Wireless devices and dirty electricity are almost impossible to get away from in our current technological age, but it doesn't mean we can't take steps to limit the exposure to ourselves and our children. Even though the current evidence is somewhat conflicting, and shows we need more studies and research because the potential is there for harm, parents should make informed and thoughtful decisions regarding their children's exposure to potential health risks, especially given that their bodies are developing and more susceptible to this type of radiation. We can't say for certain that monitors pose a health risk, but we also can't say for certain that they don't. Given this information, we feel it is important to test and report on the EMF levels of each monitor so parents can decide for themselves which product fits in best with their goals and concerns.
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.
We got our hands on this KX-HN3001W Panasonic baby monitor in late 2018 for testing, and we were pleasantly surprised with its features, reliability, image quality, and competitive cost. Panasonic has been in the video baby monitor market for many years, and they have consistently improved the quality and reliability of their products along the way. Remember how reliable those old Panasonic DECT cordless phones were when you were a kid? You could drop them, discharge them, lose them in the couch pillows, walk them to the other side of the house, and slam them down for a dramatic ending to a phone call. These devices reminded us of those, mostly out of nostalgia, but also because the portable receiver seemed very well made and reliable. Out of the box, it comes with the color monitor receiver along with a battery and wall plug, the camera and a wall plug, and a wall-mount for the camera. We didn't realize it comes with a wall-mount and were excited to give that a shot. During setup, we mounted the camera to the wall of our test nursery and aimed it at the crib. Once it's mounted to the wall, you can still tilt and pivot it around to get a good pointing direction. Powering it on, it connected quickly to the camera unit; note that you can add two extra camera units as well, and view/control them from the same receiver (those extra cameras aren't available for sale yet). We first tested it during the daytime, and found the color screen to be clear and vivid, the connection to be reliable and relatively long-range (it worked in our back yard), and the battery life to be about 3 hours with the screen on (and unplugged obviously). It goes for much longer in stand-by mode with the screen turned off. During the nighttime, the monochrome night vision worked reasonably well. We found that it worked better if the camera unit was placed relatively close to the crib so you don't have to zoom in and lose image quality. The night vision wasn't on par with the higher-rated baby monitors on this list, but it was pretty decent. After getting the basics down, we tried out some of the cool features. It has a 2-way talk feature that actually sounded pretty good, little melodies and lullabies (or white noise!) you could play to your baby, and the life-changing remote pan/zoom/tilt. That last feature is really a necessity for modern baby cameras so you don't have to tip-toe into your baby's room and try to change the camera angle because it got bumped during the day or your baby decided to sleep on the other side of the crib. The other awesome thing about this baby monitor is that it has room temperature alerts, which allows you to set a safe range (like 68 to 72 degrees) and then it will alert you if the nursery room's temperature ever goes out of that range. There is also a little current temperature indicator on the screen, which is a nice touch. It also has a great stand-by mode that will keep the monitor off until it senses movement or hears your baby (you can set which of these you want to trigger an alert), at which point the device will alert you and turn on. This is great for a few reasons, but mostly because it helps keep battery life up to about 10 hours when kept on stand-by mode. A little extra feature is that you can set the device to automatically turn on a melody or white noise when your baby moves or makes noise - nice touch. A couple more things we noticed. First, the portable device uses micro-USB for charging, which means that you can use most phone or device charger with the same connector type (but not an iPhone charger!). That was convenient for when you're in another room and just want to quickly plug it in, just like you would with your phone. Second, on the bottom of the camera there is the standard tripod screw hole, so you can set it up on any tripod type of device (like those little ones that attach to walls, grip onto crib rails, etc). So there's some really great stuff going on here, and we are very happy to have tested it for inclusion on this list! But there are also some downfalls. First, it is built to control more than one camera, but as of late 2018 we haven't seen the additional cameras available on the market. Second, the night vision isn't up to par with the Infant Optics or other top-rated baby cameras; in fact that was the biggest challenge with this baby monitor, and we are patiently waiting for Panasonic to release a new version with better quality night vision. Third, the display is clearly not high definition, but to be fair the screen isn't really large enough to notice any pixelation. Other that that, you're getting a fantastic baby monitor for only about $120, and that's a lot of bang for the buck! Interested? You can check out the Panasonic Video Baby Monitor here.
The LeFun is an inexpensive Wi-Fi camera that makes internet watching affordable for almost every family. This useful camera works with your personal device and is the only option here that features true pan and scan features to move the camera around the room remotely. The image quality is also impressive given the lower price and simple design. This camera is a good choice if your house is bigger or you'll be spanning more than 3-5 walls between rooms where range could become an issue.
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.
