From a pure imaging standpoint, night vision is vital for watching your baby sleep from another room, and is standard for most baby monitors. Motorized pan and tilt (which lets you swivel the camera from afar) isn't quite as common, but is very welcome if you have a toddler and want to scan an entire room. High-definition is a nice plus, but you don't need the highest-resolution sensor to keep tabs on your baby—most of the monitors we test use 720p cameras rather than 1080p.
Baby's exposure could potentially be even lower if parents place the camera on a wall at least 15 feet from baby (a distance still good for night vision to work properly with most monitors). Given the sensitivity of baby's developing systems we recommend placing the monitor as far away from the baby as possible while still being able to utilize the night vision as intended and see baby's face to determine if they are awake or sleeping at a glance. For most of the products, this distance is between 10-15 feet from the baby.
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.
If all you want is a no-fuss audio monitor, the Bump and Baldwin both recommend VTech’s DM221 audio monitor, which consistently garners a lot of accolades. Using digital audio technology, the DM221 offers clear audio transmission and eliminates the crackle of analog models. A two-way intercom allows you to talk to your baby, while a five-level sound indicator can visually alert you to cries from the other room. The transmitter also features a soft night-light for your child. And don’t sleep on its compact size, which makes it perfect for travel.
Many of the baby monitors we've tested are internet-connected, letting you watch infant with your phone or tablet through an app just as if you were checking a home security camera. Because of this, you might not actually get a standalone display to go along with the camera. They aren't out of the question, however; some camera-only baby monitors offer viewers as an add-on or in a bundle. And if there aren't any available, you can simply get an inexpensive tablet like the Amazon Fire to use as a dedicated viewer.
Will Greenwald has been covering consumer technology for a decade, and has served on the editorial staffs of CNET.com, Sound & Vision, and Maximum PC. His work and analysis has been seen in GamePro, Tested.com, Geek.com, and several other publications. He currently covers consumer electronics in the PC Labs as the in-house home entertainment expert... See Full Bio
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This type of monitoring device attaches to your baby via their diaper, clothing or as a sock depending on the model. Most of the wearable options alert in the room and only a handful send a message to a parent device (smartphone or similar). In our experience, many of these have high false alarms from moving and crawling babies or high Electromagnetic Field (EMF) Levels (which we try to avoid). The Snuzo Hero SE is a cost-effective wearable with a unique vibration feature and very low levels of EMF.
The Babysense 7 movement product is a sensor pad mattress product that isn't portable but seems to have fewer false alarms than wearable products. The BabySense 7 is easy to use and doesn't require much setup or preparation outside of placing the sensor and control unit. This unit even works well after your baby learns to roll over, unlike the wearable options that become less reliable as your little one's age.
Traditional versus Wifi Baby Monitors: Starting around 2010, parents began to switch from using baby monitors with a yoked camera and screen, to using wifi cameras that can stream over smart phones, tablets, and personal computers. At the time, there weren't very many wifi cameras aimed towards the baby gear market, so people were going with familiar wifi camera brands like Nest and Samsung. Over the next few years, companies slowly began introducing baby-themed wifi cameras onto the market. While even high-quality HD wifi cameras can be found for under $50 (like this one) nowadays, companies began to realize they could package a wifi camera as a baby monitor, change the colors and themes of the app, and charge 3-4 times the price. And they continue to use this strategy to this day! So which is better? Well, this really comes down to one thing: do you want to be able to view the nursery while you're not at home? If you answer yes to this question, then you need to use a wifi monitor as opposed to a typical baby monitor. A wifi baby monitor (or any wifi camera) will connect to your internet (some are wired, some through wifi only) and stream live (well, slightly delated) video to an app on your phone. That will work in the house or out of the house, as long as you have a fast internet connection. So you can simply BYOP (bring your own phone) and leverage 20th century technology! That seems really appealing, and we highly recommend some of the newer ones (like the Cocoon Cam, Lollipop, and Nanit), but there are some things to keep in mind when figuring out the type of monitor to buy:
The LeFun camera connects to your WiFi, and you use the associated app to watch real-time footage in 750-pixel high definition. Because the product uses WiFi to transmit video, you don’t need to worry about walls obstructing the signal. The camera can pan an impressive 350 degrees and tilt 100 degrees, and it also has night vision that many reviewers say works well.
The LeFun C2 720P Wi-Fi earned a 3rd place rank thanks to high scores for range and battery life, and impressive results for video quality and features. This monitor earned a Best Value for Wi-Fi monitors for its budget-friendly list price that is the least expensive in the group and its higher rank. This means you can get a great, top performing monitor, at a reasonable price. The LeFun has motion detection, sound activation, 2-way talk to baby, zoom, and a remote-controlled camera with real pan and tilt capabilities. The downside to this camera is a lag time when using the pan and tilt feature, and it is a little harder to use than the other Wi-Fi options we tested, but given the low price, we suspect most parents will forgive these flaws.
Both Baldwin and Kay recommend iBaby’s M6S Wi-Fi video monitor for its design and ease of use. Resembling a little robot, the iBaby offers 360-degree views and 110-degree tilt, 1080p video with night vision, and even comes equipped with lullabies. Other features include temperature, humidity, and air-quality sensors, which Baldwin admits are bells and whistles, but could be useful depending on what kind of parent you are. And, of course, everything comes straight through to your smartphone or tablet, which can also remotely control settings. And while some parents may be concerned about potential hacking of Wi-Fi monitors, Baldwin found that the risk is fairly low and usually occurred in cheap, off-brand models.