After spending almost three months looking, listening, adjusting angles, and deleting over 10,000 push notifications and emails, we’ve decided that the Netgear Arlo Pro is the best DIY outdoor Wi-Fi home security camera you can get. Like the other eight units we tested, the Arlo Pro lets you keep an eye on your property and provides smartphone alerts whenever there’s motion. However, it’s one of the few options with built-in rechargeable batteries to make it completely wireless, so it’s easy to place and move. It also delivers an excellent image, clear two-way audio, practical smart-home integration, and seven days of free cloud storage.
The Arlo Pro outdoor Wi-Fi camera does everything a DIY surveillance camera should, and tops the others we tested in convenience features and value. In our testing, the Pro’s rechargeable batteries lasted for months, saving you from having to plug the camera into an outlet. The company gives you seven days of free cloud-based video storage (and the option to pay for more), which will be plenty for most users. It also comes with a base station that allows users to wirelessly connect up to five cameras, with options to add more through a paid plan or even add professional monitoring if you want. That same base station packs in a piercing 100-plus–decibel siren and the ability to hook up your own USB drive for additional local storage.
People who already own an indoor Nest Camera will like the company’s new outdoor version. It combines Wi-Fi, 1080p video, two-way audio, and a mounting system that gives you the ability to point it in any direction. To take advantage of some of Nest’s advanced features you will need a Nest Aware subscription. This raises the price, but also the camera’s capabilities. For anywhere from $10 to $30 per month (depending on the amount of online storage you need), Nest Aware adds in recording storage, person alerts, and the option to highlight specific monitoring boundaries. It also has a thick power cord, which is the only weatherproof cord we found among the units we tested. It’s a great camera, but being tethered to power and a paid account is what kept it from taking our top spot.
I’ve written about consumer electronics for over 15 years and have tested smart-home products from remotes and security cameras to AV receivers and speakers. As an editor for Electronic House and Big Picture Big Sound, I’ve written buyer’s guides for multiple consumer-electronics products. I’ve also done tech-related work for Wired, Woman’s Day, GeekMom, Men’s Health, and others.
A Wi-Fi surveillance camera on your front porch, over your garage, or attached to your back deck can provide a peek at what really goes bump in the night, whether that’s someone stealing packages off your steps or raccoons going through garbage cans. It probably won’t stop someone from robbing you, but it may have those prowlers thinking twice. It can alert you to dangers and can create a record of events. It should also help you to identify someone—whether it’s a welcome or unwelcome guest—or just let you monitor pets or kids when you’re not out there with them. If that’s not enough peace of mind and you want to step it up to 24/7, hands-off security, you’ll want to go with something that’s connected to a monitoring service. Also know that some uses of surveillance cameras wade into ethically questionable waters, which we explain here.
Many cameras feature onboard speakers, with a two-way audio connection, so you can shoo away unwanted visitors when you detect them. If a verbal threat doesn’t work, there are cameras that can deliver an alarm that will alert neighbors and should clear your property pretty quickly. If the camera captures video of something while you’re away, it can send you a smartphone alert and save footage for later viewing. Some also integrate with other smart-home systems to trigger sirens, lights, thermostats, and other devices when motion is detected.
We started compiling a list of outdoor Wi-Fi cameras by doing Google searches and reading professional reviews on sites like PCMag, Safewise, and Safety.com. We also checked out available options on popular online retailers and read the user reviews there.
During initial research, we compiled a huge list of outdoor security cameras, but many of those weren’t Wi-Fi–enabled (they used Ethernet, power line, or analog video connections). Besides being able to connect to Wi-Fi, a good outdoor security camera will alert your smartphone or tablet whenever motion is detected. And it can deliver those mobile alerts whether you’re inside the house or on the other side of the world. When you factor in the smart aspects, the list of what’s out there is much smaller—but was still too lengthy for our mission. We narrowed it even further by clipping out all devices that required a networked video recorder (NVR) to capture video, focusing only on products that could stand alone, which kept our focus on models that were easier to set up and use. Once we had a list of about 27 cameras, we went through Amazon and Google to see what kind of feedback was available. We then narrowed the list based on price, features, and availability.
