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.
A WiFi monitor gets rid of the parent unit entirely and replaces it with a smartphone app. That app connects to the baby unit over the internet, rather than standard radio frequencies. As a result, you’ll never have to worry about being out of range from your camera. If you’re at dinner and want to check in on the babysitter, you’re still connected. Since it operates from an app, it’s also easier to flip through features than trying to figure out a finicky, low-quality touchscreen, or a dozen different buttons.
Every parent we spoke to agreed. A video monitor is the way to go. It’s the difference between getting up to check on your baby because you thought you heard a noise or glancing at a screen to see if you really need to get out of bed. Video monitors are useful well into the toddler years, too. That screen can help you decide whether you need to step in and comfort your child, or if you can wait out a tantrum.
A baby monitor, also known as a baby alarm, is a radio system used to remotely listen to sounds made by an infant. An audio monitor consists of a transmitter unit, equipped with a microphone, placed near to the child. It transmits the sounds by radio waves to a receiver unit with a speaker carried by, or near to, the person caring for the infant. Some baby monitors provide two-way communication which allows the parent to speak back to the baby (parent talk-back). Some allow music to be played to the child. A monitor with a video camera and receiver is often called a baby cam.
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.
By default, Arlo Baby records in 720p resolution, though you can switch to 1080p if you prefer. You can also adjust the field of view and fine-tune notifications on what triggers an alert. You do have to position the camera manually, however, and the gap between getting a notification on our phone and actually being able to jump to live video was a little laggy for our tastes.
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.
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.
For the parent devices of dedicated monitors, the battery life ranged anywhere between 6.75 and 12.75 hours. The Wi-Fi options are harder to gauge given that the battery life depends on the kind of device used, whether or not it is being used for other applications simultaneously, and how old the battery is in the device. In general, however, we feel it is relatively safe to say that most will work longer than the best dedicated monitor battery if the device is dedicated for use with the monitor only and is not running other applications simultaneously.
Your phone might not have great battery life. Many parents who use a wifi baby monitor come to the realization that their smart phone battery life isn't so great when they are streaming a live video and audio feed from their baby monitor. If you have a newer iPhone or Android device, it will probably do pretty well, but if you have an older phone the batter is probably a bit weaker already and you will notice your battery life dropping pretty quickly during use. So definitely consider battery life and charging options for your smart phone when you are choosing between a self-contained versus wifi baby monitor.
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
This is a nice new addition to our best baby monitor list, with some nice advanced features that make it quite a bit more than just a baby video monitor. Unlike the Infant Optics, this wifi baby monitor uses your own smart phone rather than an external screen. This is just like the popular wireless security cameras you can setup around the house and watch on your smartphone. So instead of walking around the house with a baby monitor screen, like from your bedroom to living room and kitchen, you can simply fire up the app and see what's going on instantly, no matter where you are. In the bathroom? No problem. Out on a date night and want to check in on what the baby sitter's up to? No problem. Just open the app on your phone (Apple or Android) and it will connect to the camera in just a couple seconds and show you a live streaming video feed (with audio) of your sleeping baby. In our testing, we thought the video quality was very good in both daylight and night vision conditions. It was the 720p high definition that helped with clarity, though the wifi video feed did become a bit choppy at points when testing on a network other than our home wifi. That's not surprising, and is just like any other live streaming video. One cool thing about the app is that we could minimize it and still have the audio playing, so you can hear everything from your baby's room while doing something completely different; in that regard, it operates a bit like a music player (iTunes, Spotify, etc). Installation of the system was pretty easy, though a bit more involved than others because of its unique features. First, you install the app on your phone and register with Cocoon Cam. Plug in your camera and use the app to scan the QR code on the back of the camera. That will get the camera and your app working together. Then, you need to mount the camera on the wall of the nursery, about 5 feet above the baby. Don't try to put it on a dresser or edge of the crib. Mount it on the wall