Baby monitors are just one way to keep track of your little one. For newborns, the Snoo Smart Sleeper is a bed that gently rocks your baby for better sleep, and connects to an app on your phone that lets you receive alerts when your little one needs attention. The Owlet Smart Sock 2, meanwhile, is a connected pulse oximeter that allows you to check on your baby's vitals any time through an app, and will notify you automatically if there's a problem. The Sproutling from Fisher Price is a motion and heart rate sensor that straps to the back of your baby's calf and collects data while he or she sleeps.
We tested a Nest Camera for the sake of comparison, to see the advantages and disadvantages of a popular security camera versus baby monitors designed expressly for watching babies at home. We have also considered the Arlo Baby monitor, which we’ve seen in demos but not tested firsthand for this guide. Our findings are in Why not just use a security camera? For far more information on all the other similar options—including a detailed look at other Arlo indoor security options, like the Arlo Q—see our guide to the best wireless indoor home security camera.
Your baby needs constant attention, but you can't be in its room every hour of every day. That's what baby monitors are for. What started as audio-only infant care devices to let you listen in on your child from another room, have since added video cameras and connected features to the mix so you can always keep an eye on your little one. There are still some great audio monitors out there—here we're focusing on models that also provide some form of video feed.
Beyond that, we wanted to hear from an expert on the products’ (perceived and real) security risks. So we spoke to Mark Stanislav, the director of application security for Duo Security and the author of Hacking IoT: A Case Study on Baby Monitor Exposures and Vulnerabilities, whose research has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press, CNET, Good Morning America, and Forbes.
You can expect to pay between $30 and $200 for a dedicated video baby monitor, with most branded units costing around $100 on average. Units that allow you to remotely reposition the camera with pan-tilt-zoom functionality are more expensive than those with a fixed view. Wi-Fi video baby monitors don't generally cost extra, because the lack of a specific parent unit balances out the costs of adding Wi-Fi functionality.
We don’t think most people would be happiest with a Wi-Fi–enabled baby monitor. The benefits—primarily, being able to view the camera footage remotely, on multiple phones, without keeping track of a separate monitor—do not make up for the disadvantages Wi-Fi monitors have as a category. Security is probably the first thing on most people’s minds. The likelihood of someone hacking into your baby monitor is remote, but it’s possible, said Mark Stanislav, director of application security at Duo Security, in an interview with The Wirecutter. You’re relying on the security of your own home network and also the ability of the manufacturer to secure all its devices. “Once you get into an Internet-connected device, and it really depends on what kind of device it is, but these devices very often bypass your home’s router and firewall. Basically, once you’re connected to this device, you are inside the home’s network. So, it’s possible to use these devices to access other devices in a home,” Stanislav said. (Stanislav was also involved in Rapid7’s research into the vulnerabilities of Wi-Fi–enabled monitors.)
At over $200, are advanced audio/video monitoring systems with multiple cameras and receivers with large screens, as well as the ability to connect to several mobile devices. While they are loaded with features, it’s important to look closely at the audio and video quality. Expensive monitors are just as susceptible to interference as inexpensive ones.
Another prominent Wi-Fi–enabled monitor is the Withings Home video monitor, which we dismissed without testing. This is The Nightlight’s pick for the best video monitor. The most notable drawback to the Withings is that currently more than a third of Amazon reviewers give it two or fewer stars (out of five), citing problems similar to what you see on most other Wi-Fi video monitors: bad connectivity, a bad picture, unreliable air-quality sensors, and issues with overall quality and durability. In reply to some of the negative reviews, Nokia stated that it was looking into making improvements to this model. The rebranded version, the Nokia Home Video & Air Quality Monitor, was recently released and has not yet received many reviews (the app has mixed reviews).
With a 1,000-foot range and DECT technology, the VTech Safe & Sound Digital Audio relays sound with excellent clarity. Two-way communication offers a way to calm a baby when he or she is waking up or trying to fall asleep. It also includes a night light for late-night feedings. The digital display indicates signal strength and power/battery life. This monitor offers a full range of alarms when your baby wakes — audio, indicator lights, and vibration.
