From each category, we hand-selected our finalists: the monitors with the most positive reviews on Amazon and parenting blogs, plus any that had all four of our parent-favorite features. Then we sent several monitors home with three different testers, to see which ones actually made parents’ lives easier, and which ones were more trouble than they’re worth.
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.
Encrypted Wireless Communications: Here's something creepy and strange - there are reports of people tapping into even the best baby monitors and getting some bizarre pleasure from watching your baby sleep or watching you feed the baby in the middle of the night. A few of the manufacturers have included wireless encryption on their systems to make this much less likely.
Some audio/video monitors filter out "normal" sounds and motions. The receiver is supposed to turn on only when your baby makes an unusual motion or sound, such as crying or rolling over when he's waking up from a nap. This feature is designed to extend battery life, although the receiver should be docked for overnight monitoring to keep the battery charged. We haven't tested any models with this feature, so we don't know how well it works.
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?
The iBaby M6 Wi-Fi is a Wi-Fi camera designed with nurseries in mind, something not true of the Nest Cam. This camera is easy to use, works with your internet for connectivity anywhere and has features that are baby-centric. The iBaby tied with the Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi in our review, but the iBaby is a better option for parents who want a camera designed for watching a baby. The iBaby includes sensors for temperature, humidity, and air-quality (things to watch when setting up best sleep practices). It has different lullabies included, and you can add your own songs, voice, or stories with minimal effort. This option has an intuitive interface and works well on your personal device with continual use even while running other apps. You can even take pictures or video of your little one in action or peacefully dreaming. You get all of this with a list price below the Nest Cam making it a good choice for parents who want a Wi-Fi option but are less concerned with longevity.
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.
This type of monitoring device attaches to your baby via their diaper, clothing or as a sock depending on the model. Most of the wearable options alert in the room and only a handful send a message to a parent device (smartphone or similar). In our experience, many of these have high false alarms from moving and crawling babies or high Electromagnetic Field (EMF) Levels (which we try to avoid). The Snuzo Hero SE is a cost-effective wearable with a unique vibration feature and very low levels of EMF.
The longest battery life for the dedicated products in our review is the Levana Lila, which ran for 12.75 hours in full use mode. The manufacturer claims this unit will work up to 72 hours in power saving mode, but we only tested the monitors in full use. The Infant Optics DXR-8 came in second place with a shorter run time of closer to 11.5 hours. The Motorola MBP36S earned the lowest score for battery life with a runtime just under 7 hours. While not necessarily a deal breaker, there are plenty of other reasons to dislike the Motorola MBP36S, and the battery life is just a small part of a disappointing overall picture (no pun intended).
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.
With several dozen reviews posted online, the Safety 1st HD WiFi Streaming Baby Monitor has a 4.0-star rating on Amazon. One satisfied owner speaks for many when he calls the "picture quality excellent," the night vision "clear" and "so well illuminated," and the sound quality so good that you can "hear everything going on in crisp and clear" detail."
Lullabies: Monitors often include a selection of soothing sounds to help your baby drift off to slumberland. These can be traditional nursery rhymes of the rock-a-bye-baby variety, nature sounds, white noise, or some combination of all of them. It’s a good idea to check them out before you play them to your sleeping child to determine whether they might help or hinder their sleep.
In early 2011, two infant strangulation deaths prompted a recall of nearly two million Summer Infant video monitors. The CPSC also reported that a 20-month-old boy was found in his crib with the camera cord wrapped around his neck. In that case, the Summer Infant monitor camera was mounted on a wall, but the child was still able to reach the cord. He was freed without serious injury.
Frequency: Some baby monitors operate on the same 2.4GHz frequency band as household products like microwaves, cordless phones, wireless speakers, and so on. When the monitor is on the same frequency as a number of other products, you can experience interference and static. You may want to get a monitor that uses a different frequency like 1.9GHz, which the Federal Communications Commission sets aside for audio-only applications. It's called DECT, or Digitally Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications.
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 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.
This is a light or beeping sound that lets you know that you've reached the monitor's range limit. If you have a model without this feature, static might be the only indication that you're out of range. (A monitor's range can vary due to your home's size, its construction materials, and other factors.) The greater the range, the better--especially if you plan to take your monitor outside.
Both Kay and Baldwin chose the Infant Optics DXR-8 as their top choice in video baby monitors (it also has nearly 24,000 4.4-star reviews on Amazon). The DXR-8 uses secure 2.4 GHz FHSS wireless transmission (as opposed to Wi-Fi) to send crystal clear color video and audio to the receiver, has a solid battery life, allows for remote pan, zoom, and tilt capabilities, and comes with an interchangeable zoom lens (with a wide-angle lens sold separately). Other features include a two-way intercom, remote temperature display, and the option to set the monitor to audio-only.