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.
Once you've settled on a type and have considered your range, you can look at the potential choice and which features they have. The more budget-friendly choices usually lack bells and whistles but are still functional. If you want more features like nightlights, lullabies, and talk to the baby, then you may pay more and the unit could be more difficult to use. The one feature we think is important is sound activation to help keep your device quiet when your baby is quiet, thereby increasing your chances of a full night's sleep.
Another big plus? Its "basic but secure" radio frequency (RF) connection, Wirecutter says. Unlike monitors that transmit via Wi-Fi (and can be hacked from virtually anywhere on Earth), the DXR-8 is pretty hack-proof. It uses a 2.4 GHz FHSS (Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum) signal. Long story short, a hacker would pretty much have to be in the apartment next door, using just the right listening equipment to eavesdrop on your baby, tech journalist Carl Franzen explains at Lifehacker. He goes on a personal quest to find a hack-proof baby monitor before the birth of his first child – and settles on the DXR-8.
We also liked the iBaby because while it allowed us to invite other users to see through the camera — great if you want to give your babysitter access while you’re out — only the person who registered the iBaby monitor has administrator access to all of the features. The administrator can give some privileges to other users, like being able to move the camera around, but they can take them away just as quickly.
But, for many parents, a baby monitor is a part of daily life. A baby monitor gives you a camera and/or microphone near the crib, and a separate rechargeable parent unit (aka, a monitor) that connects wirelessly and can travel with you throughout the house, either working while plugged in or running off its battery. It's nice to see your children in bed, dreaming happily, sleeping in adorable new positions, cuddling with animals, and generally doing okay.
As you’d expect, the talk back functionality and audio quality in general are great—easily better than the crude talk back features on our video monitor picks. With the battery lasting about 19 hours on a full charge, this monitor had the strongest battery life of any in our test (not entirely a fair comparison, as this is the only one with no screen to power). 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.
You'll get great video quality and an easy-to-setup system with the Safety 1st HD WiFi Baby Monitor. But the real reason to consider this device is a helpful portable audio unit you can carry with you that lets you hear what's going on in the nursery without having to notice and respond to push notifications on your phone. There's little delay when you use the two-way audio feature, and the portable unit will even flash when the camera detects motion for a helpful visual cue to launch the companion app.
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.
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."
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.
Many of the baby monitors we've tested are internet-connected, letting you watch infant with your phone or tablet through an app just as if you were checking a home security camera. Because of this, you might not actually get a standalone display to go along with the camera. They aren't out of the question, however; some camera-only baby monitors offer viewers as an add-on or in a bundle. And if there aren't any available, you can simply get an inexpensive tablet like the Amazon Fire to use as a dedicated viewer.
In our tests, Levana Ayden did well in the categories where Levana Keera underperformed, particularly with regards to user-friendliness. This was most noticeable in the simple controls, which are easy to learn. Levana Ayden also has a few useful extras such as a built-in nightlight and three lullabies to help sooth your baby as they sleep. This unit costs around $90, which is quite competitive with other video baby monitors. Unfortunately, the unit lacks the ability to remotely reposition the camera and has lower than average video quality, which can make details hard to see. The audio had mild interference, but this didn't affect the overall quality much. The one-year warranty is typical of video baby monitors.
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.
Alex Colon is the managing editor of PCMag's consumer electronics team. He previously covered mobile technology for PCMag and Gigaom. Though he does the majority of his reading and writing on various digital displays, Alex still loves to sit down with a good, old-fashioned, paper and ink book in his free time. (Not that there's anything wrong wit... See Full Bio
The iBaby’s video and audio quality were among the best in the WiFi group, but like all WiFi monitors, quality and how well it displays real-time action depends largely on your internet quality and speed. Our testers only experienced a delay of less than a second, more noticeable than HelloBaby’s, but nowhere close to Motorola’s three-second delay.
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.
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. That alone puts it head-and-shoulders above many other monitors we tested.