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.
The Infant Optics’s range within our test houses was never an issue, and, as with others we tested, we had to walk outside and down the street before losing the signal. The image quality was good enough to make out facial details 6 feet away in a completely dark room (as it was on others we tested). It’s easy to add more cameras to the set (you can use up to four Infant Optics add-on cameras, which are separate purchases, usually for about $100). You can mount the camera on a wall easily, pan and tilt 270 and 120 degrees respectively, and you can set the parent unit to scan between multiple cameras to keep an eye or ear on everybody at once—another nice feature that’s not unique to this model.
We got our hands on this KX-HN3001W Panasonic baby monitor in late 2018 for testing, and we were pleasantly surprised with its features, reliability, image quality, and competitive cost. Panasonic has been in the video baby monitor market for many years, and they have consistently improved the quality and reliability of their products along the way. Remember how reliable those old Panasonic DECT cordless phones were when you were a kid? You could drop them, discharge them, lose them in the couch pillows, walk them to the other side of the house, and slam them down for a dramatic ending to a phone call. These devices reminded us of those, mostly out of nostalgia, but also because the portable receiver seemed very well made and reliable. Out of the box, it comes with the color monitor receiver along with a battery and wall plug, the camera and a wall plug, and a wall-mount for the camera. We didn't realize it comes with a wall-mount and were excited to give that a shot. During setup, we mounted the camera to the wall of our test nursery and aimed it at the crib. Once it's mounted to the wall, you can still tilt and pivot it around to get a good pointing direction. Powering it on, it connected quickly to the camera unit; note that you can add two extra camera units as well, and view/control them from the same receiver (those extra cameras aren't available for sale yet). We first tested it during the daytime, and found the color screen to be clear and vivid, the connection to be reliable and relatively long-range (it worked in our back yard), and the battery life to be about 3 hours with the screen on (and unplugged obviously). It goes for much longer in stand-by mode with the screen turned off. During the nighttime, the monochrome night vision worked reasonably well. We found that it worked better if the camera unit was placed relatively close to the crib so you don't have to zoom in and lose image quality. The night vision wasn't on par with the higher-rated baby monitors on this list, but it was pretty decent. After getting the basics down, we tried out some of the cool features. It has a 2-way talk feature that actually sounded pretty good, little melodies and lullabies (or white noise!) you could play to your baby, and the life-changing remote pan/zoom/tilt. That last feature is really a necessity for modern baby cameras so you don't have to tip-toe into your baby's room and try to change the camera angle because it got bumped during the day or your baby decided to sleep on the other side of the crib. The other awesome thing about this baby monitor is that it has room temperature alerts, which allows you to set a safe range (like 68 to 72 degrees) and then it will alert you if the nursery room's temperature ever goes out of that range. There is also a little current temperature indicator on the screen, which is a nice touch. It also has a great stand-by mode that will keep the monitor off until it senses movement or hears your baby (you can set which of these you want to trigger an alert), at which point the device will alert you and turn on. This is great for a few reasons, but mostly because it helps keep battery life up to about 10 hours when kept on stand-by mode. A little extra feature is that you can set the device to automatically turn on a melody or white noise when your baby moves or makes noise - nice touch. A couple more things we noticed. First, the portable device uses micro-USB for charging, which means that you can use most phone or device charger with the same connector type (but not an iPhone charger!). That was convenient for when you're in another room and just want to quickly plug it in, just like you would with your phone. Second, on the bottom of the camera there is the standard tripod screw hole, so you can set it up on any tripod type of device (like those little ones that attach to walls, grip onto crib rails, etc). So there's some really great stuff going on here, and we are very happy to have tested it for inclusion on this list! But there are also some downfalls. First, it is built to control more than one camera, but as of late 2018 we haven't seen the additional cameras available on the market. Second, the night vision isn't up to par with the Infant Optics or other top-rated baby cameras; in fact that was the biggest challenge with this baby monitor, and we are patiently waiting for Panasonic to release a new version with better quality night vision. Third, the display is clearly not high definition, but to be fair the screen isn't really large enough to notice any pixelation. Other that that, you're getting a fantastic baby monitor for only about $120, and that's a lot of bang for the buck! Interested? You can check out the Panasonic Video Baby Monitor here.
We tested each product we purchased in key metrics that allow them to function as expected, or provides an additional feature or benefit. Monitors act as something of a lifeline for parents, so it is important that they work well, have adequate range, provide useful images, and are easy to use. If a product doesn't work well enough to instill confidence, then it will fail to offer parents the one thing they really want, more sleep.
Among the negative reviews, the most consistent complaint has to do with connectivity issues—either difficulty linking up initially or randomly dropping the connection while in use. These represent a slim minority among mostly positive reviews, and we did not have similar issues during our test. One consequence of losing the connection (whether it’s by a dropped link or via manually unplugging the camera) is that disconnecting causes the parent unit to emit a sharp, loud, repetitive beep. It is annoying—especially so if it happens in the middle of the night—but you should rarely hear it under normal circumstances.
* Guest Accounts: need to allow guest accounts for grandparents, but absolutely need the ability to turn OFF the microphone for those accounts. The camera is only in the baby's room, but the microphone extends as far as sound travels, and you probably don't want your mother-in-law listening to every discussion in your home. This is a HUGE security feature that is a requirement for anything with guest accounts
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.