We tested a Nest Camera for the sake of comparison, to see the advantages and disadvantages of a popular security camera versus baby monitors designed expressly for watching babies at home. We have also considered the Arlo Baby monitor, which we’ve seen in demos but not tested firsthand for this guide. Our findings are in Why not just use a security camera? For far more information on all the other similar options—including a detailed look at other Arlo indoor security options, like the Arlo Q—see our guide to the best wireless indoor home security camera.
The Nest Cam isn’t a dedicated baby monitor, but an all-around home protection device. Besides aiming the camera at the crib, you can also use it to keep an eye on the nanny, the dog or your empty home while you’re away. The video camera can be set up anywhere, and you can watch the live streaming from your smartphone. It also has two-way communication so you can soothe your little one to sleep, even if you’re offsite. If the device senses motion or sound, it’ll send a phone alert or an email to you. Missed what happened? From the app, you can view photos of any activity that took place over the last three hours. (There are Nest Aware subscriptions available that provide access to 5, 10 or 30 days of recordings, for $5, $10 or $30 a month, respectively). The picture quality is super sharp, too.
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.
Our favorite standard video monitor, HelloBaby, masters the basic features. It’s the easiest to set up and its video and sound quality competes with monitors twice the price. Its screen is smaller than most, but its simple interface gives you immediate access to the most important functions: talk-back, zoom, and pan; while menu button opens up customizable settings for temperature, sound, lullabies, and timers.
Adjustable Camera Pan/Tilt/Zoom: One of the most annoying things that can happen when you're using a baby monitor is closing the door and then turning on the video monitor only to realize that your camera isn't aimed at the baby at all, and you can't see a thing. Most of the baby monitor systems would require you to go back into your baby's room and manually adjust the camera. Some of the systems we review below have remotely adjustable camera angles, so you can pan side-to-side, tilt the camera angle upward/downward, and zoom in or out, without having to go back into your baby's room. Super convenient, and a critical feature to stay at the top of our best baby monitor list. It's also nice to have a relatively wide-view camera, like the Summer Infant wide baby monitor, so that even if you don't have wireless camera panning and tilting, the odds of still seeing your baby are pretty high if you have a wide-angle camera.
But these nursery essentials can be as fussy as the babies they keep tabs on. And like virtually every other household appliance, they are growing increasingly more capable and complex. In addition to conventional video baby monitors that use a camera and a handheld LCD display, often called a “parent unit,” there are now also Wi-Fi-enabled systems that connect to your home network and use your smartphone as both the display and the controller, much like DIY home security cameras. These latter models offer high-defition video, intelligent alerts, and the ability to check on your child from anywhere you have an internet connection.
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The range of a product can make or break whether or not you can use certain options in your home. Depending on the distance from your room to the baby's nursery and the construction of your home or interfering appliances, you could be limited in your options of what will work for you. If your house is large or has more than a handful of walls between the two room, you'll be stuck with a Wi-Fi option only (assuming you have Internet). If your home is smaller or has fewer walls, then you'll have more options. Many of the wearable movement choices work in the baby's room and are not dependant on communicating with a parent device. However, if your room is out of earshot, then you'll never hear the alarm go off making the unit virtually useless without a sound monitoring addition. Choose your product carefully if you think the range will be an issue and purchase from retailers like Amazon that have a generous return policy. Also, don't let it sit in the box, try it out right away and send it back immediately if it doesn't work in your space. Do not rely on the manufacturer's range claim, as we have found these claims to be wildly inaccurate for many brands during our testing.
We wanted to recommend an inexpensive video monitor, but their flaws were so significant that we decided we’d rather spend less on a quality audio-only monitor like the VTech DM221. This is a well-reviewed best seller in the category, and it has crisp sound and better talk-back functionality than the best video monitors we found, as well as a longer range and better battery life than our video picks. It easily beats out its audio-only competitors for various basic reasons like being cordless, rechargeable, or less expensive.
Because the Nest Cam relies on an internet connection, it can fail if your internet is not reliable. So, if you'll experience sleepless nights worrying about connectivity or your internet connection, then you'll want to consider a dedicated option that works without the internet. However, if you have a large house, you could be restricted to Wi-Fi options only due to range limitations of dedicated products. For families looking for a product they can use for years to come that allows them to see little ones from outside the home, it is hard to beat this versatile camera and everything it brings to the table.
Interchangeable Camera Lenses: Some of the newest baby monitors have interchangeable lenses to best suit your baby's room. If you have the camera positioned close to the baby, like on the edge of the crib or on a nearby dresser, you might prefer the wide angle camera. If you have the camera positioned relatively far from the baby, like on a bookshelf on the other side of the room, you might prefer the regular narrow angle camera. Flexibility is nice, particularly if you end up rearranging the room or have to move things out of the reach of a growing menace.
Today’s best baby monitors are not your mama’s baby monitors! High-definition video monitoring is becoming the norm, and many baby monitors are now app-enabled or have wi-fi capabilities. Even basic audio monitors have stepped up their game, with many implementing DECT (Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications) technology to eliminate the interference and the lack of security that comes from monitors using the 2.4 GHz frequency band. If you’ve ever heard your neighbors chatting through your baby monitor, you’ll appreciate this change! DECT also prevents super-creepy baby monitor hackers from spying on baby—or you!
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.
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.