As you'd expect, the talk-back functionality and audio quality on the VTech are great—easily better than the rudimentary talk-back features on our video monitor picks. With the battery lasting about 19 hours on a full charge, this monitor has the strongest battery life of any in our test. 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.
Range of signal: Some baby monitors have better range than others. If you live in a big house with multiple rooms, range will be a key consideration for you. Anyone who lives in a single-story house or a smaller apartment may not need as much range. Many baby monitors have an alert when you get out of range, and the packaging typically gives you an estimate of the range. Bear in mind that range varies widely from home to home. The construction of the walls between you and the baby monitor may even limit the range.
We wanted to recommend an inexpensive video monitor, but their flaws were so significant that we decided we’d rather spend less on a quality audio-only monitor like the VTech DM221. This is a well-reviewed best seller in the category, and it has crisp sound and better talk-back functionality than the best video monitors we found, as well as a longer range and better battery life than our video picks. It easily beats out its audio-only competitors for various basic reasons like being cordless, rechargeable, or less expensive.
One of the biggest concerns with a baby monitor is going out of range and not hearing baby crying for you. Talk about a case of mom guilt! When shopping for the best long-range baby monitor, note that the range listed on the box doesn’t account for walls or doors; it’s a line-of-sight range. So, although you may not actually be able to travel 1,000 feet away from baby, you should be able to head to the basement to do laundry or be outside in the yard without worrying about missing baby’s cries.
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.
The handheld unit's 5-inch screen is the largest in our review, complementing the camera's wide-angle lens. However, its resolution is the same as smaller units, so the video quality, while acceptable, is poorer. Also, you can't move the camera remotely, a feature you may not use if you only watch your baby as they sleep. The Wide View 2.0 makes up for its video quality with a user-friendly design. It only takes a few minutes to set up and a couple hours to charge the handheld unit. The handheld unit lets you adjust the volume and has an uncomplicated menu. This simplicity comes at the cost of common features – the Wide View 2.0 doesn't track room temperature, and it can't play lullabies through the camera unit. Because this is a simple video monitor, the battery lasted nine hours before it needed to recharge during our tests. The overall best baby monitor, the Infant Optics DXR-8, went 10 hours before shutting off, so this is a very good result. The Summer Infant Wide View 2.0's handheld unit has a limited indoor range compared to most other baby cameras – it’s good enough for most homes but insufficient in particularly large ones. Summer Infant offers a one-year warranty, which is average for video baby monitors.
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:
To test connectivity, we put the handheld unit and the camera in neighboring rooms with 30 feet between them. We looked for lag, choppiness, and changes in the video or sound quality. While we rated it separately, we also did tests to estimate each baby cam’s maximum indoor range. Each camera we tested has a range of 100 feet or more, which is enough for an average-size home.
Electromagnetic fields (EMF), or dirty electricity, is something we think needs to be discussed when talking about wireless baby monitors. Given that all wireless devices give off some level of EMF, we feel it would be negligent not to discuss the potential for possible health risks associated with the kind of radiation emitted by wireless products. While the jury is still out, and studies being done are not conclusive yet, there is enough evidence that EMF might potentially cause health problems that we feel it is better to be cautious when it comes to children's exposure than to ignore the possibilities.
Poor quality and durability plague many baby monitors. Scores of reviewers on Amazon and other sites report that the Hello Baby HB32; Motorola MPB854Connect, MBP36XL, MBP33XL, MBP41, and MBP43; Infant Optics DXR-5; Summer Infant Dual View and Sure Sight 2.0; Levana Jena, Keera, Ayden, Astra, and Lila; Angelcare AC420; Philips Avent SCD570 and SCD630/SCD637; and VTech VM342-2 and VM343 don’t deliver on promised functionality and start to fail in some critical capacity within a year—often in much less time.
You might see monitors on the market with claims that they can track a baby's breathing or movements, but unless the unit is registered with the FDA, it's not a medical device. Consumer Reports hasn't tested this type of monitor. Talk with your pediatrician if you think your child has a condition that warrants medical monitoring. He or she can give you advice on the best devices.
Type: After considering the options, weighing the relative advantages, and experiencing many firsthand, we determined our ideal monitor would be an RF (radio frequency) video monitor rather than one of the two main alternatives: a Wi-Fi (or cloud-based) model that you can check on your phone, and bare-bones audio-only speakers. (We approached our research with an open mind and gave an equal chance to all three types.) Since the best audio monitors cost far less, we have recommendations for both video and audio types—and we answered the question, What about a Wi-Fi baby monitor? with a firm conclusion that RF video can better provide what most people want: a clear view of a baby, a secure connection, and a dedicated monitor that can operate in the background without tying up your phone.
Aimee is a pediatric occupational therapist practicing in the neonatal intensive care unit and pediatric out-patient at Central Pennsylvania Rehab Services at the Heart of Lancaster Hospital. She has been working in pediatrics for 18 years and is also the owner/operator of Aimee’s Babies LLC, a child development company. Aimee has published 3 DVDs and 9 apps which have been featured on the Rachael Ray Show and iPhone Essentials Magazine. Also certified in newborn massage and instructing yoga to children with special needs, Aimee Ketchum lives in Lititz, PA with her husband and two daughters.
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.