Video, Audio, or Both: First-time parents are suckers for high-definition, night-vision baby monitors where they can pick up on exactly how their child’s chest is rising and falling. You will do this dozens of times a night. Past the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome-scare age, you may just want an audio baby monitor (which a lot of video ones double as), because you’ll know an “I’m hungry” cry from an “I lost my sock” whine.
We have been following news that the Amazon Echo Spot, available in December 2017, can work as a baby monitor. While we plan to test these claims firsthand, our initial interview with Amazon confirmed a few hunches, and we believe certain shortcomings will make the Echo Spot hard to recommend as a baby monitor. First, it’s not a “baby monitor” per se; the Echo Spot will project video from an existing home security camera or other Wi-Fi camera through its screen. This approach has a few disadvantages, which we outline in the What about a Wi-Fi baby monitor? section. Amazon also confirmed that the Echo Spot would broadcast the same footage you would see on that camera’s app, and that it would not work as a display for RF monitors, like our pick in this guide. The Spot can use voice commands (for example, “Alexa, show me the nursery”), and we’ll determine in testing if that capability overcomes a common flaw in other Wi-Fi monitors and security cameras, namely a sluggish response time when loading video over a standard app. You can also “drop in on the nursery” to hear audio, and potentially talk back, depending on the camera’s functions. As with the voice function, the ability to see the temperature of the baby’s room, plus pan/tilt, play music, and other functions, will be dependent on the camera the Echo Spot is attached to.
One minor but potentially annoying flaw: The “on” lights on the parent unit are a touch bright, and you may be more sensitive to them since you’re likely to have the unit within view as you sleep. They appear as greenish yellow light from the face of the unit, and a charging light, which is blue when it’s fully charged. Depending on how sensitive you are to light, you may want to lay the display face down on a nightstand or cover the status lights with tape.
The dedicated monitors did not score as well as the Wi-Fi products for features. It isn't that they don't have features, it's just that they don't offer as many, don't have features that make the camera easier to use or the features they have don't work that well. All of the dedicated monitors have 2-way communication, but they all also can only be viewed on the parent device that comes with the monitor. Some offer temperature sensors and lullabies, but most of them don't provide motion detection or great zoom. The highest score for features for the traditional video products was 5 of 10. Two monitors managed to earn the 5 rating, with the Infant Optics DXR-8 being the highest ranked overall with a feature score of 5. However, this monitor did not score well overall, or in key metrics, we think are essential for a good video monitor. So despite having a high score for features, we still would not recommend this monitor to a friend.
Just because you’re pulling double diaper duty doesn’t mean you need to buy two baby monitors. If you’re a twin mom, simply look for a monitor that can accommodate add-on cameras. The Babysense Video Monitor comes with two digital cameras right out of the box (and can handle up to four), making this the best baby monitor for twins. With the push of a button, you can toggle between views of your twin babes. Plus, this monitor features digital pan/tilt and zoom, two-way communication, room temperature monitoring and a 900-foot range.
Video products add the element of visual peeking on your baby, so you can see if your baby is crying but calming down without you or if you need to make your way to their side. Most video products work well in the dark and have adequate sound so you can see and hear what is happening in the room. Some options are dedicated with a camera that talks to a parent unit, like the Levana Lila while others use your Wi-Fi to send information from the camera to your personal device like the Nest Cam. Wi-Fi options are great for larger houses where range could be an issue, and it's also nice for away from home monitoring. While video images are not mandatory for getting a good night's sleep, they do provide more information that can help you determine your little one's needs before you get out of bed. With the price of video products being lower than ever, it is no longer considered a luxury product and many parents are choosing this style over sound only products. However, proceed with caution! Spying on your newborn can be addictive and lead to less sleep which defeats the purpose of a getting a monitoring device in the first place.
Security: Whether you’re skeptical of people hacking baby monitors or deeply concerned about it (and there are stories!), the bottom line is that some monitors are at more risk than others. A Wired story from 2015 refers to security firm Rapid7’s findings that Wi-Fi–enabled monitors were particularly vulnerable. We figured people would prefer the not-hackable type, and we talked to a security expert about how to protect your privacy.
There are two basic types: audio and video/audio. Some are analog, others are digital. All monitors operate within a selected radio frequency band to send sound from a baby's room to a receiver in another room. Each monitor consists of a transmitter (the child/nursery unit) and one or more receivers. Prices range from about $25 to $150 for audio monitors and about $80 to $300 for audio/video monitors.
