Arlo vs Ring: Wireless Camera Showdown
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Wireless security cameras have come a long way in a relatively short time and the market is loaded with hundreds of models from a plethora of brands, many of which are fly-by-night re-brands of cheap white box models. At the top of the market, though, are a handful of solid, recognizable brands that remain the go-to options for reliability, support, and market reach.
The two most prominent of these would arguably be Ring and Arlo, both early to the market and focused on DIY home security, they have similar business models, but differ significantly in their product lineups. As such, it can be easy to choose between them depending on your needs and preferences.
A Quick Overview of Ring and Arlo
Ring could be said to have launched the wireless video doorbell category with their crowd funded Doorbot in 2013. Copy cats quickly followed, but they were all rubbish, as was the Doorbot to be fair. A clunky, slow, and unreliable product that nontheless captured the interest of the geek crowd enough to generate significant revenue.
With that the company was rebranded as Ring, and launched a completely redesigned video doorbell that proved to be solid (I still have one and it works as well as the day I bought it), largely secure, and established the brand as a real player in the market. Ring capitalized on this success with a steady stream of new products, diversifying into security cameras, and later into full home security systems and smart lighting products. Amazon acquired the company in 2018, and remains it’s parent.
Arlo was originally a brand of network equipment manufacturer Netgear, releasing their first Arlo camera in 2015. After successfully establishing themselves in the market and releasing a number of new versions of their distinctive camera, and through deals with retail outlets, Netgear spun off Arlo into a separate company in 2018 but retains a majority share holding, and thus control.
Arlo has remained focused on security cameras and, to a lesser extent, doorbells, pursuing a different approach to market differentiation than Ring.
Products and Features
While both companies compete in the wireless security camera field, there are distinct differences in their range of product offerings.
Ring long had a focus on doorbells, and has a range of different products to meet specific needs, such as apartments, professional installation, and various DIY options in a range of colors and finishes. Arlo has only one doorbell product, the Arlo Essential doorbell which comes in wired and wireless power options.
Ring has diversified with the addition of some dedicated camera models, and has focused increasingly on it’s security system business which offers a range of smart lights and sensors coupled to an alarm base station. This system also includes compatibility with a range of third party products using Z-Wave, and a professional alarm monitoring service which makes it versatile full home security system.
Arlo has focused primarily on it’s camera models, releasing successive upgrades and maintaining models at different price points, much like Ring has done with doorbells. These upgrades primarily improve the camera quality, with only minor variations in hardware features otherwise. This does mean that Arlo offers superior video quality on most of the line up, as Ring has mostly stuck with 1080p.
Originally all Arlo cameras required a base station, but many can now connect directly to WiFi as all Ring cameras do (you can opt to use a Chime Pro as a Wifi repeater though). The base station offers a number of additional features such as local recording, but does create an additional 2.4GHz WiFi network which can add to channel congestion in your home. If you want to take advantage of the newest Arlo Ultra cameras with their 4K video, you’ll need one of these.
If smart home integration is of interest to you, Arlo offers a much better selection than Ring. While Ring is limited to Amazon’s Alexa, Arlo offers that plus Apple HomeKit (requires a base station), Google Assistant, IFTTT, and Samsung SmartThings.
Both companies have cameras that include spotlights, sirens, two-way talk, night vision, motion sensors, and mostly have replaceable battery packs. Arlo have slightly wider viewing angles at each price point compared to the Ring equivalents, but it’s not much of a differentiator, especially considering Arlo quote diagonal angles vs Ring’s horizontal.
As for aesthetics, Ring and Arlo cameras all come in black or white versions, but Arlo also offers a range of silicone skins in different colors and patterns that can be fitted over the camera body. Ring designs tend to be lower profile ‘vertical’ style cameras, while the distinctive Arlo capsule shape plus the rear mount makes them protrude further from any mounting surface, but that does give them a bit more rotational flexibility.
