Look for a monitoring system that is a good fit for your home and lifestyle. For example, if you’re in a small apartment in a busy city, having a monitor that has a long range won’t be as important to you, but one that screens out background noise will. For parents that frequently travel or work long days, being able to check on your child from anywhere and talk over the audio can help keep you connected. But, for those who are with their kids most of the time this might not matter much. The point is, consider what will make parenting easier and your family happiest and you can’t go wrong.
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
There are many factors to consider when purchasing a video monitor for your child. These products range in price from around $40 up into the hundreds, and they come with a variety of features, such as WiFi connectivity, dual cameras, long-range monitoring and more. The following is a breakdown of the top video baby monitors available and the best features of each option.
In addition to being untested for efficacy, physiologic monitors can increase both your stress and your baby’s stress with false alarms and unnecessary trips to the hospital. Dr. Christopher Bonafide, of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia wrote that parents are increasingly bringing healthy babies to the hospital over a false alarm, noting that changes that often set off a monitor are “just normal fluctuations.”
Our hands-on reviews put 32 video baby monitors to the test, examining their features, image clarity (day and night vision), convenience, reliability, safety, the range of reception, and versatility. We came away with over 15 of the top baby monitors of the year, including the top-ranked Infant Optics monitor to the super versatile Project Nursery monitor.
Once you've settled on a type and have considered your range, you can look at the potential choice and which features they have. The more budget-friendly choices usually lack bells and whistles but are still functional. If you want more features like nightlights, lullabies, and talk to the baby, then you may pay more and the unit could be more difficult to use. The one feature we think is important is sound activation to help keep your device quiet when your baby is quiet, thereby increasing your chances of a full night's sleep.
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.
Video monitors give a quick and silent look into baby's world without leaving your cozy bed or disturbing the baby. If a trip to the nursery is warranted, you haven't lost much time, but if the baby is just adjusting, then you can go back to sleep without getting up. Getting good sleep, or as much sleep as possible can be the difference between a great newborn experience and feeling like a new parent/zombie failure.
In our tests, Levana Ayden did well in the categories where Levana Keera underperformed, particularly with regards to user-friendliness. This was most noticeable in the simple controls, which are easy to learn. Levana Ayden also has a few useful extras such as a built-in nightlight and three lullabies to help sooth your baby as they sleep. This unit costs around $90, which is quite competitive with other video baby monitors. Unfortunately, the unit lacks the ability to remotely reposition the camera and has lower than average video quality, which can make details hard to see. The audio had mild interference, but this didn't affect the overall quality much. The one-year warranty is typical of video baby monitors.
If you aren't interested in having a video baby monitor, the VTech DM221 is the very best audio-only monitor you can buy. You can listen in on your baby or get vibration and light-based alerts when the monitor is in silent mode. The five LED lights indicate the level of sound so you can tell whether your baby is cooing quietly or shrieking for mom and dad.
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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.
If you want remote access to see footage inside your home while you’re away, why not just use an indoor security camera? If that’s your sole objective, we think such cameras are a better choice than a dedicated baby monitor—and we explain which ones we like and why, in detail, in our guide to wireless indoor home security cameras. But in comparing our picks here against the Nest Camera (a popular, mainstream option, and a pick in our security camera guide), we found that security cameras start to lose their appeal when you try to use them in the ways most people regularly want to use baby monitors—at home, at night, all night, while a kid sleeps. Many won’t stream audio in the background, which means that to continuously monitor your baby, the app has to be open at all times. Some can take several seconds to pull up a live feed—not ideal when you want to see why a baby is crying. They can work well if you’re traveling and want to see what the family is up to, or if you’re out for the night and want to check on the kids without bugging the sitter—but as useful as that capability is, we concluded that it really is a different task from what most people want to accomplish with a day-to-day monitor.
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.