After testing more than half-a-dozen mounted cameras that beam live video from a nursery, the best baby monitor we've tested is Netgear's Arlo Baby. Netgear's baby monitor packs in a number of must-have features such as clear 1080p video, two-way audio and a host of sensors. Everything's easily accessible from a well-organized mobile app that puts the Arlo Baby's controls at your fingertips.
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.
We began by shopping for baby monitors like anyone else would if they had dozens of hours to do it. The process started with a long list of best sellers at Amazon, Walmart, Target, BuyBuy Baby, Babies“R”Us, and Costco. We found monitors recommended in editorial reviews, such as PCMag, Reviewed.com, and Tom’s Guide. We also read a ton of discussion among parents in the Amazon reviews—what features they found especially useful, and what problems tend to occur. Thinking of all this, and comparing those concerns against the things we’ve appreciated and despised in our own years of monitor use, we developed the following selection criteria:
Image and audio quality: We wanted a high enough resolution to make out facial features in the dark, at more than a few feet of distance, and (obviously) in daylight as well. The screen itself did not need to be incredibly high-resolution, but we wanted a size that would be easily visible on a nightstand. For all monitors, but especially audio-only options, we wanted to be able to hear everything clearly at the lowest volumes.
Monitor options: We wanted easy, intuitive, responsive controls, whether they were on a touchscreen or using physical buttons. We also wanted the monitor to withstand being knocked off a nightstand or messed with by a toddler, and generally be tough enough for the rigors of life in a home with young children. We didn’t really care whether or not we could set an alarm, use it as a nightlight, or play chintzy music through the camera—but seeing a temperature in the kids’ room was a detail we appreciated.
Many of the baby monitors we've tested are internet-connected, letting you watch infant with your phone or tablet through an app just as if you were checking a home security camera. Because of this, you might not actually get a standalone display to go along with the camera. They aren't out of the question, however; some camera-only baby monitors offer viewers as an add-on or in a bundle. And if there aren't any available, you can simply get an inexpensive tablet like the Amazon Fire to use as a dedicated viewer.
Why spend money on a baby monitor, which serves a single specific purpose, when you could use an indoor home-security camera that you can repurpose once your kid leaves the nursery? We wondered the same thing, so along with with dedicated video baby monitors, we tested a Nest Indoor Cam, currently among our top-rated wireless home security cameras.
Lullabies: Monitors often include a selection of soothing sounds to help your baby drift off to slumberland. These can be traditional nursery rhymes of the rock-a-bye-baby variety, nature sounds, white noise, or some combination of all of them. It’s a good idea to check them out before you play them to your sleeping child to determine whether they might help or hinder their sleep.
Portable Base Unit with Good Range: Babies go to bed earlier than parents, and they also nap during the day. Unless you want to spend your time sitting next to the baby monitor base unit watching the video stream, you're going to want a unit that has far range and good battery life. This will let you take the unit and, say, take out the trash or let the dog out, while still being able to see your baby. Better yet, many of our best-rated baby monitors are completely wireless and operate by running iPhone or Android apps on your smartphone to wirelessly view the digital color video stream wherever you are. In this way, you're no longer buying a camera and monitor, you're only buying the same cameras that modern security cameras use. This gives you a more universal baby monitor and makes portable wifi baby monitoring more convenient than ever, and we're definitely in support of this new trend. Want to keep an eye on your child while you're on date night? No problem, but only with one of these modern systems.
Sound activation is a feature we think parents should consider. This feature creates a quiet monitor unless the baby is actively making noise and translates to parents potentially getting more sleep because they aren't kept awake by ambient noises. Having sound activation means you only hear what you want to. This feature can be found in dedicated and Wi-Fi monitors.
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.
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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.
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).
Baby monitors shouldn't be used as a substitute for adult supervision. They should be considered as an extra set of ears—and, in some cases, eyes—that help parents and caregivers keep tabs on sleeping babies. Using one can alert you to a situation before it becomes serious, for example, if your baby is coughing, crying, or making some other sign of distress. Experts warn that you can't rely on a monitor to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
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.
Project Nursery offers a variety of monitor options that include fantastic features like remote camera control, two-way communication, motion, sound and temperature alerts and the ability to play white noise or lullabies. But what we like best about this one is that it comes with a traditional 5-inch screen monitor and a 1.5-inch mini video monitor that you can wear like a bracelet. Both monitors have a long battery life, too.