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.
The LeFun C2 720P Wi-Fi earned a 3rd place rank thanks to high scores for range and battery life, and impressive results for video quality and features. This monitor earned a Best Value for Wi-Fi monitors for its budget-friendly list price that is the least expensive in the group and its higher rank. This means you can get a great, top performing monitor, at a reasonable price. The LeFun has motion detection, sound activation, 2-way talk to baby, zoom, and a remote-controlled camera with real pan and tilt capabilities. The downside to this camera is a lag time when using the pan and tilt feature, and it is a little harder to use than the other Wi-Fi options we tested, but given the low price, we suspect most parents will forgive these flaws.
The iBaby M6S Wi-Fi is the number one video monitor out of the 9 competitors in this review. This monitor earned top scores for range, ease of use, features, and battery life with a second-place score for video quality. The iBaby's impressive performance during testing and subsequent overall high score resulted in it winning an Editors' Choice award for best Wi-Fi monitor. This cool Wi-Fi product is the only one we tested specifically designed with baby in mind. It features humidity, temperature, and air quality sensors to help ensure baby stays cozy, and it comes with 10 lullabies and the ability to add your own music and voice. The iBaby is easy to use, has true to life images, and works as it should. It offers sound activation, motion detection, 2-way talk to baby, and a remote control camera. The iBaby will continue to monitor baby even with another app running. If that weren't enough, this fun looking camera has a reasonable price point, coming in cheaper than half the competition we reviewed.
We also liked the iBaby because while it allowed us to invite other users to see through the camera — great if you want to give your babysitter access while you’re out — only the person who registered the iBaby monitor has administrator access to all of the features. The administrator can give some privileges to other users, like being able to move the camera around, but they can take them away just as quickly.
Electromagnetic fields (EMF), or dirty electricity, is something we think needs to be discussed when talking about wireless baby monitors. Given that all wireless devices give off some level of EMF, we feel it would be negligent not to discuss the potential for possible health risks associated with the kind of radiation emitted by wireless products. While the jury is still out, and studies being done are not conclusive yet, there is enough evidence that EMF might potentially cause health problems that we feel it is better to be cautious when it comes to children's exposure than to ignore the possibilities.
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.”
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.
Baby monitors may have a visible signal as well as repeating the sound. This is often in the form of a set of lights to indicate the noise level, allowing the device to be used when it is inappropriate or impractical for the receiver to play the sound. Other monitors have a vibrating alert on the receiver making it particularly useful for people with hearing difficulties.
Movement monitoring devices do not claim to prevent SIDS, but they could potentially provide peace of mind for a better night's sleep for parents. To reduce the likelihood of SIDS, you should practice safe sleep guidelines for EVERY sleep (with or without a movement device). Always put your baby on their back to sleep, they should have their own firm sleep space with a tightly fitted sheet. Read our article on How to Protect your Infant from SIDS and other Causes of Sleep-related Deaths for more information about best sleep practices and setting up a healthy sleep environment for your baby.
Ease of use may not seem like a big deal because once you know how to use something, it won't seem that hard, and after you use it for a while it can feel intuitive even if it isn't. However, with this type of product, there can be a learning curve depending on what kind you choose and how many features it has. While the dedicated monitors were plug in and go options that even grandma can manage, some of them took a little more skill to navigate and learn. The Wi-Fi options, on the other hand, do require some knowledge of technology and the way apps work. With all of them, you will need to set up the camera with your computer or another device, and you will need to set up an account and be able to manage things like Wi-Fi passwords and various settings inside the application. While this may seem like no big deal to some parents, it could be challenging for those that are less tech-savvy.
Monitors for babies should have good video images that are clear and true to life, but they should also have quality sound that is easy to hear and clear enough that parents can quickly decide if they need to look at the viewing screen, go back to sleep, or get running to the nursery. So while you might consider video quality to be the most important metric for this kind of product, we rated both video and sound equally because, without one, the other doesn't much matter. If the sound is muffled, difficult to decipher, or not loud enough, then parents might miss baby's cries. If sound activation or thresholds for background noise don't work as described, then parents might lose sleep listening to a loud monitor. However, once alerted, you need a clear view of baby with enough details to determine baby's needs, day or night, or the video style monitor isn't much better than a sound only monitor.
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.
While ranking among Amazon’s top-selling baby monitors, the Motorola MBP36S and MBP33S, which are listed on the same page, have more negative reviews than positive ones. Many reviewers complain about poor battery life and deficient quality and durability. BabyGearLab also gave these monitors a low rating, citing the “disappointing images and sound on a hard to use parental unit.”
Instead, baby monitors offer more options for letting you know when something might be wrong at that moment. Temperature and humidity measurements are common among high-end monitors, along with alerts and notifications for when movement or a lack of movement is detected. The Baby Delight 5" Video, Movement and Positioning Monitor, for example, includes a pendant sensor that monitors your infant's movement and breathing patterns, letting you know if it gets too quiet or still.
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.