We tested each product we purchased in key metrics that allow them to function as expected, or provides an additional feature or benefit. Monitors act as something of a lifeline for parents, so it is important that they work well, have adequate range, provide useful images, and are easy to use. If a product doesn't work well enough to instill confidence, then it will fail to offer parents the one thing they really want, more sleep.
The Nest boasts some impressive hardware specs, such as true 1080p/30fps video and a 3-megapixel camera sensor. Setting up the Nest Cam specifically to look in on a 2-year-old at night, we found the video quality on Nest's camera to be sharper and more detailed than on any baby video monitor we tested. The Nest Cam includes push-to-talk features as well as alerts triggered by motion or sounds. And when your child is past the age when you need a nighttime monitor, you can repurpose the Nest Cam to check in on other parts of your home.
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 interface on the monitor, aka the parent unit, is basic, simple, and intuitive, while many of its competitors have awkward controls. When panning and tilting the camera, for example, the Infant Optics responds immediately and can move in very small increments. The text on the menu displays look like something off an old Motorola RAZR, but the commands are easy to interpret and less confusing than those of some competitors. A group of four buttons makes it easy to pull up the menu and make a change (to the volume, say) without losing sight of the image on the screen. Other nice minor touches, like a display that constantly notes the temperature in the baby’s room, appear on this model but not on all of its competitors. This is not a touchscreen, but frankly, if you’ve ever used an iPhone, you’ll find the touchscreens on most baby monitors to be sorely substandard.
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.
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.
The Levana Lila is the second highest ranking dedicated monitor in the review, and 5th overall. This budget-friendly option has the longest battery life of any dedicated monitor we tested and scored well enough for ease of use and sound clarity that you won't be frustrated. Unfortunately, this monitor has a shorter range than the Philips Avent SCD630 and the fewest features in the group (which makes it easier to use). So it may not be a good choice for parents that want all the bells and whistles. This monitor does sport 2-way talk to baby, sound activation, and automatic screen wake/sleep, which are some of the most important features in our mind. The Lila has no zoom, and the field of view is rather small for a camera that is not remotely operated (no pan or tilt). However, if you want a dedicated monitor for the simplicity and peace of mind with less chance of a dropped signal, and budget is a factor, then the Lila can't be beaten.
Movement monitoring devices do not claim to prevent SIDS, but they could potentially provide peace of mind for a better night's sleep for parents. To reduce the likelihood of SIDS, you should practice safe sleep guidelines for EVERY sleep (with or without a movement device). Always put your baby on their back to sleep, they should have their own firm sleep space with a tightly fitted sheet. Read our article on How to Protect your Infant from SIDS and other Causes of Sleep-related Deaths for more information about best sleep practices and setting up a healthy sleep environment for your baby.
Environmental sensors: Many monitors include the ability to set thresholds and upper limits for room temperature and/or humidity, and they'll alert you when these ranges are exceeded. While they can't control the temperature or the amount of moisture in the room's air, this feature can help you improve your child’s comfort, which will help them get more restful sleep.
Most connected baby monitors are effectively just home security cameras, like the Nest Cam Indoor—devices that let you watch another location with color video, night vision, and sound, so you can tell if anything is amiss. Because baby monitors are used to keep an eye on your little one rather than on your home and property, they prioritize different features than security cameras.
At over $200, are advanced audio/video monitoring systems with multiple cameras and receivers with large screens, as well as the ability to connect to several mobile devices. While they are loaded with features, it’s important to look closely at the audio and video quality. Expensive monitors are just as susceptible to interference as inexpensive ones.
While the price is too high compared with our other picks to merit a recommendation, the Arlo Baby by Netgear Smart HD Baby Monitor and Camera does have some appeal, mostly because it overcomes some of the traditional shortcomings of Wi-Fi monitors and security cameras used for that purpose. Its main advantage is that its app can continue to play audio even if the app is not open in the foreground of your mobile device. This means it can continue to broadcast sounds from a baby’s room while parents sleep elsewhere, alerting them if there’s trouble (as a traditional monitor would), without the hassle of loading the live stream every time. It also offers some unique features: The camera itself can work wirelessly off a rechargeable battery (which no other monitor we’ve tested can do), and it can track and chart several days’ worth of temperature and other environmental data in a child’s room. These features alone don’t justify its added cost—the current price is about $100 more than that of either our pick or the least-bad Wi-Fi monitor we’ve tested—but that cost may be easier to swallow if you’re already using other Arlo devices, which we began recommending as a runner-up in our piece on indoor security cameras in fall 2016. As with most Wi-Fi monitors, owner reviews note problems with the signal dropping out, sluggish response time when opening the video on an app, and other irritations, such as problems seeing the feed on multiple devices.
As you’d expect, the talk back functionality and audio quality in general are great—easily better than the crude talk back features on our video monitor picks. With the battery lasting about 19 hours on a full charge, this monitor had the strongest battery life of any in our test (not entirely a fair comparison, as this is the only one with no screen to power). Rated to a range of 1,000 feet, it exceeds the range of our pick (700 feet) both as advertised and in practice during tests.
The range of a product can make or break whether or not you can use certain options in your home. Depending on the distance from your room to the baby's nursery and the construction of your home or interfering appliances, you could be limited in your options of what will work for you. If your house is large or has more than a handful of walls between the two room, you'll be stuck with a Wi-Fi option only (assuming you have Internet). If your home is smaller or has fewer walls, then you'll have more options. Many of the wearable movement choices work in the baby's room and are not dependant on communicating with a parent device. However, if your room is out of earshot, then you'll never hear the alarm go off making the unit virtually useless without a sound monitoring addition. Choose your product carefully if you think the range will be an issue and purchase from retailers like Amazon that have a generous return policy. Also, don't let it sit in the box, try it out right away and send it back immediately if it doesn't work in your space. Do not rely on the manufacturer's range claim, as we have found these claims to be wildly inaccurate for many brands during our testing.
The Nest Cam isn’t a dedicated baby monitor, but an all-around home protection device. Besides aiming the camera at the crib, you can also use it to keep an eye on the nanny, the dog or your empty home while you’re away. The video camera can be set up anywhere, and you can watch the live streaming from your smartphone. It also has two-way communication so you can soothe your little one to sleep, even if you’re offsite. If the device senses motion or sound, it’ll send a phone alert or an email to you. Missed what happened? From the app, you can view photos of any activity that took place over the last three hours. (There are Nest Aware subscriptions available that provide access to 5, 10 or 30 days of recordings, for $5, $10 or $30 a month, respectively). The picture quality is super sharp, too.