Using Arlo Cameras With SmartThingsBy - 10/03/2017
It’s not new news that SmartThings and Arlo now work together. The partnership was communicated last year with new features launched in April. However, it was only recently that I decided to use the two together, mostly because they work fine on their own, and if it ain’t broke… But there are benefits to connecting Arlo to SmartThings including the ability to use Arlo’s built-in siren, which is astonishingly loud, as well as the potential to reduce false alarms. The downside is that all of this is handled through the SmartThings app. The app will most definitely make using Arlo more complicated, and the user experience isn’t as simple as using Arlo’s app directly.
To get started you will need a SmartThings hub and an Arlo Camera. Unfortunately, not all Arlo cameras are compatible. Currently, you can add the original Netgear Arlo Wire-Free, Arlo Pro, Arlo Pro 2, Arlo Pro Base Station, Arlo Q, and Arlo Q Plus.
|Arlo Wire-free||Arlo Wire-free Pro and Pro 2||Arlo Q||Arlo Q Plus|
|Live streaming||5-minute timeout
to conserve battery
to conserve battery
|Requires Arlo Base Station|
|Recorded Clip Length||2 Minutes||2 Minutes||2 Minutes||2 Minutes|
|Download Clips||Android Only||Android Only||Android Only||Android Only|
|Supported Cameras||15 Cameras, 10 for Event Clips||15 Cameras, 10 for Event Clips||15 Cameras, 10 for Event Clips||15 Cameras, 10 for Event Clips|
|Works With||SmartThings V1 and V2||SmartThings V1 and V2||SmartThings V1 and V2||SmartThings V1 and V2|
|Visit Site||Visit Site||Visit Site||Visit Site|
Assuming you already have an Arlo account and a SmartThings account, setup is straightforward. The setup process is executed through the SmartThings app. From the app,
- Tap Marketplace
- Under the Things Tab, Tap Cameras
- Select the Camera You Want to Connect
- Tap Connect Now
- Tap “Tap Here to Enter Arlo Credentials
- Enter Your Arlo Login Information
- Click Accept
- Tap Done (top right hand corner)
- Select the Cameras You Want to Connect to SmartThings
- Tap Done (top right hand corner)
At this point, your cameras are integrated with SmartThings, but they are not configured. In fact, if you had modes setup within the Arlo app, you’ll notice that SmartThings has now taken over your settings. By default, the cameras are set to record and send alerts no matter what mode SmartThings is in. So for now, you might want to swap Arlo’s mode back to your normal mode or quickly decide how you want to configure your cameras. So how do you configure your cameras? It depends on how you want to use them.
What Happens When You Connect Arlo and SmartThings
Configuration will depend on what you want to do. SmartThings has made several claims about the integration, and we are going to a look at each one.
Claim 1: Monitor Your Arlo Cameras Using the SmartThings App for iPhone or Android
This claim is true depending on your definition of monitor. You will be able to see recent events, recorded clips, and even a live stream. How the individual features perform, however, will be best explained under the other claims below.
The best way to “monitor” Arlo is by navigating to the My Home page within the mobile app. From there, click on the Things tab and select the camera you want to monitor. From this screen, you can quickly find out whether motion is turned on or off, if audio is on or off, you can even physically turn the camera on or off, and you can check the camera’s battery level. From the settings menu, you can change the device name, invert the image, turn night vision off, adjust power management settings, motion sensitivity, audio sensitivity, and you can turn the microphone on or off.
You can also view a history of camera events, though the history does not include recorded clips like you would find using the Arlo timeline directly. Finally, you can view all the SmartApps currently configured to use your camera.
Perhaps my favorite monitoring feature is the persistence of the SmartThings app. While other home security apps will let you know there’s a problem once, SmartThings will continue to alert you until you manually clear the event as okay, reducing the chances of missing an alert. In fact, I let one event slide for an entire day. Every hour, SmartThings would send an alert that read, “Reminder: intrusion detected by the Outside X hours ago.”
Claim 2: Arlo Records if a SmartThings Event Occurs
You can set Arlo to record based on different events. For example, it can record if your front door is opened or if motion is detected. To do this, you will once again start from Marketplace and then the Things tab.
