Why spend money on a baby monitor, which serves a single specific purpose, when you could use an indoor home-security camera that you can repurpose once your kid leaves the nursery? We wondered the same thing, so along with with dedicated video baby monitors, we tested a Nest Indoor Cam, currently among our top-rated wireless home security cameras.
We got our hands on this KX-HN3001W Panasonic baby monitor in late 2018 for testing, and we were pleasantly surprised with its features, reliability, image quality, and competitive cost. Panasonic has been in the video baby monitor market for many years, and they have consistently improved the quality and reliability of their products along the way. Remember how reliable those old Panasonic DECT cordless phones were when you were a kid? You could drop them, discharge them, lose them in the couch pillows, walk them to the other side of the house, and slam them down for a dramatic ending to a phone call. These devices reminded us of those, mostly out of nostalgia, but also because the portable receiver seemed very well made and reliable. Out of the box, it comes with the color monitor receiver along with a battery and wall plug, the camera and a wall plug, and a wall-mount for the camera. We didn't realize it comes with a wall-mount and were excited to give that a shot. During setup, we mounted the camera to the wall of our test nursery and aimed it at the crib. Once it's mounted to the wall, you can still tilt and pivot it around to get a good pointing direction. Powering it on, it connected quickly to the camera unit; note that you can add two extra camera units as well, and view/control them from the same receiver (those extra cameras aren't available for sale yet). We first tested it during the daytime, and found the color screen to be clear and vivid, the connection to be reliable and relatively long-range (it worked in our back yard), and the battery life to be about 3 hours with the screen on (and unplugged obviously). It goes for much longer in stand-by mode with the screen turned off. During the nighttime, the monochrome night vision worked reasonably well. We found that it worked better if the camera unit was placed relatively close to the crib so you don't have to zoom in and lose image quality. The night vision wasn't on par with the higher-rated baby monitors on this list, but it was pretty decent. After getting the basics down, we tried out some of the cool features. It has a 2-way talk feature that actually sounded pretty good, little melodies and lullabies (or white noise!) you could play to your baby, and the life-changing remote pan/zoom/tilt. That last feature is really a necessity for modern baby cameras so you don't have to tip-toe into your baby's room and try to change the camera angle because it got bumped during the day or your baby decided to sleep on the other side of the crib. The other awesome thing about this baby monitor is that it has room temperature alerts, which allows you to set a safe range (like 68 to 72 degrees) and then it will alert you if the nursery room's temperature ever goes out of that range. There is also a little current temperature indicator on the screen, which is a nice touch. It also has a great stand-by mode that will keep the monitor off until it senses movement or hears your baby (you can set which of these you want to trigger an alert), at which point the device will alert you and turn on. This is great for a few reasons, but mostly because it helps keep battery life up to about 10 hours when kept on stand-by mode. A little extra feature is that you can set the device to automatically turn on a melody or white noise when your baby moves or makes noise - nice touch. A couple more things we noticed. First, the portable device uses micro-USB for charging, which means that you can use most phone or device charger with the same connector type (but not an iPhone charger!). That was convenient for when you're in another room and just want to quickly plug it in, just like you would with your phone. Second, on the bottom of the camera there is the standard tripod screw hole, so you can set it up on any tripod type of device (like those little ones that attach to walls, grip onto crib rails, etc). So there's some really great stuff going on here, and we are very happy to have tested it for inclusion on this list! But there are also some downfalls. First, it is built to control more than one camera, but as of late 2018 we haven't seen the additional cameras available on the market. Second, the night vision isn't up to par with the Infant Optics or other top-rated baby cameras; in fact that was the biggest challenge with this baby monitor, and we are patiently waiting for Panasonic to release a new version with better quality night vision. Third, the display is clearly not high definition, but to be fair the screen isn't really large enough to notice any pixelation. Other that that, you're getting a fantastic baby monitor for only about $120, and that's a lot of bang for the buck! Interested? You can check out the Panasonic Video Baby Monitor here.