We got our hands on this monitor in mid-2018 for testing. It's a wifi baby monitor, just like many other options on this list, meaning that it connects to your wireless router to stream a digital video and audio signal to your smart phone wherever you are in the world. What's unique about this Safety 1st wifi baby monitor is that it also includes a wireless speaker pod that you can place anywhere in your house so you can listen in on your baby when you don't want to turn on your smart phone. This is nice during the night when you don't want to turn on your bright screen, or when your phone battery is low and you need to recharge. And the speaker pod has a batter that lasts for about 10-12 hours, so you can easily bring it into different rooms. So that's a nice added feature. And there are some additional features worth mentioning. First, it streams video in high definition 720p, though we do point out that it's basically impossible to stream 720p in real-time to your phone unless you're on the same local network (i.e. if you're at home). But that limitation isn't unique to the Safety 1st, and any wifi monitor that appears to be streaming in real-time HD is likely buffering the video for several seconds before it gets to you (so what you're seeing is delayed). Second, we were impressed with the nice wide-angle camera (130-degrees horizontal field of view), which means that it's more accommodating if you want to position the camera closer to the crib. Third, you can set up movement and sound alerts and customize the sensitivity of the alerts on your app to make sure you're getting an alert when it's important but also avoiding too many false alarms. We liked that you can change the sensitivity of the alerts, and thought that feature worked pretty well in our testing. The auto-recorded 30-second clips were also a nice touch so you can see what was going on when the alert was triggered. Some other things we liked were that the night vision was pretty good quality, you can zoom in and out (but you can't pan or tilt) using the app, there's a two-way intercom so you can talk to your baby, and you can expand the system to multiple cameras that you can toggle between using the app (you can't view multiple cameras simultaneously, however). So how does this wifi baby monitor compare to the other top rated wifi monitors on this list? Well, there's some good and bad. Setup was pretty easy, so that's definitely good, though the owner's manual was a bit difficult to understand at times. And once we got it running, it seemed to stay up and running pretty reliably, so that's also a plus. Also, there's no necessary subscription to store the 30-second clips you record for 30 days in the cloud. So here are some things that we didn't like about this monitor: first, many times when we open the app on our phone, the live stream doesn't connect immediately - sometimes we would restart the app, and other times we'd just need to wait several seconds. That's frustrating when you just received an alert and go to see what's going on, but can't. Second, if your internet goes down you're basically screwed. Unlike the Nanit and Lollipop, it will not revert to streaming over your local area network in the event of an internet outage - so even if you're at home, you won't be able to use the app or otherwise view the video. Third, the camera has a bright little light on it, which we ended up covering with electrical tape. Finally, we found the speaker pod unusually difficult to use, and were disappointed that a charger wasn't even included with it (or maybe it was just missing from our box?). Anyway, so there are some really nice features and high potential for this to be a great baby monitor, but in the end we found several limitations that made it difficult for us to justify spending upwards of $200 on it (note that it's about $150 without the speaker pod). But we'll let you make that decision. Interested? You can check out the Safety 1st HD wifi Baby Monitor here.
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!
The Dropcam Echo is an example of a digital video camera system that uses your existing wireless network, allowing you to use your computer or other device as the receiver. (We haven't tested this type of monitor.) Parents go to the Dropcam website, sign in to their account, and then connect the Dropcam to their router using an Ethernet cable. (Once the connection is made, you don't need to use the cable again.) The Dropcam locates your wireless network, you enter your unit's serial number, and the unit begins streaming encrypted video that you can view on a computer, iPhone, iPad, or Android device. You mount the camera in your baby's room and plug it into an electrical outlet.
Range, clarity and minimal interference are factors that should be considered when you're selecting a device for baby monitoring. Range especially is something you'll want to verify/test yourself once you get any of the monitors home because they are often rated in a line-of-sight situation, but rarely used that way. Depending on the monitor type, whole home Wi-Fi can be a great option to keep your monitor wirelessly connected just about anywhere in your home. With video baby monitors, you may also want to consider getting one with the ability to record, while a low battery indicator, volume control, temperature display, and a music player may also be important convenience factors for you. Privacy can also be a consideration. Digital monitors are more difficult to hack than analog monitors because their transmissions are encoded.
The time you use your device depends on your needs and what type of device you choose. Movement products have the shortest lifespan and only work up to about 6-9 months old or when your little one starts rolling and moving. Sound and video options can be used for years depending on your needs. Video products can arguably be used for the longest period because it can help you keep tabs on older children as they nap and play. Wi-Fi options have the most extended use as they can also keep an eye on a nanny or work for security purposes. The Nest Cam is designed for security use and can be used for years to come in lots of applications. If the duration is a top concern for you, then the Wi-Fi video products, like the Nest cam or LeFun, should be your go-to choice.