Security SmartApp vs. Custom
From the Things tab, click cameras, select your connected camera, and click “Top SmartApps.” You can choose Security SmartApp or Custom SmartApp.
If you choose to setup Security SmartApps, you’ll find five options: Security, Smoke, Leaks, Custom, and Scout Alarm. The goal here is to set Arlo to record if different events happen. For example, if you work through your Security settings, you can decide which sensors should and should not trigger an event when you’re home or away. If an event is triggered, you can choose which of your connected cameras — you can connect up to 10 connected cameras — should record and for how long. Clip length can be 30 seconds, 1 minute, or 2 minutes. The process is the same for Smoke and Leak Detection. For example, if your smoke detector detects smoke, you can set Arlo to record.
Using the Security SmartApps, choosing custom will let you create rules for other sensors. For example, if you have a tilt sensor on your garage, you can ask Arlo to record if your garage door is left open for too long. You can even decide how frequently you want alerts. For example, maybe you only want to know if a particular action happens once per day or perhaps you want to know multiple times but only so many times per hour. You can even go deeper by setting stipulations. For example, you can set the rule to be active only if your mode is set to away or only on certain days of the week or only between the hours of 3 pm and 5 pm.
Heading back to the Top SmartApps menu, you will find another option for Custom SmartApp. If you click on it, you’ll be presented with the same five options: Security, Smoke, Leaks, Custom, and Scout Alarm. So how do they differ when configured under Custom SmartApp versus Security SmartApp? They don’t.
After testing, I feel confident stating that Claim 2 is true. For weeks, I had Arlo set to record if the front door opened, and it worked. However, though Arlo will record the clip, that doesn’t mean you can view it; see claim 5.
Claim 3: If Arlo Detects Motion or Audio, Trigger a SmartThings Device
This claim is only possible as Arlo can be used as a motion sensor within the SmartThings app. For example, you can say, “if Arlo detects motion, turn on my connected lights.” So how do you make this happen and how does it work?
To set up a rule using Arlo as the trigger, you again head to the SmartThings app. How you set it up will depend on what you want to do. If you want to trigger your lights, click Automation, go to the SmartApps tab, Smart Lighting, New Lighting Automation, choose the lights you want to turn on, and then click on, “How do you want to trigger the action?” From there, you will see the option to select Motion. Select it and click Done. Next, click on, “Which motion sensors?” Here, you will see all of your Arlo Cameras listed. Select the cameras you want to involve in the rule and click Done. Like all rules, if you expand the More Options menu, you can set limits like hours, days of the week, and mode. Once you’ve customized the rule to do what you want it to do, click Next. Finally, select a name for your rule and click Done.
So, does it work? It works, but it’s contingent on properly setting your Arlo modes, not just your SmartThings mode. Yet another example of how using SmartThings and Arlo can be confusing. As an example, when I had SmartThings set to away, and Arlo set to geofencing, everything else worked. The cameras would record when I opened the door, Arlo activity showed in my history, etc., but the lights would not turn on. When I set my Arlo cameras to armed, the rule worked regardless of my SmartThings mode.
Claim 4: Include Arlo in Your SmartThings Routines
You can include your Arlo Cameras in your SmartThings Routines: Good Morning, Goodbye, Good Night, etc. To do this, head to the Automation screen, Routines tab, and click the wheel next to the routine you want to customize. The cameras are listed under lights and switches. For example, you can set your Arlo cameras to turn on when you leave home by clicking on the Goodbye routine, selecting the cameras you want to turn on when you leave and customizing the rule as needed. The best part of the Goodbye routine is that it can replace Arlo’s geofencing feature if you so choose. You can set the rule to run automatically when you leave or when everyone leaves. You can even give yourself an exit delay to help prevent false alarms.
So how does it work? It doesn’t work. I took several drives around town, went to the grocery store, sat in my car for 10 minutes in a random parking lot, and not once did the routine run. Finally, I turned to Google and found an article on a SmartThings support page called “Known mobile presence issues and FAQ”. According to SmartThings,
We know that mobile presence doesn’t always perform as expected, unfortunately, and may cause Routines and Modes to fail to trigger.
