To test connectivity, we put the handheld unit and the camera in neighboring rooms with 30 feet between them. We looked for lag, choppiness, and changes in the video or sound quality. While we rated it separately, we also did tests to estimate each baby cam’s maximum indoor range. Each camera we tested has a range of 100 feet or more, which is enough for an average-size home.
One minor but potentially annoying flaw: The “on” lights on the parent unit are a touch bright, and you may be more sensitive to them since you’re likely to have the unit within view as you sleep. They appear as greenish yellow light from the face of the unit, and a charging light, which is blue when it’s fully charged. Depending on how sensitive you are to light, you may want to lay the display face down on a nightstand or cover the status lights with tape.
This year alone we have seen over 30 new baby monitors enter the market, most of which are low-quality products being mass produced in China. They are cheap and might even work well for a few weeks or months, but give them a little more time and they will start to have all sorts of issues. We've seen way too many melting chargers, malfunctioning screens, and units that are completely dead after a few months. Don't waste your money! Here's some of the factors we consider in our testing:
Range: Range is the main drawback of an RF model, as audio monitors can roam farther out, and a Wi-Fi connection can theoretically be checked anywhere. We wanted an adequate range in a typical home—to be able to maintain a signal up or down a flight of stairs, across the house, and out on a patio or driveway, but we didn’t expect much beyond that. We zeroed in on monitors rated to about 700 feet of range1 or greater.
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.
It may surprise you to hear that simply being able to last through the night, unplugged, with the display off, qualifies as exceptional battery life for a baby monitor. The Infant Optics was one of the only monitors in our testing that could easily do that, and then last a while longer the next day before needing a charge. (The manufacturer claims it lasts 10 hours with the display off—we got that amount of time off a full charge, even when checking the display intermittently.) This model also charges via a USB connection, which actually sets it apart from a variety of competitors, some of which use ineffective and inconvenient proprietary DC chargers or even disposable batteries.
We wanted to recommend a less expensive video monitor, but at any price notably lower than our pick, every product we tried had such serious problems—usually, poor video quality and ongoing connection issues—that we feel a higher end audio-only monitor offers a much better value for a limited budget. The VTech DM221 audio monitor is the best choice in the category—it’s consistently a best seller at multiple retailers, with strong reviews (four out five stars over 4,703 reviews on Amazon) and similarly high ratings at Walmart, Target, and BuyBuy Baby.
Dropped connections are another problem. "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," Wirecutter says. "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."
The features we focused on were those we thought either increased the performance of the monitor or made it more user-friendly for parents and increased the odds of getting good quality sleep. We looked for monitors that have sound activation that keeps the parent unit quiet when the baby isn't crying, so parents can potentially fall asleep faster because they don't have to listen to white noise. Some of the monitors were so loud, even at low volumes, that the white noise might keep light sleeping parents awake; this defeats the purpose of having a video product to begin with. We also liked the models with screens that automatically "wake" and/or go to sleep.
Range of signal: Some baby monitors have better range than others. If you live in a big house with multiple rooms, range will be a key consideration for you. Anyone who lives in a single-story house or a smaller apartment may not need as much range. Many baby monitors have an alert when you get out of range, and the packaging typically gives you an estimate of the range. Bear in mind that range varies widely from home to home. The construction of the walls between you and the baby monitor may even limit the range.
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:
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.
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.
It should come as no surprise that we selected Nanit as the best baby monitor overall—after all, it was the winner of The Bump Best of Baby Awards this year. Nanit gives you both a clear, unobstructed view of baby thanks to the over-the-crib mount as well as sleep insight reports and nightly sleep scores via an app. You not only see how baby sleeps, but learn how to help baby sleep better.
Security is one reason Stanislav personally uses an RF monitor (like our pick) with his own daughter. He added that even that is not completely secure—“there are absolutely ways to break into a signal with radio frequency,” he said. But, noting that you have to be physically close to the house, and have the motive and ability to do it, he says it’s “a very small risk to your average parent.” In addition to the actual risks of a Wi-Fi monitor, there’s a perception that they’re vulnerable—this suspicious tone comes up often in many conversations with parents about monitors, with statements like “we’ve all heard the horror stories”2 coloring the whole discussion and suggesting, to us, that most people are really put off by the vulnerability.
So, we split our remaining finalists into three groups: WiFi Monitors for those who want to have an unlimited range or the ability to check in on their baby from anywhere, Movement Monitors for those who are comforted by hearing their baby’s vital signs, and a “standard” category for parents who want a quality monitor, but aren’t looking for that extra level of support.
The best-selling video baby monitor on Amazon is the highly-rated Infant Optics DXR-8 Video Baby Monitor — this impressive product boasts more than 10,000 5-star reviews! Though it’s a little higher in price than other products, the Infant Optics camera’s interchangeable lens system, remote adjust feature, and reliability make it a top pick for parents.
During our tests, we found ourselves among the fraction of buyers having problems with the display on the DXR-8. Our first test unit worked fine out of the box, but after a couple of hours running on battery, the display became distorted and nothing would fix it. Likewise, you’ll find a few complaints on Amazon of users experiencing dead pixels after about a year of use (here’s one and here’s another). The good news: Those folks reported that Infant Optics replaced their monitors even though some were out of warranty. In fact, the company consistently receives decent feedback on customer service. Infant Optics quickly replaced our faulty unit (but as a media inquiry, that’s not comparable to typical customer service), and the new unit has performed fine.
If you want remote access to see footage inside your home while you’re away, why not just use an indoor security camera? If that’s your sole objective, we think such cameras are a better choice than a dedicated baby monitor—and we explain which ones we like and why, in detail, in our guide to wireless indoor home security cameras. But in comparing our picks here against the Nest Camera (a popular, mainstream option, and a pick in our security camera guide), we found that security cameras start to lose their appeal when you try to use them in the ways most people regularly want to use baby monitors—at home, at night, all night, while a kid sleeps. Many won’t stream audio in the background, which means that to continuously monitor your baby, the app has to be open at all times. Some can take several seconds to pull up a live feed—not ideal when you want to see why a baby is crying. They can work well if you’re traveling and want to see what the family is up to, or if you’re out for the night and want to check on the kids without bugging the sitter—but as useful as that capability is, we concluded that it really is a different task from what most people want to accomplish with a day-to-day monitor.
Project Nursery offers a variety of monitor options that include fantastic features like remote camera control, two-way communication, motion, sound and temperature alerts and the ability to play white noise or lullabies. But what we like best about this one is that it comes with a traditional 5-inch screen monitor and a 1.5-inch mini video monitor that you can wear like a bracelet. Both monitors have a long battery life, too.