Why spend money on a baby monitor, which serves a single specific purpose, when you could use an indoor home-security camera that you can repurpose once your kid leaves the nursery? We wondered the same thing, so along with with dedicated video baby monitors, we tested a Nest Indoor Cam, currently among our top-rated wireless home security cameras.
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.
We tested each product we purchased in key metrics that allow them to function as expected, or provides an additional feature or benefit. Monitors act as something of a lifeline for parents, so it is important that they work well, have adequate range, provide useful images, and are easy to use. If a product doesn't work well enough to instill confidence, then it will fail to offer parents the one thing they really want, more sleep.
There are two basic types: audio and video/audio. Some are analog, others are digital. All monitors operate within a selected radio frequency band to send sound from a baby's room to a receiver in another room. Each monitor consists of a transmitter (the child/nursery unit) and one or more receivers. Prices range from about $25 to $150 for audio monitors and about $80 to $300 for audio/video monitors.
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.
Reviewers note that this camera is easy to set up and has a host of useful features. The picture quality is top-notch, according to parents, but many say there is a few second lag time between the camera and video. Overall, this WiFi video baby monitor is a great investment if you’re looking for an Internet-connected product with ample additional features.
The most important thing to look for in all kinds of baby monitors is audio quality. Regardless of whether you want a video-based baby monitor or not, you need clear audio so you can hear your baby properly. You'll also want one with sound activation so that you don't have to listen to white noise 90% of the time. With sound activation, you'll only hear the noises from your baby's room when there's something important to hear.
Some baby cams can work at night with low light levels. Most video baby monitors today have a night vision feature. Infrared LEDs attached on the front of the camera allow a user to see the baby in a dark room. Video baby monitors that have night vision mode will switch to this mode automatically in the dark. Some advanced baby cams now work over Wi-Fi so parents can watch babies through their smartphone or computer.
The Infant Optics’s range within our test houses was never an issue, and, as with others we tested, we had to walk outside and down the street before losing the signal. The image quality was good enough to make out facial details 6 feet away in a completely dark room (as it was on others we tested). It’s easy to add more cameras to the set (you can use up to four Infant Optics add-on cameras, which are separate purchases, usually for about $100). You can mount the camera on a wall easily, pan and tilt 270 and 120 degrees respectively, and you can set the parent unit to scan between multiple cameras to keep an eye or ear on everybody at once—another nice feature that’s not unique to this model.
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.
You might see monitors on the market with claims that they can track a baby's breathing or movements, but unless the unit is registered with the FDA, it's not a medical device. Consumer Reports hasn't tested this type of monitor. Talk with your pediatrician if you think your child has a condition that warrants medical monitoring. He or she can give you advice on the best devices.
Range, clarity and minimal interference are factors that should be considered when you're selecting a device for baby monitoring. Range especially is something you'll want to verify/test yourself once you get any of the monitors home because they are often rated in a line-of-sight situation, but rarely used that way. Depending on the monitor type, whole home Wi-Fi can be a great option to keep your monitor wirelessly connected just about anywhere in your home. With video baby monitors, you may also want to consider getting one with the ability to record, while a low battery indicator, volume control, temperature display, and a music player may also be important convenience factors for you. Privacy can also be a consideration. Digital monitors are more difficult to hack than analog monitors because their transmissions are encoded.
The handheld unit's 5-inch screen is the largest in our review, complementing the camera's wide-angle lens. However, its resolution is the same as smaller units, so the video quality, while acceptable, is poorer. Also, you can't move the camera remotely, a feature you may not use if you only watch your baby as they sleep. The Wide View 2.0 makes up for its video quality with a user-friendly design. It only takes a few minutes to set up and a couple hours to charge the handheld unit. The handheld unit lets you adjust the volume and has an uncomplicated menu. This simplicity comes at the cost of common features – the Wide View 2.0 doesn't track room temperature, and it can't play lullabies through the camera unit. Because this is a simple video monitor, the battery lasted nine hours before it needed to recharge during our tests. The overall best baby monitor, the Infant Optics DXR-8, went 10 hours before shutting off, so this is a very good result. The Summer Infant Wide View 2.0's handheld unit has a limited indoor range compared to most other baby cameras – it’s good enough for most homes but insufficient in particularly large ones. Summer Infant offers a one-year warranty, which is average for video baby monitors.
