After testing more than half-a-dozen mounted cameras that beam live video from a nursery, the best baby monitor we've tested is Netgear's Arlo Baby. Netgear's baby monitor packs in a number of must-have features such as clear 1080p video, two-way audio and a host of sensors. Everything's easily accessible from a well-organized mobile app that puts the Arlo Baby's controls at your fingertips.
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.
While we chose the Withings Home as our top pick, we know that not everyone wants a camera that connects to their phone. One expensive alternative that we grew to love was the Motorola MBP36 ($230). Its video sharpness doesn’t compete with the Withings Home, nor can it see nearly as wide, but the 3.5-inch screen still captured subtle movements, and you can change the camera angle remotely. Oddly enough, though, our absolute favorite feature was the design of its LED audio monitor. Both clear and soothing (the LEDs aren’t blinding, they’re just gentle, subtle lights), we kept it running long after formal testing was complete. We also found its range to be above average, as we were able to sneak down two flights of stairs in an old brick building and maintain signal. Three flights down, outside our building, we found the connection to mostly freeze, but the monitor never gives up—it keeps scanning for hints of frequency to give you audio and video updates. As a company, Motorola is a long-time pro at juggling radio frequencies across their products. Here, it shows.
The air-quality feature monitors Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) levels. These are organic chemicals like acetone or benzene. The EPA says these chemicals are found in paints, paint strippers, aerosols, cleaners, disinfectants, solvents, etc and can cause serious health issues including eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system and even cancer. The Home will alert you to high VOC levels, which indicates it may be time to open a window or increase air circulation in your house. It does not monitor carbon monoxide.
Many audio/video monitors feature infrared light or "night vision" so you can see your baby on the monitor even when she's sleeping in a dark room. And some audio models feature a night light on the nursery unit that you can activate from the receiver. Other features may include adjustable brightness, and the ability to let you activate music or nature sounds to soothe your little sleeper by remote.
The Dropcam Echo is an example of a digital video camera system that uses your existing wireless network, allowing you to use your computer or other device as the receiver. (We haven't tested this type of monitor.) Parents go to the Dropcam website, sign in to their account, and then connect the Dropcam to their router using an Ethernet cable. (Once the connection is made, you don't need to use the cable again.) The Dropcam locates your wireless network, you enter your unit's serial number, and the unit begins streaming encrypted video that you can view on a computer, iPhone, iPad, or Android device. You mount the camera in your baby's room and plug it into an electrical outlet.
The best monitor for sound in our tests is the Philips Avent SCD630, with a score of 8 of 10. This monitor has the best sound activation and background cancellation features in the group, and while the sound is bright, it is also clear without an echo. Most of the competition earned 4s and 5s for sound, with all of the Wi-Fi monitors only earning 4s. It seems that no matter how good your parent device might be, the Wi-Fi cameras struggle for the most part to transmit clear sound with good sound features.
You might see monitors on the market with claims that they can track a baby's breathing or movements, but unless the unit is registered with the FDA, it's not a medical device. Consumer Reports hasn't tested this type of monitor. Talk with your pediatrician if you think your child has a condition that warrants medical monitoring. He or she can give you advice on the best devices.
Monitor options: We wanted easy, intuitive, responsive controls, whether they were on a touchscreen or physical buttons. We also wanted the monitor to withstand being knocked off of 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 if we could set an alarm, use the monitor as a night-light, or play chintzy music through the camera—but seeing the temperature in the kids’ room was a detail we appreciated.
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:
Security is a mixed bag, especially as baby monitors get more high tech. If tech giants like Apple and Google run into security flaws, high-tech baby monitors are sure to experience similar problems. However, some less high-tech baby monitors aren't secure, either, and many suffer from signal interference. We've checked each company's security policy to find the most secure options for you.
Though we feel that the image quality on the Infant Optics is adequate, it’s hardly impressive by current (or even recent) standards. You can capably check to see if your kid is in bed and sleeping soundly, but you’re not going to see a little trail of drool trickling out of their mouth. If you want a crisper, clearer image, your best option is our Wi-Fi–enabled also-great pick, the Arlo Baby, a model we feel has a few shortcomings that put the Infant Optics above it in spite of our pick’s weaker image quality.
Image and audio quality: We wanted a high enough resolution to make out facial features in the dark, at more than a few feet of distance, and (obviously) in daylight as well. The screen itself did not need to be incredibly high-resolution, but we wanted a size that would be easily visible on a nightstand. For all monitors, but especially audio-only options, we wanted to be able to hear everything clearly at the lowest volumes.
There are several criteria on which the Arlo does have a clear advantage over our pick. The video quality is much better (to be frank, the video quality on the Infant Optics, though passable for a basic night-vision camera, is laughable by modern smartphone standards). Zooming on the Arlo camera is a more intuitive pinch motion. And, obviously, being able to check in remotely on the video stream is invaluable for a working or traveling parent who wants to see a child while away; our local-video-feed monitor can’t offer that. The option to store video in the cloud is another advantage here that you don’t get with our pick. In other ways they’re equal—both offer temperature monitoring (the Arlo’s is more detailed, with humidity and vague “air quality” readings), both have talk-back features, both can play little tunes for your kid, both have kind of cryptic control icons to activate these features. The Arlo, unlike the Infant Optics, has a multicolored night-light option that sounds gimmicky but is actually quite beautiful and fun for a kid’s room.
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!
The Infant Optics DXR-8 has a superior battery life to any of the other video monitors we tested, as well as a simpler monitor interface that's more intuitive and easier to navigate than those found on competitors. The range, image quality, price, and many other features are comparable with those of the best competitors. Other good qualities include a basic but secure RF connection, an ability to pair multiple cameras, and simple tactile buttons.