Though most cameras we tested offer 1080p resolution, we also reviewed a few 720p models because we know that resolution isn’t the only factor in video quality. We included cameras that had interesting features that made them more useful to set up and operate, such as battery power, and even two integrated into outdoor lights.
We also considered each camera’s method of storing video footage. Cloud storage (where video is saved on a remote server operated by the manufacturer) is the norm these days, but some cameras also include the ability to store recordings locally on an SD card or connected hard drive (though onboard storage is nice, it won’t do much good if someone steals the camera). Most systems also allow you to download videos to your phone or computer.
Because camera capabilities are all over the map, prices vary widely. If you’re willing to go without 1080p video, don’t need the most comprehensive alerts, and can accept less flexibility in placement options, you can put a camera outside for as little as $100. Full-featured models can cost almost double that per unit.
We mounted our test group of outdoor Wi-Fi cameras to a board outside the house, so we could point them at the same spot, and exposed them all to the same lighting conditions and New England weather. The two exceptions were cameras integrated into outdoor lighting fixtures, both of which were installed on the porch by my husband, who is a licensed electrician. All nine cameras were connected to the same Verizon FiOS network via a Wi-Fi router indoors (approximately 40 feet from the cameras).
With the exception of those two hardwired lighting products and the Arlo Pro, which requires a separate indoor hub, all of the cameras installed almost exactly the same way. Each camera comes with all of the mounting hardware needed. The Ring Stick Up Cam even includes its own screwdriver. Once placed, each camera connected to the Wi-Fi network with ease. If you’re looking to put a camera in a spot that doesn’t get a good Wi-Fi signal, consider upgrading your router or adding an extender or repeater. If your cell phone gets good Wi-Fi reception in the place you want to mount the camera, you probably won’t have a problem with that installation.
Besides good Wi-Fi, you may also need a nearby outlet. Only three of the cameras we tested offered the option to use battery power. Most others required an AC connection, which means you won’t be able to place them just anywhere.
At bare minimum, an outdoor surveillance camera should provide a live look at whatever it’s pointed at. It should also alert you to when motion is present. For our testing, anything beyond those basic features were considered bonuses, especially if they proved useful. For instance, quite a few of the devices on our list included the ability to tweak the sensitivity on motion alerts. This can be a huge bonus if you have cameras pointed at an area where cars drive by several times a day.
We downloaded each camera’s app to an iPhone 5, an iPad, and a Samsung Galaxy S6. The cameras spent weeks guarding our front door, alerting us to friends, family members, packages, and the milkman. Once we got a good enough look at those friendly faces, we tilted the entire collection outward to see what sort of results we got facing the house across the street, which is approximately 50 feet away.
The Arlo Pro is a reliable outdoor Wi-Fi camera that’s compact and completely wireless, thanks to a removable, rechargeable battery that, based on our testing, should provide at least a couple of months of operation on a charge, and much more in quiet-traffic areas. It’s also the only device on our list that offers seven days of free cloud storage, and packs in motion- and audio-triggered recordings for whenever you get around to reviewing them. The Arlo Pro does everything we look for in a DIY security camera, and offers more convenience and value than the competition.
Because of the camera’s compact size and battery, the Arlo Pro was one of the easiest to set up of the models we tested. The camera itself doesn’t need to be near a power outlet or permanently mounted. However, it does require a bridge unit, known as the Base Station. That 2.3-by-6.9-by-5-inch hub needs to be powered and connected to your router via an Ethernet port. The Base Station is the brains behind the system, but also includes a piercing 100-plus–decibel siren, which can be triggered manually through the app or automatically by motion and/or audio. It also has a USB port for storing recordings to an external hard drive, a nice supplement to the free cloud storage and more secure than systems that record to an SD card in the camera itself: Because the storage is tucked away safely indoors, someone who steals your camera won’t steal your video too.
