Video quality is a metric these products should perform well in, but most of them failed to offer a true to life image even in the daytime. It is disappointing that most dedicated video products aren't doing more than providing a blurry image of the baby in the room, and fail to show the baby's features or what the human eye would see in the room. The night vision is even worse than their day vision video, with some images being so blurry and hard to decipher that parents may end up going to baby's room simply because their baby has no face.
From each category, we hand-selected our finalists: the monitors with the most positive reviews on Amazon and parenting blogs, plus any that had all four of our parent-favorite features. Then we sent several monitors home with three different testers, to see which ones actually made parents’ lives easier, and which ones were more trouble than they’re worth.
We have been following news that the Amazon Echo Spot, available in December 2017, can work as a baby monitor. While we plan to test these claims firsthand, our initial interview with Amazon confirmed a few hunches, and we believe certain shortcomings will make the Echo Spot hard to recommend as a baby monitor. First, it’s not a “baby monitor” per se; the Echo Spot will project video from an existing home security camera or other Wi-Fi camera through its screen. This approach has a few disadvantages, which we outline in the What about a Wi-Fi baby monitor? section. Amazon also confirmed that the Echo Spot would broadcast the same footage you would see on that camera’s app, and that it would not work as a display for RF monitors, like our pick in this guide. The Spot can use voice commands (for example, “Alexa, show me the nursery”), and we’ll determine in testing if that capability overcomes a common flaw in other Wi-Fi monitors and security cameras, namely a sluggish response time when loading video over a standard app. You can also “drop in on the nursery” to hear audio, and potentially talk back, depending on the camera’s functions. As with the voice function, the ability to see the temperature of the baby’s room, plus pan/tilt, play music, and other functions, will be dependent on the camera the Echo Spot is attached to.
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.
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.
The Vtech DM221 offers the features you need, coupled with the best sound clarity in our review of sound products. The DM221 comes with easy to set sound activation and adjustable mic sensitivity to help create a peaceful environment for a quality night's sleep with a parent device that only makes a peep when your little one does. The DM221's parent unit talk to baby feature sounds natural on the baby's side so your infant won't be alarmed by a robotic or static sound found in some of the competition. This unit is a budget-friendly choice that will work for almost any family.
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Adjustable Camera Pan/Tilt/Zoom: One of the most annoying things that can happen when you're using a baby monitor is closing the door and then turning on the video monitor only to realize that your camera isn't aimed at the baby at all, and you can't see a thing. Most of the baby monitor systems would require you to go back into your baby's room and manually adjust the camera. Some of the systems we review below have remotely adjustable camera angles, so you can pan side-to-side, tilt the camera angle upward/downward, and zoom in or out, without having to go back into your baby's room. Super convenient, and a critical feature to stay at the top of our best baby monitor list. It's also nice to have a relatively wide-view camera, like the Summer Infant wide baby monitor, so that even if you don't have wireless camera panning and tilting, the odds of still seeing your baby are pretty high if you have a wide-angle camera.
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.
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.
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 dedicated monitors did not score as well as the Wi-Fi products for features. It isn't that they don't have features, it's just that they don't offer as many, don't have features that make the camera easier to use or the features they have don't work that well. All of the dedicated monitors have 2-way communication, but they all also can only be viewed on the parent device that comes with the monitor. Some offer temperature sensors and lullabies, but most of them don't provide motion detection or great zoom. The highest score for features for the traditional video products was 5 of 10. Two monitors managed to earn the 5 rating, with the Infant Optics DXR-8 being the highest ranked overall with a feature score of 5. However, this monitor did not score well overall, or in key metrics, we think are essential for a good video monitor. So despite having a high score for features, we still would not recommend this monitor to a friend.
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.
The audio is quite good as well, with very little distortion. As with other Wi-Fi video baby monitors, there is lag as the video stream travels through distant servers before reaching your smartphone. In our tests, the SCD860 had good results one moment and issues shortly after. This is one of the reasons we gave it a low score for connection quality. A few of our testers had trouble setting up this baby camera using the smartphone app. The camera doesn't work without a wireless connection, unlike traditional video baby monitors that use a handheld receiver. The app is easy to use, and it lets you set up push notifications and adjust the sound sensitivity. We had a few connection issues independent of our Wi-Fi connection, which could cause concern. For a time, we had no connection, so we didn't know what was going on in the other room. This monitor lets you track the temperature and humidity in your baby's room and has a nightlight with multiple light color options. If your baby is upset, you can use the app to talk to them or play one of the 10 lullabies through the camera's speaker. The Philips Avent Smart baby monitor SCD860 has a two-year warranty, which is the longest of all the models we tested.
Not everyone needs a baby monitor. If you live in a smaller house or apartment, keep your infant in close proximity, or just generally don’t feel the need to monitor your baby as they’re sleeping (the infant cry is hard to miss!), you may find that a monitor is unnecessary. Other people may only want a monitor for occasional use, like when you’re out in your yard while your baby is napping and want to know when they’ve woken up.
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.
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In addition to the standard parent and baby unit, these monitors include a device that tracks your baby’s movements, breathing, or heart rate, and offer time-sensitive alarms that alert you if your baby hasn’t moved in the last 20–30 seconds. While they aren’t proven to reduce SIDS, many new parents told us these monitors gave them added peace of mind.
Like other systems, the Dropcam Echo allows you to put up more than one camera and monitor different rooms. The manufacturer says the Dropcam Echo automatically detects motion and sound, and you can get an e-mail message or notification on your smart phone or iPad when something changes in the baby's room. Dropcam will store your video feed for either a weekly or monthly fee.
The longest battery life for the dedicated products in our review is the Levana Lila, which ran for 12.75 hours in full use mode. The manufacturer claims this unit will work up to 72 hours in power saving mode, but we only tested the monitors in full use. The Infant Optics DXR-8 came in second place with a shorter run time of closer to 11.5 hours. The Motorola MBP36S earned the lowest score for battery life with a runtime just under 7 hours. While not necessarily a deal breaker, there are plenty of other reasons to dislike the Motorola MBP36S, and the battery life is just a small part of a disappointing overall picture (no pun intended).
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) continues to warn parents against using wearable monitors on infants to track breathing and vital signs — as they aren’t FDA approved and don’t always provide the most accurate results. The caution has led to the advent of non-contact breathing monitors like Cocoon Cam Plus. It’s a ‘smart’ Wi-Fi baby monitor that not only lets parents watch live 720p high-def footage of their baby snoozing, but also track their real-time breathing, movements, and sleep patterns using computer vision and artificial intelligence. And it can do both from either above the crib or across the room, without requiring the child to wear any additional gadgets.
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.
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.
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.
All of the products in our review have features for convenience and overall function, but some also offer features for fun or additional information. All of the products have night vision with sensors for automatic adjustment with light changes, and all offer 2-way communication with baby through the camera. Some of them come with lullabies, and others have nifty temperature and humidity sensors. Overall, whatever you might be looking for, or never knew existed but now want, can probably be found in the products we tested.
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.