Being a new parent is an exciting and occasionally stressful journey into uncharted territory. There are so many things to learn about your baby and all the different products you need to keep your little one happy and healthy. One of the most important and expensive purchases you'll make when you're outfitting your nursery is buying a baby monitor.
Video baby monitors are simple, inexpensive tools for watching your child, and HD video is not a necessity for this task. While some baby monitors have excellent video, even those with lower quality video are suitable for watching your infant. Screen resolution does not necessarily mean good image quality, so we didn't use it as a point of comparison, relying only on video performance as observed in our tests.
Monitor options: We wanted easy, intuitive, responsive controls, whether they were on a touchscreen or using physical buttons. We also wanted the monitor to withstand being knocked off a nightstand or messed with by a toddler, and generally be tough enough for the rigors of life in a home with young children. We didn’t really care whether or not we could set an alarm, use it as a nightlight, or play chintzy music through the camera—but seeing a temperature in the kids’ room was a detail we appreciated.
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.
We tested and compared 9 of the most popular video monitors in this review using a comprehensive series of tests with continued use over several months. Our tests were designed to provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision on which product is right for your family and needs. Each monitor is scored based on performance experienced during our hands-on, side-by-side testing process. The test results determine the metric scores, and those scores combine to create overall scores and rank. Metric scores are derived from our in-house lab and user experience "in the field." Overall scores were weighted with a preference for the range, video quality, and sound clarity.
To test each camera’s night vision, we used them in darkened bedrooms with blackout curtains, with and without nightlights. For a more extreme test, we set the cameras up in a windowless room in a basement with a towel blocking light from the door. We aimed all the cameras at a doll’s face approximately 6 feet across the room, looked at the monitors, and tried not to creep ourselves out.
The VTech DM221 audio monitor is the best choice in the category—it's consistently a best seller at multiple retailers, with thousands of positive customer reviews. Losing video is a major sacrifice, of course, but we could see this monitor being a good choice for parents of toddlers who are considering replacing a failing monitor, or people who want a monitor only so they can hear their kid crying out from a distant bedroom.
A baby monitor's job is to transmit recognizable sound and, in the case of video models, images. The challenge is to find a monitor that works with minimal interference—static, buzzing, or irritating noise—from other nearby electronic products and transmitters, including older cordless phones that might use the same frequency bands as your monitor.
This really is the monitor that does it all! What puts this monitor heads and shoulders above the rest is the activity sensor pad that goes under baby’s mattress and monitors for lack of movement—a helpful enhancement for tracking baby’s breathing during those scary SIDS months. Once baby grows past that stage, breathe a sigh of relief, but don’t throw the monitor out with the bathwater, because the Angelcare AC517 also comes with both an audio and a video monitor! What more could you ask for?
Lullabies: Monitors often include a selection of soothing sounds to help your baby drift off to slumberland. These can be traditional nursery rhymes of the rock-a-bye-baby variety, nature sounds, white noise, or some combination of all of them. It’s a good idea to check them out before you play them to your sleeping child to determine whether they might help or hinder their sleep.
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.
If you struggle with technology and don't need or want to see your baby from any other location besides your home, you might want to stick with the dedicated monitors that require little setup and have fairly intuitive user interfaces. This isn't to say that most people can't sort out the Wi-Fi monitors, but it is undeniably less work to just plug the camera into an outlet and go than it is to sign up and download software applications.
The most troubling pattern you see in the one-star Amazon reviews is the reports of battery life declining (or failing) over time. This is part of a larger trend in baby monitors in general, and our take on it is that the battery tech within these monitors is just not at the level people have come to expect after living with good phones and tablets, and other quality electronics. Reading the negative reviews on this and many other monitors reminded us of the kinds of problems people had with rechargeable batteries years ago. Here’s a good example of what we mean. So for now, for any baby monitor, set your expectations accordingly.
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.