Electromagnetic fields (EMF), or dirty electricity, is something we think needs to be discussed when talking about wireless baby monitors. Given that all wireless devices give off some level of EMF, we feel it would be negligent not to discuss the potential for possible health risks associated with the kind of radiation emitted by wireless products. While the jury is still out, and studies being done are not conclusive yet, there is enough evidence that EMF might potentially cause health problems that we feel it is better to be cautious when it comes to children's exposure than to ignore the possibilities.
But, for many parents, a baby monitor is a part of daily life. A baby monitor gives you a camera and/or microphone near the crib, and a separate rechargeable parent unit (aka, a monitor) that connects wirelessly and can travel with you throughout the house, either working while plugged in or running off its battery. It's nice to see your children in bed, dreaming happily, sleeping in adorable new positions, cuddling with animals, and generally doing okay.
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.
We swapped in and out more than a dozen different video cameras in front of a Graco Pack ‘N Play, and we monitored a 3-month-old baby for weeks, filming through the mesh, spying during daytime naps, and watching in the pitch black of night. When applicable, we’d take the base units out of the test apartment, down flights of stairs, to check their range.
If you want remote access to see footage inside your home while you’re away, why not just use an indoor security camera? If that’s your sole objective, we think such cameras are a better choice than a dedicated baby monitor—and we explain which ones we like and why, in detail, in our guide to wireless indoor home security cameras. But in comparing our picks here against the Nest Camera (a popular, mainstream option, and a pick in our security camera guide), we found that security cameras start to lose their appeal when you try to use them in the ways most people regularly want to use baby monitors—at home, at night, all night, while a kid sleeps. Many won’t stream audio in the background, which means that to continuously monitor your baby, the app has to be open at all times. Some can take several seconds to pull up a live feed—not ideal when you want to see why a baby is crying. They can work well if you’re traveling and want to see what the family is up to, or if you’re out for the night and want to check on the kids without bugging the sitter—but as useful as that capability is, we concluded that it really is a different task from what most people want to accomplish with a day-to-day monitor.
Traditional video baby monitors don't offer the same high-resolution picture quality we're used to seeing on our smartphones and tablets. If you want high-resolution video of your baby, you'll have to go with a Wi-Fi monitor like the NestCam that streams video to your phone or tablet. The Phillips AVENT SCD630 video monitor may not be high-res, but it's the best of the bunch.
To test connectivity, we put the handheld unit and the camera in neighboring rooms with 30 feet between them. We looked for lag, choppiness, and changes in the video or sound quality. While we rated it separately, we also did tests to estimate each baby cam’s maximum indoor range. Each camera we tested has a range of 100 feet or more, which is enough for an average-size home.
The dedicated monitors did not score as well as the Wi-Fi products for features. It isn't that they don't have features, it's just that they don't offer as many, don't have features that make the camera easier to use or the features they have don't work that well. All of the dedicated monitors have 2-way communication, but they all also can only be viewed on the parent device that comes with the monitor. Some offer temperature sensors and lullabies, but most of them don't provide motion detection or great zoom. The highest score for features for the traditional video products was 5 of 10. Two monitors managed to earn the 5 rating, with the Infant Optics DXR-8 being the highest ranked overall with a feature score of 5. However, this monitor did not score well overall, or in key metrics, we think are essential for a good video monitor. So despite having a high score for features, we still would not recommend this monitor to a friend.
Traditional versus Wifi Baby Monitors: Starting around 2010, parents began to switch from using baby monitors with a yoked camera and screen, to using wifi cameras that can stream over smart phones, tablets, and personal computers. At the time, there weren't very many wifi cameras aimed towards the baby gear market, so people were going with familiar wifi camera brands like Nest and Samsung. Over the next few years, companies slowly began introducing baby-themed wifi cameras onto the market. While even high-quality HD wifi cameras can be found for under $50 (like this one) nowadays, companies began to realize they could package a wifi camera as a baby monitor, change the colors and themes of the app, and charge 3-4 times the price. And they continue to use this strategy to this day! So which is better? Well, this really comes down to one thing: do you want to be able to view the nursery while you're not at home? If you answer yes to this question, then you need to use a wifi monitor as opposed to a typical baby monitor. A wifi baby monitor (or any wifi camera) will connect to your internet (some are wired, some through wifi only) and stream live (well, slightly delated) video to an app on your phone. That will work in the house or out of the house, as long as you have a fast internet connection. So you can simply BYOP (bring your own phone) and leverage 20th century technology! That seems really appealing, and we highly recommend some of the newer ones (like the Cocoon Cam, Lollipop, and Nanit), but there are some things to keep in mind when figuring out the type of monitor to buy:
Many baby monitors actually work against the very thing you need them for most: getting some sleep! Whether you’re sitting up at night staring at the screen or pressing your ear to the speaker to see if you can hear anything, a lot of available monitors require your full participation. Not the Owlet Smart Sock 2. This smart monitor actually helps you reclaim hours of much-needed sleep as a new mom. Instead of studying a screen or jumping up every five minutes to check on your baby, this tiny device gives you hard proof that your baby is still OK in the next room.
The Levana Lila video product is a dedicated camera and parent unit which means you don't need to tie up your personal device or use the internet. This option is user-friendly and has a respectable range that could work for most average size homes. The Lila has long-lasting battery life and a reasonable price with fewer features than much of the competition, but that is part of what makes it easy enough for grandma to use.
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.
The most important thing to look for in all kinds of baby monitors is audio quality. Regardless of whether you want a video-based baby monitor or not, you need clear audio so you can hear your baby properly. You'll also want one with sound activation so that you don't have to listen to white noise 90% of the time. With sound activation, you'll only hear the noises from your baby's room when there's something important to hear.
