Some baby cams can work at night with low light levels. Most video baby monitors today have a night vision feature. Infrared LEDs attached on the front of the camera allow a user to see the baby in a dark room. Video baby monitors that have night vision mode will switch to this mode automatically in the dark. Some advanced baby cams now work over Wi-Fi so parents can watch babies through their smartphone or computer.
Our hands-on reviews put 32 video baby monitors to the test, examining their features, image clarity (day and night vision), convenience, reliability, safety, the range of reception, and versatility. We came away with over 15 of the top baby monitors of the year, including the top-ranked Infant Optics monitor to the super versatile Project Nursery monitor.
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.
For roughly a third of the price of our pick, the VTech is far more affordable. Losing video is a major sacrifice, of course, and we’re certain most parents looking for a first monitor will prefer being able to do a visual check-in on a baby. Budget advantages aside, we could see this being best for parents of toddlers who are considering replacing a failing monitor, and who know they will likely use a monitor only at night as a way to hear a kid crying out from a distant bedroom. Many reviewers have also found it useful as a way for adults to communicate, especially for caretakers who need to be able to hear when adults with mobility or medical issues need help in another room.
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.
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.
The Dropcam Echo is an example of a digital video camera system that uses your existing wireless network, allowing you to use your computer or other device as the receiver. (We haven't tested this type of monitor.) Parents go to the Dropcam website, sign in to their account, and then connect the Dropcam to their router using an Ethernet cable. (Once the connection is made, you don't need to use the cable again.) The Dropcam locates your wireless network, you enter your unit's serial number, and the unit begins streaming encrypted video that you can view on a computer, iPhone, iPad, or Android device. You mount the camera in your baby's room and plug it into an electrical outlet.
With a baby monitor, you're able to keep tabs on your little one(s) during nap time or nighttime, and still go about your day. Generally, the number one benefit provided by the best baby monitors are peace of mind, followed closely by the benefits of security and convenience. Plus, since homes and habits vary, a baby monitor may have additional uses, like allowing you to monitor how long it takes your preschooler to fall asleep, keeping track of playtime, or even using it as a pet cam.
Beyond security, Wi-Fi monitors have other disadvantages. In our tests, connectivity was more of an issue with Wi-Fi monitors than it was with RF monitors. 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. 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. Other owners (like this one) have had the same issues.
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. That alone puts it head-and-shoulders above many other monitors we tested.
Check the return policy: Every family is different, so it can be hard to choose the perfect baby monitor for your needs. For that reason, we recommend you look into each product's return policy. Some companies are very good about letting you return baby monitors, but others are not. You may need to try a few different ones out before you find the winner. Obviously, we hope this guide assists you in making the right choice, but it's always good to have a backup plan. We've noted the return policy for each baby monitor we recommend in this guide.
You can get the same system, with a traditional monitor screen that’s slightly smaller at 4.3 inches, for cheaper. If you’re interested in having two zoom cameras or an app that lets you see your baby while away, Project Nursery offers those configurations as well. You can also record video and take photos with it as well (requires an SD card sold separately).