The interface on the monitor, aka the parent unit, is basic, simple, and intuitive, while many of its competitors have awkward controls. When panning and tilting the camera, for example, the Infant Optics responds immediately and can move in very small increments. The text on the menu displays look like something off an old Motorola RAZR, but the commands are easy to interpret and less confusing than those of some competitors. A group of four buttons makes it easy to pull up the menu and make a change (to the volume, say) without losing sight of the image on the screen. Other nice minor touches, like a display that constantly notes the temperature in the baby’s room, appear on this model but not on all of its competitors. This is not a touchscreen, but frankly, if you’ve ever used an iPhone, you’ll find the touchscreens on most baby monitors to be sorely substandard.
Security is a mixed bag, especially as baby monitors get more high tech. If tech giants like Apple and Google run into security flaws, high-tech baby monitors are sure to experience similar problems. However, some less high-tech baby monitors aren't secure, either, and many suffer from signal interference. We've checked each company's security policy to find the most secure options for you.
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.
This is a light or beeping sound that lets you know that you've reached the monitor's range limit. If you have a model without this feature, static might be the only indication that you're out of range. (A monitor's range can vary due to your home's size, its construction materials, and other factors.) The greater the range, the better--especially if you plan to take your monitor outside.
You might see monitors on the market with claims that they can track a baby's breathing or movements, but unless the unit is registered with the FDA, it's not a medical device. Consumer Reports hasn't tested this type of monitor. Talk with your pediatrician if you think your child has a condition that warrants medical monitoring. He or she can give you advice on the best devices.
Poor quality and durability plague many baby monitors. Scores of reviewers on Amazon and other sites report that the Hello Baby HB32; Motorola MPB854Connect, MBP36XL, MBP33XL, MBP41, and MBP43; Infant Optics DXR-5; Summer Infant Dual View and Sure Sight 2.0; Levana Jena, Keera, Ayden, Astra, and Lila; Angelcare AC420; Philips Avent SCD570 and SCD630/SCD637; and VTech VM342-2 and VM343 don’t deliver on promised functionality and start to fail in some critical capacity within a year—often in much less time.
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.
General Usability: This one is two-fold. First we wanted to make sure each monitor could perform under bright, dim, and no light; and pick up even the faintest sounds. Then we looked at how easy it was to use the monitor. Could we adjust the screen brightness, or were we going to be half-blinded when we picked it up at 1AM? Was the monitor voice-activated, or does it pick up white noise in the background? How sensitive were the alarms, and did they sound like a baby-waking screech or a soft ping?
For the parent devices of dedicated monitors, the battery life ranged anywhere between 6.75 and 12.75 hours. The Wi-Fi options are harder to gauge given that the battery life depends on the kind of device used, whether or not it is being used for other applications simultaneously, and how old the battery is in the device. In general, however, we feel it is relatively safe to say that most will work longer than the best dedicated monitor battery if the device is dedicated for use with the monitor only and is not running other applications simultaneously.
Baby monitors shouldn't be used as a substitute for adult supervision. They should be considered as an extra set of ears—and, in some cases, eyes—that help parents and caregivers keep tabs on sleeping babies. Using one can alert you to a situation before it becomes serious, for example, if your baby is coughing, crying, or making some other sign of distress. Experts warn that you can't rely on a monitor to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Gone are the days of silently peeking into the nursery to check on your napping baby and then, whoops, accidentally waking them up (“No, no, please no!”). A baby monitor uses a camera to watch over the crib, while you carry a handheld device that lets you know what’s going on with your child at any given moment, no matter where you are in your home. There are also other monitors that track sleep or breathing either with a clip or sock.