Netgear brought the best features of its Arlo line of home security cameras to its first baby monitor. That includes Full HD video, night vision, sound and motion detection, two-way audio, 24/7 recording, and free cloud storage. Netgear also used feedback from Arlo owners to add a nursery-centric spin to the Arlo Baby, with a multicolored LED nightlight, a built-in music player with nine lullabies, environmental sensors, and artificial intelligence that can recognize your child’s cries.
One minor but potentially annoying flaw: The “on” lights on the parent unit are a touch bright, and you may be more sensitive to them since you’re likely to have the unit within view as you sleep. They appear as greenish yellow light from the face of the unit, and a charging light, which is blue when it’s fully charged. Depending on how sensitive you are to light, you may want to lay the display face down on a nightstand or cover the status lights with tape.
The baby monitor market is really exploding with new high-quality options that use a wifi camera connected to an app on your smart phone. The Nanit smart baby monitor is a new addition to this market, and we're really excited about it! We got our hands on this baby monitor for testing in mid-2018. Out of the box, the system is really well designed and made with high-quality components. The camera itself looks sleek and modern, similar to the Lollipop baby monitor. Like the other wifi baby monitors on this list, the Nanit streams high definition (HD) digital video and digital audio right to an app on your phone, and the app is available for Android and Apple devices, including phones and tablets. It does this by connecting to your home's wifi and streaming video right through your existing router. In our testing, we found that if you're at home the video streaming is very fast (low latency) and high clarity. And if your internet goes down, it will still work as long as you're still connected to your home wifi. On a 4G LTE connection, the video is a bit choppy from time to time but we found that a common theme with any wifi-based camera system. Let's first talk about some of the features. First, there is an awesome digital zoom feature right from your app - you pinch the screen just like with anything else and get a clearer view of your baby. Second, it has temperature and humidity sensors so you can keep track of nursery conditions. We compared the temperature and humidity readings to our hygrometer and it was very accurate. Third, we loved the wall-mount because it gives you a really nice overhead vantage point on your baby, unlike some of the standing cameras that sit on a nearby surface - this has a much better view. Note that if you want to mount it on a nearby surface like a dresser or changing table, you can buy a separate Nanit table mount. Fourth, it includes the wall mounting hardware and the cord hiding strips to keep the wires out of baby's view and reach. Fifth, the camera quality was excellent in both day and night vision conditions. Finally, there are some other nifty features, like the ability to receive alerts for sound or motion, to have audio running in the background of your phone (which is great for nighttime), a nightlight that you can control right from the app, and encrypted communication. So that's all excellent, and when you combine it with the monthly subscription ($10/month) for Nanit Insights, it's a great package that not only monitors but also can track your baby's sleep habits (including videos). A 1-month trial is included for this service so you can check it out and see if you want to consider - we suspect that most parents will be content with just the real-time monitoring without any habit tracking. In our testing, everything worked really well, and we were consistently impressed by the streaming video and sensors. The biggest drawback for this monitor is the price - it's about $250, which is up at the top of the price range for this entire list. We'll let you figure out whether it's worth the cost for your specific needs. Update: we have now been using this Nanit baby monitor for just over 3 months, and we continue to be very happy with it, it seems to be not only high quality but also reliable (so far!). Interested? you can check out the Nanit Baby Monitor here!
So we recommend choosing a baby monitor that uses a different frequency band from your cordless phone and other wireless products in your home. The band that your cordless phone operates on should be printed somewhere on it. Remember that interference can vary widely depending on where you live, the electronic devices you have at home, and the ones your neighbors have. If, for example, you have a 2.4 GHz wireless product, such as an older cordless phone, choose a baby monitor that doesn't operate on the 2.4 GHz frequency band. People with newer phones that use DECT will have fewer issues with interference.
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
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.
If you’re looking to spend under $100 on a video monitor, Baldwin recommends the Babysense baby monitor as a solid budget pick. For $75, it comes equipped with a 2.4-inch HD LCD color screen, secure interference-free connection and 2.4 GHz digital wireless transmission, two-way intercom, digital zoom, infrared night vision, room-temperature monitoring, and more.