Nest Cam

The Best Streaming Baby Monitor

Best Streaming/WiFi Baby Monitor: Nest Cam Review

Last updated: May 5, 2016. Best Bet: Streaming monitor: Nest Cam. You’d like grandma or an aunt to be able to see your baby? Then you need a camera that can stream an image over the internet. While that sounds simple, this category of camera can be tricky to set up. The best bet here is Nest Cam, a simple, fixed $200 HD camera with a 60 second set-up. You can view your baby’s nursery via the Nest web site or via a iPhone or Android app. The down-side: there is no parent display unit, so you’ll have to re-purpose an old iPhone or iPod Touch to be a viewer.

What is a streaming monitor?

Streaming baby monitors can stream video over the internet to a smartphone, tablet or computer.  They typically require WiFi to work—that means you must have a strong enough WiFi signal in your nursery.

The other two types of monitors are fixed and PTZ. We discuss fixed monitors and PTZ options separately on this site. These monitors do NOT require WiFi.

Which one is right for you?

Streaming (also called WiFi) monitors are pricey—the Nest Cam we recommend is $200 and then you must have your own viewing device (smartphone or iPod Touch). A few models have a dedicated parent unit.

Just to confuse you, streaming monitors can either be fixed or PTZ (point, tilt, zoom). Because you have to connect a streaming monitor to the internet, they can be somewhat more challenging to set up—but there is good news on this, as makers have continually streamlined this process.

A wonky WiFi signal, however, will frustrate your efforts to use a streaming monitor, so be sure you have a strong signal at the location where you’ll put the camera. You may need to get a WiFi repeater to boost the signal on the second floor of your home, if your WiFi router is in the basement.

How we picked a winner

We evaluate baby monitors with hands-on inspections, reviews by our readers and online feedback. We do not accept free samples from manufacturers—if we purchase a baby monitor to review, we buy it from the same sources we recommend on this site (Amazon, stores, etc).

We also meet manufacturers in person at trade events and evaluate product samples and prototypes.

We have been researching and writing about baby monitors since 1994. In the 90’s, video baby monitors were primitive and expensive—they had clunky analog TV monitors, poor resolution and big price tabs ($400 or so in today’s dollars).

Nest, the brand

The promise of streaming video of your baby over the internet sounds the perfect marriage of tech and cute, but the reality of getting this to work isn’t pretty. Cameras that stream online video (called IP or network cams) are challenging to set up—getting one to work with your router requires a master’s degree in geek. Once you pass that hurdle, where do you store the video? Software to store camera footage and stream it online is another tech headache.

Enter Dropcam, now part of the Nest smart thermostat family (which in turn, is owned by Google—naturally). Inspired by the founder’s quest to figure out which one of his neighbor’s dogs was making a deposit on his lawn, Founded in 2009, Dropcam does all the heavy lifting—streaming the video online and storing clips in the cloud. Dropcam made viewing easy, via a browser or app. (In 2015, Nest began rebranding the Dropcam as the Nest Cam).

Nest Cam’s major pitch is for home monitoring. Yet, in the last couple of years have seen a convergence of the baby video monitor market and home security cameras. Many parents are realizing that affordable home security cameras can be used to securely stream video from a baby’s nursery with quality that surpasses so-called baby monitors . . . at a cheaper price to boot.

Our Top Pick: Nest Cam

Our Pick

Nest Cam

The Nest Cam is a snap to set up and use. The only caveat: you have to view it via a smartphone, tablet or computer. There is no dedicated parent unit.

$199.99* at Amazon

* Prices change daily. Shop carefully.

A good example of this trend is Nest Cam, an affordable ($200) WiFi security camera that lets you view your baby’s nursery on a computer or smartphone (there is no parent handheld unit). Quick and easy set-up is Nest Cam’s secret sauce—they promise a 60 second set-up and that’s pretty much what we found in our testing. No special software is needed and the Nest Cam works on a Mac or PC. Apps are available for iOS and Android devices.

