Panasonic’s baby monitors have a pretty strong reputation, and after using the KX-HN4101W model, I have to say it’s well-earned. This camera and parent unit kit comes with pan-and-tilt capability; smart motion, sound, and temperature detection and alerts; two-way communication; and a built-in sound library. In other words, offers everything the modern parent desires in a baby monitor. And it’s dead simple to operate, so it won’t saddle new parents with yet another learning curve to master.
I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but the camera resembles a cute, Wall-E style robot with a two-eyed, rectangular camera head on an egg-shaped body. At first glance, those “eyes” look to be a pair of camera lenses, but only the right one is—the left is a microphone that allows you to speak to your child without having to enter their bedroom. The head can pan about 300 degrees and tilt up-and-down over a 70-degree arc, controlled from the parent unit.
This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best video baby monitors, where you’ll find reviews of the competition’s offerings, plus a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping for this type of product.
The handheld parent unit has a 3.5-inch color display flanked by a control panel with navigation keys, a menu, push-to-talk, brightness/volume, and “OK” buttons. An antenna flips up from the top to improve reception—the camera and monitor have a radio frequency (RF) range of about 1,500 feet—and a kickstand on the back lets you set the parent unit on a nightstand or table. This system does not operate over Wi-Fi and cannot be monitored from outside the home.
The KX-HN4101W works more or less right out of the box with minimal setup required. The monitor runs on a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that must be inserted, so have a small Phillips-head screwdriver at hand to unlock and resecure the battery compartment. My battery came partially charged, and the monitor came to life as soon as it was installed. Once I plugged the camera into an electrical outlet, the two units automatically recognized each other and the system was up and running. The camera can stand freely on a flat surface or you can mount it to a wall with the included adapter.
Panasonic does not specify the video resolution of the KX-HN4101W, but it’s fairly sharp for an RF monitor. It gets a little fuzzier when you activate the 2X digital zoom, and there is an ever-present pink color cast common to these types of monitors, but the image quality is good enough for making out your baby’s movements and facial expressions. Night vision, which switches on in low light, provides ample illumination and strong contrast in the image. Signal strength, battery level, and room temperature are always displayed across the top of the screen.
The camera’s pan-and-tilt feature, which is certainly the driver behind its slightly higher price for an RF camera, worked very well in my testing. You simply press the arrow key on the parent unit for the direction you want the camera to turn and depress when you want it to stop. The camera responds quickly and moves smoothly. Most importantly, it’s quiet, so you shouldn’t have to worry about the whirr of the motor disturbing your baby’s sleep.
The camera accurately detected sound and motion in my tests. Whenever it does, a colored LED strip above the screen lights up, green for lower-level activity like stirring and low crying and red for higher-level, and the corresponding icon flashes on the screen. The parent-unit also alerts you with a gentle chime in case you aren’t within viewing distance. You have to clear these alerts by pressing the OK button (or wait many seconds for them to time out) before you can interact with the parent unit again. It took me a while to get used to that, and I’d often end up repeatedly pressing one of the unit’s other buttons wondering why it wasn’t responding. But my guess is this is built in to reduce the likelihood that you miss an important notification.
You can adjust the sensitivity of the sound and motion sensors from the parent unit. But instead of randomly calibrating these with a slider as you do on many smart cameras, here you’re offered several predefined levels that correspond to the baby’s age in months and the camera’s distance from their bed. Unfortunately, there’s no onscreen indication of which level corresponds to which factors; for that you have to consult the user manual. You can also define a motion detection area by selecting squares in a grid overlay on the camera’s field of view.
Nailing down the sound threshold is particularly important because you can configure the unit to automatically play lullabies when it hears your baby stirring. You can select from a library of common lullabies as well as soothing sounds such as white noise, rain, and a vacuum. When the camera detects sound above a certain level, it will play your selection.
Temperature monitoring was also accurate. The parent unit’s reading was always within a degree or two of an indoor thermometer I kept in the same room. You can set upper and lower temperature thresholds and receive alerts whenever the moves falls out of that range.
The parent unit gives you plenty of flexibility, with options for customizing the chime volume, image brightness, sleep mode, alerting method, and other features. The user manual provides plenty of detail on each, but most can be figured out by just exploring the menu options.
The KX-HN4101W can be paired with up to four cameras. Add-on cameras cost $99.95 each, which seems a little steep given the camera-and-monitor kit costs $149.95. If you’re thinking of using multiple cameras, you might consider starting with the two-camera-and-monitor set, which sells for $229.95, which will save you a bit of money—about $20—no matter how many cameras you add in the long run. With a multi-camera setup, you can toggle between camera views on the parent unit or auto scan all of them, automatically switching from camera to camera every 10 seconds. Whichever you camera configuration you choose, you should be very happy with the peace of mind this Panasonic baby monitor brings.