so that it's pointing down at your sleeping baby and can see all 4 corners of the crib; we found that installing it correctly was the most important aspect for getting it to work reliably. If you don't have wifi, the camera can also be plugged into your router with an ethernet cable (they provide a short one). OK, so now that it's up and running, and assuming you've installed it per instructions, you'll be able to take advantage of its awesome features. First, the system has an awesome breathing/activity monitor that will let you watch your baby's breathing patterns. It uses infrared light to track the rise and fall of your baby's chest to monitor breathing and activity. Second, for peace of mind, it can send you little alerts when things change, like breathing has slowed or sped up. Correct baby camera placement is critical for these features, so make sure to follow instructions. The way it works is that your video feed is streamed live to the Cocoon Cam cloud where machine learning algorithms securely process the video and assess breathing, and then that information is streamed continuously to the app on your phone. It worked surprisingly well given the complexity of the data streaming and analytics. We did get some anomalous readings in our testing, but mostly when the baby camera wasn't correctly installed above the crib, so it wasn't in clear view of the baby. It also didn't work well when our baby was sleeping on her side, or when her lovies were strewn across her back in random ways. It did work impressively well as a breathing monitor, even with a swaddled baby. Third, the system allows you to download and review videos and activity data, which is a nice touch. Finally, the newest version of this baby monitor includes cry detection, which works reasonably, but we had some false alarms with other noises. So this video baby monitor provides some advanced functionality for parents interested in monitoring their baby's breathing activity and having the flexibility of using their phone as a screen. If you're just looking for a video monitor that uses a phone app, but without the breathing monitor capability, check out some of the other wireless wifi options such as the Nest Cam or Lollipop. We're not completely certain it has the accuracy of a mat-based breathing monitor, and the reliability of the breathing status indicators wasn't perfect, especially if the camera isn't perfectly installed. And no remotely controlling the camera angle (pan, tilt). So overall, this is a great baby monitor, and we're really impressed with how Cocoon Cam's newest model performs, and the feature list is really extensive. Interested? You can check out the Cocoon Cam here.
Bargain hunters may prefer the iBaby M6T. Though it's a couple years old and records video in in 720p resolution, it's still a capable monitor with night vision, two-way audio and helpful pan-and-tilt capabilities. It's also available for nearly $100 less than the Arlo Baby. If the voice-powered Alexa assistant is a part of your family, consider the Project Nursery Smart Baby Monitor, which includes a smart speaker in its $229 bundle that lets you remote control the camera.
This baby monitor system lets you listen in on your child with a “smart audio unit,” or you can install the Safety 1st companion app to turn your smartphone into a video display, complete with motion and audio alerts. While it lacks some of the nonessential features of the Arlo Baby, we give it high marks for its excellent video quality, customizable alerts, and its ability to grant regulated camera access to other caretakers.
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.
The Philips Avent SCD630 is the easiest to use dedicated option with a score of 8 of 10. This monitor is a plug and play that pairs the camera and parent unit by itself. The parent unit has very few buttons, with the most frequently used buttons are on the face of the unit. The menu options are relatively intuitive with not much chance of taking a wrong turn or getting buried in a file menu system you can't get out of. The menu could be easier to use, but we think most parents will stick to the buttons on the front of the unit after a few weeks of regular use. The Levana Lila has fewer features and is even easier to use, thanks to a lack of convoluted menu options.
In addition to being untested for efficacy, physiologic monitors can increase both your stress and your baby’s stress with false alarms and unnecessary trips to the hospital. Dr. Christopher Bonafide, of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia wrote that parents are increasingly bringing healthy babies to the hospital over a false alarm, noting that changes that often set off a monitor are “just normal fluctuations.”
The new voluntary ASTM International F2951 standard has been developed to address incidents associated with strangulations that can result from infant entanglement in the cords of baby monitors. This standard for baby monitors includes requirements for audio, video, and motion sensor monitors. It provides requirements for labeling, instructional material and packaging and is intended to minimize injuries to children resulting from normal use and reasonably foreseeable misuse or abuse of baby monitors.
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.