We began by shopping for baby monitors like anyone else would if they had dozens of hours to do it. The process started with a long list of best sellers at Amazon, Walmart, Target, BuyBuy Baby, Babies“R”Us, and Costco. We found monitors recommended in editorial reviews, such as PCMag, Reviewed.com, and Tom’s Guide. We also read a ton of discussion among parents in the Amazon reviews—what features they found especially useful, and what problems tend to occur. Thinking of all this, and comparing those concerns against the things we’ve appreciated and despised in our own years of monitor use, we developed the following selection criteria:
From a pure imaging standpoint, night vision is vital for watching your baby sleep from another room, and is standard for most baby monitors. Motorized pan and tilt (which lets you swivel the camera from afar) isn't quite as common, but is very welcome if you have a toddler and want to scan an entire room. High-definition is a nice plus, but you don't need the highest-resolution sensor to keep tabs on your baby—most of the monitors we test use 720p cameras rather than 1080p.
Most monitor systems have an electrical cord or nonrechargeable battery option for the unit in the baby's room. And receivers typically have an electrical cord or rechargeable batteries. Some models are notorious for burning through batteries at an alarming rate. Parents have complained that even monitors sold with rechargeable batteries built in can drain quickly. Our Baby Monitor Ratings , available to subscribers, include an evaluation of battery life. Subscribers can also check out our battery report and Ratings (for subscribers).
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?
One minor distinction about the DXR-8 is that it comes with two interchangeable optical lenses (a standard lens and a zoom lens) and you can also buy a wide-angle lens. Having three different lens options is nice, but in practice we felt the zoom on the standard lens was sufficient, and we expect most buyers would probably not bother changing the lenses frequently, if ever.
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.
Sound activation is a feature we think parents should consider. This feature creates a quiet monitor unless the baby is actively making noise and translates to parents potentially getting more sleep because they aren't kept awake by ambient noises. Having sound activation means you only hear what you want to. This feature can be found in dedicated and Wi-Fi monitors.
"Quick and easy set-up is Nest Cam's secret sauce -- they promise a 60 second set-up and that's pretty much what we found in our testing," Baby Bargains says. Still, "Nest Cam isn't a perfect solution as a baby monitor." In addition to the signal dropouts, Nest Cam's audio cuts out anytime your phone's screen goes to sleep. It also drains the battery, Baby Bargains says, so you'll have to leave your device plugged in all night. The camera is fixed – it won't swivel – and the audio can lag behind by 3 to 5 seconds, depending on your router's speed.
If you want to know everything about your baby, down to the heartbeat — the Angelcare AC315 is our top motion-sensor monitor. The sensor mat slips under the mattress in your baby’s crib, and if it detects no movement after 20 seconds, it sends a loud alarm to the baby and parent units. Its touchscreen can be a little finicky. The Baby Delight is less prone to false alarms; however, our parent testers were concerned that the small clip-on sensor might be a choking hazard.
Some good things about this model set it apart from competitors. The iBaby connects when you simply plug in your phone via a USB port on the camera body and grant permission for the monitor to access your wireless settings. The competitors make you enter a router’s network key—certainly doable, but not as easy as the iBaby. With 360-degree pan and 110-degree tilt motion, the iBaby can technically see more of the room than our Infant Optics pick—although its bulbous shape is a little harder to arrange than the pick’s simple wall-mount or stand-up base. The M6S model’s video quality and night vision were on a par with that of our former runner-up, the Samsung SEW3043 BrightView HD (but those results will vary with the quality of your Internet connection and your device’s display). The audio from the camera can play in the background on your phone, so you don’t have to keep the app open at all times.
This monitor comes with a 2.4" color screen that connects to its camera over a secure, interference-free connection, providing you with video up to 900 feet away. It boasts a two-way talk system and night vision, as well as several extra features like temperature monitoring, voice-activation mode, 2x zoom and more. The manufacturer doesn’t specify how long the battery on this video baby monitor lasts, but reviewers say you can get around six hours of continuous use from it.
As much as new parents want to be in the room with baby at all times, sometimes a baby monitor is necessary (like when you’re having a dinner party — or just want to watch Insecure in the next room). To help navigate the vast, confusing universe of baby monitors, we spoke to Lauren Kay, the Bump’s deputy editor, and Dave Baldwin, Fatherly’s former gear-and-tech editor and current play editor, about their recommendations, from traditional video monitors to smart-tech-enabled devices that can even track how your baby is sleeping. Add one of these to the baby registry.
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.
The Babysense 7 movement product is a sensor pad mattress product that isn't portable but seems to have fewer false alarms than wearable products. The BabySense 7 is easy to use and doesn't require much setup or preparation outside of placing the sensor and control unit. This unit even works well after your baby learns to roll over, unlike the wearable options that become less reliable as your little one's age.
As you'd expect, the talk-back functionality and audio quality on the VTech are great—easily better than the rudimentary talk-back features on our video monitor picks. With the battery lasting about 19 hours on a full charge, this monitor has the strongest battery life of any in our test. Rated to a range of 1,000 feet, it exceeds the range of our pick (700 feet) both as advertised and in practice during tests.
Baby's exposure could potentially be even lower if parents place the camera on a wall at least 15 feet from baby (a distance still good for night vision to work properly with most monitors). Given the sensitivity of baby's developing systems we recommend placing the monitor as far away from the baby as possible while still being able to utilize the night vision as intended and see baby's face to determine if they are awake or sleeping at a glance. For most of the products, this distance is between 10-15 feet from the baby.
Like many monitors in this price range, the SafeVIEW provides a lot of bells and whistles: remote zoom, tilt and pan of the camera, two-way communication and a range of 900 feet so you don’t have to stress about chatting with your neighbor outside during naptime. The SafeVIEW also has a built-in nightlight that you can turn on and off using the monitor. And, if the monitor is going nuts every time a big truck drives by or during a thunderstorm, you can decrease its sound sensitivity to not pick up the background noise.