While the price is too high compared with our other picks to merit a recommendation, the Arlo Baby by Netgear Smart HD Baby Monitor and Camera does have some appeal, mostly because it overcomes some of the traditional shortcomings of Wi-Fi monitors and security cameras used for that purpose. Its main advantage is that its app can continue to play audio even if the app is not open in the foreground of your mobile device. This means it can continue to broadcast sounds from a baby’s room while parents sleep elsewhere, alerting them if there’s trouble (as a traditional monitor would), without the hassle of loading the live stream every time. It also offers some unique features: The camera itself can work wirelessly off a rechargeable battery (which no other monitor we’ve tested can do), and it can track and chart several days’ worth of temperature and other environmental data in a child’s room. These features alone don’t justify its added cost—the current price is about $100 more than that of either our pick or the least-bad Wi-Fi monitor we’ve tested—but that cost may be easier to swallow if you’re already using other Arlo devices, which we began recommending as a runner-up in our piece on indoor security cameras in fall 2016. As with most Wi-Fi monitors, owner reviews note problems with the signal dropping out, sluggish response time when opening the video on an app, and other irritations, such as problems seeing the feed on multiple devices.
If you’re looking to spend under $100 on a video monitor, Baldwin recommends the Babysense baby monitor as a solid budget pick. For $75, it comes equipped with a 2.4-inch HD LCD color screen, secure interference-free connection and 2.4 GHz digital wireless transmission, two-way intercom, digital zoom, infrared night vision, room-temperature monitoring, and more.
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.
Another Summer Infant baby monitor option, not quite as great as most others on this list, but definitely a trusted and reliable model and one of the best baby monitors available on the market this year. In our testing, one of the first things we noticed about this baby monitor was the sleek mobile-phone-size touch-screen reminiscent of the older iPhones. What's nice about this form factor is that it slips easily into your pocket like a mobile phone. Many of the others need to be clipped to your belt or waist, as they are quite a bit too thick or large for the pocket. The actual video display is modestly sized, coming in at 3.5" diagonal viewing area. This is the same size as the Infant Optics model. And it has some great features. It has remote pan (side-to-side adjust), tilt (up/down adjust), and zooming capability. Two-way audio communication so you can hear baby, and talk back to baby (maybe sing a lullaby, or whisper something to help soothe your baby). The system is also expandable to up to 4 cameras. Each additional camera is about $99, and you can place them in various locations around the home and toggle between them with the video unit. In our tests, the battery lasted about 4-5 hours when off the charger (and being used), and charged back to full capacity in only a couple hours. We didn't think the picture quality was as good as most other options on this list, nor was the sound. We also hooked it up to multiple cameras and used the "scan" feature which rotated through the various cameras once every 8 seconds. In our opinion, it took a bit too long to switch to a particular camera. It was also pretty loud when we remotely adjusted the pan/tilt of the camera. Also, it's worth noting that the pan feature doesn't seem to work when it's zoomed in. So overall, you're getting a good form factor, a reliable camera, but not the best image quality. For about $150, we think you could do better with one of our higher-rated options!
The Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi camera is a cool Wi-Fi camera that pairs with your personal device like a smartphone or tablet. This easy to use camera has amazing video, can be viewed anywhere you have a connection and has several useful features. The Nest Cam is good for baby watching, but it can also be used as a nanny cam or for security after your little one is older. We love that the Nest Cam has a reasonable price and can be used for many years to come retaining its value long after the standard monitoring device is no longer useful.
The iBaby M6S Wi-Fi earned a 9 of 10 for features in our tests. This monitor offers features that increase convenience for parents and things that are fun for baby. For parent convenience, this camera works on any iOS device, can be accessed from anywhere with internet or cell phone reception (with a data plan), will work with multiple cameras, and has sound activation. The user interface is intuitive for experienced iOS users, and the zoom/pan/tilt features work well. This monitor features a true remote-controlled camera with the widest field of view range in the group, motion detection, sound activation, and it has built-in remote-controlled lullabies that include the ability to add your music of choice or your recorded voice. The iBaby M6S also monitors the temperature, humidity, and air quality of baby's room so parents can ensure baby is comfy and cozy. If all that wasn't enough, the app will remain running when using other apps, and when parents turn the device's screen off. Possibly the only things lacking are an automatic screen wake and sleep, which we think isn't that big of a deal.
The range of a product can make or break whether or not you can use certain options in your home. Depending on the distance from your room to the baby's nursery and the construction of your home or interfering appliances, you could be limited in your options of what will work for you. If your house is large or has more than a handful of walls between the two room, you'll be stuck with a Wi-Fi option only (assuming you have Internet). If your home is smaller or has fewer walls, then you'll have more options. Many of the wearable movement choices work in the baby's room and are not dependant on communicating with a parent device. However, if your room is out of earshot, then you'll never hear the alarm go off making the unit virtually useless without a sound monitoring addition. Choose your product carefully if you think the range will be an issue and purchase from retailers like Amazon that have a generous return policy. Also, don't let it sit in the box, try it out right away and send it back immediately if it doesn't work in your space. Do not rely on the manufacturer's range claim, as we have found these claims to be wildly inaccurate for many brands during our testing.
