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.
In early 2011, two infant strangulation deaths prompted a recall of nearly two million Summer Infant video monitors. The CPSC also reported that a 20-month-old boy was found in his crib with the camera cord wrapped around his neck. In that case, the Summer Infant monitor camera was mounted on a wall, but the child was still able to reach the cord. He was freed without serious injury.
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.
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.
We wanted to recommend a less expensive video monitor, but at any price notably lower than our pick, every product we tried had such serious problems—usually, poor video quality and ongoing connection issues—that we feel a higher end audio-only monitor offers a much better value for a limited budget. The VTech DM221 audio monitor is the best choice in the category—it’s consistently a best seller at multiple retailers, with strong reviews (four out five stars over 4,703 reviews on Amazon) and similarly high ratings at Walmart, Target, and BuyBuy Baby.
The main reason you’re going to need a baby monitor is to answer a simple, but time-honored, question: Why the hell is my baby crying? It’s only been in the last 30 years or so that parents have relied on the remote surveillance of their sleeping children. For the eons before that, it was a combination of natural, ear-piercing cries, and sleeping in the same yurt.
We began by shopping for baby monitors like anyone else would if they had dozens of hours to do it. The process started with a long list of best sellers at Amazon, Walmart, Target, BuyBuy Baby, Babies“R”Us, and Costco. We found monitors recommended in editorial reviews, such as PCMag, Reviewed.com, and Tom’s Guide. We also read a ton of discussion among parents in the Amazon reviews—what features they found especially useful, and what problems tend to occur. Thinking of all this, and comparing those concerns against the things we’ve appreciated and despised in our own years of monitor use, we developed the following selection criteria:
To test each camera’s night vision, we used them in darkened bedrooms with blackout curtains, with and without nightlights. For a more extreme test, we set the cameras up in a windowless room in a basement with a towel blocking light from the door. We aimed all the cameras at a doll’s face approximately 6 feet across the room, looked at the monitors, and tried not to creep ourselves out.
Dropped connections are another problem. "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," Wirecutter says. "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."
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."
Watching your child from moment to moment is far more important than going over footage from previous nights, so baby monitors don't usually make a big deal about saving video for later, whether using built-in storage or through a cloud service. They can take snapshots and short clips when they detect movement, but they won't offer time-lapse videos of entire nights at once, or let you page through hours or days of footage. Those features are useful for identifying burglars, but they don't really help you watch your child unless you're in a Paranormal Activity sequel.
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.
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.
Video products add the element of visual peeking on your baby, so you can see if your baby is crying but calming down without you or if you need to make your way to their side. Most video products work well in the dark and have adequate sound so you can see and hear what is happening in the room. Some options are dedicated with a camera that talks to a parent unit, like the Levana Lila while others use your Wi-Fi to send information from the camera to your personal device like the Nest Cam. Wi-Fi options are great for larger houses where range could be an issue, and it's also nice for away from home monitoring. While video images are not mandatory for getting a good night's sleep, they do provide more information that can help you determine your little one's needs before you get out of bed. With the price of video products being lower than ever, it is no longer considered a luxury product and many parents are choosing this style over sound only products. However, proceed with caution! Spying on your newborn can be addictive and lead to less sleep which defeats the purpose of a getting a monitoring device in the first place.
The Infant Optics DXR-8 has a superior battery life to any of the other video monitors we tested, as well as a simpler monitor interface that’s more intuitive and easier to navigate than those found on competitors. The range, image quality, price, and many other features are comparable to the best competitors. Other good qualities include its basic but secure RF connection, and ability to pair multiple cameras, but those are features common to several other baby monitors. Every baby monitor has its share of negative feedback, but in more than 10,000 Amazon reviews, the complaints about the Infant Optics are relatively mild.
We also liked the iBaby because while it allowed us to invite other users to see through the camera — great if you want to give your babysitter access while you’re out — only the person who registered the iBaby monitor has administrator access to all of the features. The administrator can give some privileges to other users, like being able to move the camera around, but they can take them away just as quickly.
The Levana Lila video product is a dedicated camera and parent unit which means you don't need to tie up your personal device or use the internet. This option is user-friendly and has a respectable range that could work for most average size homes. The Lila has long-lasting battery life and a reasonable price with fewer features than much of the competition, but that is part of what makes it easy enough for grandma to use.
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.
The dedicated monitors did not score as well as the Wi-Fi products for features. It isn't that they don't have features, it's just that they don't offer as many, don't have features that make the camera easier to use or the features they have don't work that well. All of the dedicated monitors have 2-way communication, but they all also can only be viewed on the parent device that comes with the monitor. Some offer temperature sensors and lullabies, but most of them don't provide motion detection or great zoom. The highest score for features for the traditional video products was 5 of 10. Two monitors managed to earn the 5 rating, with the Infant Optics DXR-8 being the highest ranked overall with a feature score of 5. However, this monitor did not score well overall, or in key metrics, we think are essential for a good video monitor. So despite having a high score for features, we still would not recommend this monitor to a friend.
Some audio/video monitors filter out "normal" sounds and motions. The receiver is supposed to turn on only when your baby makes an unusual motion or sound, such as crying or rolling over when he's waking up from a nap. This feature is designed to extend battery life, although the receiver should be docked for overnight monitoring to keep the battery charged. We haven't tested any models with this feature, so we don't know how well it works.
Traditional video baby monitors don't offer the same high-resolution picture quality we're used to seeing on our smartphones and tablets. If you want high-resolution video of your baby, you'll have to go with a Wi-Fi monitor like the NestCam that streams video to your phone or tablet. The Phillips AVENT SCD630 video monitor may not be high-res, but it's the best of the bunch.
No ordinary monitor, the Cocoon Cam lets you see your baby and a graph that shows breathing patterns on your smartphone. The camera watches the rise and fall of your child’s chest and sends an instant notification if something seems off. You’ll also get alerts when your child has fallen asleep, is crying or is about to wake up. Since the Cocoon Cam live streams the video and audio over WiFi, you can watch your baby from anywhere.