As the mom of an 8-month-old son, it’s hard to imagine getting anything done without the assistance of a video baby monitor. The ability to watch him while he’s sleeping (or supposed to be) is as sweet as it is practical, and I find myself compulsively checking on him the way I used to with email or Instagram.
In addition to the Google Nest Cam I used during his first few weeks of life, I’ve tested three other video monitors so far: the Nanit Pro, the Motorola PIP1510 Connect, and — the focus of this review — the Owlet Dream Duo with Cam 2. (A few more are waiting in the wings, including the Babysense Split Screen and the Infant Optics DXR-8 PRO.)
The Owlet Dream Duo with Cam 2 actually spans two baby gear categories: video monitors and wearables. The $439 bundle combines the second-generation Owlet Cam with the Dream Sock, and has been on my radar ever since my baby registry research led me to the innovative sock that tracks a sleeping baby’s vital signs.
Owlet Cam 2
The Dream Duo includes one box for the Cam 2 and another for the Dream Sock. Along with the camera, the first box contains a magnetic base and a wall mounting kit that includes 21 cable guards. Whether you attach it to a wall or position it on a flat surface, as I did, the installation instructions recommend placing the camera and all cables 36 inches away from the edge of the crib. It took me less than a minute to nestle the camera onto the magnetic base, set the unit on a shelf above the crib, and adjust the camera angle so the crib was centered.
The wall mount option is much more involved, with a nine-step setup process that includes taking two measurements, assembling all of the cable guards, and procuring a small Phillips-head screwdriver (not included). It would make sense to go this route if you were committed to this camera and knew exactly where you wanted it to go.
The pairing part of the setup did not go as smoothly. Following the prompts in the Owlet Dream app, I plugged the camera in, waited for the light on the front to blink red and blue, and connected to my WiFi, all without issue. (*Note that you must be connected to 2.4GHz WiFi; 5GHz is not compatible.)
But at the pairing step, which entails using the camera to scan a QR code in the app, the process became unnecessarily complicated. Instructions said to “position your phone and app nearly 8 to 10 inches apart, hold steady, and then slowly start to bring them together,” so I did. But nothing happened for about two minutes. I clicked the troubleshooting link, made sure I was doing everything right, and tried again. And again, nothing. Finally, on my third pairing attempt, I heard the chime that indicated success. The actual pairing part that followed took a few minutes, after which the camera was finally visible in the app and ready to use.
As far as the security and privacy of the Cam 2 — a topic of utmost concern for many parents — the company is frustratingly vague. All I could find on the website and packaging materials was a reference to “a secure, encrypted WiFi connection.” (The help center offers slightly more about the Cam 1, reporting, “Owlet passes appropriate security standards to make sure that your video is safe. All user data stored in the app is only accessible to users logged in to the app with their phone unlocked.”)
To mitigate the risks inherent in this and other baby video monitors, PCMag recommends you “diligently keep its firmware updated, along with your router’s firmware and security features.”
It’s hard to know what a camera with 1080p HD video and night vision, plus a 130-degree wide-angle lens and 4x zoom, means until you put it to the test. When I was first setting up the Cam 2, I was jazzed about the video quality. Looking down at the empty crib, every detail in the sheets appeared with impressive color and clarity, and I had high hopes for the real videos to come.
But when I started using the camera for real, the video quality decreased. For some reason, my son always appears grainy, even though the sheets continue looking clear. The quality is by no means so bad that I can’t see what he’s up to, but it doesn’t make for the greatest viewing experience, either. Odds are this has more to do with the transmission over WiFi than the capability of the camera itself.
Owlet Dream App
As mentioned above, the Cam 2 is WiFi-enabled, which means you can watch your baby from the Owlet Dream app whenever you want, wherever you are. Unfortunately, the app can be slow, often taking a few seconds to load the nursery stream and consistently recording spotty videos whenever motion or sound is detected.
That aside, the app is simple in design and easy to use, with helpful prompts for the setup process and all the basic features you’d expect in a video monitor app: a livestream of the nursery, temperature and humidity readings, microphone access, and audio control (on, off, or background, which keeps playing over other apps and when your phone is locked). That background option is clutch, and — as with the Nanit Pro — somewhat makes up for the fact that the camera does not come with a parent unit.
From the app, you have the ability to control which sound and motion notifications, if any, you want to receive. In addition to opting in or out of notifications — which you can do individually for cry detection, sound detection, motion detection, and room comfort — you can adjust the sensitivity level and time between notifications. You can also opt in on 30-second video recordings of each sound and motion detection, though the videos that result often come out too spotty to be useful.
While I’m typically a notification minimalist (nothing but texts and calls on my iPhone), I briefly turned on my Owlet notifications to get a feel for them, leaving all of the settings on default: medium sensitivity, five minutes between notifications. It took all of 15 minutes to feel overwhelmed by the number of notifications I was receiving, some of which were potentially useful (my son crying or waking up), but most of which were not (me talking to him while changing his diaper or my husband getting him out of his crib). Within a couple of hours, I turned the notifications off for good, preferring my lower tech but less disruptive method of listening for signs that my son needs attention. No pings needed.
