We tested each product we purchased in key metrics that allow them to function as expected, or provides an additional feature or benefit. Monitors act as something of a lifeline for parents, so it is important that they work well, have adequate range, provide useful images, and are easy to use. If a product doesn't work well enough to instill confidence, then it will fail to offer parents the one thing they really want, more sleep.
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:
To save on battery life, some audio/video models only turn on when the baby makes an unusual motion or sound. Some models come with a motion-detector pad that fits under the crib sheet. This type of motion sensor is intended to prevent SIDS. Sensitive enough to detect changes in breathing, an alarm sounds if there is no movement after 20 minutes. However, if the baby simply rolls off the pad, the alarm may sound.
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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.
Another big plus? Its "basic but secure" radio frequency (RF) connection, Wirecutter says. Unlike monitors that transmit via Wi-Fi (and can be hacked from virtually anywhere on Earth), the DXR-8 is pretty hack-proof. It uses a 2.4 GHz FHSS (Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum) signal. Long story short, a hacker would pretty much have to be in the apartment next door, using just the right listening equipment to eavesdrop on your baby, tech journalist Carl Franzen explains at Lifehacker. He goes on a personal quest to find a hack-proof baby monitor before the birth of his first child – and settles on the DXR-8.
From each category, we hand-selected our finalists: the monitors with the most positive reviews on Amazon and parenting blogs, plus any that had all four of our parent-favorite features. Then we sent several monitors home with three different testers, to see which ones actually made parents’ lives easier, and which ones were more trouble than they’re worth.
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.
This year alone we have seen over 30 new baby monitors enter the market, most of which are low-quality products being mass produced in China. They are cheap and might even work well for a few weeks or months, but give them a little more time and they will start to have all sorts of issues. We've seen way too many melting chargers, malfunctioning screens, and units that are completely dead after a few months. Don't waste your money! Here's some of the factors we consider in our testing:
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.
The Philips Avent SCD630 earned a 4th place rank, but it is the number 1 ranked dedicated monitor we tested. It has the longest range and highest ease of use scores for the dedicated options and the best score for sound clarity out of all the monitors we tested in this review. The Philips has lullabies, a nightlight, 2-way talk to baby, automatic screen wakeup/sleep, sound activation, 2x zoom, and a temperature sensor. While it struggles to offer true to life images and has fewer features than most of the competition, it is hard to deny that this plug and play monitor is a simple solution for video baby monitoring, and it gets the job done with little fuss and only a small learning curve. However, if you want a remote-controlled camera, you should look elsewhere, as this one is manual with a smaller field of view.
Video products for monitoring baby is a growing industry, and it feels like every company is jumping on the bandwagon and throwing something into the already overflowing market of monitors. This plethora of products can make sorting through products difficult and attempts to narrow the field daunting. Luckily, we have already done the legwork by doing an initial review of the top products and choosing 9 of the most popular and well-rated options to test and compare. After months of hands-on testing, we feel confident that no matter what you might be looking for in a video product for monitoring baby, that you can find it in one of our award winners or the top-ranked products in this review.
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.
Start by deciding whether you want an audio-only monitor or one that lets you see as well as hear your baby. Some parents are reassured by hearing and seeing every whimper and movement. Others find such close surveillance to be nerve-racking. Having a monitor should make life easier, not create a constant source of worry. You might find that you don't really need a monitor at all, especially if your home is small.
If you want to know everything about your baby, down to the heartbeat — the Angelcare AC315 is our top motion-sensor monitor. The sensor mat slips under the mattress in your baby’s crib, and if it detects no movement after 20 seconds, it sends a loud alarm to the baby and parent units. Its touchscreen can be a little finicky. The Baby Delight is less prone to false alarms; however, our parent testers were concerned that the small clip-on sensor might be a choking hazard.