Nest can send you a mobile alert if it detects movement or sound in your baby’s nursery. You can also record video to Nest’s cloud web site (called Nest Aware)—but this incurs a monthly fee ($100 a year for ten days of video history, $300 per year for 30 days of storage) Of course, you don’t have to record the video (it’s free to monitor the feed online or via a smartphone. And email/mobile alerts are also free).

The Nest Aware subscription has some interesting features—you can set up “activity zones” in your video feed to get alerts for just motion happening in your baby’s crib, for example. (You draw these zones in the settings on the Nest web site via a desktop computer). You can also directly share clips to Facebook, YouTube or download to your computer. One slight bummer: you can’t share clips from your smartphone or tablet, only a computer.

Nest uses a special low bandwidth technology (H.264) to avoid hogging your WiFi bandwidth—but a Nest can easily use up to 60 GB of internet bandwidth during a month’s time especially when used in HD mode (that’s because it streams video 24/7). That could be a problem if you are on a metered internet plan (which is more common in Canada than the U.S.).

Parent feedback on the Nest cam is excellent—it does live up to the promise of easy set-up. Of course, there are a always a few trade-offs: depending on your router speed, there can be a 3-5 second delay between the sound in your baby’s nursery and what you hear on your smartphone. Hence, there might be an echo-like effect (baby cries and then 3 seconds later, you hear it on the app). And of course if you plan to use a Nest for night-time monitoring, you’ll need to dedicate a device to keep the app open (a retired iPhone or iPod touch would be a good bet). Finally, we saw a few reports of Nest Cam that dropped their connection (and needed to be manually reset every week or so).

We purchased the previous version of the Nest cam to demo here at the home office and are generally impressed—it probably is the easiest to set up webcam we’ve seen. Out of the box, you connect the camera to the USB port on your computer (Mac or PC). Then double click on the “Setup” icon and the installation program launches.

The camera can be set up wirelessly using an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch:

The set-up program is very easy to follow, even for the tech-challenged. You create a Nest account and then connect it to your WiFi (yes, you’ll need your WiFi password). The Nest Cam automatically senses the WiFi networks in your home. Download the apps to your smartphone or table and you are good to go.

Flaws but not deal breakers

Dropcam isn’t a perfect solution as a baby monitor. Here are some flaws:

• Parent unit, or lack there of. The lack of a dedicated parent unit is probably the biggest program with Nest Cam. Even if you have an old iPhone or iPod Touch lying around, using this unit as a parent monitor has issues. The biggest: battery drain. Streaming HD video basically requires the iPhone to be plugged in for overnight monitoring.

There also isn’t a voice-activated mode or way to turn off the screen and still listen to the audio with the Dropcam app—once you put the screen to sleep, it will cut the audio as well. One tip: turn down the screen brightness of your iPhone (in settings) during night.

• The strength of your WiFi signal can be an issue for the Nest Cam. The closer your router to the camera, the better. That could be an issue if your router is in a basement and the nursery is on the second floor of your home.

• Signal dropouts. While using the Nest app or streaming the video to a browser, we notice occasionally the signal can drop out. We’d say this happens more watching the video feed on WiFi on a smartphone, but occasionally a browser video feed (connected via Ethernet) can drop as well. When the signal drops, the app searches for a second or two and then reconnects.

• Signal booster may be needed. If your WiFi router is a long distance from the nursery, you may need to buy a repeater-this can add another $30 to $50.

• Expensive cloud storage. The cloud storage feature is nice but expensive (adding another $100 a year if you want to store the last 10 days worth of videos). And the aforementioned few second delay irks some users, understandably.

The Competition: Way Too Techy

Yes, there are other streaming monitors out there: Foscam’s F1890W is a good example at just $62. Like Dropcam, this camera is a “bring your own viewing device” mainly designed as a security camera, where folks would be viewing it on a desktop computer, tablet or smartphone. And Foscam does offer PTZ, which Dropcam does not.

