The most important thing to look for in all kinds of baby monitors is audio quality. Regardless of whether you want a video-based baby monitor or not, you need clear audio so you can hear your baby properly. You'll also want one with sound activation so that you don't have to listen to white noise 90% of the time. With sound activation, you'll only hear the noises from your baby's room when there's something important to hear.
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.
To save on battery life, some audio/video models only turn on when the baby makes an unusual motion or sound. Some models come with a motion-detector pad that fits under the crib sheet. This type of motion sensor is intended to prevent SIDS. Sensitive enough to detect changes in breathing, an alarm sounds if there is no movement after 20 minutes. However, if the baby simply rolls off the pad, the alarm may sound.
Beyond security, Wi-Fi monitors have other disadvantages. In our tests, connectivity was more of an issue with Wi-Fi monitors than it was with RF monitors. We tested our Wi-Fi monitors on two separate routers and consistently had problems—we’d often lose the connection some time in the night and not even realize that the monitor had disconnected until morning. This happened with all three Wi-Fi models we tested. We never really felt confident relying on any of the connected monitors overnight, despite the fact that the modem and router were literally on the other side of a wall from the monitor. Other owners (like this one) have had the same issues.
With a dedicated baby monitor, push-to-talk capabilities will usually be integrated, as well as the ability to record and share still images and video clips (even if some monitors require a subscription to do so). Baby video monitors will also usually have built-in music files that you can play to soothe your child. Just the ability to pan and tilt the camera — the Nest has a fixed 130-degree wide-angle perspective — means you can follow your kids wherever they scamper.
The iBaby doesn't have the best sound which is somewhat disappointing considering the great video quality. It is also going to look out of place should you try to use it for any other purpose outside baby monitoring. This limited use means it doesn't retain value the way the Nest Cam will. However, if you want a baby-centric video option that has lots of fun bells and whistles, then the iBaby is the one for you.
So, we split our remaining finalists into three groups: WiFi Monitors for those who want to have an unlimited range or the ability to check in on their baby from anywhere, Movement Monitors for those who are comforted by hearing their baby’s vital signs, and a “standard” category for parents who want a quality monitor, but aren’t looking for that extra level of support.
The most troubling pattern you see in the one-star Amazon reviews is the reports of battery life declining (or failing) over time. This is part of a larger trend in baby monitors in general, and our take on it is that the battery tech within these monitors is just not at the level people have come to expect after living with good phones and tablets, and other quality electronics. Reading the negative reviews on this and many other monitors reminded us of the kinds of problems people had with rechargeable batteries years ago. Here’s a good example of what we mean. So for now, for any baby monitor, set your expectations accordingly.
Beyond that, we wanted to hear from an expert on the products’ (perceived and real) security risks. So we spoke to Mark Stanislav, the director of application security for Duo Security and the author of Hacking IoT: A Case Study on Baby Monitor Exposures and Vulnerabilities, whose research has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press, CNET, Good Morning America, and Forbes.
Among the negative reviews, the most consistent complaint has to do with connectivity issues—either difficulty linking up initially or randomly dropping the connection while in use. These represent a slim minority among mostly positive reviews, and we did not have similar issues during our test. One consequence of losing the connection (whether it’s by a dropped link or via manually unplugging the camera) is that disconnecting causes the parent unit to emit a sharp, loud, repetitive beep. It is annoying—especially so if it happens in the middle of the night—but you should rarely hear it under normal circumstances.
It may surprise you to hear that simply being able to last through the night, unplugged, with the display off, qualifies as exceptional battery life for a baby monitor. The Infant Optics was one of the only monitors in our testing that could easily do that, and then last a while longer the next day before needing a charge. (The manufacturer claims it lasts 10 hours with the display off—we got that amount of time off a full charge, even when checking the display intermittently.) This model also charges via a USB connection, which actually sets it apart from a variety of competitors, some of which use ineffective and inconvenient proprietary DC chargers or even disposable batteries.
The more old fashioned video monitors are better if your internet isn't reliable because they use a dedicated video monitor instead. You can also choose to pair high-tech Wi-Fi security cameras with cheaper audio-only baby monitors to have the best of both worlds. We've tested a few baby monitors and researched the rest to find the best ones you can buy no matter your preference.
Monitor options: We wanted easy, intuitive, responsive controls, whether they were on a touchscreen or using physical buttons. We also wanted the monitor to withstand being knocked off a nightstand or messed with by a toddler, and generally be tough enough for the rigors of life in a home with young children. We didn’t really care whether or not we could set an alarm, use it as a nightlight, or play chintzy music through the camera—but seeing a temperature in the kids’ room was a detail we appreciated.
Parents are spoiled for choice nowadays, thanks to the rise of the connected home and new technologies like live-streaming video and high-resolution cameras. No matter which type of baby monitor you buy — whether it be an old-school audio-only monitor or a fancy Wi-Fi video monitor — it will have two parts: a monitor in the baby's room and a receiver that you carry around with you to hear and/or view your baby.