However, my problems did not match the problem described. Within the app, my presence was away, but the Routine still failed to run. Digging through the forums, I found good information, but mostly from 2015. During that timeframe, a user was told that this was a known bug, but surely SmartThings has made updates since then. Right? As a last ditch effort, I reached out to SmartThings support.
The chat rep explained that there are several ongoing issues with the integration without an ETA for resolution. When I asked for specifics, she stated that issues included not being able to record video, clips not showing up inside Smart Home Monitor, and more.
After troubleshooting the issue with the chat rep, she finally concluded that the automation wasn’t working because of the open issues with Arlo.
This claim is false.
Claim 5: Use Arlo to Trigger SHM Video Clips (Event-Based Video Clips)
On their website, SmartThings claims you can view event-based video clips from the SmartThings app, but as we learned from the chat rep, this feature has a bug. I’m calling this claim false for two reasons.
The first and most obvious reason is that it doesn’t work. Try as I might, when I click on an event recording, it won’t play. And if you clear the event from the SmartThings app, it also clears all recorded events. Fortunately, those same clips are both recorded and stored within the Arlo app, so you can view them there, even after your SmartThings history clears. On a positive note, if you don’t clear the event, SmartThings will continue to send push alerts every hour until you check things out. This is superior to other security apps which send a one and done push alert.
Second, access to SHM Video Clips is a teaser. While all features are free at the moment, that might not always be the case. SmartThings is promising that live streaming is and will always be free. However, they classify features like clip-based recording as “free trials” stating that Smart Home Monitor with Video Clips will transition to a paid service. The service will eventually cost $4.99/month.
Claim 6: Sound Arlo’s Siren During an Emergency
If SmartThings detects an event, be it a break-in, flood, or fire, it can and will sound your Arlo Pro Base Station’s siren. This claim is true. And as Arlo’s siren is obnoxiously loud, it’s also a good option for home security.
Setting up the siren is done using the same instructions we used in Claim 2: Marketplace, Things tab, click cameras, select your connected camera, and click “Top SmartApps.” To set up my rule, I navigated to Security SmartApp, then Security. I already have a setup to record when the door is opened, so I simply edited this same rule to sound the siren. Under the section labeled: Alarms & Notifications, you can turn on text alerts, push notifications, audio notifications, lights, and of course, sirens. Under siren, you will find your Arlo Camera Base Station. Select your siren, and then select the alert duration.
Claim 7: Live Stream Arlo Video via Things and Rooms
The final claim is that you can stream Arlo video directly from the SmartThings app, and this claim is true. To view your live stream, head to the My Home page of the mobile app. SmartThings claims that you can live stream from either the Things or Rooms tab. Of course, to use the Rooms tab, you will need to assign each camera to a room. However, viewing from the Things tab should be ready to go without setup. From the Things tab, scroll down until you find the camera you want to view.
From the Things tab, I was able to stream live video from home and away. You can choose to view a video stream or video and audio. Unfortunately, live streaming from the SmartThings app does not eliminate Arlo’s lag and doesn’t appear to offer any benefits over using the Arlo app directly. For example, I wasn’t able to digitally zoom using the SmartThings app, something I can do using the Arlo app.
There’s a reason why the Arlo integration is offered a free trial; it’s not ready for primetime. There are still so many known kinks and bugs that the integration doesn’t offer a lot of value. While the integration allows you to create relationships between SmartThings and Arlo, you could do that using IFTTT. Probably the greatest feature value-add is the ability to take advantage of Arlo’s siren.
In my mind, the ideal setup for home security looks like this: When you leave the house, SmartThings tells Arlo to turn on. If a door opens or if motion is detected, Arlo records, sounds its siren, turns on the lights, and sends a push notification. When you return home, Arlo turns off. So how do you make this happen? And is it even possible with all the bugs? Not entirely. For now, the bugs make it nearly impossible for this to happen seamlessly, unless you are willing to change modes as you come and go manually, and who has time for that?
For now, I plan to leave my Arlo Cameras in geofencing mode via the Arlo app. To me, I still don’t see the value in integrating the two. Will that change as things improve? Probably not.