The camera and app may not be newsworthy, but Owlet does offer one key differentiator among baby monitors: the Dream Sock, a soft piece of fabric that wraps around your baby’s foot with Velcro and uses a sensor to measure metrics such as heart rate, oxygen level, and movement. It’s intended as a baby-friendly sleep tracker that’s in the form of a sock rather than a watch or ring, and accommodates babies up to 18 months old who weigh between 5 and 30 pounds.
The Dream Sock setup process was quick and painless, as the app walked me through each step with prompts and video clips. After selecting the “Owlet” network in my phone’s WiFi settings and ensuring that the WiFi light on the back of the base station was on, I pressed the top of the base station until I heard two beeps that indicated pairing success.
The strapping-on process was smooth as well. Of the four included socks, I chose the size 2 left one to start with. (Size 1 socks fit babies weighing less than 12 pounds, while size 2 socks are for babies between 12 and 30 pounds. Owlet recommends switching between left and right socks every week or so to avoid skin irritation.) I slid the sensor into its designated place in the sock, wrapped the sock around my son’s left foot as demonstrated in the app, and confirmed that the base station was pulsing green to indicate that the sock was on and vitals were being checked. While my son’s flailing limbs sometimes made it difficult to strap the sock on, once it was on, he didn’t seem to mind it.
Sleep quality indicators
When a baby sleeps with the sock on, the app offers four “sleep quality indicators” that you don’t get from the camera alone: heart rate (real-time), oxygen average (updated every 10 minutes), movement (such as “still” or “wiggling”), and wakings (number of times the status changes from asleep to awake to asleep). It also shows where your baby is on a peaceful-to-active gauge and how his sleep quality changes over the course of the sleep. Afterwards, the app provides a summary that includes total sleep, start time, end time, and sleep quality, plus graphs depicting heart rate, noise, room temperature, and humidity.
Those metrics are appealing to new parents like me, but their validity and utility deserve a deeper look. Unfortunately, as with the Cam 2, the company is less than transparent about its Dream Sock technology. The website reveals nothing about the algorithm it uses for the sleep quality indicators, nor about their accuracy or reliability. When I reached out to a representative for more information, this was the crux of the response: “Extensive analysis and data science goes into [the Dream Duo and Owlet’s proprietary multi-factor algorithm], which involves evaluating tens of thousands of hours of infant sleep from Owlet’s database.”
My baby, for one, is not shy about letting me know when he’s in need of sleep. No devices needed.
Even if the vitals reported by the Dream Sock are accurate — and at least one Journal of the American Medical Association study found they are not — some experts suggest that “there are no medical indications for monitoring healthy infants at home.”
The Dream Sock is not a medical device, and there is no evidence that it or similar devices can prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Predictive sleep technology
In addition to the sleep quality indicators, Owlet is amplifying its new predictive sleep technology. In theory, it’s a smart idea: The Dream Sock automatically tracks your baby’s sleep and wake windows (or you can input them manually if you don’t use the sock), and then, accounting for the length of his last sleep section and his age, the app reveals his “ideal sleep windows” and lets you know when they’re approaching.
In practice, I didn’t take advantage of that feature. For one, for the predictions to be highly accurate, I’d either have to put the sock on my son for every sleep or manually input his snoozes after the fact, neither of which I’m likely to do. But more importantly, actual sleep cues (yawning, rubbing eyes, getting cranky, and such) will almost always be more accurate than any algorithm’s prediction. And now that we’re in a decent routine, I don’t need an app to tell me when it’s time to put him down.
Is the Owlet Cam 2 worth it?
On its own, the Owlet Cam 2, which costs $159 if not purchased in a bundle, doesn’t have a leg up on the other baby monitors I’ve tried so far (Google Nest Cam, Nanit Pro, and Motorola PIP1510 Connect). Like most of its competitors, it features encrypted WiFi connectivity, HD video and night vision, temperature and humidity detection, two-way audio, motion and sound detection, and a companion app that livestreams the nursery.
Where Owlet ostensibly hooks many parents is with its heart rate- and oxygen-tracking Dream Sock, theoretically offering more peace of mind than they’d get from the camera alone. But until there’s robust, public (and ideally peer-reviewed) data confirming the device’s effectiveness, it’s nearly impossible to put much credence in these claims, especially when the study that is available does not recommend its use. Owlet offers scant information about how it measures the sleep quality indicators it reports, and independent research so far does not support the validity of those metrics or the usefulness of routine at-home vital sign monitoring of infants without a medical reason.
I’m optimistic that Owlet (or a competitor) will eventually do what it set out to do. But until there’s more transparency and research to go off of, I’ll be reluctant to recommend that other parents buy the Owlet Dream Duo with Cam 2 over a competitor.