Sound devices relay what is happening in baby's room via sound only. A great sound option is quiet unless the baby is making noise so that you won't be disturbed by white noise or constant static. This basic monitoring type can be all you need if your goal is being alerted when your baby is crying and needs your assistance. This style can be elementary with sound only like the V-Tech DM111 or it can have bells and whistles like a nightlight, 2-way talk, lullabies, and mic sensitivity adjustment features like the Philips Avent DECT SCD570/10. Most parents can get by with a sound only device as it provides the information you need to determine if your baby needs you or not.
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.
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.
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.
Video products add the element of visual peeking on your baby, so you can see if your baby is crying but calming down without you or if you need to make your way to their side. Most video products work well in the dark and have adequate sound so you can see and hear what is happening in the room. Some options are dedicated with a camera that talks to a parent unit, like the Levana Lila while others use your Wi-Fi to send information from the camera to your personal device like the Nest Cam. Wi-Fi options are great for larger houses where range could be an issue, and it's also nice for away from home monitoring. While video images are not mandatory for getting a good night's sleep, they do provide more information that can help you determine your little one's needs before you get out of bed. With the price of video products being lower than ever, it is no longer considered a luxury product and many parents are choosing this style over sound only products. However, proceed with caution! Spying on your newborn can be addictive and lead to less sleep which defeats the purpose of a getting a monitoring device in the first place.
Beyond that, we wanted to hear from an expert on the products’ (perceived and real) security risks. So we spoke to Mark Stanislav, the director of application security for Duo Security and the author of Hacking IoT: A Case Study on Baby Monitor Exposures and Vulnerabilities, whose research has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press, CNET, Good Morning America, and Forbes.
It uses 2.4GHz FHSS technology that offers a private connection between the monitor in your baby's room and the dedicated viewer in your hand. The FHSS connection should minimize interference, and most reviewers say the audio is clear. In BabyGearLab's testing, the reviewer found that the Phillips AVENT had the best audio signal of any of the monitors it tested.
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.
In terms of bang for your buck, it’s tough to beat the Babysense. For less than $100, it comes loaded with bells and whistles more commonly found on higher priced models. Not only does it boast a 2.4-inch HD LCD color screen with infrared night vision, pan/tilt, and 2x zoom, but it includes two-way talk back, a sound activated ‘Eco’ mode (the screen stays off) to save battery life, 900 foot range (with out-of-range warning), and an in-room temperature monitor that sends alerts if it gets too hot or cold. It uses 2.4 GHz FHSS wireless transmission for security and even comes with both a built-in alarm/nap timer and lullabies.
Battery: We wanted a monitor battery that could last overnight, or at least eight hours, without being plugged in. We thought the ideal product would automatically cut off an idle display screen to conserve battery, work at least a few hours unplugged with the screen on, and recharge fairly efficiently. We made a rechargeable battery a requirement. We preferred units designed to connect to power via a standard USB connector, and looked for reports that the baby monitors could reliably charge, recharge, and hold a charge long-term—a disappointingly rare ability in baby monitors.
One of the biggest concerns with a baby monitor is going out of range and not hearing baby crying for you. Talk about a case of mom guilt! When shopping for the best long-range baby monitor, note that the range listed on the box doesn’t account for walls or doors; it’s a line-of-sight range. So, although you may not actually be able to travel 1,000 feet away from baby, you should be able to head to the basement to do laundry or be outside in the yard without worrying about missing baby’s cries.
Most connected baby monitors are effectively just home security cameras, like the Nest Cam Indoor—devices that let you watch another location with color video, night vision, and sound, so you can tell if anything is amiss. Because baby monitors are used to keep an eye on your little one rather than on your home and property, they prioritize different features than security cameras.
Image and audio quality: We wanted a high enough resolution to make out facial features in the dark, at more than a few feet of distance, and (obviously) in daylight as well. The screen itself did not need to be incredibly high-resolution, but we wanted a size that would be easily visible on a nightstand. For all monitors, but especially audio-only options, we wanted to be able to hear everything clearly at the lowest volumes.
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.
