We tested monitors daily over a period of several months, in three houses: one nearly 100 years old with plaster walls, plus a newer home with standard drywall construction, and a two-level 1960s home with a driveway on another level from the kids’ rooms. We tried the cloud-based monitors with two routers to be sure that any connection issues were with the monitors themselves and not the Internet connection.
General Usability: This one is two-fold. First we wanted to make sure each monitor could perform under bright, dim, and no light; and pick up even the faintest sounds. Then we looked at how easy it was to use the monitor. Could we adjust the screen brightness, or were we going to be half-blinded when we picked it up at 1AM? Was the monitor voice-activated, or does it pick up white noise in the background? How sensitive were the alarms, and did they sound like a baby-waking screech or a soft ping?
This year alone we have seen over 30 new baby monitors enter the market, most of which are low-quality products being mass produced in China. They are cheap and might even work well for a few weeks or months, but give them a little more time and they will start to have all sorts of issues. We've seen way too many melting chargers, malfunctioning screens, and units that are completely dead after a few months. Don't waste your money! Here's some of the factors we consider in our testing:
Range: Range is the main drawback of an RF model, as audio monitors can roam farther out, and a Wi-Fi connection can theoretically be checked anywhere. We wanted an adequate range in a typical home—to be able to maintain a signal up or down a flight of stairs, across the house, and out on a patio or driveway, but we didn’t expect much beyond that. We zeroed in on monitors rated to about 700 feet of range1 or greater.
Because the Nest Cam relies on an internet connection, it can fail if your internet is not reliable. So, if you'll experience sleepless nights worrying about connectivity or your internet connection, then you'll want to consider a dedicated option that works without the internet. However, if you have a large house, you could be restricted to Wi-Fi options only due to range limitations of dedicated products. For families looking for a product they can use for years to come that allows them to see little ones from outside the home, it is hard to beat this versatile camera and everything it brings to the table.
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.
All of the products in our review have features for convenience and overall function, but some also offer features for fun or additional information. All of the products have night vision with sensors for automatic adjustment with light changes, and all offer 2-way communication with baby through the camera. Some of them come with lullabies, and others have nifty temperature and humidity sensors. Overall, whatever you might be looking for, or never knew existed but now want, can probably be found in the products we tested.
Alex Colon is the managing editor of PCMag's consumer electronics team. He previously covered mobile technology for PCMag and Gigaom. Though he does the majority of his reading and writing on various digital displays, Alex still loves to sit down with a good, old-fashioned, paper and ink book in his free time. (Not that there's anything wrong wit... See Full Bio
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.
With several dozen reviews posted online, the Safety 1st HD WiFi Streaming Baby Monitor has a 4.0-star rating on Amazon. One satisfied owner speaks for many when he calls the "picture quality excellent," the night vision "clear" and "so well illuminated," and the sound quality so good that you can "hear everything going on in crisp and clear" detail."
The LeFun C2 720P Wi-Fi earned a 3rd place rank thanks to high scores for range and battery life, and impressive results for video quality and features. This monitor earned a Best Value for Wi-Fi monitors for its budget-friendly list price that is the least expensive in the group and its higher rank. This means you can get a great, top performing monitor, at a reasonable price. The LeFun has motion detection, sound activation, 2-way talk to baby, zoom, and a remote-controlled camera with real pan and tilt capabilities. The downside to this camera is a lag time when using the pan and tilt feature, and it is a little harder to use than the other Wi-Fi options we tested, but given the low price, we suspect most parents will forgive these flaws.
If your internet goes down, your baby monitor goes down. A wifi baby monitor uses your home's internet connection to communicate to servers, then to your app. So if your internet connection goes down, then you will no longer be able to stream video of your baby. That's a huge consideration to keep in mind because you never know when your internet will slow down or simply stop working for several minutes or hours, and you will be stuck without a working baby monitor. There are a few wifi baby monitors that will still communicate locally (within your home's network) when the internet goes down, such as the Lollipop or Nanit. They do this by switching from internet to local area network when an outage is detected, so you can have confidence that if you're connected to your home wifi you'll still see your baby.
Larger homes or locations with more than 4 or 5 walls between the camera and parent unit might be stuck with a Wi-Fi monitor. Most of the dedicated monitors only worked up to 4 walls, with the exception of the Project Nursery 4.3 that stopped working at 3. The Philips Avent SCD630 has the longest range for dedicated monitors in this review, with an impressive 92 ft through 5 walls, so if your needs are greater than that, then none of the dedicated monitors we tested are likely to work for your situation. Wi-Fi connected cameras, on the other hand, are limited only by the wireless router location in relation to the camera and parent unit, and the strength and speed of your Wi-Fi connection. If necessary, routers can often be moved, or range extenders added, to increase the range between the components if the Wi-Fi monitor struggles to keep a clear or consistent connection. Purchasing a monitor from a venue with a simple return policy like Amazon means you'll be able to test the monitor in your house to determine how well it works without the risk of being stuck with a useless product.
This monitor is known for its zoom lens, included in the box, that lets you see your baby up close even if you have to position it farther away from the crib. You can use the monitor to remotely adjust the camera, and you don’t have to worry about plugging the monitor in overnight—it can sit on your nightstand for up to 10 hours in the power-saving mode (similar to sleep mode on your computer, but it still provides sound monitoring while the display is off) and up to six hours with the display screen constantly on.