The Arlo Pro camera comes charged and ready to use right out of the box. This is a really nice touch because you don’t have to wait to charge it. Oh, and that one prepackaged charge lasts a long time. Netgear claims that users should be able to get four to six months out of a fully charged battery, depending on settings, usage, and surrounding temperature. During testing, we had two Arlo Pro cameras set up outside in temperatures that fluctuated between 30 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. After one full month, a camera that saw less action was still running at 80 percent. The one pointed at a busy street was standing strong at 60 percent.
Netgear currently sells extra rechargeable batteries for the Arlo for $50 each if you want to quickly swap old for new, but charging takes only about 90 minutes, so most people probably won’t need to bother with spares.
The Arlo Pro is the only camera we tested that provides a full week’s worth of free cloud storage. Most other models we looked at offered only a single day’s worth of free storage. (Note: This offer covers only up to five cameras—including Arlo indoor cameras—up to 1 GB. However, that should be more than enough for the average user. If you’re in need of a bit more, Netgear will sell you 30 days of storage for up to 10 cameras for $10 per month (or $100 per year), as well as a 60-day plan for 15 cameras for $15 per month (or $150 annually). The default setting limits recordings to 10-second clips captured continuously, but you can extend that to 120-second clips. Don’t worry if that doesn’t seem like long enough for you; the Arlo Pro will keep recording clips as long as there’s motion, so you shouldn’t miss anything if action keeps taking place.
The Arlo Pro provided good video footage, delivering accurate colors during the day, clear images at night, a wide 130-degree viewing angle, and two-way audio that was easy to understand on both ends. The system also features the ability to set rules, which can trigger alerts for motion and audio. When one or both is detected, the Arlo Pro can send push notifications or emails, turn on the siren, record video clips, or do nothing. You can adjust the level of sensitivity so that you don’t get an alert or record a video clip every time a car drives by. Adjusting the alert sensitivity can cut down on nuisance notifications. You can also set up alerts based on a schedule or geofencing using your mobile device, but you can’t define custom zones for monitoring, which you can with the Nest Cam Outdoor. The geofencing feature accurately recognized when we left the zone and when we returned, and armed and disarmed the system accordingly.
All of those controls are easy to find in the Arlo app, which is available for iOS and Android devices. The easy-to-use app has a nice home screen, with instant access to the alarm and a view of each connected camera. You do have to press a Play button to go to the live view, but that’s not out of the ordinary for Wi-Fi cameras. Otherwise, the home screen features stats for each camera, including the number of unviewed recordings, Wi-Fi strength, battery life, and alarm status. A menu at the bottom of the screen features one-touch access to recordings and settings.
If you’re looking to add the Arlo Pro to a smart-home system, the camera currently works with Stringify, Wink, and IFTTT (“If This Then That”). SmartThings certification has been approved and will be included in a future app update. Netgear also just announced compatibility with ADT Canopy, so users can add professional monitoring for a fee. If you’re going the DIY route and connect to something like IFTTT, you can trigger lights to go on when the Arlo Pro detects motion or even have it deliver a smartphone reminder when the battery gets low.
Netgear says that the system uses three layers of encryption, with restricted Web access on the Base Station and no local access on the camera or the Base Station. Also, in the interest of continually improving security, the company has been working with hacker crowdsourcing firm Bugcrowd to operate a private bug bounty program, which recently opened to the public as well.
Netgear plans to offer other Arlo add-ons, including a charging station that can handle two batteries at once, a ceiling mount, and a solar panel. One extra that’s already on the market is a three-pack of UV- and water-resistant skins ($25) with built-in shade for sun-glare protection. We didn’t have problems with sun glare; if you plan to place the camera in a super-sunny area, this could be a nice option to have.
A lot of the cameras on our list boast 1080p resolution. The Arlo Pro does not. Like the other battery-powered units on our list, it can do only 720p. During our testing, we did notice some difference between the other cameras’ 1080p videos and Arlo’s 720p images, but Arlo’s picture is clear enough to discern faces and objects in both light and dark situations and in fact looked better than some 1080p cameras’ pictures, so we don’t think the lower resolution is enough to count it out.
