Arlo Essential Outdoor Cam XL review: Massive battery life and sharp 2K color night vision come at a cost

This hybrid camera can be used indoors or outside but its core features are locked behind a monthly subscription fee.

Arlo Essential Outdoor Cam mounted to shed door
(Image: © Future)

Tom's Guide Verdict

Arlo’s 2K outdoor camera has a sharp image and an unbelievably long battery life. If you plan to be an active Arlo subscriber it’s one of the best outdoor security cameras you can buy. But if you don’t want to pay a monthly fee, you lose its best features including the ability to save and view video recordings.


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    Crisp 2K resolution with color night vision

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    Strong battery life and network range

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    Clear noise-canceling two-way audio

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    Integrated alarm siren and spotlight

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    Intelligent alerts that identify the subject type


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    Features as basic as viewing video recordings require a subscription

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    No HomeKit support

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Outdoor security cameras can help protect your property from threats before they reach your home. Many of the best security cameras we’ve tested opt for a battery-powered design so that you have the freedom to place eyes virtually anywhere on your property.


Resolution: 2560 x 1440 (2K)
Field of view: 130 degrees
 2.7 inches (width), 3.2 inches (height), and 2.1 inches (depth)
Wireless: 2.4GHz Wi-Fi
Works with: Alexa, Google Assistant, and IFTT

The second generation Arlo Outdoor Essential XL boasts advanced tech including color night vision, a rich 2K picture, and some of the best sounding two-way calling in a compact body. That’s in addition to an expansive battery that lasts up to four months — over three times longer than the standard Outdoor Essential (2nd Gen).

Unfortunately, core features as simple as viewing and recording video require a rising monthly Arlo subscription. That’s a tough sell when competitors like Eufy and Tapo offer comparable hardware with high-quality AI and local storage without a monthly fee. Does its performance still warrant consideration? Read the rest of my Arlo Outdoor Essential XL review to find out.

Arlo Essential Outdoor Cam XL review: Price and availability

The Arlo Essential Outdoor Cam XL (2nd Gen) was released on September 19, 2023, and costs $149.99 for the 2K resolution version we tested. It also comes in an HD resolution for $99.99. 

For that price, you can buy a hybrid camera from Eufy or Tapo that works both indoors or outside, complete with local storage and free AI notifications. 

Arlo Essential Outdoor Cam XL review: Design

Arlo’s Essential Outdoor Cam XL packs plenty of technology into its compact (2.7 x 2.1 x 3.2 inches) oval body. This white, rugged outdoor security camera runs on a built-in battery so you can mount it indoors or outside. Smooth rounded edges help it appear smaller with a size all-in that’s comparable to a large webcam. It's inoffensive enough to blend into the surface it’s mounted to, but quickly makes its presence known with its spotlight and loud alarm siren when you need to scare people off.

Arlo Essential XL Outdoor Camera on shed door

(Image credit: Future)

Beyond the large lens in the center, the front of the camera is home to a PIR (passive infrared) motion sensor, a microphone, a speaker, a spotlight, and a status LED. Crammed inside is a 2.4GHz Wi-Fi antenna as well as the siren. The top of the camera features a pairing button that syncs the camera to Wi-Fi and on the bottom is a USB-C charging port protected by a rubber cover. All of this is compacted into a wireless device tough enough to fight off the elements like rain heat and snow. Arlo hasn’t shared an IP rating but the Essential held up just fine in moderately heavy showers.

The key to the Arlo Essential XL’s design is its large yet lightweight head that can pivot on a Go-Pro-like ball joint. Installing it is as easy as drilling two screws into the included mounting plate and sliding the camera onto it. This is strong enough to move the Outdoor Cam XL 360 degrees up, down, and to the sides freely, so you can grab the perfect angle. When you need to recharge its built-in battery, you just slide the camera upwards and off towards you. While the battery isn’t removable, you won’t constantly take it down to recharge it thanks to its expansive capacity. You can also connect the $39 mountable solar panel.

