It really depends on what you feel most comfortable with. There are audio monitors that allow you to listen to any noise coming from the nursery, vital monitors that track sleep and breathing and video monitors that add sight to sound. Babylist parents overwhelmingly choose video monitors. The security of seeing what your child is up to—like if they’ve gotten tangled in their swaddle, pulled their diaper off or climbed out of the crib—can be worth the extra cost of a video monitor.
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.
Beyond that, we wanted to hear from an expert on the products’ (perceived and real) security risks. So we spoke to Mark Stanislav, the director of application security for Duo Security and the author of Hacking IoT: A Case Study on Baby Monitor Exposures and Vulnerabilities, whose research has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press, CNET, Good Morning America, and Forbes.
A baby monitor's job is to transmit recognizable sound and, in the case of video models, images. The challenge is to find a monitor that works with minimal interference—static, buzzing, or irritating noise—from other nearby electronic products and transmitters, including older cordless phones that might use the same frequency bands as your monitor.
UPDATE: Eleni from Motorola Customer Service commented on the below review. I have read reviews where dealing with Customer Service via phone has been a huge pain, but I felt the process via email was pretty standard, and Eleni always responded to me within the day (sometimes within the hour). They asked a number of questions verifying the issue, I had to send the receipt and serial #, etc. I was happy with the Customer Service experience. If you do need to contact CS, I would recommend email over phone from what other reviews have said.
Your phone might not have great battery life. Many parents who use a wifi baby monitor come to the realization that their smart phone battery life isn't so great when they are streaming a live video and audio feed from their baby monitor. If you have a newer iPhone or Android device, it will probably do pretty well, but if you have an older phone the batter is probably a bit weaker already and you will notice your battery life dropping pretty quickly during use. So definitely consider battery life and charging options for your smart phone when you are choosing between a self-contained versus wifi baby monitor.
Britta O’Boyle at Pocket-Lint says: “The Withings Home is a lot more than just a smart camera – it’s the complete home solution it claims to be.” Megan Wollerton at CNET loves all of the extra features that the Home offers, although she doesn’t like its lack of a web-based interface and other features that make it less optimal as a security camera.
So what is the best baby monitor? That depends on what you’re looking for. A video monitor seems like an obvious choice over an audio monitor, but it does come with a higher price tag. If you have a large home or you spend a lot of time outside with older children while baby sleeps, a long-range monitor may be the best choice for you. And if you travel a lot, you may be more interested in a compact, simple-to-operate portable baby monitor rather than one that is mounted or otherwise heavy and difficult to move. In short, here are the factors you’ll want to consider when selecting the best baby monitor for you:
This is a powerful solution for the relatively computer savvy parents who want flexibility, accessibility, and convenience. This is not just a great baby monitor, this is a wireless video camera that can be placed anywhere and will communicate with computers and smart phones; many people even use it as a home security camera for its ease of use and placement, high-quality video, and as a monitor with night vision it is pretty unsurpassed. Install the Dropcam App and view your baby through your cell phone no matter where you are, or use it as a powerful security camera for when you're traveling or out of the house. Want to check in on the babysitter while you're out on date night to make sure your baby is napping on time? Want to move the camera to monitor the dog or your home while you're away? Easy, and with the 130-degree wide angle lens, you can place it in even small rooms and maintain a good field of view. If you're away from home, you can also set it up to alert you to any movement: it will send an alert to your phone (or an email) along with a photo of what's going on. Like many baby-oriented video monitors, it also supports two-way communication with a built-in microphone and speaker, has 8x digital zoom, and has great night vision. It also has 1080p quality video, day and night. But it's also a bit expensive for a camera-only system, coming in at about $165. This is a powerful and flexible system that has a very high-quality digital video color and night vision camera, a wide field of view, access to cloud computing, and tons of convenient bells and whistles. This is not your mom's baby monitor. However, there are some requirements here: you need wireless internet in your home, and it needs to be rather high speed to support streaming high-quality video and audio feeds. You also will need to load an app onto your phone (iPhone or Android) or a software package onto your computers (Windows or Macs) in order to access the device. If you ask us, this is one of the best and most flexible solutions for baby monitoring. It's a bit lower on our list because it's not technically a baby monitor so it doesn't include things like sleep mode (turn on only in response to noise), and of course there is no dedicated bed-side monitor for it. It's an all-purpose camera that you can place anywhere and use as a baby monitor when needed. We also don't like that you need to subscribe to the Nest Aware for $10/month if you want to remove annoying banner ads on the app or software package. After paying $165+ for this, you would think the app would be included without annoying ads?
Another prominent Wi-Fi–enabled monitor is the Withings Home video monitor, which we dismissed without testing. This is The Nightlight’s pick for the best video monitor. The most notable drawback to the Withings is that currently more than a third of Amazon reviewers give it two or fewer stars (out of five), citing problems similar to what you see on most other Wi-Fi video monitors: bad connectivity, a bad picture, unreliable air-quality sensors, and issues with overall quality and durability. In reply to some of the negative reviews, Nokia stated that it was looking into making improvements to this model. The rebranded version, the Nokia Home Video & Air Quality Monitor, was recently released and has not yet received many reviews (the app has mixed reviews).
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.
* 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
Once you've settled on a type and have considered your range, you can look at the potential choice and which features they have. The more budget-friendly choices usually lack bells and whistles but are still functional. If you want more features like nightlights, lullabies, and talk to the baby, then you may pay more and the unit could be more difficult to use. The one feature we think is important is sound activation to help keep your device quiet when your baby is quiet, thereby increasing your chances of a full night's sleep.
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.