Finally, the Arlo’s mount isn’t super-sturdy. Anyone could come up and steal the camera off the magnetic mount. It’s strong, but it’s not that strong. That said, the camera should get a pretty good shot of the thief doing the deed—and you should have that footage waiting in your free cloud storage. If you’re worried about someone walking off with the camera, mount it high or in a not-so-obvious location.
The Nest Cam Outdoor is a strong runner-up. It records continuous 1080p video, captures to the cloud 24/7, and can actually distinguish between people and other types of motion. Like the Nest thermostat, the Outdoor Cam is part of the Works With Nest program, which means it can integrate with hundreds of smart-home products. It’s also the only model we tested that has a truly weatherproof cord. However, that cord and the ongoing subscription cost, which runs $100 to $300 per year for the Nest Aware service, is what kept the Nest Cam Outdoor from taking the top spot.
Like our top pick, the Nest Cam Outdoor doesn’t have an integrated mount. Instead, the separate mount is magnetic, so you can attach the camera easily and move it up, down, and everywhere in between. Although it has a lot of flexibility in movement, it needs to be placed within reach of an outlet, which can be a problem outside the house.
That said, the power cord is quite lengthy. The camera has a 10-foot USB cable attached, but you can get another 15 feet from the included adapter/power cable. Nest has also included clips to make the installation clean and more difficult to swipe off the side of a house. It’s a lot of cable, but that can be a good thing if you don’t want to place the Nest Cam Outdoor too close to an outlet. The cord’s weatherproofing makes it thick, so you can’t really run it through a window. However, every other wired camera had the type of cable that comes with your standard A/V devices—the kind you use indoors and the kind that my electrician husband said would be prone to failure after too much exposure to extreme weather.
The Nest Cam Outdoor’s 1080p images and sound were extremely impressive, both during the day and at night. In fact, this camera delivered some of the clearest, most detailed images during our testing, with a wide 130-degree field of view and an 8x digital zoom, but the camera would occasionally downgrade the picture quality based on available bandwidth, which could fluctuate throughout the day. Nest has included the option to set the camera at 360p, 720p, 1080p, or auto (based on your network bandwidth). That’s great, but may defeat the purpose of having a 1080p camera.
The Nest app is easy to use and can integrate with other Nest products, such as indoor and outdoor cameras, the Nest thermostat, and the Nest Protect Smoke + CO detector. You can set the camera to turn on and off at set times of day, go into away mode based on your mobile device’s location, and more.
The Nest Cam Outdoor has a slew of interesting features, but most of those come at an additional cost, so overall the camera isn’t as good a value as our top pick. The best stuff comes with Nest Aware, a subscription service that starts at $10 per month for one camera and includes 10 days of video history or $30 for 30 days. That cost starts to add up with additional cameras, too. Expect to pay $5 for each additional camera that captures 10 days of video history and $15 per camera for the 30-day plan. It’s expensive, but also essential. Without it, you won’t get the person detection, customizable Activity Zones (which let you monitor designated areas within the camera’s field of view), or Sightline, a detailed timeline of when and where the camera detected activity. Those Activity Zones may be important if you’re looking to monitor a specific corner of the yard, a doorway, or even garbage cans. More important, you won’t get any sort of free storage. The only free features on the Nest Cam Outdoor are live viewing and the ability to see “snapshots” of the motion and/or sound detected in the past three hours.
The Netatmo Presence is an outdoor security camera that’s built into a porch light—a convenient combination, but one that in practice limits placement options. It’s also the most expensive camera on our list. However, the Presence’s current $300 price tag includes IFTTT support and the ability to tell the difference between people, animals, and cars. Because it’s a hardwired camera/light, you need to keep the light switch on at all times or the camera won’t work—you can turn off the light itself in the app. It also offers a lot of free storage possibilities, including the option to store content to the included 16 GB microSD card, to a free Dropbox account, or to a personal FTP server. You can customize the integrated floodlight to light up at specific times of day or night or when certain types of motion are detected. There are no email alerts, but the Presence does offer push notifications. The video image is a clear 1080p during the day, with a 100-degree field of view. As expected, the night vision is grainier, but we could still make out details on the back deck and bunnies in the yard. As mentioned, the Presence needs to be hardwired, so the install is tougher than that of the average Wi-Fi camera. The setup includes a terminal block, but the color of the wires are not the typical black, white, and green. In other words, you need to know what you’re doing to wire this one properly. Also, the final part of the install is a bit of a balancing act that may require a second set of hands.
