The Arlo Essential Spotlight Camera is a 1080p outdoor security camera that features color night vision, a built-in siren, a spotlight, and embedded Wi-Fi. The camera doesn’t require a hub, it’s a cinch to install, and it delivers sharp video. It’s surprisingly affordable for Arlo at $129.99, though you’ll have to pay to view recorded video and to use advanced features. While the Essential Spotlight Camera is a solid deal, our Editors’ Choice for affordable outdoor security cameras, the $40 Wyze Cam Outdoor, is an even better value, with free cloud and local storage options, and a neat Travel mode that lets you take it with you wherever you go.
Design and Features
The Essential Spotlight Camera looks just like most other Arlo outdoor cameras and all of the Arlo Pro cameras. It measures 3.0 by 2.0 by 3.5 inches (HWD) and has a glossy white IP65 weather-resistant enclosure with a glossy black faceplate. Under the hood are the camera, a 2.4GHz Wi-Fi radio, a motion sensor, an LED spotlight, a siren, a status LED, a microphone, a speaker, and a pair of infrared LEDs for black-and-white night vision. When enabled, the spotlight will illuminate to provide color night vision.
The camera captures video at 1080p and has a 130-degree field of view and a 12X digital zoom (as opposed to pricier Arlo models like the Ultra that go up to 4K). It will send push and email alerts when motion is detected and record video of the event, but you’ll have to subscribe to an Arlo Smart Plan to access the video.
A Basic plan goes for $2.99 per month for a single camera and $9.99 per month for up to five cameras. It gives you access to 30 days of rolling video storage, as well as as Advanced Motion Detection (which knows the difference between people, animals, and vehicles), Package Detection (which lets you know when a package arrives), custom Activity Zones, and Rich Notifications that let you do things like activate the siren, dial a friend, or call 911 (e911), directly from within the alert.
The Essential camera is powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery rated to last up to six months between charges (Arlo also sells an Essential XL Spotlight Camera model for $149.99 that gives you up to one year of battery life), but you’ll have to bring the entire device inside to recharge it (unlike standard Arlo models that feature removable batteries). The back of the camera has a threaded hole for mounting it to the included swivel mount, but it lacks the round magnetic mounting option that you get with previous Arlo camera models that makes it much easier to remove the camera for charging.
Since the Essential camera has its own Wi-Fi radio, it doesn’t require a hub to connect to your network. However, you can choose to pair it to an Arlo hub to help extend your Wi-Fi coverage and take advantage of local storage if you have a USB attached to your hub. It works with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice commands and will interact with other smart home devices such as light bulbs and door locks using IFTTT applets, but Apple HomeKit isn’t supported.
The camera uses the same Arlo mobile app for Android and iOS devices as every other Arlo camera. The app opens to a Devices screen with tabs for all of your installed Arlo cameras. Each tab displays the camera name and a still image of the last captured motion activity, and has a play arrow that opens a live stream. In the upper right corner of the live stream are two arrows that flip the image horizontally for full-screen viewing, and along the bottom edge of the screen are speaker mute, tap to talk, manual video record, and picture snapshot buttons. There’s also a flashlight button that turns the spotlight on and off and a slider for adjusting the light’s brightness level.
A gear button along the bottom edge takes you to a Device Settings screen where you can turn the camera on and off, view the battery level, change network settings, turn the LED light on and off, and run motion detection tests. Other settings allow you to adjust video brightness, configure low-light settings for black-and-white and color night vision, enable and disable the spotlight, create activity zones, and adjust audio settings.
Back at the Devices screen there are Library, Mode, and Settings buttons located at the very bottom of the screen. Tapping the Library button opens a screen with a list of all triggered events with video thumbnails; tap any thumbnail to view the video, share it, or delete it. The Mode button lets you arm and disarm one or all of your Arlo devices, create motion alert schedules, and configure geofencing to arm and disarm the camera based on your location. Last but not least, the Settings button takes you to a screen where you can configure Smart Notifications, upgrade your Smart Plan subscription, configure e911 settings, and change the order of your cameras on the Devices screen.
Installation and Performance
Installing the Essential camera is easy. You have to download the mobile app, create an account, and charge the camera first. After that, I opened the app, tapped Add New Device, selected Essential in the Cameras tab, and selected the Essential Spotlight Camera. In the next screen I was given the choice to add the camera to my hub or connect it to my network without a hub. I selected the latter and followed the instructions to make sure my phone was connected to a 2.4GHz network. I entered my Wi-Fi password, pressed the Sync button for two seconds, and held the QR code that appeared on my phone in front of the camera until I heard the camera chime. I tapped Continue and the app found the camera within 20 seconds. I gave it a name and it was immediately added to my Arlo and Alexa accounts.
After a 60-second firmware update, I took the camera outside, attached the mounting plate to my house, and attached the camera to the mounting plate. The app informed me that my video bandwidth was strong, so I tapped Finish to complete the installation.
The Essential is a solid performer. It provides crisp, colorful 1080p video during the day and sharp black-and-white video at night when illuminated by the infrared LEDs. When illuminated by the spotlight, nighttime video appears in color, but as we observed with the Arlo Pro 3 Floodlight Camera, night color quality isn’t quite as bright as what you get during the day (though it’s still better than black and white).
The motion sensor worked well in testing, and the Advanced Motion Detection feature did a good job of identifying events from animals, people, and other motion. Push alerts arrived instantly, and Rich Notification functions worked like a charm. Two-way audio came through loud and clear, and I had no problem getting video to stream on an Amazon Echo Show using Alexa voice commands. Additionally, the siren is more than loud enough to let unwanted visitors know that they are being observed.
With the Arlo Essential Spotlight Camera, you essentially get two devices in one for a reasonable price. Its 1080p camera delivers sharp HD video, and its LED spotlight puts intruders on notice while providing color night video. The camera is wireless and easy to install and manage, and it responds to Alexa and Google voice commands and works with other smart devices via IFTTT applets. However, if you want to view event-triggered video and take advantage of some of the camera’s advanced features, you’ll have to sign up for one of the Arlo Smart Plans. And if you can live without the spotlight, the Wyze Cam Outdoor is a stronger value thanks to free cloud and local storage options and an easily portable design for a third of the price of the Arlo.