This baby monitor system lets you listen in on your child with a “smart audio unit,” or you can install the Safety 1st companion app to turn your smartphone into a video display, complete with motion and audio alerts. While it lacks some of the nonessential features of the Arlo Baby, we give it high marks for its excellent video quality, customizable alerts, and its ability to grant regulated camera access to other caretakers.
Motion and audio sensors: In the old days, parents were forced to endure a consistent ambient hiss from their audio monitors while they listened for their child’s stirrings or cries. Mercifully, many modern baby monitors will stay in “quiet mode” until they detect motion and/or sound, which will trigger an alert, such as activating the handheld video display or pushing a notification to your smartphone.
It may surprise you to hear that simply being able to last through the night, unplugged, with the display off, qualifies as exceptional battery life for a baby monitor. The Infant Optics was one of the only monitors in our testing that could easily do that, and then last a while longer the next day before needing a charge. (The manufacturer claims it lasts 10 hours with the display off—we got that amount of time off a full charge, even when checking the display intermittently.) This model also charges via a USB connection, which actually sets it apart from a variety of competitors, some of which use ineffective and inconvenient proprietary DC chargers or even disposable batteries.
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:
As you'd expect, the talk-back functionality and audio quality on the VTech are great—easily better than the rudimentary talk-back features on our video monitor picks. With the battery lasting about 19 hours on a full charge, this monitor has the strongest battery life of any in our test. Rated to a range of 1,000 feet, it exceeds the range of our pick (700 feet) both as advertised and in practice during tests.
We don’t think most people would be happiest with a Wi-Fi–enabled baby monitor. The benefits—primarily, being able to view the camera footage remotely, on multiple phones, without keeping track of a separate monitor—do not make up for the disadvantages Wi-Fi monitors have as a category. Security is probably the first thing on most people’s minds. The likelihood of someone hacking into your baby monitor is remote, but it’s possible, said Mark Stanislav, director of application security at Duo Security, in an interview with The Wirecutter. You’re relying on the security of your own home network and also the ability of the manufacturer to secure all its devices. “Once you get into an Internet-connected device, and it really depends on what kind of device it is, but these devices very often bypass your home’s router and firewall. Basically, once you’re connected to this device, you are inside the home’s network. So, it’s possible to use these devices to access other devices in a home,” Stanislav said. (Stanislav was also involved in Rapid7’s research into the vulnerabilities of Wi-Fi–enabled monitors.)
Electromagnetic fields (EMF), or dirty electricity, is something we think needs to be discussed when talking about wireless baby monitors. Given that all wireless devices give off some level of EMF, we feel it would be negligent not to discuss the potential for possible health risks associated with the kind of radiation emitted by wireless products. While the jury is still out, and studies being done are not conclusive yet, there is enough evidence that EMF might potentially cause health problems that we feel it is better to be cautious when it comes to children's exposure than to ignore the possibilities.
If you want to be as streamlined as possible and happen to have extra Apple devices hanging around, the Bump recommends the Cloud Baby Monitor app, which turns your iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Apple Watch, and even your laptop into a secure Wi-Fi baby monitor. Use one device in the nursery as a camera, then have high-quality live video and audio transmitted to a secondary device, or even a third or fourth. Using the “parent unit,” you can talk to your child through two-way video and audio, turn on lullabies or white noise, and adjust the night-light on the other side. The app will also alert you to any noise and motion occurring in the other room.
The iBaby’s video and audio quality were among the best in the WiFi group, but like all WiFi monitors, quality and how well it displays real-time action depends largely on your internet quality and speed. Our testers only experienced a delay of less than a second, more noticeable than HelloBaby’s, but nowhere close to Motorola’s three-second delay.
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.
Type: After considering the options, weighing the relative advantages, and experiencing many firsthand, we determined our ideal monitor would be an RF (radio frequency) video monitor rather than one of the two main alternatives: a Wi-Fi (or cloud-based) model that you can check on your phone, and bare-bones audio-only speakers. (We approached our research with an open mind and gave an equal chance to all three types.) Since the best audio monitors cost far less, we have recommendations for both video and audio types—and we answered the question, What about a Wi-Fi baby monitor? with a firm conclusion that RF video can better provide what most people want: a clear view of a baby, a secure connection, and a dedicated monitor that can operate in the background without tying up your phone.
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.
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
As you’d expect, the talk back functionality and audio quality in general are great—easily better than the crude talk back features on our video monitor picks. With the battery lasting about 19 hours on a full charge, this monitor had the strongest battery life of any in our test (not entirely a fair comparison, as this is the only one with no screen to power). Rated to a range of 1,000 feet, it exceeds the range of our pick (700 feet) both as advertised and in practice during tests.
If you want remote access to see footage inside your home while you’re away, why not just use an indoor security camera? If that’s your sole objective, we think such cameras are a better choice than a dedicated baby monitor—and we explain which ones we like and why, in detail, in our guide to wireless indoor home security cameras. But in comparing our picks here against the Nest Camera (a popular, mainstream option, and a pick in our security camera guide), we found that security cameras start to lose their appeal when you try to use them in the ways most people regularly want to use baby monitors—at home, at night, all night, while a kid sleeps. Many won’t stream audio in the background, which means that to continuously monitor your baby, the app has to be open at all times. Some can take several seconds to pull up a live feed—not ideal when you want to see why a baby is crying. They can work well if you’re traveling and want to see what the family is up to, or if you’re out for the night and want to check on the kids without bugging the sitter—but as useful as that capability is, we concluded that it really is a different task from what most people want to accomplish with a day-to-day monitor.
If you're looking for a smartphone-compatible baby monitor that's designed first and foremost to fill that role, Wirecutter calls the iBaby M6S (Est. $135) "the least bad Wi-Fi monitor (so far)," simply because it's "slightly easier to set up than its competitors." Once again, however, experts disagree: Baby Bargains says Nest Cam "runs circles around iBaby when it comes to set up and ease of use."
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.
This monitor is known for its zoom lens, included in the box, that lets you see your baby up close even if you have to position it farther away from the crib. You can use the monitor to remotely adjust the camera, and you don’t have to worry about plugging the monitor in overnight—it can sit on your nightstand for up to 10 hours in the power-saving mode (similar to sleep mode on your computer, but it still provides sound monitoring while the display is off) and up to six hours with the display screen constantly on.