At the end of the day, if all you want is a no muss no fuss monitor that most parents will be able to set up and use quickly, then either Wi-Fi option will work. However, if you just want to plug it in and have it work without the need to learn something new, then the award-winning Philips Avent SCD630 or the Best Value, Levana Lila, will get the job done simply and fast. The cheaper price tag and simplicity of fewer buttons (easier to use) on the Levana Lila make it a great option as a secondary monitor for Grandma or travel.
So what is the best baby monitor? That depends on what you’re looking for. A video monitor seems like an obvious choice over an audio monitor, but it does come with a higher price tag. If you have a large home or you spend a lot of time outside with older children while baby sleeps, a long-range monitor may be the best choice for you. And if you travel a lot, you may be more interested in a compact, simple-to-operate portable baby monitor rather than one that is mounted or otherwise heavy and difficult to move. In short, here are the factors you’ll want to consider when selecting the best baby monitor for you:
Most people don't have unlimited data plans for their smart phone, and are surprised to see very high data usage after just a few hours of streaming their wifi baby monitor. With HD video, you can go through a couple gigabytes of data in just a few hours, so keep that in mind. If your phone is connected to wifi that won't matter, but if you're using 3G or 4G LTE cellular service, you will definitely have slow video and tons of data usage.
The DXR-8 uses a secure 2.4 GHz FHSS wireless transmission to ensure privacy, gets up to 10 hours of battery life on a single charge, and can switch to audio-only mode with the camera off to save juice. That said, it has gotten panned for a quickly declining battery life (as well as poor range). Still, that hasn’t stopped 24,000 reviewers from giving it an overall 5-star rating on Amazon. In terms of bells and whistles, it features everything parents have come to expect in a monitor: invisible infrared night vision, (no annoying blue light to wake the baby) two-way intercom, room-temperature sensor, and the ability to work with up to four other cameras.
We got our hands on this monitor in mid-2018 for testing. It's a wifi baby monitor, just like many other options on this list, meaning that it connects to your wireless router to stream a digital video and audio signal to your smart phone wherever you are in the world. What's unique about this Safety 1st wifi baby monitor is that it also includes a wireless speaker pod that you can place anywhere in your house so you can listen in on your baby when you don't want to turn on your smart phone. This is nice during the night when you don't want to turn on your bright screen, or when your phone battery is low and you need to recharge. And the speaker pod has a batter that lasts for about 10-12 hours, so you can easily bring it into different rooms. So that's a nice added feature. And there are some additional features worth mentioning. First, it streams video in high definition 720p, though we do point out that it's basically impossible to stream 720p in real-time to your phone unless you're on the same local network (i.e. if you're at home). But that limitation isn't unique to the Safety 1st, and any wifi monitor that appears to be streaming in real-time HD is likely buffering the video for several seconds before it gets to you (so what you're seeing is delayed). Second, we were impressed with the nice wide-angle camera (130-degrees horizontal field of view), which means that it's more accommodating if you want to position the camera closer to the crib. Third, you can set up movement and sound alerts and customize the sensitivity of the alerts on your app to make sure you're getting an alert when it's important but also avoiding too many false alarms. We liked that you can change the sensitivity of the alerts, and thought that feature worked pretty well in our testing. The auto-recorded 30-second clips were also a nice touch so you can see what was going on when the alert was triggered. Some other things we liked were that the night vision was pretty good quality, you can zoom in and out (but you can't pan or tilt) using the app, there's a two-way intercom so you can talk to your baby, and you can expand the system to multiple cameras that you can toggle between using the app (you can't view multiple cameras simultaneously, however). So how does this wifi baby monitor compare to the other top rated wifi monitors on this list? Well, there's some good and bad. Setup was pretty easy, so that's definitely good, though the owner's manual was a bit difficult to understand at times. And once we got it running, it seemed to stay up and running pretty reliably, so that's also a plus. Also, there's no necessary subscription to store the 30-second clips you record for 30 days in the cloud. So here are some things that we didn't like about this monitor: first, many times when we open the app on our phone, the live stream doesn't connect immediately - sometimes we would restart the app, and other times we'd just need to wait several seconds. That's frustrating when you just received an alert and go to see what's going on, but can't. Second, if your internet goes down you're basically screwed. Unlike the Nanit and Lollipop, it will not revert to streaming over your local area network in the event of an internet outage - so even if you're at home, you won't be able to use the app or otherwise view the video. Third, the camera has a bright little light on it, which we ended up covering with electrical tape. Finally, we found the speaker pod unusually difficult to use, and were disappointed that a charger wasn't even included with it (or maybe it was just missing from our box?). Anyway, so there are some really nice features and high potential for this to be a great baby monitor, but in the end we found several limitations that made it difficult for us to justify spending upwards of $200 on it (note that it's about $150 without the speaker pod). But we'll let you make that decision. Interested? You can check out the Safety 1st HD wifi Baby Monitor here.
