That literally makes it an endless list as new functionality and accessories are added to the Arlo Ultra and Arlo SmartHub.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 41
    I stopped reading at “it still doesn't have the promised HomeKit support”.
    rainmakerJaro360GeorgeBMacwatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 41
    hmurchisonhmurchison Posts: 12,268member
    If you just want to keep an eye out for Fedex packages and people walking by get the Arlo.    If you're serious about securing your home then buy and have a POE based IP Camera system installed with a NVR. 


    watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 41
    rainmaker said:
    Thank you AppleInsider, but I’ll pass until HomeKit support is a certainty. HomeKit compatibility was promised by the end of the first quarter, but that time has come and passed. I am still irritated about promised Ring “HomeKit” support. Burn me once......  
    The difference between this and Ring is that Arlo has already added HomeKit support to the Arlo Baby cam. Ring hasn't supported HomeKit in any way shape or form. They actually some other issues as the launch of the Ultra which got corrected first before HomeKit was rolled out. We've seen leaks of screenshots of the app that explain the HomeKit setup process. Arlo has been very forthcoming about HomeKit and it is a certainty and will be released very soon.
    I agree, and am interested in purchasing this once it IS  HomeKit compatible, but not before. They did miss the end of first quarter promise after all. They could feasibly have an 2nd gen Arlo Ultra by the time it is HomeKit compatible. I’m just saying I will no longer spend more than $100 on a promise. Many companies are making promises that never get fulfilled, ie Apple’s AirPower.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 41
    Thanks for this product summary, Andrew. I have some HomeKit compatible cameras in and out of my house already. Some of this product's features are new/better but some are the same as my existing cameras. But I can't believe that the issue of privacy and security of the transmitted and stored images isn't even mentioned in this video. Are AI readers indifferent to their video data's security? And yet AI readers need to be told several times that this product has 12x digital zoom? This review sounds more like a review for CNN or FOX than for AI. My purchase and usage decisions are based partly on privacy and security issues. Which website should I go visit to get that sort of information?
    hmurchisonlostkiwiNotsofastwatto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 41
    hmurchisonhmurchison Posts: 12,268member
    Thanks for this product summary, Andrew. I have some HomeKit compatible cameras in and out of my house already. Some of this product's features are new/better but some are the same as my existing cameras. But I can't believe that the issue of privacy and security of the transmitted and stored images isn't even mentioned in this video. Are AI readers indifferent to their video data's security? And yet AI readers need to be told several times that this product has 12x digital zoom? This review sounds more like a review for CNN or FOX than for AI. My purchase and usage decisions are based partly on privacy and security issues. Which website should I go visit to get that sort of information?
    It wasn't really a summary it was a sales pitch complete with the amazon affiliate link.  I understand, but this sort of glowing "everything is awesome" affect doesn't fly on a sales floor.   There's a right and wrong customer for cameras like Arlo, Nest and Ring.  You really can't uncover who needs what camera in a one-way conversation though I appreciate the info. 
    rainmakerNotsofastwatto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 41
    Review from actual user: 0 out of 5.

    • App is slow and finding useful footage is an exercise in your time and patience. You will have to rewatch the footage at 1x, since skipping doesn't work
    • The cloud service is slow, you'll be waiting for your videos to load every single time.
    • The App maker seems to be unaware of the app-switching bar on iOS, you're just as likely to switch apps as you attempt to scrub footage.
    • The web version of the viewer still runs on flash (seriously) and will not work unless always on the latest version.
    • The detection features are absolutely crud, you'll likely get 3 seconds after the action has begun, a break and then the perpetrator moving away. (Even when on the highest sensitivity with the longest recording options available.)
    • The camera will randomly drop out, I've got 4 it's a game of which one is offline today.
    • Battery life is crap unless you directly connect to AC, in which case the device will randomly reject the AC charger - and it's no longer approved for outdoor use (because it's not water tight and will rust the contacts - This applies to the prior pro models.)
    • The solar panel battery charger is expensive garbage, you'll still be changing batteries regularly unless you live in the Sahara.

