General Usability: This one is two-fold. First we wanted to make sure each monitor could perform under bright, dim, and no light; and pick up even the faintest sounds. Then we looked at how easy it was to use the monitor. Could we adjust the screen brightness, or were we going to be half-blinded when we picked it up at 1AM? Was the monitor voice-activated, or does it pick up white noise in the background? How sensitive were the alarms, and did they sound like a baby-waking screech or a soft ping?
Features are important, but we encourage you to consider which features you think you will realistically use and which sound like fun in theory, but probably won't happen in practice. Many of the monitors carry a higher price tag and justify the price with the addition of features parents are unlikely to use in real life. Features like alarm clocks for feeding schedules, and alerts for low humidity might feel like something you should consider, but in practice, sound activation and quality images are more useful. In fact, more features often translate to being more difficult to use, and many of the features are novelty functions that most parents stop using over time. A good example of this is the Philips Avent SCD630 with an ease of use score of 8, but a features score of only 4. Try not to fall for the propaganda of bells and whistles that you might only use for the first few weeks. In the end, what you want is a good monitor with great sound and video quality.
While digital monitors minimize the possibility of unwittingly broadcasting images and sounds to other devices, any wireless device (analog or digital) can interfere with other wireless devices, such as your baby monitor, cordless phone, wireless speakers, or home wireless router. To solve the problem, first, try changing the channel on your baby monitor or on your router. If you still have interference and you can't return the monitor, try keeping other devices as far away from your baby monitor as possible.
From each category, we hand-selected our finalists: the monitors with the most positive reviews on Amazon and parenting blogs, plus any that had all four of our parent-favorite features. Then we sent several monitors home with three different testers, to see which ones actually made parents’ lives easier, and which ones were more trouble than they’re worth.
The interface on the monitor, aka the parent unit, is basic, simple, and intuitive, while many of its competitors have awkward controls. When panning and tilting the camera, for example, the Infant Optics responds immediately and can move in very small increments. The text on the menu displays look like something off an old Motorola RAZR, but the commands are easy to interpret and less confusing than those of some competitors. A group of four buttons makes it easy to pull up the menu and make a change (to the volume, say) without losing sight of the image on the screen. Other nice minor touches, like a display that constantly notes the temperature in the baby’s room, appear on this model but not on all of its competitors. This is not a touchscreen, but frankly, if you’ve ever used an iPhone, you’ll find the touchscreens on most baby monitors to be sorely substandard.
Sound devices relay what is happening in baby's room via sound only. A great sound option is quiet unless the baby is making noise so that you won't be disturbed by white noise or constant static. This basic monitoring type can be all you need if your goal is being alerted when your baby is crying and needs your assistance. This style can be elementary with sound only like the V-Tech DM111 or it can have bells and whistles like a nightlight, 2-way talk, lullabies, and mic sensitivity adjustment features like the Philips Avent DECT SCD570/10. Most parents can get by with a sound only device as it provides the information you need to determine if your baby needs you or not.
Motion and audio sensors: In the old days, parents were forced to endure a consistent ambient hiss from their audio monitors while they listened for their child’s stirrings or cries. Mercifully, many modern baby monitors will stay in “quiet mode” until they detect motion and/or sound, which will trigger an alert, such as activating the handheld video display or pushing a notification to your smartphone.
While ranking among Amazon’s top-selling baby monitors, the Motorola MBP36S and MBP33S, which are listed on the same page, have more negative reviews than positive ones. Many reviewers complain about poor battery life and deficient quality and durability. BabyGearLab also gave these monitors a low rating, citing the “disappointing images and sound on a hard to use parental unit.”
The Nest boasts some impressive hardware specs, such as true 1080p/30fps video and a 3-megapixel camera sensor. Setting up the Nest Cam specifically to look in on a 2-year-old at night, we found the video quality on Nest's camera to be sharper and more detailed than on any baby video monitor we tested. The Nest Cam includes push-to-talk features as well as alerts triggered by motion or sounds. And when your child is past the age when you need a nighttime monitor, you can repurpose the Nest Cam to check in on other parts of your home.
By default, Arlo Baby records in 720p resolution, though you can switch to 1080p if you prefer. You can also adjust the field of view and fine-tune notifications on what triggers an alert. You do have to position the camera manually, however, and the gap between getting a notification on our phone and actually being able to jump to live video was a little laggy for our tastes.
There are two basic types: audio and video/audio. Some are analog, others are digital. All monitors operate within a selected radio frequency band to send sound from a baby's room to a receiver in another room. Each monitor consists of a transmitter (the child/nursery unit) and one or more receivers. Prices range from about $25 to $150 for audio monitors and about $80 to $300 for audio/video monitors.
Microphone sensitivity: There’s a difference between hearing your baby cry, and hearing every little noise. All baby monitors have the option to turn down the volume, but some offer thresholds for parents who are more comfortable with only hearing the biggest upsets, and prefer not to hear the self-comforting noises their baby makes as they fall asleep.
With several dozen reviews posted online, the Safety 1st HD WiFi Streaming Baby Monitor has a 4.0-star rating on Amazon. One satisfied owner speaks for many when he calls the "picture quality excellent," the night vision "clear" and "so well illuminated," and the sound quality so good that you can "hear everything going on in crisp and clear" detail."
It’s hard not to like the crystal-clear picture you get on this monitor’s 7-inch screen (the biggest screen on this list!). Its standalone camera can be moved from room to room and will remotely pan, tilt and zoom. Given the cost, this monitor is best if you want full control of the nursery environment. It syncs with the Smart Nursery humidifier and the Dream Machine sound and light machine. Once connected, you can turn on lullabies, project lights onto the ceiling and increase the room’s humidity all from your monitor.