Ease of setup and installation factored heavily into our ratings, including whether an account needed to be created and if there were any extra subscription fees necessary. Each unit had cords protruding out of its back, so design wasn't much of a factor in my choice, though parents should take care to keep dangling cords and wires away from their children's reach when setting up a monitor.
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.
This is a light or beeping sound that lets you know that you've reached the monitor's range limit. If you have a model without this feature, static might be the only indication that you're out of range. (A monitor's range can vary due to your home's size, its construction materials, and other factors.) The greater the range, the better--especially if you plan to take your monitor outside.
While ranking among Amazon’s top-selling baby monitors, the Motorola MBP36S and MBP33S, which are listed on the same page, have more negative reviews than positive ones. Many reviewers complain about poor battery life and deficient quality and durability. BabyGearLab also gave these monitors a low rating, citing the “disappointing images and sound on a hard to use parental unit.”
Another Summer Infant baby monitor option, not quite as great as most others on this list, but definitely a trusted and reliable model and one of the best baby monitors available on the market this year. In our testing, one of the first things we noticed about this baby monitor was the sleek mobile-phone-size touch-screen reminiscent of the older iPhones. What's nice about this form factor is that it slips easily into your pocket like a mobile phone. Many of the others need to be clipped to your belt or waist, as they are quite a bit too thick or large for the pocket. The actual video display is modestly sized, coming in at 3.5" diagonal viewing area. This is the same size as the Infant Optics model. And it has some great features. It has remote pan (side-to-side adjust), tilt (up/down adjust), and zooming capability. Two-way audio communication so you can hear baby, and talk back to baby (maybe sing a lullaby, or whisper something to help soothe your baby). The system is also expandable to up to 4 cameras. Each additional camera is about $99, and you can place them in various locations around the home and toggle between them with the video unit. In our tests, the battery lasted about 4-5 hours when off the charger (and being used), and charged back to full capacity in only a couple hours. We didn't think the picture quality was as good as most other options on this list, nor was the sound. We also hooked it up to multiple cameras and used the "scan" feature which rotated through the various cameras once every 8 seconds. In our opinion, it took a bit too long to switch to a particular camera. It was also pretty loud when we remotely adjusted the pan/tilt of the camera. Also, it's worth noting that the pan feature doesn't seem to work when it's zoomed in. So overall, you're getting a good form factor, a reliable camera, but not the best image quality. For about $150, we think you could do better with one of our higher-rated options!
The Infant Optics DXR-8 has a superior battery life to any of the other video monitors we tested, as well as a simpler monitor interface that’s more intuitive and easier to navigate than those found on competitors. The range, image quality, price, and many other features are comparable to the best competitors. Other good qualities include its basic but secure RF connection, and ability to pair multiple cameras, but those are features common to several other baby monitors. Every baby monitor has its share of negative feedback, but in more than 10,000 Amazon reviews, the complaints about the Infant Optics are relatively mild.
Our testers preferred the Baby Delight’s parent unit — its buttons were more responsive than Angelcare and it was easier to set up. This movement monitor uses a cordless magnetic sensor instead of a pad. Because the sensor is clipped onto your baby’s onesie, right next to their chest, the alarm won’t go off if you forget to disarm it before a middle-of-the-night feeding.
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The Babysense 7 movement product is a sensor pad mattress product that isn't portable but seems to have fewer false alarms than wearable products. The BabySense 7 is easy to use and doesn't require much setup or preparation outside of placing the sensor and control unit. This unit even works well after your baby learns to roll over, unlike the wearable options that become less reliable as your little one's age.
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.