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.
Why you should trust me
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.
Who should get this
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.
How we picked
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.