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.
Movement products are designed to sense the movement associated with a baby breathing. These products attempt to discern when your little one has not moved within a prescribed period that could indicate that they have potentially stopped breathing. While this may seem like a no-brainer option for parents worried about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), they are not foolproof, have not been approved by the FDA as a medical device, and are known to have false alarms where the baby is fine but then suddenly awakened by a loud alarm. While it is an interesting kind of product, we caution parents that this type of device is not a substitute for safe sleeping practices and doesn't prevent SIDS. However, if you are willing to accept false alarms, it can provide another layer of monitoring to help some parents sleep better at night. Movement sensing products are only useful until babies start to roll over, at which point they become unreliable.
Like other systems, the Dropcam Echo allows you to put up more than one camera and monitor different rooms. The manufacturer says the Dropcam Echo automatically detects motion and sound, and you can get an e-mail message or notification on your smart phone or iPad when something changes in the baby's room. Dropcam will store your video feed for either a weekly or monthly fee.
The price of the Infant Optics, at about $150, is on the higher end for baby monitors. As much as we wanted to recommend a more affordable option, we found their shortcomings to be major enough—terrible video quality and poor connections were common—that we couldn’t recommend one. The Infant Optics offers a better value even though it’s among the more expensive options out there. Many people use these daily for years, which helps justify the investment, and the reports of reliable customer service from other customers are reassuring. If you have to spend less, go audio-only.
Some audio/video monitors filter out "normal" sounds and motions. The receiver is supposed to turn on only when your baby makes an unusual motion or sound, such as crying or rolling over when he's waking up from a nap. This feature is designed to extend battery life, although the receiver should be docked for overnight monitoring to keep the battery charged. We haven't tested any models with this feature, so we don't know how well it works.
The Nest boasts some impressive hardware specs, such as true 1080p/30fps video and a 3-megapixel camera sensor. Setting up the Nest Cam specifically to look in on a 2-year-old at night, we found the video quality on Nest's camera to be sharper and more detailed than on any baby video monitor we tested. The Nest Cam includes push-to-talk features as well as alerts triggered by motion or sounds. And when your child is past the age when you need a nighttime monitor, you can repurpose the Nest Cam to check in on other parts of your home.
The most troubling pattern you see in the one-star Amazon reviews is the reports of battery life declining (or failing) over time. This is part of a larger trend in baby monitors in general, and our take on it is that the battery tech within these monitors is just not at the level people have come to expect after living with good phones and tablets, and other quality electronics. Reading the negative reviews on this and many other monitors reminded us of the kinds of problems people had with rechargeable batteries years ago. Here’s a good example of what we mean. So for now, for any baby monitor, set your expectations accordingly.
Not everyone needs a baby monitor. If you live in a smaller house or apartment, keep your infant in close proximity, or just generally don’t feel the need to monitor your baby as they’re sleeping (the infant cry is hard to miss!), you may find that a monitor is unnecessary. Other people may only want a monitor for occasional use, like when you’re out in your yard while your baby is napping and want to know when they’ve woken up.
Your phone might not have great battery life. Many parents who use a wifi baby monitor come to the realization that their smart phone battery life isn't so great when they are streaming a live video and audio feed from their baby monitor. If you have a newer iPhone or Android device, it will probably do pretty well, but if you have an older phone the batter is probably a bit weaker already and you will notice your battery life dropping pretty quickly during use. So definitely consider battery life and charging options for your smart phone when you are choosing between a self-contained versus wifi baby monitor.
Our hands-on reviews put 32 video baby monitors to the test, examining their features, image clarity (day and night vision), convenience, reliability, safety, the range of reception, and versatility. We came away with over 15 of the top baby monitors of the year, including the top-ranked Infant Optics monitor to the super versatile Project Nursery monitor.
Both Kay and Baldwin chose the Infant Optics DXR-8 as their top choice in video baby monitors (it also has nearly 24,000 4.4-star reviews on Amazon). The DXR-8 uses secure 2.4 GHz FHSS wireless transmission (as opposed to Wi-Fi) to send crystal clear color video and audio to the receiver, has a solid battery life, allows for remote pan, zoom, and tilt capabilities, and comes with an interchangeable zoom lens (with a wide-angle lens sold separately). Other features include a two-way intercom, remote temperature display, and the option to set the monitor to audio-only.
The Snuza Hero SE is a wearable device that clips to baby's diaper or bottoms. It has a unique vibration alert that attempts to rouse little ones into moving enough to stop the impending alarm that will sound audibly if the baby doesn't move. This vibration feature means that false alarms may be less likely to result in a crying baby, though they could cause lack of deep sleep if they happen continually. The Snuza is a nice wearable choice that is easy to use, portable, and didn't have many false alarms during our testing. While it is not a replacement for safer sleep practices, it could provide some parents with increased peace of mind for a better night's 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.
A word of caution about extremely cheap baby video monitors (we're talking devices that cost less than $50): they're not known for their security and can be hacked. Be sure to always change the default password of any connected device you purchase. You can also protect yourself by sticking to known vendors who post frequent firmware updates and have easy-to-reach customer support.
If all you want is a no-fuss audio monitor, the Bump and Baldwin both recommend VTech’s DM221 audio monitor, which consistently garners a lot of accolades. Using digital audio technology, the DM221 offers clear audio transmission and eliminates the crackle of analog models. A two-way intercom allows you to talk to your baby, while a five-level sound indicator can visually alert you to cries from the other room. The transmitter also features a soft night-light for your child. And don’t sleep on its compact size, which makes it perfect for travel.
The 3.5" diagonal color screen on the MBP36S shows real-time video and sound in your baby’s room, and you can remotely pan, tilt, and zoom the video image as needed. The product offers a 300 degree viewing range so your child will never be out of sight. Infrared night vision allows you keep an eye on things in low light levels without disturbing little sleepers.
Though it’s not a video monitor, the Owlet does track your baby’s heart rate and oxygen while they sleep, and notifies you if something appears to be wrong. Just slip a comfortable wrap with a sensor over your wee one’s foot (it works with babies 0–18 months) and download the app to your phone. You’ll receive alerts in real-time should your child’s vital signs change. It also comes with a base station that changes color when something is up.