    Absolutely DO NOT BUY.

    edited April 23 StrangeDaysrainmakerstompypscooter63macseekerlostkiwihmurchisonNotsofast
  • Reply 15 of 41
    flydogflydog Posts: 277member
    sirozha said:
    Two features make this camera a no-go for me: 1. Battery 2. Hub
    Add the $400 price tag
    GeorgeBMac
  • Reply 16 of 41
    Review from actual user: 0 out of 5.
    Absolutely DO NOT BUY.
    On the other hand I use a real Homekit compatible camera and it has problems too, like nowhere in the installation does it say it won't connect with a standard 5 GHz wifi network like the Apple Time Capsule or my ISP's wireless router/modem. These glitches would never happen with an Apple-branded camera. Apple doesn't have a camera, but there is hope, since Apple recently bought a camera company's portfolio: https://forums.appleinsider.com/discussion/209823  
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 41
    Review from actual user: 0 out of 5.
    Absolutely DO NOT BUY.
    On the other hand I use a real Homekit compatible camera and it has problems too, like nowhere in the installation does it say it won't connect with a standard 5 GHz wifi network like the Apple Time Capsule or my ISP's wireless router/modem. These glitches would never happen with an Apple-branded camera. Apple doesn't have a camera, but there is hope, since Apple recently bought a camera company's portfolio: https://forums.appleinsider.com/discussion/209823  
    FWIW, i have. OMNA 180Cam HD, HomeKit compatible, and its been very reliable for more than the 6or so months that i have had it (100%)
    edited April 23 watto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 41
    AppleZuluAppleZulu Posts: 462member
    The ‘full color night vision’ is actually a disappointing change from earlier models. The earlier versions were black-and-white for night vision because the built in LED spotlights on the previous models were infra-red, which the camera can see (and here’s the important part), but you can’t. 

    So so with the old version, if a cat walks across the porch at 2am, it would trigger the camera, which would shine infra red light and take a monochrome-translated-to-black-and-white video of the cat. The cat wouldn’t be disturbed by the infra red light, and neither would you or your neighbors.  With the new version, it blasts whatever it’s pointed at with bright white light to get that full color video they’re so proud of. 

    Who wants a bunch of bright spotlights triggering at all hours of the night? I suppose if you have a warehouse out on the docks, that might be ok. For most home applications, however, this feature is a non-starter. 
    rainmakerGeorgeBMacwatto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 41
    We’re creating a world where you’ll always have to assume you are on camera, being watched, tracked, identified by face scanning software.  At one time this would have been unthinkable, but Big Brother didn’t have to be forced on us by government - we got seduced into it. I feel sad for future generations.
    rainmakerhmurchisonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 41
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,809member
    sirozha said:
    Two features make this camera a no-go for me: 1. Battery 2. Hub
    A lot of people prefer the battery. I for one. For an outdoor camera, a wire is a non-starter. The hub isn't a huge deal, it also will support Zigbee and Z-Wave soon which will work with other smart home products and replace their hub.

    That hub is also what enables a wireless HomeKit camera, something that has so far been impossible.
    Actually for outdoor cameras I much prefer a wire (Power Over Ethernet). Who wants to recharge and eventually deplete batteries for a static use case? Wire once and never have to charge it or replace its depleted battery (and they all get used up, as batteries are a consumable power storage device)...Better and greener. 

    Also, the review refers to “endless” and “countless” features, but that’s hyperbole. Can you use a number to give us an idea of how many features we’re talking about? A dozen? Dozens? More?
    It's quite seamless and very easy to recharge those batteries. Mind can go months between charges and plugging in micro-USB does the trick in short order. If, say your system was outdoors on your properly a decent distance from your home PoE would be even more of an issue. You could use their setup to have a battery back up connected, or a solar panel to charge it during the day. I've been very impressed with their HW, SW, features, usability, and power efficiency.
    watto_cobra
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