A word of caution about extremely cheap baby video monitors (we're talking devices that cost less than $50): they're not known for their security and can be hacked. Be sure to always change the default password of any connected device you purchase. You can also protect yourself by sticking to known vendors who post frequent firmware updates and have easy-to-reach customer support.
If you struggle with technology and don't need or want to see your baby from any other location besides your home, you might want to stick with the dedicated monitors that require little setup and have fairly intuitive user interfaces. This isn't to say that most people can't sort out the Wi-Fi monitors, but it is undeniably less work to just plug the camera into an outlet and go than it is to sign up and download software applications.
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But not all of the tech has been figured out just yet. Namely, the spectrum of video quality between makes and models is massive. Overall video quality ranged from murky postage stamp, to crisp, HD signals—even on models that cost more than $200 and were filming in daylight! At night, almost every camera we tested used infrared bulbs (light that’s bright to cameras, but invisible to the naked eye). Paradoxically, because of those powerful LEDs, you often get a better picture quality by setting a camera to night mode during the day—especially in a shadowy room kept dark for a napping baby.
The Motorola MBP36XL wasn’t the fastest-charging battery we tested, but it was reasonable. Most of our hands-on parent testers were happy with the battery life on the parent unit, and they were able to fully recharge it in under five hours. We really like that this monitor also has a rechargeable battery on the camera, which can be used for up to three hours—the more flexibility you have at nap time, the better. One feature this monitor doesn’t have that a few of our parent testers would have appreciated is a sleep or power-save mode.
To save on battery life, some audio/video models only turn on when the baby makes an unusual motion or sound. Some models come with a motion-detector pad that fits under the crib sheet. This type of motion sensor is intended to prevent SIDS. Sensitive enough to detect changes in breathing, an alarm sounds if there is no movement after 20 minutes. However, if the baby simply rolls off the pad, the alarm may sound.
Both Kay and Baldwin chose the Infant Optics DXR-8 as their top choice in video baby monitors (it also has nearly 24,000 4.4-star reviews on Amazon). The DXR-8 uses secure 2.4 GHz FHSS wireless transmission (as opposed to Wi-Fi) to send crystal clear color video and audio to the receiver, has a solid battery life, allows for remote pan, zoom, and tilt capabilities, and comes with an interchangeable zoom lens (with a wide-angle lens sold separately). Other features include a two-way intercom, remote temperature display, and the option to set the monitor to audio-only.
You can expect to pay between $30 and $200 for a dedicated video baby monitor, with most branded units costing around $100 on average. Units that allow you to remotely reposition the camera with pan-tilt-zoom functionality are more expensive than those with a fixed view. Wi-Fi video baby monitors don't generally cost extra, because the lack of a specific parent unit balances out the costs of adding Wi-Fi functionality.
Battery: We wanted a monitor battery that could last overnight, or at least eight hours, without being plugged in. We thought the ideal product would automatically cut off an idle display screen to conserve battery, work at least a few hours unplugged with the screen on, and recharge fairly efficiently. We made a rechargeable battery a requirement. We preferred units designed to connect to power via a standard USB connector, and looked for reports that the baby monitors could reliably charge, recharge, and hold a charge long-term—a disappointingly rare ability in baby monitors.
Child Safety: We care a lot about the safety and well-being of your babies, and our baby monitor reviews are no exception to that rule. Most of the safety issues with baby monitor systems revolve around the parent's due diligence: secure the wires out of reach and out of sight from your baby, make sure you put the camera out of reach (especially when you're mounting to the rail of a crib), and always keep them away from water and a running humidifier. In addition to these basic safety tips, the newer heart rate monitoring, breathing monitoring, and movement monitoring systems can add confidence to parents worried about their baby sleeping in a different room. A good example of a baby monitor with heart rate monitoring is the Owlet Smart Sock that can track heart rate and blood oxygenation levels, and stream that information to an app on your smart phone. Of course, don't be too confident because these devices are not hospital- or laboratory-grade monitoring systems, so keep that in mind.
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
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.
This video baby monitor is under warranty for one year. In case you have questions about setup, the warranty or general use, customer support from Motorola comes in several forms. The website has a product-specific FAQs page along with email and social media support so you can connect with a customer service rep. If you lose your printed manual, you can find a downloadable PDF on Motorola's website as well.
The best baby monitor apps allow you to monitor baby using only your existing devices, like phones, tablets or even computers. One device acts a transmitter in baby’s room, and you use another device to monitor baby. Some apps only have audio functionality, but others have both audio and video. As a plus, the best baby monitor apps often have cool features that traditional baby monitors don’t have, like remote capabilities. However, some users complain that they can be somewhat unreliable.
Ease of setup and installation factored heavily into our ratings, including whether an account needed to be created and if there were any extra subscription fees necessary. Each unit had cords protruding out of its back, so design wasn't much of a factor in my choice, though parents should take care to keep dangling cords and wires away from their children's reach when setting up a monitor.
If we picked a winner based on features alone, this would be much higher up on the best baby monitor list! The folks at Project Nursery really pulled out all the stops with this feature-packed video monitor. Here are some of the stand-out features: remote camera pan and tilt, two-way audio intercom, infrared night vision, secure (encrypted 2.4GHz) wireless connection, motion alerts, lullaby music, convenient unintrusive sleep modes, low or high temperature warning, pairing for up to 4 cameras, accurate low battery warning system, and great battery life. But even with all of that, there's something really awesome and unique about this baby monitor: in addition to the nice 4.3" screen (there's also a 5" version for a much higher price), it also comes with a 1.5" mini video monitor that you can take with you! Put it on your waist, on the kitchen counter, on your wrist (using the included strap!), or on a table or desk while you do work. We found this mini video monitor aspect super versatile, with high-quality resolution and color video, and probably worth the added cost. Speaking of cost, having all these awesome features and the nifty extra monitor comes at a pretty reasonable cost (about $120) unless you upgrade to the 5" screen. Is it worth it? Well, in our testing the mini monitor had a battery life of about 7 hours when fully charged, which we were really impressed with. The larger "parent" monitor is usually plugged in (like on a bedside table), but on battery mode we got it to run overnight without charging for about 12 hours. That's great battery life for such a large-screen video baby monitor! So some high-quality lithium-ion batteries went into making these monitors, and it shows. The color screen and audio quality were also very high on both units, and it's awesome to have multiple parent units for different situations. Out of the box, setup was pretty simple, and all parts appear to be high-quality and well made. So with all those positives, why isn't this #1 on our list!? First, it has the remote camera pan/tilt, but we found that when the camera is tilted down too much the infrared night vision feature doesn't work so well (there's a glare/reflection). We needed to re-position it in our nursery so that it wasn't pointing down at such an extreme angle; we suspect this won't be an issue in most cases. Second, we tried to get both the large "parent" monitor to work at the same time as the mini monitor, but couldn't get them to both show video simultaneously. We understand that may not be a common use case, but might be nice for parents to be in different locations with both being able to monitor the baby's activity. Again, not a huge issue. Overall, this is an excellent baby monitor system with only some minor drawbacks. Worth the cost? We'll leave that up to you: if you want these awesome features, it's probably worth every penny! Update: So it's been about 6 months now, and we've noticed two things worth pointing out. One is that the cameras disconnect intermittently and have a real hard time reconnecting; this has happened in the middle of the night a few times, which was concerning. Second is that the battery life has declined quite a bit since when it was new, now only lasting a few hours off the charger.