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.
Though it’s not a video monitor, the Owlet does track your baby’s heart rate and oxygen while they sleep, and notifies you if something appears to be wrong. Just slip a comfortable wrap with a sensor over your wee one’s foot (it works with babies 0–18 months) and download the app to your phone. You’ll receive alerts in real-time should your child’s vital signs change. It also comes with a base station that changes color when something is up.
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.
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.
iBaby makes a really confusing range of baby monitors. From cheapest to most expensive this includes the iBaby Monitors M2, M2S, and M2 Plus, iBaby M6, M6T, and M6S, and the new iBaby M7. The M2 series is usually under $100 and is pretty poorly reviewed overall. The M6 series is usually about $125 and is decently reviewed. Finally, the new M7 is brand new and only differs from the M6S in that it has a smell detector and night sky projector that can shine the moon and stars onto the ceiling (our review of the M7 is above). There's truly a lot to love about the iBaby M6S. It looks great, is pretty easy to setup, and has a ton of appealing features. Some highlights are that it uses 1080p high definition video, it senses room temperature and humidity levels, has an air quality sensor (measures the presence of volatile organic compounds or VOCs in the nursery), is dual band wifi compatible (2.4 and 5GHz), and a two-way intercom. It also can record HD videos, remotely pan (rotate) and tilt up/down, and you can setup alerts for motion, sound, and VOCs (from 1 to 4 with 4 being best). So it basically has everything that might be on your list of baby monitor essential features, and we were really excited to set it up. Out of the box, we found it easy to download the app to our smart phone (Android or Apple), connect to the monitor and connect it to wifi, and get things up and running. A couple notes here - first, your wifi password needs to be shorter than 32 characters or the app won't accept it, and second, there is no way to manually set an IP address for the camera. When we used it on our home wifi network, we found that the images were clear and decently fast (low lag), and the night vision was high-quality and not too grainy. We especially liked the pan and tilt features from the app, which allows you to move the camera's view angle around without going into the nursery (and it uses a cool screen-swipe gesture to do it). Once we left our home's wifi connection and tried to connect to the camera from a 4G LTE or a different wifi network, that's when we started to run into problems. It was choppy and laggy, which to be honest is what we expected when attempting to stream 1080p HD video outside of your home network. So we changed the resolution settings on the app (Settings - Display Settings - Resolution) to downgrade it to a lower quality stream; that seemed to help a bit. We also had difficulty connecting to the camera at times, whether we were at home or elsewhere, which was one of the more frustrating things about the iBaby Monitor M6S. The temperature and humidity sensors seemed to work pretty well, and we confirmed their accuracy with a separate thermometer and hygrometer (they were pretty decent in accuracy). For the two-way intercom, the speaker in the camera seemed pretty poor quality so it was hard to hear my voice when attempting to speak to (or sing to) our baby. Finally, we had some issues with alerts coming through to the app as intended. We setup the temperature, humidity, and VOC alerts, and had really intermittent alerts when we tested them out. The temperature and humidity sensors seemed to be reading just fine, they just weren't reliably triggering an alert when they deviated from a range. For example, we set a temperature alert for 80 degrees then blew a hair dryer at the camera; it warmed way up, but the alert wasn't triggered, so that was frustrating. We didn't test the VOC sensor, though one could imagine you could open up a can of paint next to the camera and see if it sends an alert. So overall, we have a decent wifi baby monitor that has some excellent features but also leaves a lot to be desired in the reliability department. Interested? You can check out the iBaby M6S Baby Monitor here.
The Levana Lila is the second highest ranking dedicated monitor in the review, and 5th overall. This budget-friendly option has the longest battery life of any dedicated monitor we tested and scored well enough for ease of use and sound clarity that you won't be frustrated. Unfortunately, this monitor has a shorter range than the Philips Avent SCD630 and the fewest features in the group (which makes it easier to use). So it may not be a good choice for parents that want all the bells and whistles. This monitor does sport 2-way talk to baby, sound activation, and automatic screen wake/sleep, which are some of the most important features in our mind. The Lila has no zoom, and the field of view is rather small for a camera that is not remotely operated (no pan or tilt). However, if you want a dedicated monitor for the simplicity and peace of mind with less chance of a dropped signal, and budget is a factor, then the Lila can't be beaten.
