A baby monitor can provide peace of mind if you live in a large house or if your baby’s room is some distance from yours. We've tested audio, video and motion monitors and looked at privacy issues.
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Monitors using common radio frequencies may pick up signals and interference from other nearby devices (including your neighbours') such as cordless phones, microwaves, or other baby monitors. Some monitors let you choose from several frequencies to minimise this. Monitors that use DECT (digital enhanced cordless telecommunication) are more private and offer less interference as the frequency isn't as common as other devices in the home.
The simplest baby monitors have a transmitter (baby unit) that's placed near the baby and a receiver (parent unit) that you keep nearby. You plug them in, make sure both units are set to the same channel, switch them on, and adjust the volume on the parent unit to a level you can easily hear.
Combined audio-video monitors allow you to hear and see your baby. You have a few options here: an “off-the-shelf” audio-video monitor with both a parent and baby unit, a WiFi-enabled camera and audio unit that can be monitored via your smartphone, tablet or computer or you can “make your own” by using a baby monitor app with 2 smartphones or tablets.
Baby monitor apps
You can turn 2 smartphones or tablets (or 1 of each), into a baby monitoring system by downloading a suitable app to both devices. The apps we tested performed well and are usually inexpensive, so we think they’re worth a try if you have a spare smartphone or tablet lying around.
The “child” unit uses the device's built-in microphone and camera to check baby's sound and movements, while the “parent” unit lets you keep an eye and ear on them wherever you are. One downside is picture quality, which in dark lighting can be very poor. Like all internet-enabled devices, it won't work if your connection goes down, unless both devices are 3G-enabled.
Some apps, such as the Motorola Hubble, aren’t designed to be used with 2 phones or tablets – they pair with baby monitor devices from the same brand to enable a phone or tablet to be used as the “parent” unit. While the app is usually free, you’ll need to buy the baby monitor device to use with it.
WiFi-enabled baby monitors can be viewed anywhere with an internet connection, as long as both units are in WiFi range. If you're going to view your monitor over the internet, make sure the connection is secure and the firmware is up-to-date.
Baby monitors operating on public transmission frequencies mean anyone with a receiver (such as a two-way radio, walkie-talkie, or another baby monitor) could listen in to conversations you have near the baby monitor. If you're using a WiFi-enabled baby monitor, set it up with a secure login password known only to you (separate to your local WiFi password). If you don't change your camera's login password from the default (which is often blank), you risk leaving your connection vulnerable to hackers.
There've been several reported cases of hackers yelling at babies via unsecured WiFi baby monitors, or accessing open webcam feeds that haven't been protected with a unique password. Make sure your WiFi monitor is upgraded to the manufacturer's latest firmware version to close potential security loopholes (the instructions should tell you how to do this), and that any associated smartphone apps are also up-to-date.
We also check for interference from a microwave or a digital cordless phone – and whether the monitor causes interference in a TV or a digital cordless phone.
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