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.
The LeFun is an inexpensive Wi-Fi camera that makes internet watching affordable for almost every family. This useful camera works with your personal device and is the only option here that features true pan and scan features to move the camera around the room remotely. The image quality is also impressive given the lower price and simple design. This camera is a good choice if your house is bigger or you'll be spanning more than 3-5 walls between rooms where range could become an issue.
We have been following news that the Amazon Echo Spot, available in December 2017, can work as a baby monitor. While we plan to test these claims firsthand, our initial interview with Amazon confirmed a few hunches, and we believe certain shortcomings will make the Echo Spot hard to recommend as a baby monitor. First, it’s not a “baby monitor” per se; the Echo Spot will project video from an existing home security camera or other Wi-Fi camera through its screen. This approach has a few disadvantages, which we outline in the What about a Wi-Fi baby monitor? section. Amazon also confirmed that the Echo Spot would broadcast the same footage you would see on that camera’s app, and that it would not work as a display for RF monitors, like our pick in this guide. The Spot can use voice commands (for example, “Alexa, show me the nursery”), and we’ll determine in testing if that capability overcomes a common flaw in other Wi-Fi monitors and security cameras, namely a sluggish response time when loading video over a standard app. You can also “drop in on the nursery” to hear audio, and potentially talk back, depending on the camera’s functions. As with the voice function, the ability to see the temperature of the baby’s room, plus pan/tilt, play music, and other functions, will be dependent on the camera the Echo Spot is attached to.
Parents who use the Nest Cam as a baby monitor are impressed by the high-quality picture, even at night, and several note it is convenient that they can check what’s going on at home even if they’re out of the house. While the Nest Camera is on the more expensive side, it’s a solid investment if you want unlimited range and a crystal clear image— plus, this product can be used as a regular home security camera once you no longer need a baby monitor.
The audio is quite good as well, with very little distortion. As with other Wi-Fi video baby monitors, there is lag as the video stream travels through distant servers before reaching your smartphone. In our tests, the SCD860 had good results one moment and issues shortly after. This is one of the reasons we gave it a low score for connection quality. A few of our testers had trouble setting up this baby camera using the smartphone app. The camera doesn't work without a wireless connection, unlike traditional video baby monitors that use a handheld receiver. The app is easy to use, and it lets you set up push notifications and adjust the sound sensitivity. We had a few connection issues independent of our Wi-Fi connection, which could cause concern. For a time, we had no connection, so we didn't know what was going on in the other room. This monitor lets you track the temperature and humidity in your baby's room and has a nightlight with multiple light color options. If your baby is upset, you can use the app to talk to them or play one of the 10 lullabies through the camera's speaker. The Philips Avent Smart baby monitor SCD860 has a two-year warranty, which is the longest of all the models we tested.
Our parent testers gave two enthusiastic thumbs up when rating the quality and ease of use of the Motorola MBP36XL. More than half said it was better than monitors they had tried in the past, but they were a bit lukewarm on the value. However, there are several video monitors on the market at considerably higher price points. Overall, we feel that the Motorola MBP36XL is a simple-to-use and reliable video baby monitor you can trust to work when you need it to, and that’s invaluable in our books.
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
Surprisingly, there are low-cost options to be found in the video monitors, some with prices similar to or better than their sound counterparts. These great buys include dedicated and Wi-Fi cameras for the basic and more tech-savvy parents alike. Consider the Best Value Levana Lila as a no-nonsense option that anyone can easily use with a price under $100. Or the LeFun C2 720P Wi-Fi with a list price of $70 and video images good enough to get the job done. If you have a higher budget, and find value in products that will last for years to come, the Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi has a list price around $200, but for the money, you can use it for years in multiple capacities outside baby monitoring, including security and a nanny cam. With awesome products like these, it is easy to see why video monitors have gained in popularity in recent years.
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.
Look for a monitoring system that is a good fit for your home and lifestyle. For example, if you’re in a small apartment in a busy city, having a monitor that has a long range won’t be as important to you, but one that screens out background noise will. For parents that frequently travel or work long days, being able to check on your child from anywhere and talk over the audio can help keep you connected. But, for those who are with their kids most of the time this might not matter much. The point is, consider what will make parenting easier and your family happiest and you can’t go wrong.
It may surprise you to hear that simply being able to last through the night, unplugged, with the display off, qualifies as exceptional battery life for a baby monitor. The Infant Optics was one of the only monitors in our testing that could easily do that, and then last a while longer the next day before needing a charge. (The manufacturer claims it lasts 10 hours with the display off—we got that amount of time off a full charge, even when checking the display intermittently.) This model also charges via a USB connection, which actually sets it apart from a variety of competitors, some of which use ineffective and inconvenient proprietary DC chargers or even disposable batteries.
Clarity of Daytime and Night Vision: When wireless baby monitor systems with screens were first introduced onto the market they used somewhat outdated display technology that made for a grainy, distorted and often unreliable picture. Newer baby monitors use a liquid crystal display similar to the ones used in your smart phone and other consumer electronics, so these HD video baby monitors tend to have very nice color contrast and high resolution, and are also substantially more reliable. All of the stand-alone baby monitors we list above have high-quality displays, and we do not recommend some of the relatively old fashioned ones that can still be found on the market. Of course, night vision doesn't use color - so the display will be either grayscale or show a slightly green hue. That's important to keep in mind before you try it out for the first time; not even military special operations have color night vision, so don't expect anything amazing, even from the best baby monitor!