Notifications and alerts work by sending a message or email to your device when motion or sound has occurred. This feature is only found in the Wi-Fi monitors, and isn't the best feature for baby because it comes after the fact (sometimes up to 30 min or more after), it does not offer details of the type of sound or motion detected, and could get annoying with useless and excessive messages being sent. In the end, we prefer sound activation over notifications and feel that alerts and notifications aren't all that useful for keeping tabs on your baby.
From a pure imaging standpoint, night vision is vital for watching your baby sleep from another room, and is standard for most baby monitors. Motorized pan and tilt (which lets you swivel the camera from afar) isn't quite as common, but is very welcome if you have a toddler and want to scan an entire room. High-definition is a nice plus, but you don't need the highest-resolution sensor to keep tabs on your baby—most of the monitors we test use 720p cameras rather than 1080p.
A word of caution about extremely cheap baby video monitors (we're talking devices that cost less than $50): they're not known for their security and can be hacked. Be sure to always change the default password of any connected device you purchase. You can also protect yourself by sticking to known vendors who post frequent firmware updates and have easy-to-reach customer support.
The main reason you’re going to need a baby monitor is to answer a simple, but time-honored, question: Why the hell is my baby crying? It’s only been in the last 30 years or so that parents have relied on the remote surveillance of their sleeping children. For the eons before that, it was a combination of natural, ear-piercing cries, and sleeping in the same yurt.
There are two basic types: audio and video/audio. Some are analog, others are digital. All monitors operate within a selected radio frequency band to send sound from a baby's room to a receiver in another room. Each monitor consists of a transmitter (the child/nursery unit) and one or more receivers. Prices range from about $25 to $150 for audio monitors and about $80 to $300 for audio/video monitors.
Parents who use the Nest Cam as a baby monitor are impressed by the high-quality picture, even at night, and several note it is convenient that they can check what’s going on at home even if they’re out of the house. While the Nest Camera is on the more expensive side, it’s a solid investment if you want unlimited range and a crystal clear image— plus, this product can be used as a regular home security camera once you no longer need a baby monitor.
Traditional video baby monitors don't offer the same high-resolution picture quality we're used to seeing on our smartphones and tablets. If you want high-resolution video of your baby, you'll have to go with a Wi-Fi monitor like the NestCam that streams video to your phone or tablet. The Phillips AVENT SCD630 video monitor may not be high-res, but it's the best of the bunch.
The Infant Optics DXR-8’s interchangeable optical lens, which allows for customized viewing angles, truly sets this monitor apart. It gives the option of focusing in on a localized area or taking in the whole room. Couple that with the remote pan/tilt control and night vision and you’ve got a monitoring system that not only grows along with your baby, but one that can be adjusted to follow her around the room as she plays. Parents can calm their baby with the two-way talk feature and monitor the temperature to make sure the baby is safe and secure.
For roughly a third of the price of our pick, the VTech is far more affordable. Losing video is a major sacrifice, of course, and we’re certain most parents looking for a first monitor will prefer being able to do a visual check-in on a baby. Budget advantages aside, we could see this being best for parents of toddlers who are considering replacing a failing monitor, and who know they will likely use a monitor only at night as a way to hear a kid crying out from a distant bedroom. Many reviewers have also found it useful as a way for adults to communicate, especially for caretakers who need to be able to hear when adults with mobility or medical issues need help in another room.
The audio quality is excellent, thanks to VTech's use of DECT 6.0, so you shouldn't hear any interference, static, or echoing when you listen in on your baby. Since the monitor uses a special frequency to relay the signal from the monitor in your baby's room to the parental unit, everything is encrypted and secure. No one but you will hear your baby.
A good WiFi monitor is convenient and feature-rich — or else we may as well stick with the HelloBaby. The iBaby takes both aspect to the next level. It was the fastest WiFi model to set up at only five minutes. Once you download the app, a straightforward tutorial walks you through every feature. We liked that you can choose both sensitivity levels and notification options for noise, motion, temperature, and humidity — meaning the iBaby won’t alert you to those quiet falling-asleep sounds, or small movements unless you want it to.
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.
The video on its handheld unit is sharp and consistent, and even with 30 feet between the camera and the handheld unit, there wasn’t lag or interruption in the video. In addition, you can use the handheld unit to remotely point the camera at different parts of the room. Although you can't record video or take pictures with the DXR-8, these aren’t important features for a baby monitor. Setup is incredibly easy. After charging the handheld unit overnight, we plugged in the camera and it instantly connected. There was a slight lag in the video when the camera and handheld unit were 50 feet apart, which is why it only scored 90 percent in our connection test, but that’s still better than other baby monitors we reviewed. In our battery life test, the monitor lasted 10 hours – only one other model has a battery that lasts this long. This video baby monitor doesn't have Wi-Fi, but that's not a problem. Our top Wi-Fi monitor, the Philips Avent, is more expensive and didn't perform as well as the DXR-8 in our tests. This baby camera has swappable lenses for telephoto and wide-angle views. It also has invisible infrared LEDs that let you see your baby in complete darkness without waking them. The DXR-8 doesn't have a nightlight or lullabies to comfort your baby, but those exclusions don't make this baby monitor any less impressive. The warranty on the DXR-8 only lasts a year, compared to the two-year warranty on the Philips Avent.
However, a closer look at the flaws noted in the iBaby’s negative reviews—currently, one-star reviews make up roughly 25 percent of the total—pushed us even further toward the Infant Optics as the one we’d choose for a similar price. The app is pretty poorly done. You may lose a connection even with a perfect Wi-Fi signal. Some people report never being able to connect to it at all. The plug on this unit is an odd 2-piece design that is unnecessarily complicated (but it can be fairly easily replaced with another basic 5V charger if you want). All told, the M6S comes close to the functionality of the Infant Optics pick in some ways, and the ability to access the camera remotely is a huge plus, but all the other drawbacks are too much to overlook.
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.
Our favorite standard video monitor, HelloBaby, masters the basic features. It’s the easiest to set up and its video and sound quality competes with monitors twice the price. Its screen is smaller than most, but its simple interface gives you immediate access to the most important functions: talk-back, zoom, and pan; while menu button opens up customizable settings for temperature, sound, lullabies, and timers.
Range of signal: Some baby monitors have better range than others. If you live in a big house with multiple rooms, range will be a key consideration for you. Anyone who lives in a single-story house or a smaller apartment may not need as much range. Many baby monitors have an alert when you get out of range, and the packaging typically gives you an estimate of the range. Bear in mind that range varies widely from home to home. The construction of the walls between you and the baby monitor may even limit the range.
You can get the same system, with a traditional monitor screen that’s slightly smaller at 4.3 inches, for cheaper. If you’re interested in having two zoom cameras or an app that lets you see your baby while away, Project Nursery offers those configurations as well. You can also record video and take photos with it as well (requires an SD card sold separately).