The main reason you’re going to need a baby monitor is to answer a simple, but time-honored, question: Why the hell is my baby crying? It’s only been in the last 30 years or so that parents have relied on the remote surveillance of their sleeping children. For the eons before that, it was a combination of natural, ear-piercing cries, and sleeping in the same yurt.
If you aren't interested in having a video baby monitor, the VTech DM221 is the very best audio-only monitor you can buy. You can listen in on your baby or get vibration and light-based alerts when the monitor is in silent mode. The five LED lights indicate the level of sound so you can tell whether your baby is cooing quietly or shrieking for mom and dad.
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
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.
Finding the right monitoring device for your family can be challenging given the number of options and the varieties of devices on the market. However, there is a good choice for every family on this list. Once you determine your needs and wants, the field is relatively easy to narrow. You can't go wrong with any of the winners on this list, but if you need more information or details, be sure to check out our more detailed reviews on each monitoring product type Sound Monitor, Video Monitor, and Movement Monitor.
We got our hands on this monitor in mid-2018 for testing. It's a wifi baby monitor, just like many other options on this list, meaning that it connects to your wireless router to stream a digital video and audio signal to your smart phone wherever you are in the world. What's unique about this Safety 1st wifi baby monitor is that it also includes a wireless speaker pod that you can place anywhere in your house so you can listen in on your baby when you don't want to turn on your smart phone. This is nice during the night when you don't want to turn on your bright screen, or when your phone battery is low and you need to recharge. And the speaker pod has a batter that lasts for about 10-12 hours, so you can easily bring it into different rooms. So that's a nice added feature. And there are some additional features worth mentioning. First, it streams video in high definition 720p, though we do point out that it's basically impossible to stream 720p in real-time to your phone unless you're on the same local network (i.e. if you're at home). But that limitation isn't unique to the Safety 1st, and any wifi monitor that appears to be streaming in real-time HD is likely buffering the video for several seconds before it gets to you (so what you're seeing is delayed). Second, we were impressed with the nice wide-angle camera (130-degrees horizontal field of view), which means that it's more accommodating if you want to position the camera closer to the crib. Third, you can set up movement and sound alerts and customize the sensitivity of the alerts on your app to make sure you're getting an alert when it's important but also avoiding too many false alarms. We liked that you can change the sensitivity of the alerts, and thought that feature worked pretty well in our testing. The auto-recorded 30-second clips were also a nice touch so you can see what was going on when the alert was triggered. Some other things we liked were that the night vision was pretty good quality, you can zoom in and out (but you can't pan or tilt) using the app, there's a two-way intercom so you can talk to your baby, and you can expand the system to multiple cameras that you can toggle between using the app (you can't view multiple cameras simultaneously, however). So how does this wifi baby monitor compare to the other top rated wifi monitors on this list? Well, there's some good and bad. Setup was pretty easy, so that's definitely good, though the owner's manual was a bit difficult to understand at times. And once we got it running, it seemed to stay up and running pretty reliably, so that's also a plus. Also, there's no necessary subscription to store the 30-second clips you record for 30 days in the cloud. So here are some things that we didn't like about this monitor: first, many times when we open the app on our phone, the live stream doesn't connect immediately - sometimes we would restart the app, and other times we'd just need to wait several seconds. That's frustrating when you just received an alert and go to see what's going on, but can't. Second, if your internet goes down you're basically screwed. Unlike the Nanit and Lollipop, it will not revert to streaming over your local area network in the event of an internet outage - so even if you're at home, you won't be able to use the app or otherwise view the video. Third, the camera has a bright little light on it, which we ended up covering with electrical tape. Finally, we found the speaker pod unusually difficult to use, and were disappointed that a charger wasn't even included with it (or maybe it was just missing from our box?). Anyway, so there are some really nice features and high potential for this to be a great baby monitor, but in the end we found several limitations that made it difficult for us to justify spending upwards of $200 on it (note that it's about $150 without the speaker pod). But we'll let you make that decision. Interested? You can check out the Safety 1st HD wifi Baby Monitor here.
Child Safety: We care a lot about the safety and well-being of your babies, and our baby monitor reviews are no exception to that rule. Most of the safety issues with baby monitor systems revolve around the parent's due diligence: secure the wires out of reach and out of sight from your baby, make sure you put the camera out of reach (especially when you're mounting to the rail of a crib), and always keep them away from water and a running humidifier. In addition to these basic safety tips, the newer heart rate monitoring, breathing monitoring, and movement monitoring systems can add confidence to parents worried about their baby sleeping in a different room. A good example of a baby monitor with heart rate monitoring is the Owlet Smart Sock that can track heart rate and blood oxygenation levels, and stream that information to an app on your smart phone. Of course, don't be too confident because these devices are not hospital- or laboratory-grade monitoring systems, so keep that in mind.
For roughly a third of the price of our pick, the VTech is far more affordable. Losing video is a major sacrifice, of course, and we’re certain most parents looking for a first monitor will prefer being able to do a visual check-in on a baby. Budget advantages aside, we could see this being best for parents of toddlers who are considering replacing a failing monitor, and who know they will likely use a monitor only at night as a way to hear a kid crying out from a distant bedroom. Many reviewers have also found it useful as a way for adults to communicate, especially for caretakers who need to be able to hear when adults with mobility or medical issues need help in another room.
Parents are spoiled for choice nowadays, thanks to the rise of the connected home and new technologies like live-streaming video and high-resolution cameras. No matter which type of baby monitor you buy — whether it be an old-school audio-only monitor or a fancy Wi-Fi video monitor — it will have two parts: a monitor in the baby's room and a receiver that you carry around with you to hear and/or view your baby.
Testing battery life for all the monitors was for the parent device only. While some of the dedicated options have a battery in the camera in the event of a power outage, most do not, and they are not intended for use as an all-night option. So while we would support a cordless camera for monitoring baby, due to safety concerns with babies and strangulation hazards, none of the products in our review offer this.
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When it comes to video monitors, you'll want to make sure that the one you're buying offers night vision and a decent resolution. Most baby monitors with a dedicated viewer sadly have low VGA resolutions, which are much worse than the majority of smartphones you can buy these days. A few have a 720p HD resolution, which is decent. We hope more baby monitors go that route in the future.
The Nest Cam isn’t a dedicated baby monitor, but an all-around home protection device. Besides aiming the camera at the crib, you can also use it to keep an eye on the nanny, the dog or your empty home while you’re away. The video camera can be set up anywhere, and you can watch the live streaming from your smartphone. It also has two-way communication so you can soothe your little one to sleep, even if you’re offsite. If the device senses motion or sound, it’ll send a phone alert or an email to you. Missed what happened? From the app, you can view photos of any activity that took place over the last three hours. (There are Nest Aware subscriptions available that provide access to 5, 10 or 30 days of recordings, for $5, $10 or $30 a month, respectively). The picture quality is super sharp, too.