The VTech DM221 audio monitor is the best choice in the category—it's consistently a best seller at multiple retailers, with thousands of positive customer reviews. Losing video is a major sacrifice, of course, but we could see this monitor being a good choice for parents of toddlers who are considering replacing a failing monitor, or people who want a monitor only so they can hear their kid crying out from a distant bedroom.
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 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.
Baby monitors are available in three primary forms: audio, video and movement. If your main concern is hearing when your baby wakes up, then an audio-only monitor will do the trick. These baby monitors tend to be smaller, and less expensive. With a video baby monitor, there are a wide variety of options available, including different screen sizes, cameras that tilt, pan and zoom, and night vision. This type of monitor tends to provide extra levels of security, allowing you to tell if your baby is lying down or standing up, to track sleep patterns, and to evaluate whether intervention is required, or whether your child seems likely to self-soothe and fall back asleep. Plus, if you get a video camera that connects to your Wi-Fi, you can use the camera as a nanny cam, and check the baby video even when you're away from home. Movement-based baby monitors are designed to track your baby's heart rate, movement, respiration, skin temperature and sleep quality.
Baby video monitors with all the latest bells and whistles cost around $200, sometimes more depending on the feature set. However, you can find solid baby monitors for $100 to $150 less than that, though you'll sacrifice on video resolution and some features. Cloud storage can add to the cost of a baby monitor in the form of an ongoing subscription, though that feature is usually optional.
At the end of the day, if all you want is a no muss no fuss monitor that most parents will be able to set up and use quickly, then either Wi-Fi option will work. However, if you just want to plug it in and have it work without the need to learn something new, then the award-winning Philips Avent SCD630 or the Best Value, Levana Lila, will get the job done simply and fast. The cheaper price tag and simplicity of fewer buttons (easier to use) on the Levana Lila make it a great option as a secondary monitor for Grandma or travel.
Our favorite standard video monitor, HelloBaby, masters the basic features. It’s the easiest to set up and its video and sound quality competes with monitors twice the price. Its screen is smaller than most, but its simple interface gives you immediate access to the most important functions: talk-back, zoom, and pan; while menu button opens up customizable settings for temperature, sound, lullabies, and timers.
With a baby monitor, you're able to keep tabs on your little one(s) during nap time or nighttime, and still go about your day. Generally, the number one benefit provided by the best baby monitors are peace of mind, followed closely by the benefits of security and convenience. Plus, since homes and habits vary, a baby monitor may have additional uses, like allowing you to monitor how long it takes your preschooler to fall asleep, keeping track of playtime, or even using it as a pet cam.
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.
Most people don't have unlimited data plans for their smart phone, and are surprised to see very high data usage after just a few hours of streaming their wifi baby monitor. With HD video, you can go through a couple gigabytes of data in just a few hours, so keep that in mind. If your phone is connected to wifi that won't matter, but if you're using 3G or 4G LTE cellular service, you will definitely have slow video and tons of data usage.
The Levana Lila is the second highest ranking dedicated monitor in the review, and 5th overall. This budget-friendly option has the longest battery life of any dedicated monitor we tested and scored well enough for ease of use and sound clarity that you won't be frustrated. Unfortunately, this monitor has a shorter range than the Philips Avent SCD630 and the fewest features in the group (which makes it easier to use). So it may not be a good choice for parents that want all the bells and whistles. This monitor does sport 2-way talk to baby, sound activation, and automatic screen wake/sleep, which are some of the most important features in our mind. The Lila has no zoom, and the field of view is rather small for a camera that is not remotely operated (no pan or tilt). However, if you want a dedicated monitor for the simplicity and peace of mind with less chance of a dropped signal, and budget is a factor, then the Lila can't be beaten.
Though it’s not a video monitor, the Owlet does track your baby’s heart rate and oxygen while they sleep, and notifies you if something appears to be wrong. Just slip a comfortable wrap with a sensor over your wee one’s foot (it works with babies 0–18 months) and download the app to your phone. You’ll receive alerts in real-time should your child’s vital signs change. It also comes with a base station that changes color when something is up.