But after trying many of these cameras, we can’t recommend them. The tech ninja skills to set these cameras up to work with your home WiFi are too great for mere mortals. Think we’re kidding? Here is an actual reader review posted to Amazon on how to install the Foscam:

1) Do NOT install the software on the CD.
2) Connect the camera by Cat-5 wire to your router.
3) Login to your router (via browser) and find the IP address assigned to your camera.
4) Login to the camera at that IP address (via browser) and IMMEDIATELY turn OFF the DHCP.
5) Give your camera a fixed IP address on your network and fill in the subnet mask with what you normally use.
6) The Gateway and DNS fields should normally be the IP address of your router.
7) Fill in the SSID, encryption type, and share key used by your wireless network.
8) Pick a 4 digit number to use for the HTTP port number. (I have no idea what “Network Lamp” is so I left it checked.)
9) Disconnect the Cat-5 cable and re-boot the camera.
10) Re-login to the camera at the new fixed IP address to verify that everything’s working.
11) Login to your router and set a port-forwarding entry to map to the fixed IP address and HTTP port you gave your camera.
12) Use the “What’s My IP” site to find your outside IP address.
13) Enter your outside IP address and HTTP port number into a browser and verify that you can get into the camera from outside your house.
14) You’re done.

Really? We can’t in good conscious recommend a product that requires that kind of set up. So while Foscam and others like Axis make excellent security cameras, using these models as a baby monitor with the goal to stream them outside the home is not practical.

FYI: One camera that has similar ease of set to the Nest Cam is Withings Home (see review here). This camera suffers from a lack of reliability, which of course makes it a no-go as far as a baby monitor is concerned.

A word on safety

As baby video monitors sales have boomed, so has a new safety concern: cords. Since cameras are positioned near a crib for the best picture, some babies and toddlers have become tangled in the cords. “Since 2002, seven children were strangled in baby monitor cords and three infants and toddlers nearly strangled,” says the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Here is the CPSC’s safety advice for monitors:

  • Immediately check the location of all monitors and other products with electrical cords– including those mounted on the wall–to make sure cords are out of your child’s reach.
  • Place cords at least three feet away from any part of the crib, bassinet, play yard or other safe sleep environment.
  • Never position a monitor inside or on the edge of a crib.
  • Remember, at least three feet away is where your monitor should stay.

Finally, let’s talk about baby monitor hacking. Several high profile cases of this have splashed across the media in recent years. The problem: defects in the camera’s software have allowed hacks to gain access to a monitor feed.

This issue has rose in concern with the increased sales of streaming monitors—monitors that are connected to a home’s WiFi and hence could be monitored by someone hacking into that network.

Non-streaming cameras have a closed radio loop—the camera broadcasts a signal to the parent unit, but not online. Early video monitors used analog signals that could be intercepted by someone nearby who had the same parent receiver. Newer models, however, offer secure digital transmission. When you set up a digital monitor, you have to pair the camera and parent unit—this prevents eavesdropping.

If you decide to go for a streaming monitor, consider these safeguards:

  • Change the default password. When you set up a monitor, you often have the choice to change the default user name and password—do it!
  • Make sure you download the latest firmware. Like any network device, it is best to have the most up to date firmware when you set it up. These updates typically close security holes. Unfortunately, few folks bother to do this.
  • Don’t stream your monitor online. Just view it on your WiFi network. Outside viewing of your camera is often an option—if you don’t need it, don’t enable it.
  • Make sure your WiFi is secured with a password. Some folks who had their monitors hacked had open WiFi networks—that is, they weren’t password protected. While that sounds like a no brainer, a recent study revealed 40% of American home WiFi networks have no password (source: WeFi).

Check out this blog post we wrote for more on hacking of baby monitors and how you can stay safe.

To sum it up

The Nest Cam is an excellent streaming baby monitor that is easy to set up and view. Quality of the picture (1080p HD) and user interface is excellent.

Of course, a Nest Cam isn’t for everyone (Blackberry and Windows phone users—you are out of luck; no app for you). And if you have a slow internet connection (say, 2 mbps), this probably isn’t the best choice. But if you are looking for a simple streaming solution to viewing your baby’s nursery from an iPhone or Android device (as well as computer at work), Nest Cam is a worthy choice.

Nest Cam

Nest Cam

The Nest Cam is a snap to set up and use. The only caveat: you have to view it via a smartphone, tablet or computer. There is no dedicated parent unit.

$199.99* at Amazon

* Prices change daily. Shop carefully.