Baby monitors, despite the name, are meant more for the caregiver than they are for the baby. We asked parents about which features they felt were helpful, like a long range so they could wander carefree all over the house, and reliability so they weren’t struggling to maintain a signal. Other features like being able to play lullabies, or receive temperature alerts are only as useful as you make them. And a few features, like motion monitors, can be exceptionally comforting for some, and distressing for others.
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.
Parents who want to both hear and see their baby will naturally opt for a video monitor. Video monitors are particularly great for those with older babies learning to stand in their cribs or toddlers transitioning to a bed who'd much rather play than sleep. They're also a good pick for parents who need to keep tabs on more than one child, as many video monitors will allow the parent unit to toggle between multiple cameras.
Range: Range is the main drawback of an RF model, as audio monitors can roam farther out, and a Wi-Fi connection can theoretically be checked anywhere. We wanted an adequate range in a typical home—to be able to maintain a signal up or down a flight of stairs, across the house, and out on a patio or driveway, but we didn’t expect much beyond that. We zeroed in on monitors rated to about 700 feet of range1 or greater.
In early 2011, two infant strangulation deaths prompted a recall of nearly two million Summer Infant video monitors. The CPSC also reported that a 20-month-old boy was found in his crib with the camera cord wrapped around his neck. In that case, the Summer Infant monitor camera was mounted on a wall, but the child was still able to reach the cord. He was freed without serious injury.
The 3.5" diagonal color screen on the MBP36S shows real-time video and sound in your baby’s room, and you can remotely pan, tilt, and zoom the video image as needed. The product offers a 300 degree viewing range so your child will never be out of sight. Infrared night vision allows you keep an eye on things in low light levels without disturbing little sleepers.
When it comes to video monitors, you'll want to make sure that the one you're buying offers night vision and a decent resolution. Most baby monitors with a dedicated viewer sadly have low VGA resolutions, which are much worse than the majority of smartphones you can buy these days. A few have a 720p HD resolution, which is decent. We hope more baby monitors go that route in the future.
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.
Rechargeable batteries: Since the camera will most likely stay trained on your bundle of joy, it can remain plugged into AC power. But parent unit displays are designed to be always on and carried with you as you move from room to room. That can drain batteries quickly. Look for a parent unit that runs on rechargeable batteries, so you’re not constantly swapping them out.
When shopping for a video monitor, note that you'll pay a substantial premium over audio-only monitors, which cost around $30 to $50. You'll need to decide if the extra money for video viewing is worth it, though parents may appreciate the ability to glance at a smartphone app or handheld monitor to visually check in on their sleeping child instead of opening a door and potentially waking up their baby.
The longest battery life for the dedicated products in our review is the Levana Lila, which ran for 12.75 hours in full use mode. The manufacturer claims this unit will work up to 72 hours in power saving mode, but we only tested the monitors in full use. The Infant Optics DXR-8 came in second place with a shorter run time of closer to 11.5 hours. The Motorola MBP36S earned the lowest score for battery life with a runtime just under 7 hours. While not necessarily a deal breaker, there are plenty of other reasons to dislike the Motorola MBP36S, and the battery life is just a small part of a disappointing overall picture (no pun intended).
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. That alone puts it head-and-shoulders above many other monitors we tested.
Security is one reason Stanislav personally uses an RF monitor (like our pick) with his own daughter. He added that even that is not completely secure—“there are absolutely ways to break into a signal with radio frequency,” he said. But, noting that you have to be physically close to the house, and have the motive and ability to do it, he says it’s “a very small risk to your average parent.” In addition to the actual risks of a Wi-Fi monitor, there’s a perception that they’re vulnerable—this suspicious tone comes up often in many conversations with parents about monitors, with statements like “we’ve all heard the horror stories”2 coloring the whole discussion and suggesting, to us, that most people are really put off by the vulnerability.
For roughly a third of the price of our pick, the VTech is far more affordable. Losing video is a major sacrifice, of course, and we’re certain most parents looking for a first monitor will prefer being able to do a visual check-in on a baby. Budget advantages aside, we could see this being best for parents of toddlers who are considering replacing a failing monitor, and who know they will likely use a monitor only at night as a way to hear a kid crying out from a distant bedroom. Many reviewers have also found it useful as a way for adults to communicate, especially for caretakers who need to be able to hear when adults with mobility or medical issues need help in another room.
It really depends on what you feel most comfortable with. There are audio monitors that allow you to listen to any noise coming from the nursery, vital monitors that track sleep and breathing and video monitors that add sight to sound. Babylist parents overwhelmingly choose video monitors. The security of seeing what your child is up to—like if they’ve gotten tangled in their swaddle, pulled their diaper off or climbed out of the crib—can be worth the extra cost of a video monitor.