Long Range: Monitors that don’t connect to WiFi have a limited range, usually around 600 to 1,000 feet. While this is large enough for all but the biggest houses, we asked our testers to find out how far they could wander away — and how many walls they could put between them and the baby unit — before they went out of range, as well as to report back on what happened when they did. Sometimes there was an alarm or a notification, but other times the screen simply froze.
We tested and compared 9 of the most popular video monitors in this review using a comprehensive series of tests with continued use over several months. Our tests were designed to provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision on which product is right for your family and needs. Each monitor is scored based on performance experienced during our hands-on, side-by-side testing process. The test results determine the metric scores, and those scores combine to create overall scores and rank. Metric scores are derived from our in-house lab and user experience "in the field." Overall scores were weighted with a preference for the range, video quality, and sound clarity.
The price of the Infant Optics, at about $150, is on the higher end for baby monitors. As much as we wanted to recommend a more affordable option, we found their shortcomings to be major enough—terrible video quality and poor connections were common—that we couldn’t recommend one. The Infant Optics offers a better value even though it’s among the more expensive options out there. Many people use these daily for years, which helps justify the investment, and the reports of reliable customer service from other customers are reassuring. If you have to spend less, go audio-only.
For parents who want to monitor their baby’s cries from the office, or the gym, or Tahiti, the BB-8-looking iBaby M6S syncs right up to your house Wi-Fi connection ⏤ so instead of using a dedicated handheld receiver, you watch all the action on a smartphone app. It offers impressive 1080p HD video (with record function), a 360-degree view with 110-degree tilt, and an array of high-tech sensors including motion, sound, in-room temperature, air quality, and humidity. The only thing it seemingly won’t do is fix your X-Wing fighter. Although it makes up for it with night vision, two-way talk, and 10 programmed lullabies and bedtime stories, to which you can even add your own voice.
The Philips Avent SCD630 earned a 4th place rank, but it is the number 1 ranked dedicated monitor we tested. It has the longest range and highest ease of use scores for the dedicated options and the best score for sound clarity out of all the monitors we tested in this review. The Philips has lullabies, a nightlight, 2-way talk to baby, automatic screen wakeup/sleep, sound activation, 2x zoom, and a temperature sensor. While it struggles to offer true to life images and has fewer features than most of the competition, it is hard to deny that this plug and play monitor is a simple solution for video baby monitoring, and it gets the job done with little fuss and only a small learning curve. However, if you want a remote-controlled camera, you should look elsewhere, as this one is manual with a smaller field of view.
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 Motorola MBP36S digital video baby monitor features wireless 2.4 GHz FHSS technology, which offers a reliable connection for better range and less chance of a dropped signal. It is equipped with multiple camera viewing with picture-in-picture and auto-switch screen options, allowing you to add additional cameras and keep an eye on the entire family in up to 4 rooms of your home. (Model: MBP36SBU, sold separately.) The superior wireless range of the MBP36S allows you to stay connected to your baby up to 590 feet away.
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.
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.
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?
While the price is too high compared with our other picks to merit a recommendation, the Arlo Baby by Netgear Smart HD Baby Monitor and Camera does have some appeal, mostly because it overcomes some of the traditional shortcomings of Wi-Fi monitors and security cameras used for that purpose. Its main advantage is that its app can continue to play audio even if the app is not open in the foreground of your mobile device. This means it can continue to broadcast sounds from a baby’s room while parents sleep elsewhere, alerting them if there’s trouble (as a traditional monitor would), without the hassle of loading the live stream every time. It also offers some unique features: The camera itself can work wirelessly off a rechargeable battery (which no other monitor we’ve tested can do), and it can track and chart several days’ worth of temperature and other environmental data in a child’s room. These features alone don’t justify its added cost—the current price is about $100 more than that of either our pick or the least-bad Wi-Fi monitor we’ve tested—but that cost may be easier to swallow if you’re already using other Arlo devices, which we began recommending as a runner-up in our piece on indoor security cameras in fall 2016. As with most Wi-Fi monitors, owner reviews note problems with the signal dropping out, sluggish response time when opening the video on an app, and other irritations, such as problems seeing the feed on multiple devices.
Movement monitoring devices do not claim to prevent SIDS, but they could potentially provide peace of mind for a better night's sleep for parents. To reduce the likelihood of SIDS, you should practice safe sleep guidelines for EVERY sleep (with or without a movement device). Always put your baby on their back to sleep, they should have their own firm sleep space with a tightly fitted sheet. Read our article on How to Protect your Infant from SIDS and other Causes of Sleep-related Deaths for more information about best sleep practices and setting up a healthy sleep environment for your baby.
Features are important, but we encourage you to consider which features you think you will realistically use and which sound like fun in theory, but probably won't happen in practice. Many of the monitors carry a higher price tag and justify the price with the addition of features parents are unlikely to use in real life. Features like alarm clocks for feeding schedules, and alerts for low humidity might feel like something you should consider, but in practice, sound activation and quality images are more useful. In fact, more features often translate to being more difficult to use, and many of the features are novelty functions that most parents stop using over time. A good example of this is the Philips Avent SCD630 with an ease of use score of 8, but a features score of only 4. Try not to fall for the propaganda of bells and whistles that you might only use for the first few weeks. In the end, what you want is a good monitor with great sound and video quality.