Baby monitors are available in three primary forms: audio, video and movement. If your main concern is hearing when your baby wakes up, then an audio-only monitor will do the trick. These baby monitors tend to be smaller, and less expensive. With a video baby monitor, there are a wide variety of options available, including different screen sizes, cameras that tilt, pan and zoom, and night vision. This type of monitor tends to provide extra levels of security, allowing you to tell if your baby is lying down or standing up, to track sleep patterns, and to evaluate whether intervention is required, or whether your child seems likely to self-soothe and fall back asleep. Plus, if you get a video camera that connects to your Wi-Fi, you can use the camera as a nanny cam, and check the baby video even when you're away from home. Movement-based baby monitors are designed to track your baby's heart rate, movement, respiration, skin temperature and sleep quality.
We wanted to recommend a less expensive video monitor, but at any price notably lower than our pick, every product we tried had such serious problems—usually, poor video quality and ongoing connection issues—that we feel a higher end audio-only monitor offers a much better value for a limited budget. The VTech DM221 audio monitor is the best choice in the category—it’s consistently a best seller at multiple retailers, with strong reviews (four out five stars over 4,703 reviews on Amazon) and similarly high ratings at Walmart, Target, and BuyBuy Baby.
Poor quality and durability plague many baby monitors. Scores of reviewers on Amazon and other sites report that the Hello Baby HB32; Motorola MPB854Connect, MBP36XL, MBP33XL, MBP41, and MBP43; Infant Optics DXR-5; Summer Infant Dual View and Sure Sight 2.0; Levana Jena, Keera, Ayden, Astra, and Lila; Angelcare AC420; Philips Avent SCD570 and SCD630/SCD637; and VTech VM342-2 and VM343 don’t deliver on promised functionality and start to fail in some critical capacity within a year—often in much less time.
There are a few things you can demand from a decent HD video baby monitor, like a crystal clear image and good night vision capabilities. And there are things you can expect of a good Wi-Fi-enabled monitor, like easy remote access from a smart device with real-time streaming audio and video. Then there are things you might hope for from a baby monitor, like two-way talk and solid battery life.
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.
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.
Motion and audio sensors: In the old days, parents were forced to endure a consistent ambient hiss from their audio monitors while they listened for their child’s stirrings or cries. Mercifully, many modern baby monitors will stay in “quiet mode” until they detect motion and/or sound, which will trigger an alert, such as activating the handheld video display or pushing a notification to your smartphone.
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!
This monitor offers lots of convenient features. Don’t have the best view of your baby? Use the monitor to remotely pan, tilt or zoom the camera without having to go back into the nursery. Fussy baby? Press a button to play lullabies. Need the camera to move from your bedroom to the nursery? No problem: this freestanding monitor can be set on top of a dresser or grip onto shelves and brackets. You can also unplug it and use it in another room for up to three hours on a single charge. And there’s a room temperature display. But the most impressive feature is its 1,000-foot range—the highest of all cameras on this list. That means you can hear your little one’s every chirp even if you’re hanging out in your backyard.