A standard video baby monitor is the first step up from audio-only baby monitors. They all come with two parts: the parent unit, consisting of a portable display screen, and the baby unit, which includes the camera and its stand. If you just want the basics or have an unreliable internet connect, a standard video monitor will help you watch over your baby without the price tag of more feature-heavy WiFi monitors.
Image and audio quality: We wanted a high enough resolution to make out facial features in the dark, at more than a few feet of distance, and (obviously) in daylight as well. The screen itself did not need to be incredibly high-resolution, but we wanted a size that would be easily visible on a nightstand. For all monitors, but especially audio-only options, we wanted to be able to hear everything clearly at the lowest volumes.
Baby monitors, despite the name, are meant more for the caregiver than they are for the baby. We asked parents about which features they felt were helpful, like a long range so they could wander carefree all over the house, and reliability so they weren’t struggling to maintain a signal. Other features like being able to play lullabies, or receive temperature alerts are only as useful as you make them. And a few features, like motion monitors, can be exceptionally comforting for some, and distressing for others.
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?
A good WiFi monitor is convenient and feature-rich — or else we may as well stick with the HelloBaby. The iBaby takes both aspect to the next level. It was the fastest WiFi model to set up at only five minutes. Once you download the app, a straightforward tutorial walks you through every feature. We liked that you can choose both sensitivity levels and notification options for noise, motion, temperature, and humidity — meaning the iBaby won’t alert you to those quiet falling-asleep sounds, or small movements unless you want it to.
So what is the best baby monitor? That depends on what you’re looking for. A video monitor seems like an obvious choice over an audio monitor, but it does come with a higher price tag. If you have a large home or you spend a lot of time outside with older children while baby sleeps, a long-range monitor may be the best choice for you. And if you travel a lot, you may be more interested in a compact, simple-to-operate portable baby monitor rather than one that is mounted or otherwise heavy and difficult to move. In short, here are the factors you’ll want to consider when selecting the best baby monitor for you:
Frequency: Some baby monitors operate on the same 2.4GHz frequency band as household products like microwaves, cordless phones, wireless speakers, and so on. When the monitor is on the same frequency as a number of other products, you can experience interference and static. You may want to get a monitor that uses a different frequency like 1.9GHz, which the Federal Communications Commission sets aside for audio-only applications. It's called DECT, or Digitally Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications.
Internet speed is a challenge with wifi cameras and wifi baby monitors: people want cameras with high definition video (720p or 1080p), but most internet connections are nowhere near fast enough to stream that high-quality video in real time. So parents get really frustrated with their HD wifi baby monitors because they find the video choppy, laggy, and unreliable. Most modern wifi cameras allow you to lower the resolution of the video so you can still see your baby, but not in high def.
With a 1,000-foot range and DECT technology, the VTech Safe & Sound Digital Audio relays sound with excellent clarity. Two-way communication offers a way to calm a baby when he or she is waking up or trying to fall asleep. It also includes a night light for late-night feedings. The digital display indicates signal strength and power/battery life. This monitor offers a full range of alarms when your baby wakes — audio, indicator lights, and vibration.
Rechargeable batteries: Since the camera will most likely stay trained on your bundle of joy, it can remain plugged into AC power. But parent unit displays are designed to be always on and carried with you as you move from room to room. That can drain batteries quickly. Look for a parent unit that runs on rechargeable batteries, so you’re not constantly swapping them out.
It uses 2.4GHz FHSS technology that offers a private connection between the monitor in your baby's room and the dedicated viewer in your hand. The FHSS connection should minimize interference, and most reviewers say the audio is clear. In BabyGearLab's testing, the reviewer found that the Phillips AVENT had the best audio signal of any of the monitors it tested.
We don’t think most people would be happiest with a Wi-Fi–enabled baby monitor. The benefits—primarily, being able to view the camera footage remotely, on multiple phones, without keeping track of a separate monitor—do not make up for the disadvantages Wi-Fi monitors have as a category. Security is probably the first thing on most people’s minds. The likelihood of someone hacking into your baby monitor is remote, but it’s possible, said Mark Stanislav, director of application security at Duo Security, in an interview with The Wirecutter. You’re relying on the security of your own home network and also the ability of the manufacturer to secure all its devices. “Once you get into an Internet-connected device, and it really depends on what kind of device it is, but these devices very often bypass your home’s router and firewall. Basically, once you’re connected to this device, you are inside the home’s network. So, it’s possible to use these devices to access other devices in a home,” Stanislav said. (Stanislav was also involved in Rapid7’s research into the vulnerabilities of Wi-Fi–enabled monitors.)
This is a light or beeping sound that lets you know that you've reached the monitor's range limit. If you have a model without this feature, static might be the only indication that you're out of range. (A monitor's range can vary due to your home's size, its construction materials, and other factors.) The greater the range, the better--especially if you plan to take your monitor outside.
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.
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.
Don't be fooled by its cute looks and adorable green bunny ears: Netgear's Arlo Baby is a very capable baby monitor that delivers sharp video of your nursery to your smartphone. The Arlo Baby includes features such as night vision, temperature and air quality sensors, a color-changing nightlight and a speaker that can play lullabies. All of this is very easy to manage thanks to a well-designed mobile app.
Wireless encryption: This ensures that no one else can tap into your monitor’s “feed” and see what’s going on in your house. WiFi-enabled monitors are great for portability and range, but may be more susceptible to hacking. If you go this route, be sure to secure your home wireless network and keep the monitor’s firmware updated. Otherwise look for digital monitors with a 2.4 GHz FHSS wireless transmission.