Will Greenwald has been covering consumer technology for a decade, and has served on the editorial staffs of CNET.com, Sound & Vision, and Maximum PC. His work and analysis has been seen in GamePro, Tested.com, Geek.com, and several other publications. He currently covers consumer electronics in the PC Labs as the in-house home entertainment expert... See Full Bio
Baby monitors these days have some seriously cool features. You can view your baby on a screen that has HD resolution and night vision, hear the tiniest of cries, talk into a microphone and play your favorite songs. With so many great options, it can be hard to narrow it down to decide what you need most in a monitor—which is why What to Expect moms did it for you. They nominated their favorite baby monitors, and these were the picks that topped the list.
This type of monitoring device attaches to your baby via their diaper, clothing or as a sock depending on the model. Most of the wearable options alert in the room and only a handful send a message to a parent device (smartphone or similar). In our experience, many of these have high false alarms from moving and crawling babies or high Electromagnetic Field (EMF) Levels (which we try to avoid). The Snuzo Hero SE is a cost-effective wearable with a unique vibration feature and very low levels of EMF.
The Levana Lila is the second highest ranking dedicated monitor in the review, and 5th overall. This budget-friendly option has the longest battery life of any dedicated monitor we tested and scored well enough for ease of use and sound clarity that you won't be frustrated. Unfortunately, this monitor has a shorter range than the Philips Avent SCD630 and the fewest features in the group (which makes it easier to use). So it may not be a good choice for parents that want all the bells and whistles. This monitor does sport 2-way talk to baby, sound activation, and automatic screen wake/sleep, which are some of the most important features in our mind. The Lila has no zoom, and the field of view is rather small for a camera that is not remotely operated (no pan or tilt). However, if you want a dedicated monitor for the simplicity and peace of mind with less chance of a dropped signal, and budget is a factor, then the Lila can't be beaten.
The Philips Avent SCD630 is the easiest to use dedicated option with a score of 8 of 10. This monitor is a plug and play that pairs the camera and parent unit by itself. The parent unit has very few buttons, with the most frequently used buttons are on the face of the unit. The menu options are relatively intuitive with not much chance of taking a wrong turn or getting buried in a file menu system you can't get out of. The menu could be easier to use, but we think most parents will stick to the buttons on the front of the unit after a few weeks of regular use. The Levana Lila has fewer features and is even easier to use, thanks to a lack of convoluted menu options.
The DXR-8 uses a secure 2.4 GHz FHSS wireless transmission to ensure privacy, gets up to 10 hours of battery life on a single charge, and can switch to audio-only mode with the camera off to save juice. That said, it has gotten panned for a quickly declining battery life (as well as poor range). Still, that hasn’t stopped 24,000 reviewers from giving it an overall 5-star rating on Amazon. In terms of bells and whistles, it features everything parents have come to expect in a monitor: invisible infrared night vision, (no annoying blue light to wake the baby) two-way intercom, room-temperature sensor, and the ability to work with up to four other cameras.
The best monitor for sound in our tests is the Philips Avent SCD630, with a score of 8 of 10. This monitor has the best sound activation and background cancellation features in the group, and while the sound is bright, it is also clear without an echo. Most of the competition earned 4s and 5s for sound, with all of the Wi-Fi monitors only earning 4s. It seems that no matter how good your parent device might be, the Wi-Fi cameras struggle for the most part to transmit clear sound with good sound features.
Baby monitors are just one way to keep track of your little one. For newborns, the Snoo Smart Sleeper is a bed that gently rocks your baby for better sleep, and connects to an app on your phone that lets you receive alerts when your little one needs attention. The Owlet Smart Sock 2, meanwhile, is a connected pulse oximeter that allows you to check on your baby's vitals any time through an app, and will notify you automatically if there's a problem. The Sproutling from Fisher Price is a motion and heart rate sensor that straps to the back of your baby's calf and collects data while he or she sleeps.
If you’re looking to spend under $100 on a video monitor, Baldwin recommends the Babysense baby monitor as a solid budget pick. For $75, it comes equipped with a 2.4-inch HD LCD color screen, secure interference-free connection and 2.4 GHz digital wireless transmission, two-way intercom, digital zoom, infrared night vision, room-temperature monitoring, and more.
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.
Range: Range is the main drawback of an RF model, as audio monitors can roam farther out, and a Wi-Fi connection can theoretically be checked anywhere. We wanted an adequate range in a typical home—to be able to maintain a signal up or down a flight of stairs, across the house, and out on a patio or driveway, but we didn’t expect much beyond that. We zeroed in on monitors rated to about 700 feet of range1 or greater.
One minor distinction about the DXR-8 is that it comes with two interchangeable optical lenses (a standard lens and a zoom lens) and you can also buy a wide-angle lens. Having three different lens options is nice, but in practice we felt the zoom on the standard lens was sufficient, and we expect most buyers would probably not bother changing the lenses frequently, if ever.
Winner of this year’s JPMA innovation award for safety, the Nanit Smart Baby Monitor is an over-the-crib Wi-Fi video monitor that uses computer vision technology to track a baby’s sleep habits/patterns and provide data-crazed parents with stats and customized sleep tips in the morning, most of which are written by medical professionals. The only catch is that to receive these reports and tips, you need to pay $100 a year for Nanit Insights, the company’s subscription-based service. For parents who’d rather not pay the monthly fee, Nanit is still a sleek HD video monitor with night vision, one-way audio, and a soft glow LED nightlight.
Encrypted Wireless Communications: Here's something creepy and strange - there are reports of people tapping into even the best baby monitors and getting some bizarre pleasure from watching your baby sleep or watching you feed the baby in the middle of the night. A few of the manufacturers have included wireless encryption on their systems to make this much less likely.
WiFi Baby boasts a secure and clear connection to your baby through its high-quality camera. Using a WiFi or 3G/4G network, you can access the password-protected stream directly from your Mac or PC, or through several third-party apps, on an iOS or Android device. Like the Dropcam monitor, WiFi Baby has a video recording function that gives you the option of reviewing past footage, which comes in handy if you end up using it as a nanny cam or security camera for the house. Using the WiFi Baby-compatible apps, you can stream live video and audio feeds of up to four cameras simultaneously.
Both Baldwin and Kay recommend iBaby’s M6S Wi-Fi video monitor for its design and ease of use. Resembling a little robot, the iBaby offers 360-degree views and 110-degree tilt, 1080p video with night vision, and even comes equipped with lullabies. Other features include temperature, humidity, and air-quality sensors, which Baldwin admits are bells and whistles, but could be useful depending on what kind of parent you are. And, of course, everything comes straight through to your smartphone or tablet, which can also remotely control settings. And while some parents may be concerned about potential hacking of Wi-Fi monitors, Baldwin found that the risk is fairly low and usually occurred in cheap, off-brand models.