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:
If you want remote access to see footage inside your home while you’re away, why not just use an indoor security camera? If that’s your sole objective, we think such cameras are a better choice than a dedicated baby monitor—and we explain which ones we like and why, in detail, in our guide to wireless indoor home security cameras. But in comparing our picks here against the Nest Camera (a popular, mainstream option, and a pick in our security camera guide), we found that security cameras start to lose their appeal when you try to use them in the ways most people regularly want to use baby monitors—at home, at night, all night, while a kid sleeps. Many won’t stream audio in the background, which means that to continuously monitor your baby, the app has to be open at all times. Some can take several seconds to pull up a live feed—not ideal when you want to see why a baby is crying. They can work well if you’re traveling and want to see what the family is up to, or if you’re out for the night and want to check on the kids without bugging the sitter—but as useful as that capability is, we concluded that it really is a different task from what most people want to accomplish with a day-to-day monitor.
Still, the video delivered by the Arlo Baby was crystal clear, even at night. A whole host of sensors — temperature, humidity and air quality — can alert you to any change in your kid's room. The versatile app can send you notifications however you want, and we were particularly impressed by an Always Listening mode that streamed audio to our smartphone.
Child Safety: We care a lot about the safety and well-being of your babies, and our baby monitor reviews are no exception to that rule. Most of the safety issues with baby monitor systems revolve around the parent's due diligence: secure the wires out of reach and out of sight from your baby, make sure you put the camera out of reach (especially when you're mounting to the rail of a crib), and always keep them away from water and a running humidifier. In addition to these basic safety tips, the newer heart rate monitoring, breathing monitoring, and movement monitoring systems can add confidence to parents worried about their baby sleeping in a different room. A good example of a baby monitor with heart rate monitoring is the Owlet Smart Sock that can track heart rate and blood oxygenation levels, and stream that information to an app on your smart phone. Of course, don't be too confident because these devices are not hospital- or laboratory-grade monitoring systems, so keep that in mind.
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.
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 before needing a charge. (The manufacturer claims it lasts 10 hours with the display off—we got that amount of time off a full charge, even when checking the display intermittently.) This model also charges via a USB connection, which actually sets it apart from a variety of competitors, some of which use ineffective and inconvenient proprietary DC chargers or even disposable batteries.
If you’re absolutely sure you want a Wi-Fi–enabled baby monitor, we found the iBaby M6S to be the best option of the three we tested (the others were the Arlo Baby by Netgear and the Evoz Glow Baby Monitor). The iBaby offers the benefits common to most Wi-Fi monitors and is slightly easier to set up than its competitors. But like its competitors, it shares the significant drawbacks, noted above, that we believe make RF monitors a better choice overall.
Some good things about this model set it apart from competitors. The iBaby connects when you simply plug in your phone via a USB port on the camera body and grant permission for the monitor to access your wireless settings. The competitors make you enter a router’s network key—certainly doable, but not as easy as the iBaby. With 360-degree pan and 110-degree tilt motion, the iBaby can technically see more of the room than our Infant Optics pick—although its bulbous shape is a little harder to arrange than the pick’s simple wall-mount or stand-up base. The M6S model’s video quality and night vision were on a par with that of our former runner-up, the Samsung SEW3043 BrightView HD (but those results will vary with the quality of your Internet connection and your device’s display). The audio from the camera can play in the background on your phone, so you don’t have to keep the app open at all times.
Microphone sensitivity: There’s a difference between hearing your baby cry, and hearing every little noise. All baby monitors have the option to turn down the volume, but some offer thresholds for parents who are more comfortable with only hearing the biggest upsets, and prefer not to hear the self-comforting noises their baby makes as they fall asleep.
In terms of bang for your buck, it’s tough to beat the Babysense. For less than $100, it comes loaded with bells and whistles more commonly found on higher priced models. Not only does it boast a 2.4-inch HD LCD color screen with infrared night vision, pan/tilt, and 2x zoom, but it includes two-way talk back, a sound activated ‘Eco’ mode (the screen stays off) to save battery life, 900 foot range (with out-of-range warning), and an in-room temperature monitor that sends alerts if it gets too hot or cold. It uses 2.4 GHz FHSS wireless transmission for security and even comes with both a built-in alarm/nap timer and lullabies.
Most monitor systems have an electrical cord or nonrechargeable battery option for the unit in the baby's room. And receivers typically have an electrical cord or rechargeable batteries. Some models are notorious for burning through batteries at an alarming rate. Parents have complained that even monitors sold with rechargeable batteries built in can drain quickly. Our Baby Monitor Ratings , available to subscribers, include an evaluation of battery life. Subscribers can also check out our battery report and Ratings (for subscribers).
Beyond security, Wi-Fi monitors have other disadvantages. In our tests, connectivity was more of an issue with Wi-Fi monitors than it was with RF monitors. We tested our Wi-Fi monitors on two separate routers and consistently had problems—we’d often lose the connection some time in the night and not even realize that the monitor had disconnected until morning. This happened with all three Wi-Fi models we tested. We never really felt confident relying on any of the connected monitors overnight, despite the fact that the modem and router were literally on the other side of a wall from the monitor. Other owners (like this one) have had the same issues.
Project Nursery offers a variety of monitor options that include fantastic features like remote camera control, two-way communication, motion, sound and temperature alerts and the ability to play white noise or lullabies. But what we like best about this one is that it comes with a traditional 5-inch screen monitor and a 1.5-inch mini video monitor that you can wear like a bracelet. Both monitors have a long battery life, too.