Range, clarity and minimal interference are factors that should be considered when you're selecting a device for baby monitoring. Range especially is something you'll want to verify/test yourself once you get any of the monitors home because they are often rated in a line-of-sight situation, but rarely used that way. Depending on the monitor type, whole home Wi-Fi can be a great option to keep your monitor wirelessly connected just about anywhere in your home. With video baby monitors, you may also want to consider getting one with the ability to record, while a low battery indicator, volume control, temperature display, and a music player may also be important convenience factors for you. Privacy can also be a consideration. Digital monitors are more difficult to hack than analog monitors because their transmissions are encoded.
Image and audio quality: We wanted a high enough resolution to make out facial features in the dark, at more than a few feet of distance, and (obviously) in daylight as well. The screen itself did not need to be incredibly high-resolution, but we wanted a size that would be easily visible on a nightstand. For all monitors, but especially audio-only options, we wanted to be able to hear everything clearly at the lowest volumes.
During our tests, we found ourselves among the fraction of buyers having problems with the display on the DXR-8. Our first test unit worked fine out of the box, but after a couple of hours running on battery, the display became distorted and nothing would fix it. Likewise, you’ll find a few complaints on Amazon of users experiencing dead pixels after about a year of use (here’s one and here’s another). The good news: Those folks reported that Infant Optics replaced their monitors even though some were out of warranty. In fact, the company consistently receives decent feedback on customer service. Infant Optics quickly replaced our faulty unit (but as a media inquiry, that’s not comparable to typical customer service), and the new unit has performed fine.
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?
Video, Audio, or Both: First-time parents are suckers for high-definition, night-vision baby monitors where they can pick up on exactly how their child’s chest is rising and falling. You will do this dozens of times a night. Past the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome-scare age, you may just want an audio baby monitor (which a lot of video ones double as), because you’ll know an “I’m hungry” cry from an “I lost my sock” whine.
This monitor comes with a 2.4" color screen that connects to its camera over a secure, interference-free connection, providing you with video up to 900 feet away. It boasts a two-way talk system and night vision, as well as several extra features like temperature monitoring, voice-activation mode, 2x zoom and more. The manufacturer doesn’t specify how long the battery on this video baby monitor lasts, but reviewers say you can get around six hours of continuous use from it.
Baby monitors are just one way to keep track of your little one. For newborns, the Snoo Smart Sleeper is a bed that gently rocks your baby for better sleep, and connects to an app on your phone that lets you receive alerts when your little one needs attention. The Owlet Smart Sock 2, meanwhile, is a connected pulse oximeter that allows you to check on your baby's vitals any time through an app, and will notify you automatically if there's a problem. The Sproutling from Fisher Price is a motion and heart rate sensor that straps to the back of your baby's calf and collects data while he or she sleeps.
Ease of use may not seem like a big deal because once you know how to use something, it won't seem that hard, and after you use it for a while it can feel intuitive even if it isn't. However, with this type of product, there can be a learning curve depending on what kind you choose and how many features it has. While the dedicated monitors were plug in and go options that even grandma can manage, some of them took a little more skill to navigate and learn. The Wi-Fi options, on the other hand, do require some knowledge of technology and the way apps work. With all of them, you will need to set up the camera with your computer or another device, and you will need to set up an account and be able to manage things like Wi-Fi passwords and various settings inside the application. While this may seem like no big deal to some parents, it could be challenging for those that are less tech-savvy.
The range of a product can make or break whether or not you can use certain options in your home. Depending on the distance from your room to the baby's nursery and the construction of your home or interfering appliances, you could be limited in your options of what will work for you. If your house is large or has more than a handful of walls between the two room, you'll be stuck with a Wi-Fi option only (assuming you have Internet). If your home is smaller or has fewer walls, then you'll have more options. Many of the wearable movement choices work in the baby's room and are not dependant on communicating with a parent device. However, if your room is out of earshot, then you'll never hear the alarm go off making the unit virtually useless without a sound monitoring addition. Choose your product carefully if you think the range will be an issue and purchase from retailers like Amazon that have a generous return policy. Also, don't let it sit in the box, try it out right away and send it back immediately if it doesn't work in your space. Do not rely on the manufacturer's range claim, as we have found these claims to be wildly inaccurate for many brands during our testing.
So we recommend choosing a baby monitor that uses a different frequency band from your cordless phone and other wireless products in your home. The band that your cordless phone operates on should be printed somewhere on it. Remember that interference can vary widely depending on where you live, the electronic devices you have at home, and the ones your neighbors have. If, for example, you have a 2.4 GHz wireless product, such as an older cordless phone, choose a baby monitor that doesn't operate on the 2.4 GHz frequency band. People with newer phones that use DECT will have fewer issues with interference.
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
We began by shopping for baby monitors like anyone else would if they had dozens of hours to do it. The process started with a long list of best sellers at Amazon, Walmart, Target, BuyBuy Baby, Babies“R”Us, and Costco. We found monitors recommended in editorial reviews, such as PCMag, Reviewed.com, and Tom’s Guide. We also read a ton of discussion among parents in the Amazon reviews—what features they found especially useful, and what problems tend to occur. Thinking of all this, and comparing those concerns against the things we’ve appreciated and despised in our own years of monitor use, we developed the following selection criteria:
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.
Video quality is a metric these products should perform well in, but most of them failed to offer a true to life image even in the daytime. It is disappointing that most dedicated video products aren't doing more than providing a blurry image of the baby in the room, and fail to show the baby's features or what the human eye would see in the room. The night vision is even worse than their day vision video, with some images being so blurry and hard to decipher that parents may end up going to baby's room simply because their baby has no face.
Baby's exposure could potentially be even lower if parents place the camera on a wall at least 15 feet from baby (a distance still good for night vision to work properly with most monitors). Given the sensitivity of baby's developing systems we recommend placing the monitor as far away from the baby as possible while still being able to utilize the night vision as intended and see baby's face to determine if they are awake or sleeping at a glance. For most of the products, this distance is between 10-15 feet from the baby.