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.)
Hear more with the one-of-a-kind portable Smart Audio Unit. Together, the Safety 1st HD WiFi Baby Monitor Camera and Smart Audio Unit gives you hands free monitoring, while still allowing you to monitor your baby both audibly and visually.It features noise and motion activated technology, which means it stays in quiet mode, without any constant white noise, until sound or motion is detected. When noise is detected, audio is streamed from the nursery to the Smart Audio Unit.It also features two way talk, a light ring indicating that motion or sound has been detected and a 12+ hour extended battery life for assurance throughout the night.
Most connected baby monitors are effectively just home security cameras, like the Nest Cam Indoor—devices that let you watch another location with color video, night vision, and sound, so you can tell if anything is amiss. Because baby monitors are used to keep an eye on your little one rather than on your home and property, they prioritize different features than security cameras.
We got our hands on this monitor in mid-2018 for testing. It's a wifi baby monitor, just like many other options on this list, meaning that it connects to your wireless router to stream a digital video and audio signal to your smart phone wherever you are in the world. What's unique about this Safety 1st wifi baby monitor is that it also includes a wireless speaker pod that you can place anywhere in your house so you can listen in on your baby when you don't want to turn on your smart phone. This is nice during the night when you don't want to turn on your bright screen, or when your phone battery is low and you need to recharge. And the speaker pod has a batter that lasts for about 10-12 hours, so you can easily bring it into different rooms. So that's a nice added feature. And there are some additional features worth mentioning. First, it streams video in high definition 720p, though we do point out that it's basically impossible to stream 720p in real-time to your phone unless you're on the same local network (i.e. if you're at home). But that limitation isn't unique to the Safety 1st, and any wifi monitor that appears to be streaming in real-time HD is likely buffering the video for several seconds before it gets to you (so what you're seeing is delayed). Second, we were impressed with the nice wide-angle camera (130-degrees horizontal field of view), which means that it's more accommodating if you want to position the camera closer to the crib. Third, you can set up movement and sound alerts and customize the sensitivity of the alerts on your app to make sure you're getting an alert when it's important but also avoiding too many false alarms. We liked that you can change the sensitivity of the alerts, and thought that feature worked pretty well in our testing. The auto-recorded 30-second clips were also a nice touch so you can see what was going on when the alert was triggered. Some other things we liked were that the night vision was pretty good quality, you can zoom in and out (but you can't pan or tilt) using the app, there's a two-way intercom so you can talk to your baby, and you can expand the system to multiple cameras that you can toggle between using the app (you can't view multiple cameras simultaneously, however). So how does this wifi baby monitor compare to the other top rated wifi monitors on this list? Well, there's some good and bad. Setup was pretty easy, so that's definitely good, though the owner's manual was a bit difficult to understand at times. And once we got it running, it seemed to stay up and running pretty reliably, so that's also a plus. Also, there's no necessary subscription to store the 30-second clips you record for 30 days in the cloud. So here are some things that we didn't like about this monitor: first, many times when we open the app on our phone, the live stream doesn't connect immediately - sometimes we would restart the app, and other times we'd just need to wait several seconds. That's frustrating when you just received an alert and go to see what's going on, but can't. Second, if your internet goes down you're basically screwed. Unlike the Nanit and Lollipop, it will not revert to streaming over your local area network in the event of an internet outage - so even if you're at home, you won't be able to use the app or otherwise view the video. Third, the camera has a bright little light on it, which we ended up covering with electrical tape. Finally, we found the speaker pod unusually difficult to use, and were disappointed that a charger wasn't even included with it (or maybe it was just missing from our box?). Anyway, so there are some really nice features and high potential for this to be a great baby monitor, but in the end we found several limitations that made it difficult for us to justify spending upwards of $200 on it (note that it's about $150 without the speaker pod). But we'll let you make that decision. Interested? You can check out the Safety 1st HD wifi Baby Monitor here.