Wireless devices and dirty electricity are almost impossible to get away from in our current technological age, but it doesn't mean we can't take steps to limit the exposure to ourselves and our children. Even though the current evidence is somewhat conflicting, and shows we need more studies and research because the potential is there for harm, parents should make informed and thoughtful decisions regarding their children's exposure to potential health risks, especially given that their bodies are developing and more susceptible to this type of radiation. We can't say for certain that monitors pose a health risk, but we also can't say for certain that they don't. Given this information, we feel it is important to test and report on the EMF levels of each monitor so parents can decide for themselves which product fits in best with their goals and concerns.
The iBaby shares several advantages over RF monitors that are common to Wi-Fi models as a category. It can be accessed from your phone anywhere. Multiple phones can connect to it. You access it via an app and don’t need to worry about finding, charging, and keeping track of a separate dedicated monitor. Some other “advantages” are add-ons we don’t consider necessary. You can record the camera’s footage, for example, or read parenting tips within the apps, or receive notifications or alerts when the monitor detects motion or sound. You can get air-quality alerts (we did not test them for accuracy). In other ways—pan/tilt, night vision, image quality—the iBaby is similar to RF video monitors like our pick.
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.
Larger homes or locations with more than 4 or 5 walls between the camera and parent unit might be stuck with a Wi-Fi monitor. Most of the dedicated monitors only worked up to 4 walls, with the exception of the Project Nursery 4.3 that stopped working at 3. The Philips Avent SCD630 has the longest range for dedicated monitors in this review, with an impressive 92 ft through 5 walls, so if your needs are greater than that, then none of the dedicated monitors we tested are likely to work for your situation. Wi-Fi connected cameras, on the other hand, are limited only by the wireless router location in relation to the camera and parent unit, and the strength and speed of your Wi-Fi connection. If necessary, routers can often be moved, or range extenders added, to increase the range between the components if the Wi-Fi monitor struggles to keep a clear or consistent connection. Purchasing a monitor from a venue with a simple return policy like Amazon means you'll be able to test the monitor in your house to determine how well it works without the risk of being stuck with a useless product.
The Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi and the LeFun C2 720P Wi-Fi came in a close second to the iBaby M6S Wi-Fi for features, both scoring an 8 of 10. Because these cameras are designed more with surveillance in mind and are not solely marketed for baby, they have several features that make parents lives easier, but not anything fancy and fun for baby. They do offer 2-way communication, but no lullabies or environmental sensors. Given that many parents already have "noise makers" (aka lullabies) covered by way of another product, the lack of this feature isn't a deal breaker in our book. So while these Wi-Fi cameras lacked the gadgetry fun of humidity sensing and the other bells of the iBaby M6S Wi-Fi, they still got the job of monitoring done in a way that is easy for parents to use. The bonus of the Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi camera is that it can be used for multiple applications when baby gets older and no longer needs an overnight monitor. This monitor can easily shift for use as a nanny cam, security, or pet camera. We think this takes the sting (if there is some) out of its lack of baby fun features, which in the end, most parents usually stop using when the novelty wears off.
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.
The iBaby M6S Wi-Fi is the easiest Wi-Fi monitor to setup and use with a score of 9 of 10. The Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi camera is hot on its heels with an 8. Both options walk users through the setup process step-by-step and have intuitive menus that will seem familiar to even the most novice user who is familiar with a smartphone. Both options come with a quick start guide that will have you up and watching your baby in no time.
Motion and audio sensors: In the old days, parents were forced to endure a consistent ambient hiss from their audio monitors while they listened for their child’s stirrings or cries. Mercifully, many modern baby monitors will stay in “quiet mode” until they detect motion and/or sound, which will trigger an alert, such as activating the handheld video display or pushing a notification to your smartphone.
Check the return policy: Every family is different, so it can be hard to choose the perfect baby monitor for your needs. For that reason, we recommend you look into each product's return policy. Some companies are very good about letting you return baby monitors, but others are not. You may need to try a few different ones out before you find the winner. Obviously, we hope this guide assists you in making the right choice, but it's always good to have a backup plan. We've noted the return policy for each baby monitor we recommend in this guide.
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
Monitors for babies should have good video images that are clear and true to life, but they should also have quality sound that is easy to hear and clear enough that parents can quickly decide if they need to look at the viewing screen, go back to sleep, or get running to the nursery. So while you might consider video quality to be the most important metric for this kind of product, we rated both video and sound equally because, without one, the other doesn't much matter. If the sound is muffled, difficult to decipher, or not loud enough, then parents might miss baby's cries. If sound activation or thresholds for background noise don't work as described, then parents might lose sleep listening to a loud monitor. However, once alerted, you need a clear view of baby with enough details to determine baby's needs, day or night, or the video style monitor isn't much better than a sound only monitor.
