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.
For standalone monitors, we found that two features were nice to have: The first is VOX, which mutes the ambient sounds in a room entirely, activating the speaker (and often the video) only when significant sound is recognized. The second feature we appreciated was LED sound meters. These are an excellent, rare feature to keep constant tabs on a baby while muting a monitor and turning the video off (Consumer Reports appreciates these LEDs, too.)
The monitor’s sound is generally very clear. We played a recording of a baby crying through the monitor, and the sound was one of the truest. Our hands-on parent testers all said it was easy to adjust the volume, and they were able to get it to a level they were happy with. And when we measured for white noise with a sound meter, it had one of the quietest readings of all monitors we tested.
Microphone sensitivity: There’s a difference between hearing your baby cry, and hearing every little noise. All baby monitors have the option to turn down the volume, but some offer thresholds for parents who are more comfortable with only hearing the biggest upsets, and prefer not to hear the self-comforting noises their baby makes as they fall asleep.
Monitor options: We wanted easy, intuitive, responsive controls, whether they were on a touchscreen or using physical buttons. We also wanted the monitor to withstand being knocked off a nightstand or messed with by a toddler, and generally be tough enough for the rigors of life in a home with young children. We didn’t really care whether or not we could set an alarm, use it as a nightlight, or play chintzy music through the camera—but seeing a temperature in the kids’ room was a detail we appreciated.
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.
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.
Environmental sensors: Many monitors include the ability to set thresholds and upper limits for room temperature and/or humidity, and they'll alert you when these ranges are exceeded. While they can't control the temperature or the amount of moisture in the room's air, this feature can help you improve your child’s comfort, which will help them get more restful sleep.
Reliability. This is a tough one, as it requires long-term knowledge of system reliability, through thick and thin. There are many baby monitors on the market that start out excellent but tend to glitch out or completely fail within the first several months of ownership. This is especially the case for many unrecognized brand names that are saturating the market. If you're buying this as a baby registry gift the last thing you want to do is make the new parents think you cheaped out on a junky baby monitor! All of the best video monitors that make it onto our list have withstood the test of time, lasting at least 6 months, and in some cases several years at this point (like the Infant Optics option!). Another point about reliability that's worth mentioning is that most modern wifi baby monitors will keep a local connection to your app even when the internet is down. So as long as you're still in your house, you can continue streaming video even when the internet is down.
The first thing you need to consider is whether you want to have an audio-only baby monitor or one that incorporates video. Some parents choose to use smart home security cameras that send a video feed and alerts to their phones via an internet connection instead. Your choice largely depends on your budget and how high tech you want the baby monitor to be.
A big screen, a camera that zooms and a built-in nightlight make the In View monitor a great pick when you’re on a budget. The monitor also offers all the standard features: low-battery and out-of-range indicators, sound-activated lights and rechargeable batteries for the handheld monitor. Use the camera as a tabletop or mounted on the wall. And if you plan on having a big family, the monitor works with up to four cameras.
General Usability: This one is two-fold. First we wanted to make sure each monitor could perform under bright, dim, and no light; and pick up even the faintest sounds. Then we looked at how easy it was to use the monitor. Could we adjust the screen brightness, or were we going to be half-blinded when we picked it up at 1AM? Was the monitor voice-activated, or does it pick up white noise in the background? How sensitive were the alarms, and did they sound like a baby-waking screech or a soft ping?
For the parent devices of dedicated monitors, the battery life ranged anywhere between 6.75 and 12.75 hours. The Wi-Fi options are harder to gauge given that the battery life depends on the kind of device used, whether or not it is being used for other applications simultaneously, and how old the battery is in the device. In general, however, we feel it is relatively safe to say that most will work longer than the best dedicated monitor battery if the device is dedicated for use with the monitor only and is not running other applications simultaneously.
Video products for monitoring baby is a growing industry, and it feels like every company is jumping on the bandwagon and throwing something into the already overflowing market of monitors. This plethora of products can make sorting through products difficult and attempts to narrow the field daunting. Luckily, we have already done the legwork by doing an initial review of the top products and choosing 9 of the most popular and well-rated options to test and compare. After months of hands-on testing, we feel confident that no matter what you might be looking for in a video product for monitoring baby, that you can find it in one of our award winners or the top-ranked products in this review.
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.
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.
Summer Infant has been making high-quality, reliable baby monitors for many years. One problem with the Summer Infant monitors is that it's difficult to figure out which one has the features and quality you want, given the very wide range of options. Some are much better than others, and this is definitely one of the better ones we've tested. This color baby monitor has a high-quality 5" high resolution LCD display, which is a similar quality to the Project Nursery monitor in terms of color, contrast, and brightness. When we first got our hands on this, we were excited that maybe it was a nice wide angle panorama camera. But it turns out what they meant by "panorama" is that you can remotely tilt, pan, and zoom. The panning does go nice and wide, allowing you to swing the camera side to side about 180-degrees. But the camera angle itself is no different than the other monitors on this list. That being said, this is a great baby monitor with some great features. In addition to being able to remotely pan, tilt, and zoom the camera, some of the best features were: 1) a subtle night light that you can turn on/off remotely, and can choose it to glow with a soft blue or red color, 2) a sensor that tells you the temperature of your baby's room at all times, 3) a sound-activated light bar on the top of the receiver that tells you when there's noise in the room (even when volume is off). We thought the big hand-held unit was great, with a convenient kick-stand to put it anywhere in the house, great battery life, and good range. We were able to walk around in the backyard with this unit and still get a good, stable image. Note that you can add an extra camera to this, and it will cycle through the two cameras automatically (it does not do split-screen to see both at once). Downfalls? Well, the night vision isn't quite as good as with higher-ranked monitors on this list, and even the lowest volume level seemed really loud for sleeping parents. Also, even though the screen is nice and big, the digital video quality is sub-par relative to several other options on this list. Overall, this is a great addition to our best baby monitor list, as it has great features and falls in the middle of the price range. For about the same price, we'd go with the Infant Optics or Samsung option, unless you value the larger screen size.