The Canary Flex shares a lot of perks with our main pick. Because it’s a battery-powered camera, you can mount it on a wall or stand it on its own almost anywhere. It can also project 720p images, has a microphone and speaker (two-way talk is coming soon), offers both free and paid storage options, and can be integrated with the Wink Hub. It even currently sells for $50 less than the Arlo Pro. We thought the Canary Flex delivered stellar images—maybe even slightly better than the Arlo’s. However, the Canary Flex doesn’t offer email alerts and had a few connection glitches during our test period. Also, it’s very limited in its free storage. Canary does offer 24 hours of free video history, but that viewing period decreases as you add more cameras. For instance, if you have two cameras, you can get only 12 hours’ worth of free video history for each one. Just note that the free viewing maxes out at four cameras (and six hours each). A paid subscription bumps that up to unlimited cameras for 30 days for $10 per month. And finally, despite starting with a full charge and the promise that the battery would last several months “depending on usage,” our Flex was at 25 percent after just one week.
The Ring Stick Up Cam is another battery-powered 720p camera, and is slightly cheaper than the Arlo Pro. That said, it lacks the shape, siren features, and battery life that we liked so much in the Arlo Pro. Although it was made to be paired with the Ring Video Doorbell, the Stick Up Cam can work without its more famous (and highly rated) counterpart or as part of a Wink-based smart-home system. Ring does have a cloud recording plan for $3 per month or $30 per year, but that’s per device. In other words, if you have the doorbell and a camera, that doubles the cost—and there are no storage freebies. The Stick Up Cam’s image was decent during the day and at night, but only displays a narrow 80 degrees. Helping it to stand out in a good way is that it looks different than any other camera on our list. That slim design and the fact that it’s wire-free make it easy to nestle into unusual spaces. However, despite Ring’s claims that users should get six to 12 months out of a fully charged battery, we were hovering around 50 percent after less than two weeks. We found a few others grumbling about similar experiences on Amazon. If you’re worried about charging, you can wire or pair it with Ring’s add-on solar panel ($50), but that adds to the cost and puts a wire back into the equation.
At just under $100, the Ezviz Husky is the most affordable camera we tested. It offers some pretty big perks for that small price, including a 1080p image that can capture accurate colors by day and up to 100 feet of night vision. The size and design of the camera made installation a little tricky and led to some stripping on the included Phillips-head screws. Once installed, you can make vertical adjustments, but the camera is in a fixed horizontal position. Husky offers two cloud storage plans, starting at $6 per month, and onboard storage via the included 16 GB microSD card (or you can spring for one up to 128 GB). It also has IFTTT support, so you can integrate the camera with Alexa, WeMo, Nest, and much more. What it does not have is any sort of audio. Also, it has a touchy motion detector, which delivered over 100 event notifications in the first 18 hours of use alone. Even when we adjusted the sensitivity, it delivered a barrage of alerts to the point where we needed to periodically shut it off.
The Amcrest IP3M-943 is very similar to the Husky in features and performance, but for $30 more. The camera can also deliver clear 1080p images and night vision with a 100-degree viewing angle, but without any audio features. It doesn’t have any smart-home integration, though it does have several options for storage, including a relatively paltry four hours’ worth of free video playback via AmcrestCloud. The company offers seven-, 15-, and 30-day plans starting at $6 per month. There’s also a microSD card slot, but you’ll need to supply a card up to 64 GB. Note: This was the only camera on our list that couldn’t automatically detect our Wi-Fi network. Instead, the app prompts the user to manually enter the SSID. It also had the most confusing app of the lot, which made setting up motion alerts more difficult than it should be.
