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.
We wanted to recommend an inexpensive video monitor, but their flaws were so significant that we decided we’d rather spend less on a quality audio-only monitor like the VTech DM221. This is a well-reviewed best seller in the category, and it has crisp sound and better talk-back functionality than the best video monitors we found, as well as a longer range and better battery life than our video picks. It easily beats out its audio-only competitors for various basic reasons like being cordless, rechargeable, or less expensive.
We don’t think most people would be happiest with a Wi-Fi–enabled baby monitor. The benefits—primarily, being able to view the camera footage remotely, on multiple phones, without keeping track of a separate monitor—do not make up for the disadvantages Wi-Fi monitors have as a category. Security is probably the first thing on most people’s minds. The likelihood of someone hacking into your baby monitor is remote, but it’s possible, said Mark Stanislav, director of application security at Duo Security, in an interview with The Wirecutter. You’re relying on the security of your own home network and also the ability of the manufacturer to secure all its devices. “Once you get into an Internet-connected device, and it really depends on what kind of device it is, but these devices very often bypass your home’s router and firewall. Basically, once you’re connected to this device, you are inside the home’s network. So, it’s possible to use these devices to access other devices in a home,” Stanislav said. (Stanislav was also involved in Rapid7’s research into the vulnerabilities of Wi-Fi–enabled monitors.)
Testing battery life for all the monitors was for the parent device only. While some of the dedicated options have a battery in the camera in the event of a power outage, most do not, and they are not intended for use as an all-night option. So while we would support a cordless camera for monitoring baby, due to safety concerns with babies and strangulation hazards, none of the products in our review offer this.
The Nanit Smart Baby Monitor is for the tech- and data-obsessed parent who wants to know and track everything about his baby. Winner of the Bump’s 2018 Best of Baby Awards, the Nanit is an over-the-crib Wi-Fi camera that not only offers standard video monitoring capabilities, but also provides sleep insight reports and sleep scores via the app. The bird’s-eye-view camera provides real-time HD-quality video and uses “computer vision” to track whether your child is awake, sleeping, or fussing. Then, Nanit synthesizes this data to generate nightly sleep reports and sleep scores, even providing tips on how to help your baby sleep better. Says Kay, “The Nanit is a two-in-one in that you’ve got this monitoring app, but you’re also getting helpful training and guidance when it comes to sleep, which is different from a lot of the competitors.” Priced at $279, it’s definitely on the high-end of baby monitors, but if that extra functionality is important to you, it may be worth it. For other parents, however, the Nanit may be more than you need.
Credit: NetgearCuteness aside, the Arlo Baby is compact enough to fit into even the most crowded nursery; a wall mount is included if you prefer that option. While you plug the camera in to power it, you can also detach the camera and move it into any room where an impromptu nap occurs, though we only saw three hours of battery life when we tried this out.
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.
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.
Both Kay and Baldwin chose the Infant Optics DXR-8 as their top choice in video baby monitors (it also has nearly 24,000 4.4-star reviews on Amazon). The DXR-8 uses secure 2.4 GHz FHSS wireless transmission (as opposed to Wi-Fi) to send crystal clear color video and audio to the receiver, has a solid battery life, allows for remote pan, zoom, and tilt capabilities, and comes with an interchangeable zoom lens (with a wide-angle lens sold separately). Other features include a two-way intercom, remote temperature display, and the option to set the monitor to audio-only.