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.)
Once you've settled on a type and have considered your range, you can look at the potential choice and which features they have. The more budget-friendly choices usually lack bells and whistles but are still functional. If you want more features like nightlights, lullabies, and talk to the baby, then you may pay more and the unit could be more difficult to use. The one feature we think is important is sound activation to help keep your device quiet when your baby is quiet, thereby increasing your chances of a full night's sleep.
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.
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.
To test each camera’s night vision, we used them in darkened bedrooms with blackout curtains, with and without nightlights. For a more extreme test, we set the cameras up in a windowless room in a basement with a towel blocking light from the door. We aimed all the cameras at a doll’s face approximately 6 feet across the room, looked at the monitors, and tried not to creep ourselves out.
But these nursery essentials can be as fussy as the babies they keep tabs on. And like virtually every other household appliance, they are growing increasingly more capable and complex. In addition to conventional video baby monitors that use a camera and a handheld LCD display, often called a “parent unit,” there are now also Wi-Fi-enabled systems that connect to your home network and use your smartphone as both the display and the controller, much like DIY home security cameras. These latter models offer high-defition video, intelligent alerts, and the ability to check on your child from anywhere you have an internet connection.
If you want remote access to see footage inside your home while you’re away, why not just use an indoor security camera? If that’s your sole objective, we think such cameras are a better choice than a dedicated baby monitor—and we explain which ones we like and why, in detail, in our guide to wireless indoor home security cameras. But in comparing our picks here against the Nest Camera (a popular, mainstream option, and a pick in our security camera guide), we found that security cameras start to lose their appeal when you try to use them in the ways most people regularly want to use baby monitors—at home, at night, all night, while a kid sleeps. Many won’t stream audio in the background, which means that to continuously monitor your baby, the app has to be open at all times. Some can take several seconds to pull up a live feed—not ideal when you want to see why a baby is crying. They can work well if you’re traveling and want to see what the family is up to, or if you’re out for the night and want to check on the kids without bugging the sitter—but as useful as that capability is, we concluded that it really is a different task from what most people want to accomplish with a day-to-day monitor.
It really depends on what you feel most comfortable with. There are audio monitors that allow you to listen to any noise coming from the nursery, vital monitors that track sleep and breathing and video monitors that add sight to sound. Babylist parents overwhelmingly choose video monitors. The security of seeing what your child is up to—like if they’ve gotten tangled in their swaddle, pulled their diaper off or climbed out of the crib—can be worth the extra cost of a video monitor.