Arlo Essential Outdoor Cam XL on shed at night

(Image credit: Future)

Throughout the week I tested it, the camera’s battery dipped just one percent per night based on an average of 4 overnight events. The heaviest plunge it took was just over 6 percent over the course of a single day where it repeatedly captured more than two dozen clips of a passing lawn mower. Even when generously setting off the spotlight and playing with the alarm, this is a reliable camera that’s comfortably stable even under pressure.

Arlo Essential Outdoor Cam XL review: Image and audio performance

I installed the Essential camera on a standalone storage shed in the back left corner of my property line to create my ideal all-in-one security setup. It provides video monitoring to the long unprotected strip of my yard in front of it, the siren is a great deterrent for keeping thieves away from my dad’s work tools, and it has been helpful as a basic smart light as needed because it gets pitch black on the backside of my house once the sun goes down. 

Other cameras like our Ring Spotlight Cam and older Eufy Floodlight Camera in the past have struggled to get a signal the 50 or so feet off of the main router but the Arlo Essential’s antenna found my 2.4GHz Wi-Fi network with ease and relays a buttery smooth live feed and video clip transfers.

From the jump I could see how rich the 2K image would prove as it grabbed a wide range of color as well as the texture of clovers in the grass directly in front of the camera. It’s easy to make out shapes, notice a person approaching, and see bigger text like the numbers on my Rangers jersey in the picture below. Arlo does a great job of colors with the Jersey’s reds and blues popping from the lime green hue of the grass.

The wide 130-degree field of view provides plenty of viewing angle to the tops and sides especially if you mount it just a few feet high. The Essential covered not only the stretch of my backyard but also the woods leading into it as well as sides from the deck path. Both animals and people across the yard were still easy enough to make out when using the 12x zoom. 

Arlo Essential XL records man in grass

(Image credit: Future)

Its default motion detection settings are snappy enough to pick up as soon as you enter its field of view even in the pitch black of night. This camera performed just as great in the dark. It's still sensitive and snappy to pick up on trespassers or critters like the deer and rabbits in my yard. As soon as I came within 15 feet of the camera, its spotlight lit me up and sent a notification immediately. 

This spotlight enables a great-looking color night vision mode with only some minor noise. Of course, the image quality is clearer during the day, but it was impressive to see how much color information the spotlight and software could extract from the darkness without any other light source in the background. 

Arlo Essential XL 2K captures night vision shot of man walking through yard

(Image credit: Future)

Arlo’s Essential records the clearest sounding audio I’ve heard from a security camera. While there’s always going to be a slight compression coming from camera speakers, the microphone records details and blocks out background noise. In the test video above I had sirens, leaves falling, and wind that you don’t even pick up on. I was especially impressed by the fidelity of music playing on a radio inside the shed while playing back clips. Not only vocals but instruments sound full and lifelike. 

Arlo Essential Outdoor Cam XL review: App

The Arlo Secure app condenses its interface neatly into five tabs along the bottom; Dashboard, Feed, Devices, Emergency, and Routines. Up first is the customizable home dashboard which you can populate with device widgets for your favorite Arlo camera for quick shortcuts like disarming your cameras or fluidly hopping into a live view. Next is the Feed which organizes a history of recorded video events into a timeline complete with smart alerts that identify if the subject is animals, packages, and people. 

Smack dab in the center, you’ll find the Emergency tab which lets you activate an emergency siren or send an emergency message. Following this is the Devices tab which shows all of your cameras in one place, so it can feel a bit redundant to the Dashboard. Last but not least is Routines where you can group control devices or create automations such as leave/arrive modes or scheduling functional hours. 

Arlo Secure app shows cameras, activity zones and video history

(Image credit: Future)

All of these features work as responsively as you could hope. When I leave my driveway my camera is armed and it turns off on the weekdays I’m home during the day for work. But when it comes to basic live monitoring you just click the Essentials’s live thumbnail from the Devices menu to hop into a live feed. You can scroll through tools which include video recording, snapshot, spotlight, and an alarm button that gets seriously loud. 

