Start by deciding whether you want an audio-only monitor or one that lets you see as well as hear your baby. Some parents are reassured by hearing and seeing every whimper and movement. Others find such close surveillance to be nerve-racking. Having a monitor should make life easier, not create a constant source of worry. You might find that you don't really need a monitor at all, especially if your home is small.
To test connectivity, we put the handheld unit and the camera in neighboring rooms with 30 feet between them. We looked for lag, choppiness, and changes in the video or sound quality. While we rated it separately, we also did tests to estimate each baby cam’s maximum indoor range. Each camera we tested has a range of 100 feet or more, which is enough for an average-size home.
Features are important, but we encourage you to consider which features you think you will realistically use and which sound like fun in theory, but probably won't happen in practice. Many of the monitors carry a higher price tag and justify the price with the addition of features parents are unlikely to use in real life. Features like alarm clocks for feeding schedules, and alerts for low humidity might feel like something you should consider, but in practice, sound activation and quality images are more useful. In fact, more features often translate to being more difficult to use, and many of the features are novelty functions that most parents stop using over time. A good example of this is the Philips Avent SCD630 with an ease of use score of 8, but a features score of only 4. Try not to fall for the propaganda of bells and whistles that you might only use for the first few weeks. In the end, what you want is a good monitor with great sound and video quality.
We began by shopping for baby monitors like anyone else would if they had dozens of hours to do it. The process started with a long list of best sellers at Amazon, Walmart, Target, BuyBuy Baby, Babies“R”Us, and Costco. We found monitors recommended in editorial reviews, such as PCMag, Reviewed.com, and Tom’s Guide. We also read a ton of discussion among parents in the Amazon reviews—what features they found especially useful, and what problems tend to occur. Thinking of all this, and comparing those concerns against the things we’ve appreciated and despised in our own years of monitor use, we developed the following selection criteria:
You can get the same system, with a traditional monitor screen that’s slightly smaller at 4.3 inches, for cheaper. If you’re interested in having two zoom cameras or an app that lets you see your baby while away, Project Nursery offers those configurations as well. You can also record video and take photos with it as well (requires an SD card sold separately).
The Nanit Smart Baby Monitor is for the tech- and data-obsessed parent who wants to know and track everything about his baby. Winner of the Bump’s 2018 Best of Baby Awards, the Nanit is an over-the-crib Wi-Fi camera that not only offers standard video monitoring capabilities, but also provides sleep insight reports and sleep scores via the app. The bird’s-eye-view camera provides real-time HD-quality video and uses “computer vision” to track whether your child is awake, sleeping, or fussing. Then, Nanit synthesizes this data to generate nightly sleep reports and sleep scores, even providing tips on how to help your baby sleep better. Says Kay, “The Nanit is a two-in-one in that you’ve got this monitoring app, but you’re also getting helpful training and guidance when it comes to sleep, which is different from a lot of the competitors.” Priced at $279, it’s definitely on the high-end of baby monitors, but if that extra functionality is important to you, it may be worth it. For other parents, however, the Nanit may be more than you need.
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.
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.
Most monitor systems have an electrical cord or nonrechargeable battery option for the unit in the baby's room. And receivers typically have an electrical cord or rechargeable batteries. Some models are notorious for burning through batteries at an alarming rate. Parents have complained that even monitors sold with rechargeable batteries built in can drain quickly. Our Baby Monitor Ratings , available to subscribers, include an evaluation of battery life. Subscribers can also check out our battery report and Ratings (for subscribers).
Interchangeable Camera Lenses: Some of the newest baby monitors have interchangeable lenses to best suit your baby's room. If you have the camera positioned close to the baby, like on the edge of the crib or on a nearby dresser, you might prefer the wide angle camera. If you have the camera positioned relatively far from the baby, like on a bookshelf on the other side of the room, you might prefer the regular narrow angle camera. Flexibility is nice, particularly if you end up rearranging the room or have to move things out of the reach of a growing menace.