There are perhaps bigger differences between software features than hardware, and we’ll get to those soon, but first let’s compare some key device categories:
Entry Level Cameras
Arlo Essential Spotlight
Ring StickUp Cam
For the budget conscious both companies have good offerings at the low end of the price scale. Yes, they’re still more than you can get other brands for, but both have a track record of building quality hardware that will last for years, so I think that’s worth paying a little more for.
Here we see a differentiation on features with pros and cons for both products. The Arlo Essential has similar spotlight and siren functions to it’s more expensive brethren, while Ring has gone with a removable battery pack and a wider range of power options. In other respects they are very comparable, but I do prefer Ring’s form factor simply for being more compact.
Arlo Pro 4
Ring Spotlight Cam
In the mid range (for Arlo) we have a good competitor for Ring’s Spotlight Cam. Pretty much Ring’s entire standalone camera line up is in this list, where Arlo has a number of models above and below the Pro 4, most notably the Ultra range which adds 4K cameras to the mix, but at the expense of requiring a Smart Hub.
Both of these models can connect direct to WiFi with Arlo upping the camera spec to 2K with HDR and ‘color night vision’. Other than that the key difference is the spotlight, with Ring’s having much brighter output thanks to the larger LED bars on either side. Ring also uses a dedicated PIR sensor on the bottom to cut down battery use for motion detection, and offers two battery slots for extra run time if desired.
Both support solar panels, and for me this is the obvious way to go for external cameras. It just makes things a lot easier and more reliable at not much more cost.
Arlo Pro 3 Floodlight
Ring Floodlight Cam Pro
These floodlight options can be great where you want extra visibility and/or deterrent, although you might find Ring’s spotlight Cam above to be sufficient for that purpose over smaller areas. These two are designed for lighting a larger space, and both do a good job, although the unique design of the Arlo Pro 3 Floodlight Cam LED panel has 50% more light output at the high end of the range (you can adjust the brightness you want depending on battery life considerations).
Arlo again takes the camera prize with a similar 2K HDR camera to the Pro 4, but here both options offer ‘color night vision’. I put that in quotes because what it means is simply better low light camera performance. This still needs a level of ambient light to work, so on truly dark nights (moonless/overcast) it’s still black and white only. Of course, you’ll be using the floodlight anyway (why bother with these otherwise), so it’s not really a decision factor here.
Ring’s latest model Floodlight Cam has a new feature they call 3D motion detection with Bird’s Eye View. It purports to track the precise distance of a moving object from the camera, and can present the movement through the field of view as a top-down track. Interesting, but I don’t see a huge benefit from it if you have video anyway.
This is where we see some important differentiation between the two platforms. I’ve put anything that is not specifically hardware related in this category as it’s essentially a software feature. This is where the rubber meets the road as far as the user is concerned, so I’ll spend a bit of time here on what each brand offers.
Ring, in particular, has spent the last couple of years playing catch up, but has been pumping out new features quite quickly and now offers a very competitive platform. One thing that stood out to me is the general navigation design of each app.
Ring now has a much more mature design, with a clean, modern look with everything easily discoverable with only a couple of taps. All the account and security settings are under the Control Center, while anything to do with camera controls, modes, settings, and diagnostics is under that camera’s settings page which you can get to from the device list, the dashboard, or inside the timeline view of each camera.
Arlo’s app feels a bit dated by comparison, and I had trouble finding specific settings as they are buried in odd places under different sections. Camera specific Smart Notifications for person/animal/vehicle detection, that’s under the general settings page. Package detection is there too, but under a different option. Want to set a motion schedule? That’s under the Modes page. Arlo still has some exclusive features of interest, though, so let’s take a look.
A core requirement of any security camera is the ability to capture motion events that you want to know about, and do so without recording a bunch of unimportant stuff that will make it harder to find something of interest later. While both Ring and Arlo do this well and allow for creating irregular motion zones, adjusting motion sensitivity, scheduling camera behavior, and limiting recordings to only events involving people, Arlo also allows you to specifically target vehicle or animal motion as well, or any combination of the three. Arlo also has a package detection feature, but this can only be active on one camera at a time, Ring is yet to deliver this at all.
