Technology has changed the way parents monitor their babies. With today’s audio and video, parents can keep an ear peeled and an eye out for the most subtle changes in their little ones. Whether you want to simply hear your baby’s first cry or you’re looking for a high-tech video monitor with a sleep sensor, there’s a baby monitor out there for you.
A baby monitor, also known as a baby alarm, is a radio system used to remotely listen to sounds made by an infant. An audio monitor consists of a transmitter unit, equipped with a microphone, placed near to the child. It transmits the sounds by radio waves to a receiver unit with a speaker carried by, or near to, the person caring for the infant. Some baby monitors provide two-way communication which allows the parent to speak back to the baby (parent talk-back). Some allow music to be played to the child. A monitor with a video camera and receiver is often called a baby cam.
"Quick and easy set-up is Nest Cam's secret sauce -- they promise a 60 second set-up and that's pretty much what we found in our testing," Baby Bargains says. Still, "Nest Cam isn't a perfect solution as a baby monitor." In addition to the signal dropouts, Nest Cam's audio cuts out anytime your phone's screen goes to sleep. It also drains the battery, Baby Bargains says, so you'll have to leave your device plugged in all night. The camera is fixed – it won't swivel – and the audio can lag behind by 3 to 5 seconds, depending on your router's speed.
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.
This is a powerful solution for the relatively computer savvy parents who want flexibility, accessibility, and convenience. This is not just a great baby monitor, this is a wireless video camera that can be placed anywhere and will communicate with computers and smart phones; many people even use it as a home security camera for its ease of use and placement, high-quality video, and as a monitor with night vision it is pretty unsurpassed. Install the Dropcam App and view your baby through your cell phone no matter where you are, or use it as a powerful security camera for when you're traveling or out of the house. Want to check in on the babysitter while you're out on date night to make sure your baby is napping on time? Want to move the camera to monitor the dog or your home while you're away? Easy, and with the 130-degree wide angle lens, you can place it in even small rooms and maintain a good field of view. If you're away from home, you can also set it up to alert you to any movement: it will send an alert to your phone (or an email) along with a photo of what's going on. Like many baby-oriented video monitors, it also supports two-way communication with a built-in microphone and speaker, has 8x digital zoom, and has great night vision. It also has 1080p quality video, day and night. But it's also a bit expensive for a camera-only system, coming in at about $165. This is a powerful and flexible system that has a very high-quality digital video color and night vision camera, a wide field of view, access to cloud computing, and tons of convenient bells and whistles. This is not your mom's baby monitor. However, there are some requirements here: you need wireless internet in your home, and it needs to be rather high speed to support streaming high-quality video and audio feeds. You also will need to load an app onto your phone (iPhone or Android) or a software package onto your computers (Windows or Macs) in order to access the device. If you ask us, this is one of the best and most flexible solutions for baby monitoring. It's a bit lower on our list because it's not technically a baby monitor so it doesn't include things like sleep mode (turn on only in response to noise), and of course there is no dedicated bed-side monitor for it. It's an all-purpose camera that you can place anywhere and use as a baby monitor when needed. We also don't like that you need to subscribe to the Nest Aware for $10/month if you want to remove annoying banner ads on the app or software package. After paying $165+ for this, you would think the app would be included without annoying ads?
With a dedicated baby monitor, push-to-talk capabilities will usually be integrated, as well as the ability to record and share still images and video clips (even if some monitors require a subscription to do so). Baby video monitors will also usually have built-in music files that you can play to soothe your child. Just the ability to pan and tilt the camera — the Nest has a fixed 130-degree wide-angle perspective — means you can follow your kids wherever they scamper.
Below we list our top 5 baby monitor results, some of which are self-contained units, whereas some use wifi and your smart phone. Then we detail our in-depth reviews. After our buying guide, at the end of the article you can find more details about how we evaluated each model. Note that if you're looking for a sound-only baby monitor (an audio baby monitor), click here.
The Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi tied for the high score in this review with the iBaby M6S Wi-Fi. This monitor earned the high score for video quality, range, and battery life, with second place scores for ease of use and features. Its impressive performance helped it win the Top Pick award for Long-term Use. The Nest is a cool surveillance camera you can use to watch your baby, but given that it isn't specifically designed with baby in mind, it lacks some of the fun features parents may want like lullabies and nightlight. The Nest Cam offers motion detection, sound activation, 2-way talk to baby, and 8x digital zoom. The Nest Cam camera can not be controlled remotely, but instead relies on a large field of view you can zoom into and then search in a way that looks similar to pan and tilt. The downside to this camera is it does not continue to monitor if you use another app or take a phone call making it hard to use full time if you only have one device, so we recommend using a device other than your phone for consistent baby viewing. The Nest Cam is the most expensive Wi-Fi monitor in the group, but it is still cheaper than 3 of the dedicated monitors, and its long-term use possibilities make it an investment we think parents will use for years to come as a nanny cam, home security feature, or checking in on pets.
But, for many parents, a baby monitor is a part of daily life. If you need to visually confirm that your baby is safely asleep for the night in order to leave the room and relax, it can feel like a necessity. A baby monitor gives you a camera and/or microphone near the crib, and a separate rechargeable parent unit (aka, a monitor) that connects wirelessly and can travel with you throughout the house, either working while plugged in or running off its battery. Monitors are most commonly used for new babies, but even once your household is past the infant stage you may appreciate an easy way to check to make sure your kid is still asleep, still breathing, or still in the room at all. It’s nice to see your children in bed, dreaming happily, sleeping in adorable new positions, cuddling with animals, and generally doing okay. A baby monitor can make that happen.
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 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.
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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.)
The Dropcam Echo is an example of a digital video camera system that uses your existing wireless network, allowing you to use your computer or other device as the receiver. (We haven't tested this type of monitor.) Parents go to the Dropcam website, sign in to their account, and then connect the Dropcam to their router using an Ethernet cable. (Once the connection is made, you don't need to use the cable again.) The Dropcam locates your wireless network, you enter your unit's serial number, and the unit begins streaming encrypted video that you can view on a computer, iPhone, iPad, or Android device. You mount the camera in your baby's room and plug it into an electrical outlet.
The Infant Optics DXR-8 has a superior battery life to any of the other video monitors we tested, as well as a simpler monitor interface that’s more intuitive and easier to navigate than those found on competitors. The range, image quality, price, and many other features are comparable to the best competitors. Other good qualities include its basic but secure RF connection, and ability to pair multiple cameras, but those are features common to several other baby monitors. Every baby monitor has its share of negative feedback, but in more than 10,000 Amazon reviews, the complaints about the Infant Optics are relatively mild.
Our hands-on reviews put 32 video baby monitors to the test, examining their features, image clarity (day and night vision), convenience, reliability, safety, the range of reception, and versatility. We came away with over 15 of the top baby monitors of the year, including the top-ranked Infant Optics monitor to the super versatile Project Nursery monitor.
A big screen, a camera that zooms and a built-in nightlight make the In View monitor a great pick when you’re on a budget. The monitor also offers all the standard features: low-battery and out-of-range indicators, sound-activated lights and rechargeable batteries for the handheld monitor. Use the camera as a tabletop or mounted on the wall. And if you plan on having a big family, the monitor works with up to four cameras.