The Samsung SEW-3043W BrightView HD's primary advantages over our pick are a larger, crisper display and a sleeker-looking package overall. But it is not our pick because its main disadvantage—a slow and unresponsive touchscreen—is such an annoying flaw that we're sure you'd prefer our pick's reliable tactile controls. The Samsung also falls short of our pick on battery life and because of other long-term battery and charging issues. On many other measures, the two monitors came out more or less even.
In addition to being untested for efficacy, physiologic monitors can increase both your stress and your baby’s stress with false alarms and unnecessary trips to the hospital. Dr. Christopher Bonafide, of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia wrote that parents are increasingly bringing healthy babies to the hospital over a false alarm, noting that changes that often set off a monitor are “just normal fluctuations.”
The most important thing to look for in all kinds of baby monitors is audio quality. Regardless of whether you want a video-based baby monitor or not, you need clear audio so you can hear your baby properly. You'll also want one with sound activation so that you don't have to listen to white noise 90% of the time. With sound activation, you'll only hear the noises from your baby's room when there's something important to hear.
The audio is quite good as well, with very little distortion. As with other Wi-Fi video baby monitors, there is lag as the video stream travels through distant servers before reaching your smartphone. In our tests, the SCD860 had good results one moment and issues shortly after. This is one of the reasons we gave it a low score for connection quality. A few of our testers had trouble setting up this baby camera using the smartphone app. The camera doesn't work without a wireless connection, unlike traditional video baby monitors that use a handheld receiver. The app is easy to use, and it lets you set up push notifications and adjust the sound sensitivity. We had a few connection issues independent of our Wi-Fi connection, which could cause concern. For a time, we had no connection, so we didn't know what was going on in the other room. This monitor lets you track the temperature and humidity in your baby's room and has a nightlight with multiple light color options. If your baby is upset, you can use the app to talk to them or play one of the 10 lullabies through the camera's speaker. The Philips Avent Smart baby monitor SCD860 has a two-year warranty, which is the longest of all the models we tested.
Security is one reason Stanislav personally uses an RF monitor (like our pick) with his own daughter. He added that even that is not completely secure—“there are absolutely ways to break into a signal with radio frequency,” he said. But, noting that you have to be physically close to the house, and have the motive and ability to do it, he says it’s “a very small risk to your average parent.” In addition to the actual risks of a Wi-Fi monitor, there’s a perception that they’re vulnerable—this suspicious tone comes up often in many conversations with parents about monitors, with statements like “we’ve all heard the horror stories”2 coloring the whole discussion and suggesting, to us, that most people are really put off by the vulnerability.
Aimee is a pediatric occupational therapist practicing in the neonatal intensive care unit and pediatric out-patient at Central Pennsylvania Rehab Services at the Heart of Lancaster Hospital. She has been working in pediatrics for 18 years and is also the owner/operator of Aimee’s Babies LLC, a child development company. Aimee has published 3 DVDs and 9 apps which have been featured on the Rachael Ray Show and iPhone Essentials Magazine. Also certified in newborn massage and instructing yoga to children with special needs, Aimee Ketchum lives in Lititz, PA with her husband and two daughters.
Before buying or registering for a baby monitor (or any wireless product), be sure you can return or exchange it in case you can't get rid of interference or other problems. If you receive a monitor as a baby-shower gift and know where it was purchased, try it before the retailer's return period ends. Return policies are often explained on store receipts, on signs near registers, or on the merchant's website. But if the return clock has run out, don't feel defeated. Persistence and politeness will often get you an exception to the policy. Keep the receipt and the original packaging.
The features we focused on were those we thought either increased the performance of the monitor or made it more user-friendly for parents and increased the odds of getting good quality sleep. We looked for monitors that have sound activation that keeps the parent unit quiet when the baby isn't crying, so parents can potentially fall asleep faster because they don't have to listen to white noise. Some of the monitors were so loud, even at low volumes, that the white noise might keep light sleeping parents awake; this defeats the purpose of having a video product to begin with. We also liked the models with screens that automatically "wake" and/or go to sleep.
Look for a monitoring system that is a good fit for your home and lifestyle. For example, if you’re in a small apartment in a busy city, having a monitor that has a long range won’t be as important to you, but one that screens out background noise will. For parents that frequently travel or work long days, being able to check on your child from anywhere and talk over the audio can help keep you connected. But, for those who are with their kids most of the time this might not matter much. The point is, consider what will make parenting easier and your family happiest and you can’t go wrong.