Ring does have more options around motion detection, though. While Arlo allows you to snooze all notifications for a set time, Ring can do this per camera, so you can quickly mute a particular camera if it’s triggering a lot because of something you know is going on, like a party, or the kids playing out the front. You can also adjust how often the cameras will check for motion, so you don’t trigger too often for the same event. Finally, in addition to motion zones, Ring also offers Privacy zones, where you can mark areas that will NOT trigger motion, and will not be recorded.
Modes are becoming more common with camera makers, and it’s a feature I think it’s important for privacy control in particular. Essentially these are like the conventional alarm states of Armed and Disarmed, but can also have additional states like Home as well. Each state contains presets that control what each camera will do, allowing you to quickly switch behaviors over, preferably by geofencing.
Both Ring and Arlo offer modes, and geofencing to automate which mode is active. Ring offers the three mode options I’ve just mentioned, Armed, Disarmed, and Home. For each mode you can set whether a camera will detect and record motion or enable live view. I find that a bit limiting as you can’t, for example, disable recording but still get notifications, or turn on the light.
Arlo, on the other hand offers a lot of flexibility by allowing you to create custom modes per camera. Arlo treats each mode more like a rule that says “if something happens then do this and this”. I’ve used this to create a rule that says it motion is detected, turn on the floodlight, but don’t record or notify me. You can base triggers on motion or audio detection, and enable or disable any of the camera features, so you’re pretty much unrestricted in the combinations you can use.
Video capture in both systems is largely the same, and will vary automatically based on your internet performance. Ring and Arlo cameras allow you to specify whether to record audio or not, and Ring also allows you to adjust the default recording duration when motion is detected.
Arlo gives you the option to specify a general video quality preference, this is mostly for battery life reasons, but can save space if you’re using a Smart Hub for local recording as well. More interesting is Arlo’s Zoom and Track feature, which is available on any camera above the Essentials range. When enabled the camera will zoom in on the detected motion and track it, allowing you to focus on just the thing that is happening. This is where the higher resolution of the Arlo cameras can be of use because you’ll suffer less quality loss when zoomed.
This is another critical area for any security camera, the ability to be notified in a timely manner when something is going on. More recently we’re seeing rich notifications becoming common, and this is a feature I would now expect as a basic requirement on any camera. A rich notification basically includes a still image of what triggered the camera so you can immediately see right there if you need to take a look.
This can same a lot of time and vastly improves the value of the camera system. Why? Because if you have to open the app every time to see what triggered a camera you’ll start to not bother as most of the time it’ll likely be nothing to worry about. With rich notifications you’ll be able to assess if you need to take action with a glance, and that ensures you won’t miss when something important happens.
Thankfully Ring and Arlo both offer good rich notifications, with Arlo going a step further with the higher models offering animated preview. This provides short a GIF-like animation of the event instead of a simple still frame.
Both apps offer mute options in the notification itself, with Ring providing a preset selection of durations for that specific camera. Arlo only provides a single Mute button that opens the app on the Mute settings page, which mutes all app notifications for the selected duration.
Timeliness is important, but this is hard to evaluate as it’s dependent on so many factors like your home internet performance, geographic location, and the signal to your smartphone at the time. One thing you can be certain of is some degree of delay. In my case my Ring cameras will get me a notification in a couple of seconds, where Arlo can take a bit longer. You situation may well be different.
Viewing Video Events
Convenient access to video events is pretty important, and this is where Ring and Arlo differ in a big way. I’ve found the Live view access pretty comparable, Ring tends to start the stream a little faster for me, but that’s going to vary for each user in the same way as notification times.
Arlo offers a pretty standard ‘library’ view, where each recorded clip is listed with a thumbnail in chronological order. You can select a date to view the recorded clips for that day, and you can filter by event type (such as person, animal, audio, etc depending on what you’ve set up to record). For each day, Arlo puts recordings from all your cameras in the same list (but you can filter by device as well).
