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
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:
With more than 24,000 Amazon reviewers giving this monitor a near five-star rating, we’re proud to include the Infant Optics DXR-8 video baby monitor on our list of best baby monitors. Parents rave about its crystal-clear picture in both light and darkness, and the interchangeable wide-angle lens for larger viewing areas (sold separately). Not only that, the DXR-8 has the ability to pan and zoom across baby’s room without parents having to enter the room and move or adjust the camera. We think these features make the Infant Optics DXR-8 the best video baby monitor.
Video quality is a metric these products should perform well in, but most of them failed to offer a true to life image even in the daytime. It is disappointing that most dedicated video products aren't doing more than providing a blurry image of the baby in the room, and fail to show the baby's features or what the human eye would see in the room. The night vision is even worse than their day vision video, with some images being so blurry and hard to decipher that parents may end up going to baby's room simply because their baby has no face.
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.
Like other systems, the Dropcam Echo allows you to put up more than one camera and monitor different rooms. The manufacturer says the Dropcam Echo automatically detects motion and sound, and you can get an e-mail message or notification on your smart phone or iPad when something changes in the baby's room. Dropcam will store your video feed for either a weekly or monthly fee.
Baby monitors are available in three primary forms: audio, video and movement. If your main concern is hearing when your baby wakes up, then an audio-only monitor will do the trick. These baby monitors tend to be smaller, and less expensive. With a video baby monitor, there are a wide variety of options available, including different screen sizes, cameras that tilt, pan and zoom, and night vision. This type of monitor tends to provide extra levels of security, allowing you to tell if your baby is lying down or standing up, to track sleep patterns, and to evaluate whether intervention is required, or whether your child seems likely to self-soothe and fall back asleep. Plus, if you get a video camera that connects to your Wi-Fi, you can use the camera as a nanny cam, and check the baby video even when you're away from home. Movement-based baby monitors are designed to track your baby's heart rate, movement, respiration, skin temperature and sleep quality.
Even though the jury is still out on the effects of EMF on the human body, this doesn't mean parents need to wait for more definitive proof before making thoughtful adjustments that err on the side of caution. Given that exposure compounds over time and with an increased number of devices emitting, you can help limit baby's exposure by turning off devices when they are not in use, unplugging wireless routers at night while children sleep, and keeping products as far from your baby as possible when in use. Even if you are not convinced that there is potential for harm, it certainly can't hurt to make choices that potentially increase the health of your home.
Unfortunately, The DECT SCD570/10 is one of the most expensive sound devices we tested with a price that rivals some of the video options. This higher price means that parents looking in this price range may want to consider a video product instead to get more bang for their buck. Alternatively, if you want a sound option with full-bodied sound and fancy features for baby, and you aren't interested in watching your little one, then the SCD570 could be the one for you.
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 with those of the best competitors. Other good qualities include a basic but secure RF connection, an ability to pair multiple cameras, and simple tactile buttons.
For the parent devices of dedicated monitors, the battery life ranged anywhere between 6.75 and 12.75 hours. The Wi-Fi options are harder to gauge given that the battery life depends on the kind of device used, whether or not it is being used for other applications simultaneously, and how old the battery is in the device. In general, however, we feel it is relatively safe to say that most will work longer than the best dedicated monitor battery if the device is dedicated for use with the monitor only and is not running other applications simultaneously.
After testing more than half-a-dozen mounted cameras that beam live video from a nursery, the best baby monitor we've tested is Netgear's Arlo Baby. Netgear's baby monitor packs in a number of must-have features such as clear 1080p video, two-way audio and a host of sensors. Everything's easily accessible from a well-organized mobile app that puts the Arlo Baby's controls at your fingertips.
This unit only works until little ones can roll or crawl. It can be uncomfortable for some babies or ineffective if little ones are too small or their diapers don't fit well. We worry parents will rely on this kind of device to prevent SIDs and caution you that there is no evidence that it does or can prevent the incidence of SIDs. However, if you want to know when your little one is moving at a predictable rate, and knowing may help you sleep better, then the Snuza could be the right option for you that won't break the bank or require adjustments to your nursery.
The longest battery life for the dedicated products in our review is the Levana Lila, which ran for 12.75 hours in full use mode. The manufacturer claims this unit will work up to 72 hours in power saving mode, but we only tested the monitors in full use. The Infant Optics DXR-8 came in second place with a shorter run time of closer to 11.5 hours. The Motorola MBP36S earned the lowest score for battery life with a runtime just under 7 hours. While not necessarily a deal breaker, there are plenty of other reasons to dislike the Motorola MBP36S, and the battery life is just a small part of a disappointing overall picture (no pun intended).
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.”
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.
The most reliable type of movement sensing product is the mattress pad option. This product is placed under the mattress, usually on a hard board and will only work with some types of mattresses. This unit relays messages to a nursery device that alerts parents on a parent device or with an alarm in the nursery (model dependent). The BabySense 7 is a good example of a sensor pad that works under your baby's mattress.
Project Nursery offers a variety of monitor options that include fantastic features like remote camera control, two-way communication, motion, sound and temperature alerts and the ability to play white noise or lullabies. But what we like best about this one is that it comes with a traditional 5-inch screen monitor and a 1.5-inch mini video monitor that you can wear like a bracelet. Both monitors have a long battery life, too.