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.
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It may surprise you to hear that simply being able to last through the night, unplugged, with the display off, qualifies as exceptional battery life for a baby monitor. The Infant Optics was one of the only monitors in our testing that could easily do that, and then last a while longer the next day before needing a charge. (The manufacturer claims it lasts 10 hours with the display off—we got that amount of time off a full charge, even when checking the display intermittently.) This model also charges via a USB connection, which actually sets it apart from a variety of competitors, some of which use ineffective and inconvenient proprietary DC chargers or even disposable batteries.
The baby monitor market is really exploding with new high-quality options that use a wifi camera connected to an app on your smart phone. The Nanit smart baby monitor is a new addition to this market, and we're really excited about it! We got our hands on this baby monitor for testing in mid-2018. Out of the box, the system is really well designed and made with high-quality components. The camera itself looks sleek and modern, similar to the Lollipop baby monitor. Like the other wifi baby monitors on this list, the Nanit streams high definition (HD) digital video and digital audio right to an app on your phone, and the app is available for Android and Apple devices, including phones and tablets. It does this by connecting to your home's wifi and streaming video right through your existing router. In our testing, we found that if you're at home the video streaming is very fast (low latency) and high clarity. And if your internet goes down, it will still work as long as you're still connected to your home wifi. On a 4G LTE connection, the video is a bit choppy from time to time but we found that a common theme with any wifi-based camera system. Let's first talk about some of the features. First, there is an awesome digital zoom feature right from your app - you pinch the screen just like with anything else and get a clearer view of your baby. Second, it has temperature and humidity sensors so you can keep track of nursery conditions. We compared the temperature and humidity readings to our hygrometer and it was very accurate. Third, we loved the wall-mount because it gives you a really nice overhead vantage point on your baby, unlike some of the standing cameras that sit on a nearby surface - this has a much better view. Note that if you want to mount it on a nearby surface like a dresser or changing table, you can buy a separate Nanit table mount. Fourth, it includes the wall mounting hardware and the cord hiding strips to keep the wires out of baby's view and reach. Fifth, the camera quality was excellent in both day and night vision conditions. Finally, there are some other nifty features, like the ability to receive alerts for sound or motion, to have audio running in the background of your phone (which is great for nighttime), a nightlight that you can control right from the app, and encrypted communication. So that's all excellent, and when you combine it with the monthly subscription ($10/month) for Nanit Insights, it's a great package that not only monitors but also can track your baby's sleep habits (including videos). A 1-month trial is included for this service so you can check it out and see if you want to consider - we suspect that most parents will be content with just the real-time monitoring without any habit tracking. In our testing, everything worked really well, and we were consistently impressed by the streaming video and sensors. The biggest drawback for this monitor is the price - it's about $250, which is up at the top of the price range for this entire list. We'll let you figure out whether it's worth the cost for your specific needs. Update: we have now been using this Nanit baby monitor for just over 3 months, and we continue to be very happy with it, it seems to be not only high quality but also reliable (so far!). Interested? you can check out the Nanit Baby Monitor here!
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.
Frequency: Some baby monitors operate on the same 2.4GHz frequency band as household products like microwaves, cordless phones, wireless speakers, and so on. When the monitor is on the same frequency as a number of other products, you can experience interference and static. You may want to get a monitor that uses a different frequency like 1.9GHz, which the Federal Communications Commission sets aside for audio-only applications. It's called DECT, or Digitally Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications.
Every parent we spoke to agreed. A video monitor is the way to go. It’s the difference between getting up to check on your baby because you thought you heard a noise or glancing at a screen to see if you really need to get out of bed. Video monitors are useful well into the toddler years, too. That screen can help you decide whether you need to step in and comfort your child, or if you can wait out a tantrum.
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.
It may surprise you to hear that simply being able to last through the night, unplugged, with the display off, qualifies as exceptional battery life for a baby monitor. The Infant Optics was one of the only monitors in our testing that could easily do that, and then last a while longer the next day. That alone puts it head-and-shoulders above many other monitors we tested.
You might prefer one that has lights as well as sound. All the audio monitors we rated had this feature. The Philips Avent DECT SCD510, which sells for about $120, has a series of small LED lights on the parent monitor. The louder the sound in your baby's room, the more lights go on, so you'll notice his crying even with the unit set on mute. Audio monitors are generally less expensive than audio/video models.
Last, a few features are simply not that useful, but they’re more like unnecessary clutter than legitimate flaws. The talk back feature can be difficult to understand on the baby end of the line (we found it works best—that is, intelligibly—if you speak about a foot away from the microphone, and avoid shouting). A “shortcut” button to control the monitor’s volume and brightness doesn’t really save you much time. There are other features on the menu—counting the little songs, a timer, and a zoom, you have a total of about seven. But honestly, after testing this monitor for some time and others for years longer, the only thing you really need to be able to do regularly is adjust the volume.
By default, Arlo Baby records in 720p resolution, though you can switch to 1080p if you prefer. You can also adjust the field of view and fine-tune notifications on what triggers an alert. You do have to position the camera manually, however, and the gap between getting a notification on our phone and actually being able to jump to live video was a little laggy for our tastes.
"Quick and easy set-up is Nest Cam's secret sauce -- they promise a 60 second set-up and that's pretty much what we found in our testing," Baby Bargains says. Still, "Nest Cam isn't a perfect solution as a baby monitor." In addition to the signal dropouts, Nest Cam's audio cuts out anytime your phone's screen goes to sleep. It also drains the battery, Baby Bargains says, so you'll have to leave your device plugged in all night. The camera is fixed – it won't swivel – and the audio can lag behind by 3 to 5 seconds, depending on your router's speed.
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During our tests, we found ourselves among the fraction of buyers having problems with the display on the DXR-8. Our first test unit worked fine out of the box, but after a couple of hours running on battery, the display became distorted and nothing would fix it. Likewise, you’ll find a few complaints on Amazon of users experiencing dead pixels after about a year of use (here’s one and here’s another). The good news: Those folks reported that Infant Optics replaced their monitors even though some were out of warranty. In fact, the company consistently receives decent feedback on customer service. Infant Optics quickly replaced our faulty unit (but as a media inquiry, that’s not comparable to typical customer service), and the new unit has performed fine.
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.