The HelloBaby might be a standard monitor, but it excels at the basics. It scored better than some of the more expensive WiFi monitors in picture clarity, and was hands-down the easiest to use. Just open the box, plug in the two devices, and you’re ready to go. No difficult packaging to tear through, and no account setup or device pairing necessary. Our testers had it up in running in less than 3 minutes each time.
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.
For roughly a third of the price of our pick, the VTech is far more affordable. Losing video is a major sacrifice, of course, and we’re certain most parents looking for a first monitor will prefer being able to do a visual check-in on a baby. Budget advantages aside, we could see this being best for parents of toddlers who are considering replacing a failing monitor, and who know they will likely use a monitor only at night as a way to hear a kid crying out from a distant bedroom. Many reviewers have also found it useful as a way for adults to communicate, especially for caretakers who need to be able to hear when adults with mobility or medical issues need help in another room.
Among the negative reviews, the most consistent complaint has to do with connectivity issues—either difficulty linking up initially or randomly dropping the connection while in use. These represent a slim minority among mostly positive reviews, and we did not have similar issues during our test. One consequence of losing the connection (whether it’s by a dropped link or via manually unplugging the camera) is that disconnecting causes the parent unit to emit a sharp, loud, repetitive beep. It is annoying—especially so if it happens in the middle of the night—but you should rarely hear it under normal circumstances.
If you hope to keep tabs on your little one while snoozing there are a few different options depending on what your goals are or what information you hope to have. The traditional baby monitoring device was designed to tell parents what was going on in the room as far as a baby crying or needing assistance. Since then, monitoring products have evolved into seeing the baby and even knowing if your baby is moving. Knowing which products do what can help you determine which type meets your goals and is right for your family.
* Guest Accounts: need to allow guest accounts for grandparents, but absolutely need the ability to turn OFF the microphone for those accounts. The camera is only in the baby's room, but the microphone extends as far as sound travels, and you probably don't want your mother-in-law listening to every discussion in your home. This is a HUGE security feature that is a requirement for anything with guest accounts
Child Safety: We care a lot about the safety and well-being of your babies, and our baby monitor reviews are no exception to that rule. Most of the safety issues with baby monitor systems revolve around the parent's due diligence: secure the wires out of reach and out of sight from your baby, make sure you put the camera out of reach (especially when you're mounting to the rail of a crib), and always keep them away from water and a running humidifier. In addition to these basic safety tips, the newer heart rate monitoring, breathing monitoring, and movement monitoring systems can add confidence to parents worried about their baby sleeping in a different room. A good example of a baby monitor with heart rate monitoring is the Owlet Smart Sock that can track heart rate and blood oxygenation levels, and stream that information to an app on your smart phone. Of course, don't be too confident because these devices are not hospital- or laboratory-grade monitoring systems, so keep that in mind.
So, we split our remaining finalists into three groups: WiFi Monitors for those who want to have an unlimited range or the ability to check in on their baby from anywhere, Movement Monitors for those who are comforted by hearing their baby’s vital signs, and a “standard” category for parents who want a quality monitor, but aren’t looking for that extra level of support.
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 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.
But these nursery essentials can be as fussy as the babies they keep tabs on. And like virtually every other household appliance, they are growing increasingly more capable and complex. In addition to conventional video baby monitors that use a camera and a handheld LCD display, often called a “parent unit,” there are now also Wi-Fi-enabled systems that connect to your home network and use your smartphone as both the display and the controller, much like DIY home security cameras. These latter models offer high-defition video, intelligent alerts, and the ability to check on your child from anywhere you have an internet connection.
Look for a monitoring system that is a good fit for your home and lifestyle. For example, if you’re in a small apartment in a busy city, having a monitor that has a long range won’t be as important to you, but one that screens out background noise will. For parents that frequently travel or work long days, being able to check on your child from anywhere and talk over the audio can help keep you connected. But, for those who are with their kids most of the time this might not matter much. The point is, consider what will make parenting easier and your family happiest and you can’t go wrong.