Picks

Privacy-Obsessed Parents: This Baby Monitor Without Wi-Fi Actually Works

While Wi-Fi equipped devices may be state of the art, they’re also susceptible to hacking.

Photo: Courtesy of the retailer

As a millennial mom who tries to keep her child off of the internet, I’ve made a pact with my husband not to post our daughter to any social-media accounts. But our mission extends beyond keeping her face away from the AI of Zuckerberg & Co. We want to keep everything about her as analog as possible, including her sleep habits. So, when it was time to buy a baby monitor, we set out to find a non-Wi-Fi model — something we quickly discovered is not as easy as it seems.

Most of the “must-have” baby monitors these days use Wi-Fi to transmit video. Nearly every mom I know has a Nest Cam in her kiddo’s bedroom, and the latest technological advances in baby-monitoring — like the Nanit system that provides analytics on your baby’s sleep — are all Wi-Fi-dependent. While they may be state of the art, one of our biggest concerns about Wi-Fi-equipped devices is that they’re susceptible to hacking. (This isn’t a fantastical fear: Last month, video of hackers terrorizing kids over Ring’s Wi-Fi camera system went viral.) According to Adam Wright, a senior analyst at the International Data Corporation, Wi-Fi monitors work by transmitting video from the camera to your home’s wireless router, which sends the feed up to “the cloud,” which then bounces it back down to your parent monitor or an app on your phone. “By accessing your home network, that is potentially exposing your network to intrusions and hacking,” he explains. Jen King, the director of consumer privacy at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, adds that “hackers often use devices like baby monitors as training grounds to test their skills.”

In the world of analog baby monitors, the three modernish choices most popular among security-concerned parents are colloquially known as the Philips, the Motorola, and the Infant Optics (the Strategist has written about all three). In addition to appearing on the Strategist, the Philips also earned BabyGearLab’s best-in-category award, so we decided to go with that one. These non-Wi-Fi monitors (a.k.a. “dedicated” monitors) use a specific radio frequency to transmit their signal. While not 100 percent hackproof, to break into a dedicated monitor, you’d have to be in physical range of the radio waves — usually less than 100 feet with baby monitors — and have a device that could receive them. As my husband put it: “If they’re already on your property, you’ve got bigger problems.”

Even though it’s a newer dedicated monitor, once we started using the Philips, it felt more like a relic from the early aughts. The picture quality is pixelated and crappy. The stated range is 92 feet, but in practice, walls drastically reduced it — I couldn’t sit in the dining room of my in-laws’ house with my monitor if my child was upstairs. The battery didn’t last all night, and it made a horrible beeping sound when it was almost out of juice. And the camera can only be repositioned manually, so I never seemed to be able to find an angle where I could see into our baby’s entire crib. At first, I chalked up these flaws to the fact that the market for non-Wi-Fi monitors is smaller, and resolved to just live with them. Then I found the Vava.

The Vava looks and works like a sleek 21st-century baby monitor, but it’s still a dedicated model, so technologically it works the same way as the Philips and other analog models. The setup is crazy easy: Just plug it in. You can control its camera from the parent monitor, which allows me to see everything happening in the crib. The picture is almost as bright and crisp as that on my iPad Air. (If you want more angles, you can pair the parent monitor with up to four Vava cameras, which are sold individually). I can walk down two whole flights of stairs in my apartment building — so many walls! — and still receive a clear live feed. (The Vava’s stated range is 900 feet, almost 10 times more than that of the Philips.) And it has all the standard baby-monitor features, including a temperature display and the ability to use the camera as an intercom. A small thing I also really like about the Vava — that the Philips monitor doesn’t do — is that it also shows the time, so I can quickly calculate how long my daughter has been in her bed.

But it’s not perfect: The Vava needs its own wall charger rather than using a USB port, so that’s one more thing for this tired mom to remember to pack. Still, the battery life is good — as long as we let the video display go to sleep, we can easily get through nap time and the night without charging it (14 hours, give or take). Plus, when the battery does die, it does so silently. The range, of course, is still nowhere near as impressive as that of a Wi-Fi-equipped monitor, which you can literally use anywhere. And I wish that the Vava’s screen auto-woke when the baby starts to make noise; instead, it flashes LED lights. There’s also a little blinking green light on the side of the camera that I don’t love, as a parent trying to follow experts’ advice that babies sleep in a pitch-black, distraction-free room. (While that blinking light may drive me a little mad, it doesn’t seem to be affecting my daughter.) The Vava’s price has fluctuated since I got mine, but lately I’ve been seeing it sold for just a few bucks more than the Philips — making it even more of a no-brainer for privacy-obsessed parents like me.