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.
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.
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Last, a few features are simply not that useful, but they’re more like unnecessary clutter than legitimate flaws. The talk back feature can be difficult to understand on the baby end of the line (we found it works best—that is, intelligibly—if you speak about a foot away from the microphone, and avoid shouting). A “shortcut” button to control the monitor’s volume and brightness doesn’t really save you much time. There are other features on the menu—counting the little songs, a timer, and a zoom, you have a total of about seven. But honestly, after testing this monitor for some time and others for years longer, the only thing you really need to be able to do regularly is adjust the volume.
The Infant Optics’s range within our test houses was never an issue, and, as with others we tested, we had to walk outside and down the street before losing the signal. The image quality was good enough to make out facial details 6 feet away in a completely dark room (as it was on others we tested). It’s easy to add more cameras to the set (you can use up to four Infant Optics add-on cameras, which are separate purchases, usually for about $100). You can mount the camera on a wall easily, pan and tilt 270 and 120 degrees respectively, and you can set the parent unit to scan between multiple cameras to keep an eye or ear on everybody at once—another nice feature that’s not unique to this model.
Video products add the element of visual peeking on your baby, so you can see if your baby is crying but calming down without you or if you need to make your way to their side. Most video products work well in the dark and have adequate sound so you can see and hear what is happening in the room. Some options are dedicated with a camera that talks to a parent unit, like the Levana Lila while others use your Wi-Fi to send information from the camera to your personal device like the Nest Cam. Wi-Fi options are great for larger houses where range could be an issue, and it's also nice for away from home monitoring. While video images are not mandatory for getting a good night's sleep, they do provide more information that can help you determine your little one's needs before you get out of bed. With the price of video products being lower than ever, it is no longer considered a luxury product and many parents are choosing this style over sound only products. However, proceed with caution! Spying on your newborn can be addictive and lead to less sleep which defeats the purpose of a getting a monitoring device in the first place.
"Quick and easy set-up is Nest Cam's secret sauce -- they promise a 60 second set-up and that's pretty much what we found in our testing," Baby Bargains says. Still, "Nest Cam isn't a perfect solution as a baby monitor." In addition to the signal dropouts, Nest Cam's audio cuts out anytime your phone's screen goes to sleep. It also drains the battery, Baby Bargains says, so you'll have to leave your device plugged in all night. The camera is fixed – it won't swivel – and the audio can lag behind by 3 to 5 seconds, depending on your router's speed.
The Vtech DM221 offers the features you need, coupled with the best sound clarity in our review of sound products. The DM221 comes with easy to set sound activation and adjustable mic sensitivity to help create a peaceful environment for a quality night's sleep with a parent device that only makes a peep when your little one does. The DM221's parent unit talk to baby feature sounds natural on the baby's side so your infant won't be alarmed by a robotic or static sound found in some of the competition. This unit is a budget-friendly choice that will work for almost any family.
Even though the jury is still out on the effects of EMF on the human body, this doesn't mean parents need to wait for more definitive proof before making thoughtful adjustments that err on the side of caution. Given that exposure compounds over time and with an increased number of devices emitting, you can help limit baby's exposure by turning off devices when they are not in use, unplugging wireless routers at night while children sleep, and keeping products as far from your baby as possible when in use. Even if you are not convinced that there is potential for harm, it certainly can't hurt to make choices that potentially increase the health of your home.
The longest battery life for the dedicated products in our review is the Levana Lila, which ran for 12.75 hours in full use mode. The manufacturer claims this unit will work up to 72 hours in power saving mode, but we only tested the monitors in full use. The Infant Optics DXR-8 came in second place with a shorter run time of closer to 11.5 hours. The Motorola MBP36S earned the lowest score for battery life with a runtime just under 7 hours. While not necessarily a deal breaker, there are plenty of other reasons to dislike the Motorola MBP36S, and the battery life is just a small part of a disappointing overall picture (no pun intended).
Aside from the thousands of Amazon reviews, Reviewed.com likes it, noting that it “has physical buttons on the parent unit that are more responsive than Samsung’s [SEW3043 BrightView HD, our former runner-up] touchscreen controls.” PCMag’s Rob Pegoraro gave the DXR-8 a “Good” rating, and in his review, cites the battery life as being one of the best features. “What is remarkable is how long the display unit’s 1,200mAh battery ran on a charge,” Pegoraro says. “Infant Optics touts 10 hours of runtime with the screen off, but even with periodic peeks I didn’t get a low-battery warning until 12 hours later.”
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.
But, for many parents, a baby monitor is a part of daily life. If you need to visually confirm that your baby is safely asleep for the night in order to leave the room and relax, it can feel like a necessity. A baby monitor gives you a camera and/or microphone near the crib, and a separate rechargeable parent unit (aka, a monitor) that connects wirelessly and can travel with you throughout the house, either working while plugged in or running off its battery. Monitors are most commonly used for new babies, but even once your household is past the infant stage you may appreciate an easy way to check to make sure your kid is still asleep, still breathing, or still in the room at all. It’s nice to see your children in bed, dreaming happily, sleeping in adorable new positions, cuddling with animals, and generally doing okay. A baby monitor can make that happen.
The best baby monitor apps allow you to monitor baby using only your existing devices, like phones, tablets or even computers. One device acts a transmitter in baby’s room, and you use another device to monitor baby. Some apps only have audio functionality, but others have both audio and video. As a plus, the best baby monitor apps often have cool features that traditional baby monitors don’t have, like remote capabilities. However, some users complain that they can be somewhat unreliable.
It’s hard not to like the crystal-clear picture you get on this monitor’s 7-inch screen (the biggest screen on this list!). Its standalone camera can be moved from room to room and will remotely pan, tilt and zoom. Given the cost, this monitor is best if you want full control of the nursery environment. It syncs with the Smart Nursery humidifier and the Dream Machine sound and light machine. Once connected, you can turn on lullabies, project lights onto the ceiling and increase the room’s humidity all from your monitor.