Like the Armcrest and Ezviz models, the Foscam FI9900P is a bullet camera with 1080p video, offering a limited 118-degree (diagonal) field of view and no audio capabilities. It does appear to have the option to add audio, because there are audio in/out cables hanging off the camera. Speaking of which, the FI9900P has a lot of cables. Besides the A/V, there’s a LAN connection, a “Reset button,” and the actual power cord. That’s a lot to cover up if you aren’t going to use any of it. It also doesn’t come with anything to cap off those connections, leaving you on your own. And speaking of tricky installations, the FI9900P was pretty difficult to position. It doesn’t offer any sort of horizontal movement, and vertical adjustment is limited, too. It was also the only camera that didn’t work with our iPad, because the image and controls aren’t optimized for that larger screen. The real kicker is that it doesn’t offer any free storage options, archiving just a list of dates and times when motion was detected. If you want to actually know what triggered those alerts, expect to pay for cloud storage. The seven-day plan costs $50 per year, with a 30-day peek priced at $130 annually. And if you want to test those options out, better have your credit card ready—a one-month trial peek will cost you a penny.
The Maximus Smart Security Light is also a porch light. Like the Presence, this model replaces your existing outdoor light, which makes it slightly more difficult than your typical Wi-Fi camera to install, and requires hardwiring. As with the Netatmo you’ll have to remember to leave the light switch on for the camera to work. The Maximus didn’t produce a great image, however. During the day, the shots were fine, though limited to a 116-degree field of view. This camera does not have night vision, which means it relies on the light that the lamp projects to illuminate its surroundings. At night, images directly in front of the camera were passable, but anything around it was grainy, dark, and/or completely unrecognizable. The company recently added compatibility with Alexa. Though our video recordings were jumpy, the two-way audio was always very clear, and movement can trigger the device to light up or play a prerecorded message. Powered by Kuna Systems, the Maximus provides only two hours of free storage, with plans starting at $5 per month.
During our test period, we got word of many outdoor Wi-Fi cameras currently in the works. One that we’d love to get a closer look at is the Blink XT. The original Blink was our indoor budget pick, and this $99 outdoor model seems like another standout. It promises 1080p images, Amazon Alexa integration, and a two-year battery life. When it’s released early this year, we will get a unit for a closer look.
Sometime in spring, the Polaroid Hoop will start selling for $199.99. Designed to work indoors or out, it also promises 1080p images, a 140-degree viewing angle, and a removable long-lasting battery pack. Other perks include zone-specific alarms, the ability to distinguish between animals and people, and options for cloud and local storage. The company also mentioned something about smart-home integration, although no partners have been announced yet.
Ezviz will also release a battery-powered model in April, known as the Mini Trooper. There’s no word on the resolution, but this $129.99 Wi-Fi camera promises a battery life of nine months, as well as Amazon Echo and IFTTT integration.
Ring will add to its outdoor offering in April, when the Ring Floodlight Cam starts shipping for $249. Powered by your home’s existing floodlight wiring, the Ring Floodlight Cam features a 1080p resolution, cloud recording, a 100-decibel siren, 270-degree motion detection, smart LED lights, and IR (night vision).
Another outdoor floodlight on the way is the Maximus Smart Motion Security Light. Like the one we reviewed above, this model replaces your existing outdoor light. However, it bumps up the quality with a 1080p video feed. Other features include a two-way speaker, 70-foot range, and the ability to call 911 right from the app. Promised for Q2 2017, the light also has Alexa integration and will cost $249.99.
And finally, HeathZenith also announced the Notifi Video LED Security Light System, a floodlight with 2,350 lumens. Priced at $229.99, this model boasts 720p video and dimmable lighting. The company will also offer motion-triggered video alerts and cloud storage for an extra fee.
After a lot of waiting, watching, and deleting email alerts, we’ve come to the conclusion that the Arlo Pro is the best outdoor Wi-Fi home security camera currently available. It’s easy to install, place, and use. It performed just as well as the other options on our list—and in some cases, better. What really makes it stand out is its compact, wire-free design. However, if you don’t mind being tethered, the Nest Cam Outdoor offers additional features and a slightly better image, but at a higher price.
(Photos by Rachel Cericola.)
Originally published: January 31, 2017