As with any internet-connected device that watches or listens to your home, it's not out of the ordinary to be somewhat wary of a smart baby monitor. All Internet of Things (IoT) devices are potential soft spots for hackers to monitor you. Anything you network can possibly be compromised, and while you shouldn't be afraid of an epidemic of camera breaches, you should always weigh the convenience of these devices against the risk of someone getting control of the feed.
If you opt for a Wi-Fi video baby monitor, you'll need a strong internet connection, because if your internet fails, so does your baby monitor. These baby monitors operate like your average smart home security camera from Nest, Canary, or others. You connect the camera to your Wi-Fi network, and then you can access live video anywhere on your computer, smartphone, or tablet. Many of these types of cameras offer encryption and other high-tech security features.
The Dropcam Echo is an example of a digital video camera system that uses your existing wireless network, allowing you to use your computer or other device as the receiver. (We haven't tested this type of monitor.) Parents go to the Dropcam website, sign in to their account, and then connect the Dropcam to their router using an Ethernet cable. (Once the connection is made, you don't need to use the cable again.) The Dropcam locates your wireless network, you enter your unit's serial number, and the unit begins streaming encrypted video that you can view on a computer, iPhone, iPad, or Android device. You mount the camera in your baby's room and plug it into an electrical outlet.
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.
The DXR-8 uses a secure 2.4 GHz FHSS wireless transmission to ensure privacy, gets up to 10 hours of battery life on a single charge, and can switch to audio-only mode with the camera off to save juice. That said, it has gotten panned for a quickly declining battery life (as well as poor range). Still, that hasn’t stopped 24,000 reviewers from giving it an overall 5-star rating on Amazon. In terms of bells and whistles, it features everything parents have come to expect in a monitor: invisible infrared night vision, (no annoying blue light to wake the baby) two-way intercom, room-temperature sensor, and the ability to work with up to four other cameras.
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.
The Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi camera is a cool Wi-Fi camera that pairs with your personal device like a smartphone or tablet. This easy to use camera has amazing video, can be viewed anywhere you have a connection and has several useful features. The Nest Cam is good for baby watching, but it can also be used as a nanny cam or for security after your little one is older. We love that the Nest Cam has a reasonable price and can be used for many years to come retaining its value long after the standard monitoring device is no longer useful.
While the price is too high compared with our other picks to merit a recommendation, the Arlo Baby by Netgear Smart HD Baby Monitor and Camera does have some appeal, mostly because it overcomes some of the traditional shortcomings of Wi-Fi monitors and security cameras used for that purpose. Its main advantage is that its app can continue to play audio even if the app is not open in the foreground of your mobile device. This means it can continue to broadcast sounds from a baby’s room while parents sleep elsewhere, alerting them if there’s trouble (as a traditional monitor would), without the hassle of loading the live stream every time. It also offers some unique features: The camera itself can work wirelessly off a rechargeable battery (which no other monitor we’ve tested can do), and it can track and chart several days’ worth of temperature and other environmental data in a child’s room. These features alone don’t justify its added cost—the current price is about $100 more than that of either our pick or the least-bad Wi-Fi monitor we’ve tested—but that cost may be easier to swallow if you’re already using other Arlo devices, which we began recommending as a runner-up in our piece on indoor security cameras in fall 2016. As with most Wi-Fi monitors, owner reviews note problems with the signal dropping out, sluggish response time when opening the video on an app, and other irritations, such as problems seeing the feed on multiple devices.
The Arlo Baby camera, which comes dressed as an adorable green bunny, connects to your wireless internet and connects to your phone via the associated app. It streams 1080-pixel video footage, even at night, and has an 8x zoom to let you see exactly what’s going on in the nursery. There’s a two-way talk feature, night light and smart music player, as well as an air sensor and baby crying alert, letting you keep a watchful eye on your little one.
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).
The Nanit couldn’t be more perfect for analytical types. The camera—when placed just so—uses computer vision to watch your baby’s every move, and then tell you what it means. You get a notice on your phone, which acts like a handheld monitor, when your child is awake, acting fussy or has fallen asleep. The Nanit also assigns a sleep score to each night based on how many hours your child was actually crashed out. Other stats include how many times you went into your child’s room and how long it took for your little one to fall asleep. Because the Nanit streams live video and audio to your phone, you can also check in on your kiddo when you’re away from home. It also has a nightlight and temperature and humidity sensors.