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 much as new parents want to be in the room with baby at all times, sometimes a baby monitor is necessary (like when you’re having a dinner party — or just want to watch Insecure in the next room). To help navigate the vast, confusing universe of baby monitors, we spoke to Lauren Kay, the Bump’s deputy editor, and Dave Baldwin, Fatherly’s former gear-and-tech editor and current play editor, about their recommendations, from traditional video monitors to smart-tech-enabled devices that can even track how your baby is sleeping. Add one of these to the baby registry.
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.
The first thing you need to consider is whether you want to have an audio-only baby monitor or one that incorporates video. Some parents choose to use smart home security cameras that send a video feed and alerts to their phones via an internet connection instead. Your choice largely depends on your budget and how high tech you want the baby monitor to be.
Though it’s not a video monitor, the Owlet does track your baby’s heart rate and oxygen while they sleep, and notifies you if something appears to be wrong. Just slip a comfortable wrap with a sensor over your wee one’s foot (it works with babies 0–18 months) and download the app to your phone. You’ll receive alerts in real-time should your child’s vital signs change. It also comes with a base station that changes color when something is up.
The Motorola MBP36S digital video baby monitor features wireless 2.4 GHz FHSS technology, which offers a reliable connection for better range and less chance of a dropped signal. It is equipped with multiple camera viewing with picture-in-picture and auto-switch screen options, allowing you to add additional cameras and keep an eye on the entire family in up to 4 rooms of your home. (Model: MBP36SBU, sold separately.) The superior wireless range of the MBP36S allows you to stay connected to your baby up to 590 feet away.
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.
Larger homes or locations with more than 4 or 5 walls between the camera and parent unit might be stuck with a Wi-Fi monitor. Most of the dedicated monitors only worked up to 4 walls, with the exception of the Project Nursery 4.3 that stopped working at 3. The Philips Avent SCD630 has the longest range for dedicated monitors in this review, with an impressive 92 ft through 5 walls, so if your needs are greater than that, then none of the dedicated monitors we tested are likely to work for your situation. Wi-Fi connected cameras, on the other hand, are limited only by the wireless router location in relation to the camera and parent unit, and the strength and speed of your Wi-Fi connection. If necessary, routers can often be moved, or range extenders added, to increase the range between the components if the Wi-Fi monitor struggles to keep a clear or consistent connection. Purchasing a monitor from a venue with a simple return policy like Amazon means you'll be able to test the monitor in your house to determine how well it works without the risk of being stuck with a useless product.
We tested monitors daily over a period of several months, in three houses: one nearly 100 years old with plaster walls, plus a newer home with standard drywall construction, and a two-level 1960s home with a driveway on another level from the kids’ rooms. We tried the cloud-based monitors with two routers to be sure that any connection issues were with the monitors themselves and not the Internet connection.
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 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.
It’s hard not to like the crystal-clear picture you get on this monitor’s 7-inch screen (the biggest screen on this list!). Its standalone camera can be moved from room to room and will remotely pan, tilt and zoom. Given the cost, this monitor is best if you want full control of the nursery environment. It syncs with the Smart Nursery humidifier and the Dream Machine sound and light machine. Once connected, you can turn on lullabies, project lights onto the ceiling and increase the room’s humidity all from your monitor.