Beyond security, Wi-Fi monitors have other disadvantages. In our tests, connectivity was more of an issue with Wi-Fi monitors than it was with RF monitors. We tested our Wi-Fi monitors on two separate routers and consistently had problems—we’d often lose the connection some time in the night and not even realize that the monitor had disconnected until morning. This happened with all three Wi-Fi models we tested. We never really felt confident relying on any of the connected monitors overnight, despite the fact that the modem and router were literally on the other side of a wall from the monitor. Other owners (like this one) have had the same issues.
We tested and compared 9 of the most popular video monitors in this review using a comprehensive series of tests with continued use over several months. Our tests were designed to provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision on which product is right for your family and needs. Each monitor is scored based on performance experienced during our hands-on, side-by-side testing process. The test results determine the metric scores, and those scores combine to create overall scores and rank. Metric scores are derived from our in-house lab and user experience "in the field." Overall scores were weighted with a preference for the range, video quality, and sound clarity.
The LeFun C2 720P Wi-Fi earned a 3rd place rank thanks to high scores for range and battery life, and impressive results for video quality and features. This monitor earned a Best Value for Wi-Fi monitors for its budget-friendly list price that is the least expensive in the group and its higher rank. This means you can get a great, top performing monitor, at a reasonable price. The LeFun has motion detection, sound activation, 2-way talk to baby, zoom, and a remote-controlled camera with real pan and tilt capabilities. The downside to this camera is a lag time when using the pan and tilt feature, and it is a little harder to use than the other Wi-Fi options we tested, but given the low price, we suspect most parents will forgive these flaws.
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.
With the VTech VM342-2 Camera Video Monitor's 170-degree wide-angle lens, parents can use multiple viewing options to get a panoramic view of their baby's nursery. This high-resolution LCD monitor also has automatic infrared night vision to check on babies without waking them. Plus, it has four calming sounds and five lullabies to help babies get to sleep on their own.
Ease of use may not seem like a big deal because once you know how to use something, it won't seem that hard, and after you use it for a while it can feel intuitive even if it isn't. However, with this type of product, there can be a learning curve depending on what kind you choose and how many features it has. While the dedicated monitors were plug in and go options that even grandma can manage, some of them took a little more skill to navigate and learn. The Wi-Fi options, on the other hand, do require some knowledge of technology and the way apps work. With all of them, you will need to set up the camera with your computer or another device, and you will need to set up an account and be able to manage things like Wi-Fi passwords and various settings inside the application. While this may seem like no big deal to some parents, it could be challenging for those that are less tech-savvy.
To save on battery life, some audio/video models only turn on when the baby makes an unusual motion or sound. Some models come with a motion-detector pad that fits under the crib sheet. This type of motion sensor is intended to prevent SIDS. Sensitive enough to detect changes in breathing, an alarm sounds if there is no movement after 20 minutes. However, if the baby simply rolls off the pad, the alarm may sound.
The Infant Optics’s range within our test houses was never an issue, and, as with others we tested, we had to walk outside and down the street before losing the signal. The image quality was good enough to make out facial details 6 feet away in a completely dark room (as it was on others we tested). It’s easy to add more cameras to the set (you can use up to four Infant Optics add-on cameras, which are separate purchases, usually for about $100). You can mount the camera on a wall easily, pan and tilt 270 and 120 degrees respectively, and you can set the parent unit to scan between multiple cameras to keep an eye or ear on everybody at once—another nice feature that’s not unique to this model.
The Wi-Fi monitors all have lower EMF readings than the dedicated options with the lowest average EMF readings being 0.87 for the LeFun C2 720P Wi-Fi and 0.92 for the Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi with the reader 6 ft from the camera. The lowest average value for the dedicated monitors at 6 ft is 1.89 for the Infant Optics DXR-8 and 1.91 for the Philips Avent SCD630.
If all you want is a no-fuss audio monitor, the Bump and Baldwin both recommend VTech’s DM221 audio monitor, which consistently garners a lot of accolades. Using digital audio technology, the DM221 offers clear audio transmission and eliminates the crackle of analog models. A two-way intercom allows you to talk to your baby, while a five-level sound indicator can visually alert you to cries from the other room. The transmitter also features a soft night-light for your child. And don’t sleep on its compact size, which makes it perfect for travel.