iBaby makes a really confusing range of baby monitors. From cheapest to most expensive this includes the iBaby Monitors M2, M2S, and M2 Plus, iBaby M6, M6T, and M6S, and the new iBaby M7. The M2 series is usually under $100 and is pretty poorly reviewed overall. The M6 series is usually about $125 and is decently reviewed. Finally, the new M7 is brand new and only differs from the M6S in that it has a smell detector and night sky projector that can shine the moon and stars onto the ceiling (our review of the M7 is above). There's truly a lot to love about the iBaby M6S. It looks great, is pretty easy to setup, and has a ton of appealing features. Some highlights are that it uses 1080p high definition video, it senses room temperature and humidity levels, has an air quality sensor (measures the presence of volatile organic compounds or VOCs in the nursery), is dual band wifi compatible (2.4 and 5GHz), and a two-way intercom. It also can record HD videos, remotely pan (rotate) and tilt up/down, and you can setup alerts for motion, sound, and VOCs (from 1 to 4 with 4 being best). So it basically has everything that might be on your list of baby monitor essential features, and we were really excited to set it up. Out of the box, we found it easy to download the app to our smart phone (Android or Apple), connect to the monitor and connect it to wifi, and get things up and running. A couple notes here - first, your wifi password needs to be shorter than 32 characters or the app won't accept it, and second, there is no way to manually set an IP address for the camera. When we used it on our home wifi network, we found that the images were clear and decently fast (low lag), and the night vision was high-quality and not too grainy. We especially liked the pan and tilt features from the app, which allows you to move the camera's view angle around without going into the nursery (and it uses a cool screen-swipe gesture to do it). Once we left our home's wifi connection and tried to connect to the camera from a 4G LTE or a different wifi network, that's when we started to run into problems. It was choppy and laggy, which to be honest is what we expected when attempting to stream 1080p HD video outside of your home network. So we changed the resolution settings on the app (Settings - Display Settings - Resolution) to downgrade it to a lower quality stream; that seemed to help a bit. We also had difficulty connecting to the camera at times, whether we were at home or elsewhere, which was one of the more frustrating things about the iBaby Monitor M6S. The temperature and humidity sensors seemed to work pretty well, and we confirmed their accuracy with a separate thermometer and hygrometer (they were pretty decent in accuracy). For the two-way intercom, the speaker in the camera seemed pretty poor quality so it was hard to hear my voice when attempting to speak to (or sing to) our baby. Finally, we had some issues with alerts coming through to the app as intended. We setup the temperature, humidity, and VOC alerts, and had really intermittent alerts when we tested them out. The temperature and humidity sensors seemed to be reading just fine, they just weren't reliably triggering an alert when they deviated from a range. For example, we set a temperature alert for 80 degrees then blew a hair dryer at the camera; it warmed way up, but the alert wasn't triggered, so that was frustrating. We didn't test the VOC sensor, though one could imagine you could open up a can of paint next to the camera and see if it sends an alert. So overall, we have a decent wifi baby monitor that has some excellent features but also leaves a lot to be desired in the reliability department. Interested? You can check out the iBaby M6S Baby Monitor here.
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Last, a few features are simply not that useful, but they’re more like unnecessary clutter than legitimate flaws. The talk back feature can be difficult to understand on the baby end of the line (we found it works best—that is, intelligibly—if you speak about a foot away from the microphone, and avoid shouting). A “shortcut” button to control the monitor’s volume and brightness doesn’t really save you much time. There are other features on the menu—counting the little songs, a timer, and a zoom, you have a total of about seven. But honestly, after testing this monitor for some time and others for years longer, the only thing you really need to be able to do regularly is adjust the volume.
Baby monitors may have a visible signal as well as repeating the sound. This is often in the form of a set of lights to indicate the noise level, allowing the device to be used when it is inappropriate or impractical for the receiver to play the sound. Other monitors have a vibrating alert on the receiver making it particularly useful for people with hearing difficulties.
Notifications and alerts work by sending a message or email to your device when motion or sound has occurred. This feature is only found in the Wi-Fi monitors, and isn't the best feature for baby because it comes after the fact (sometimes up to 30 min or more after), it does not offer details of the type of sound or motion detected, and could get annoying with useless and excessive messages being sent. In the end, we prefer sound activation over notifications and feel that alerts and notifications aren't all that useful for keeping tabs on your baby.
If you're looking for a smartphone-compatible baby monitor that's designed first and foremost to fill that role, Wirecutter calls the iBaby M6S (Est. $135) "the least bad Wi-Fi monitor (so far)," simply because it's "slightly easier to set up than its competitors." Once again, however, experts disagree: Baby Bargains says Nest Cam "runs circles around iBaby when it comes to set up and ease of use."
Video baby monitors are simple, inexpensive tools for watching your child, and HD video is not a necessity for this task. While some baby monitors have excellent video, even those with lower quality video are suitable for watching your infant. Screen resolution does not necessarily mean good image quality, so we didn't use it as a point of comparison, relying only on video performance as observed in our tests.
Movement monitoring devices do not claim to prevent SIDS, but they could potentially provide peace of mind for a better night's sleep for parents. To reduce the likelihood of SIDS, you should practice safe sleep guidelines for EVERY sleep (with or without a movement device). Always put your baby on their back to sleep, they should have their own firm sleep space with a tightly fitted sheet. Read our article on How to Protect your Infant from SIDS and other Causes of Sleep-related Deaths for more information about best sleep practices and setting up a healthy sleep environment for your baby.
While buying an audio-only monitor in 2018 is slightly akin to buying a flip phone, the Philips Avent has pretty much all the same features as top-of-the-line camera baby monitors, sans camera. Even better, it uses DECT (Digital Enhanced Cordless Communications) technology to guarantee zero interference ⏤ so it won’t get crossed with other signals in your house and/or your neighbor’s cordless phone. The Philips has a range of more than 90-ft inside, a 10-hour battery life, and it uses a “cry mode” so you’re only alerted to real cries for attention rather than background noise. As for extra features, it includes a night light, in-room temperature monitor, and plays lullabies ⏤ if only you could just see the baby.
Both Baldwin and Kay recommend iBaby’s M6S Wi-Fi video monitor for its design and ease of use. Resembling a little robot, the iBaby offers 360-degree views and 110-degree tilt, 1080p video with night vision, and even comes equipped with lullabies. Other features include temperature, humidity, and air-quality sensors, which Baldwin admits are bells and whistles, but could be useful depending on what kind of parent you are. And, of course, everything comes straight through to your smartphone or tablet, which can also remotely control settings. And while some parents may be concerned about potential hacking of Wi-Fi monitors, Baldwin found that the risk is fairly low and usually occurred in cheap, off-brand models.