Ring takes a very different approach; the Timeline view. For each camera you can view a continuous timeline which shows recorded events by type, and (with the setting enabled) also includes periodic snapshots to fill in the gaps. You can scrub through the timeline, including through recorded events seamlessly allowing you to very quickly get a view of everything that happened over a period of time, and stop to play any event at just the point that catches your eye.
You can scrub to the end and go straight into live view, and have full access to the camera controls like lights, speaker and sirens from anywhere in the timeline view. You can also switch back and forth to full screen simply by rotating your phone, where Arlo needs to you tap the enlarge control manually.
Arlo’s library view is perfectly functional, but Ring’s timeline is next level in terms of figuring out what went down, or just quickly scrolling through the day to see what happened.
While both Arlo and Ring offer some functionality without a subscription, you’re basically limited to live view and basic notifications only. With Arlo you can do local recording if you have a Smart Hub, but you still don’t have access to that unless you’re at home.
For all the smart features, and remote access to your cameras you’ll need a subscription for both, either Arlo Secure or Ring Protect. Both companies offer a basic $3/month sub which limits you to a single camera, or a higher $10/month tier with unlimited cameras. Both options offer a 10% discount on future purchases (although with limitations). Arlo does have a higher tier again, for $15/month which you’ll need if you want to record in 4K from an Arlo Ultra camera.
Arlo gives you 30 days of storage, while Ring bumps that up to 60 days and gives you an extended warranty on all your cameras. Ring also offers a discount if you pay annually, which is a no-brainer in this case. You’ll also need the unlimited plan if you have a Ring Alarm and want to take advantage of the professional monitoring service (if you’re in a country where that’s offered).
Ring has certainly been under the weather in recent years, but that’s not so much from a security design perspective. Rather, they had become somewhat lax with their internal controls and policies. I’ve documented their challenges and any known security incidents before, but all the negative press seems to have spurred Amazon to kick some butt and get things back on track. As a result we’ve seen a lot of privacy centric features come into the app, and we’re now seeing the roll out of end-to-end encryption, which should be a huge security win for end users but comes with very harsh feature limitations in the current implementation.
Arlo has gone under the radar a lot more, and has the usual promises of commitment to privacy (including a subtle dig a Ring in the wording), but they have had a few minor hiccups. Notably some software flaws in the Smart Hub that allowed access, but only from inside the home, and some password re-use which has also affected Ring and many other services.
Password re-use is where people use the same email and password combination across multiple sites, allowing a data breach somewhere else to provide a wealth of passwords hackers can try. Using a password manager to ensure every site and service has a different password effectively neuters this form of attack. Both Arlo and Ring have since enabled two-factor authentication which also puts a stop to this in most cases.
As far as security controls, though, Ring has pulled ahead of Arlo. Both services allow account sharing and basic access controls, which are necessary for when there are multiple household members, but Arlo doesn’t provide much visibility or control over to access. Ring has now added authorized devices as well, and you can view and remove those at will in the app along with seeing API integrations that you may have set up (such as with IFTTT).
So where does all this leave us when looking to choose between Arlo and Ring? As usual, it depends. It’s worth noting that you’re not just choosing a camera brand, you’re choosing a security platform. You’ll be looking to pay for a subscription in either case, so you’ll want to choose the one that gives you the options you’re looking for down the road.
Both brands offer well built products that will last at comparable price points, and cloud platforms that deliver reliable and reasonably responsive performance in many countries.
Clearly if you want to go for a more holistic security system offering, then Ring is the obvious choice simply because they offer a full monitored alarm solution in addition to cameras. For me, Ring has the superior app experience, with better design, navigation, and the Timeline view for easily scrubbing through the events of the day.
On the other hand, if you’re only looking for a quality camera solution then Arlo offers better video quality and much more flexibility with their mode rules. The skins are a nice touch, and allow for less visible camera placement, or simply better matched with your home decor. It’s also fair to note that Arlo has avoided the controversy around Ring’s marketing and association with law enforcement, so that may be a factor for you as well (Again, my comprehensive coverage of these issues might help you decide).