We wanted to recommend an inexpensive video monitor, but their flaws were so significant that we decided we’d rather spend less on a quality audio-only monitor like the VTech DM221. This is a well-reviewed best seller in the category, and it has crisp sound and better talk-back functionality than the best video monitors we found, as well as a longer range and better battery life than our video picks. It easily beats out its audio-only competitors for various basic reasons like being cordless, rechargeable, or less expensive.
Monitors for babies should have good video images that are clear and true to life, but they should also have quality sound that is easy to hear and clear enough that parents can quickly decide if they need to look at the viewing screen, go back to sleep, or get running to the nursery. So while you might consider video quality to be the most important metric for this kind of product, we rated both video and sound equally because, without one, the other doesn't much matter. If the sound is muffled, difficult to decipher, or not loud enough, then parents might miss baby's cries. If sound activation or thresholds for background noise don't work as described, then parents might lose sleep listening to a loud monitor. However, once alerted, you need a clear view of baby with enough details to determine baby's needs, day or night, or the video style monitor isn't much better than a sound only monitor.
The most troubling pattern you see in the one-star Amazon reviews is the reports of battery life declining (or failing) over time. This is part of a larger trend in baby monitors in general, and our take on it is that the battery tech within these monitors is just not at the level people have come to expect after living with good phones and tablets, and other quality electronics. Reading the negative reviews on this and many other monitors reminded us of the kinds of problems people had with rechargeable batteries years ago. Here’s a good example of what we mean. So for now, for any baby monitor, set your expectations accordingly.
Baby monitors, despite the name, are meant more for the caregiver than they are for the baby. We asked parents about which features they felt were helpful, like a long range so they could wander carefree all over the house, and reliability so they weren’t struggling to maintain a signal. Other features like being able to play lullabies, or receive temperature alerts are only as useful as you make them. And a few features, like motion monitors, can be exceptionally comforting for some, and distressing for others.
We tested monitors daily over a period of several months, in three houses: one nearly 100 years old with plaster walls, plus a newer home with standard drywall construction, and a two-level 1960s home with a driveway on another level from the kids’ rooms. We tried the cloud-based monitors with two routers to be sure that any connection issues were with the monitors themselves and not the Internet connection.
The most reliable type of movement sensing product is the mattress pad option. This product is placed under the mattress, usually on a hard board and will only work with some types of mattresses. This unit relays messages to a nursery device that alerts parents on a parent device or with an alarm in the nursery (model dependent). The BabySense 7 is a good example of a sensor pad that works under your baby's mattress.
Compared with competitors, the Infant Optics DXR-8 has a more intuitive, easier to use interface, and the battery life on its parent unit (aka the monitor) lasted longer than on any other video option we found. On other requirements, it delivered as well as the best monitors we tried: It has an adequate range for home use, acceptable image quality, an ability to add on multiple cameras, and overall simplicity and ease of use with a minimum of annoying quirks. Most of its specific flaws concern battery life and charging, but this is a common problem among baby monitors, and the company has a good record of responding to customer service issues.
Both Baldwin and Kay recommend iBaby’s M6S Wi-Fi video monitor for its design and ease of use. Resembling a little robot, the iBaby offers 360-degree views and 110-degree tilt, 1080p video with night vision, and even comes equipped with lullabies. Other features include temperature, humidity, and air-quality sensors, which Baldwin admits are bells and whistles, but could be useful depending on what kind of parent you are. And, of course, everything comes straight through to your smartphone or tablet, which can also remotely control settings. And while some parents may be concerned about potential hacking of Wi-Fi monitors, Baldwin found that the risk is fairly low and usually occurred in cheap, off-brand models.
If you're looking for a smartphone-compatible baby monitor that's designed first and foremost to fill that role, Wirecutter calls the iBaby M6S (Est. $135) "the least bad Wi-Fi monitor (so far)," simply because it's "slightly easier to set up than its competitors." Once again, however, experts disagree: Baby Bargains says Nest Cam "runs circles around iBaby when it comes to set up and ease of use."
When shopping for a video monitor, note that you'll pay a substantial premium over audio-only monitors, which cost around $30 to $50. You'll need to decide if the extra money for video viewing is worth it, though parents may appreciate the ability to glance at a smartphone app or handheld monitor to visually check in on their sleeping child instead of opening a door and potentially waking up their baby.
Since 2016, we've looked at and tested the video, audio, connection, ease of use and battery life on 13 video baby monitors. When we finished our tests, we concluded that the Infant Optics DXR-8 is the overall best video baby monitor because it was the top performer is each of our tests. The DXR-8 has outstanding video and audio quality that no other baby camera matches, and it is also the easiest to use. It’s more expensive than most other models, but the quality you get is well worth it.
Though it’s not a video monitor, the Owlet does track your baby’s heart rate and oxygen while they sleep, and notifies you if something appears to be wrong. Just slip a comfortable wrap with a sensor over your wee one’s foot (it works with babies 0–18 months) and download the app to your phone. You’ll receive alerts in real-time should your child’s vital signs change. It also comes with a base station that changes color when something is up.