The settings cog in the top right corner gives you a deeper dive into customizing the camera with Activity Zones. You just drag a purple transparent rectangle on your footage to highlight up to 5 areas where you want to receive motion alerts.

Arlo Essential Outdoor Cam XL review: Smart Home Compatibility

Arlo plays nice with the best smart home devices from both Alexa and Google. Its live video feed and controls can be accessed from both companies’ smart displays while motion detection announcements can be made through their smart speakers. You can also use voice commands to control the camera such as when you want to arm or disarm it. 

For further automation, the Essential XL also works with IFTTT applets that provide integrations with scores of third-party smart home devices. Apple loyalists will be disappointed to hear it doesn't offer Apple HomeKit integration.

Arlo Essential Outdoor Cam XL review: Subscription fees

Arlo requires you to pay a subscription for a storage plan just to save and view recorded clips. You can’t insert a MicroSD card into this Outdoor camera for local storage out of the box. Arlo’s plans start from $4.99 per month for a single device which nets you 30 days of video storage and intelligent alerts (animal, people, package). You also get customizable activity zones which I feel should be accessible whether you pay for the service or not. If you have multiple devices like the Arlo Essential Doorbell, you can upgrade all of them for $12.99 a month.

Arlo essential outdoor camera xl

(Image credit: Arlo)

Its Arlo Secure Plus top-tier plan is $17.99 per month but adds a 24/7 Emergency Response feature that connects you with a live agent with the press of a button. This is a bit pricey compared to Ring’s plans which are $4.99 for a single device and $9.99 for unlimited cameras. You get 180 days of video history as well as features like in-app Picture-in-Picture support. And although Ring has a top-tier plan that costs $19.99 per month it at least includes more value beyond the 24/7 alarm monitoring. This includes eero Digital Security and 24/7 cellular backup internet for compatible devices.

Arlo Essential Outdoor Cam XL review: Verdict

At $149 this second-generation Arlo Essential XL camera is a well-rounded and powerful setup for those willing to pay a monthly subscription. Its best features are locked behind it and the hardware is too advanced just to end up providing basic motion-sensing notifications or act as a spotlight when it gets dark. Beyond its rich picture, it’s one hell of a security device with an ear-piercing siren and wide reaching spotlight. Plus, its strong Wi-Fi allowed me to place it in areas of my yard that were too far for some other security cameras. 

You can get equally as excellent hardware from some of the best outdoor security camera brands that support local video storage and don’t charge for features. If you’re on a budget, the Wyze Cam v4 only costs $35 and has 2K resolution and built-in light and sound deterrents. However, its video quality isn’t on quite the same level as Arlo’s, and it needs to be plugged in. The Eufy Edge system is pricier at $549 for two wireless cameras and a home base but has a 4K resolution, local storage, and built-in solar panels so you don’t have to stress about taking down the camera to charge it. Even better: There are no subscription costs.

Arlo’s excellent hardware offers a high resolution and works on more smart home platforms than the outdoor cameras made by its closest competitor, Amazon’s Ring brand. With that said, Arlo will find itself in a pickle the minute third-party companies standardize either a 4K resolution or figure out how to bump up battery life for less.

Hunter Fenollol
Senior Editor, Smart Home

Hunter Fenollol is a Senior Editor for Tom’s Guide. He specializes in smart home gadgets and appliances. Prior to joining the team, Hunter reviewed computers, wearables, and mixed reality gear for publications that include CNN Underscored, Popular Mechanics, and Laptop Magazine. When he’s not testing out the latest cooking gadgets, you can likely find him playing a round of golf or out with friends feeding his paycheck to a QuickHit slot machine. Hunter started his career as an intern at Tom’s Guide back in 2019 while in college. He graduated from Long Island University Post with a degree in Communications and minor in Advertising. He has been vlogging ever since the iPhone 4 took front-facing cameras mainstream.