A baby monitor, also known as a baby alarm, is a radio system used to remotely listen to sounds made by an infant. An audio monitor consists of a transmitter unit, equipped with a microphone, placed near to the child. It transmits the sounds by radio waves to a receiver unit with a speaker carried by, or near to, the person caring for the infant. Some baby monitors provide two-way communication which allows the parent to speak back to the baby (parent talk-back). Some allow music to be played to the child. A monitor with a video camera and receiver is often called a baby cam.
Most people don't have unlimited data plans for their smart phone, and are surprised to see very high data usage after just a few hours of streaming their wifi baby monitor. With HD video, you can go through a couple gigabytes of data in just a few hours, so keep that in mind. If your phone is connected to wifi that won't matter, but if you're using 3G or 4G LTE cellular service, you will definitely have slow video and tons of data usage.
We tested each product we purchased in key metrics that allow them to function as expected, or provides an additional feature or benefit. Monitors act as something of a lifeline for parents, so it is important that they work well, have adequate range, provide useful images, and are easy to use. If a product doesn't work well enough to instill confidence, then it will fail to offer parents the one thing they really want, more sleep.
Baby monitors may have a visible signal as well as repeating the sound. This is often in the form of a set of lights to indicate the noise level, allowing the device to be used when it is inappropriate or impractical for the receiver to play the sound. Other monitors have a vibrating alert on the receiver making it particularly useful for people with hearing difficulties.
In terms of bang for your buck, it’s tough to beat the Babysense. For less than $100, it comes loaded with bells and whistles more commonly found on higher priced models. Not only does it boast a 2.4-inch HD LCD color screen with infrared night vision, pan/tilt, and 2x zoom, but it includes two-way talk back, a sound activated ‘Eco’ mode (the screen stays off) to save battery life, 900 foot range (with out-of-range warning), and an in-room temperature monitor that sends alerts if it gets too hot or cold. It uses 2.4 GHz FHSS wireless transmission for security and even comes with both a built-in alarm/nap timer and lullabies.
But these nursery essentials can be as fussy as the babies they keep tabs on. And like virtually every other household appliance, they are growing increasingly more capable and complex. In addition to conventional video baby monitors that use a camera and a handheld LCD display, often called a “parent unit,” there are now also Wi-Fi-enabled systems that connect to your home network and use your smartphone as both the display and the controller, much like DIY home security cameras. These latter models offer high-defition video, intelligent alerts, and the ability to check on your child from anywhere you have an internet connection.
Below we list our top 5 baby monitor results, some of which are self-contained units, whereas some use wifi and your smart phone. Then we detail our in-depth reviews. After our buying guide, at the end of the article you can find more details about how we evaluated each model. Note that if you're looking for a sound-only baby monitor (an audio baby monitor), click here.
This really is the monitor that does it all! What puts this monitor heads and shoulders above the rest is the activity sensor pad that goes under baby’s mattress and monitors for lack of movement—a helpful enhancement for tracking baby’s breathing during those scary SIDS months. Once baby grows past that stage, breathe a sigh of relief, but don’t throw the monitor out with the bathwater, because the Angelcare AC517 also comes with both an audio and a video monitor! What more could you ask for?
The price of the Infant Optics, at about $150, is on the higher end for baby monitors. As much as we wanted to recommend a more affordable option, we found their shortcomings to be major enough—terrible video quality and poor connections were common—that we couldn’t recommend one. The Infant Optics offers a better value even though it’s among the more expensive options out there. Many people use these daily for years, which helps justify the investment, and the reports of reliable customer service from other customers are reassuring. If you have to spend less, go audio-only.
The new voluntary ASTM International F2951 standard has been developed to address incidents associated with strangulations that can result from infant entanglement in the cords of baby monitors. This standard for baby monitors includes requirements for audio, video, and motion sensor monitors. It provides requirements for labeling, instructional material and packaging and is intended to minimize injuries to children resulting from normal use and reasonably foreseeable misuse or abuse of baby monitors.
This monitor is known for its zoom lens, included in the box, that lets you see your baby up close even if you have to position it farther away from the crib. You can use the monitor to remotely adjust the camera, and you don’t have to worry about plugging the monitor in overnight—it can sit on your nightstand for up to 10 hours in the power-saving mode (similar to sleep mode on your computer, but it still provides sound monitoring while the display is off) and up to six hours with the display screen constantly on.