All of the products in our review have features for convenience and overall function, but some also offer features for fun or additional information. All of the products have night vision with sensors for automatic adjustment with light changes, and all offer 2-way communication with baby through the camera. Some of them come with lullabies, and others have nifty temperature and humidity sensors. Overall, whatever you might be looking for, or never knew existed but now want, can probably be found in the products we tested.
This really is the monitor that does it all! What puts this monitor heads and shoulders above the rest is the activity sensor pad that goes under baby’s mattress and monitors for lack of movement—a helpful enhancement for tracking baby’s breathing during those scary SIDS months. Once baby grows past that stage, breathe a sigh of relief, but don’t throw the monitor out with the bathwater, because the Angelcare AC517 also comes with both an audio and a video monitor! What more could you ask for?
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. For Wi-Fi–enabled monitors viewed via a smartphone, we noted if using the monitor put an unusual strain on the phone’s battery life.
Range: Range is the main drawback of an RF model, as audio monitors can roam farther out, and a Wi-Fi connection can theoretically be checked anywhere. We wanted an adequate range for a typical home—to be able to maintain a signal up or down a flight of stairs, across the house, and out on a patio or driveway, but we didn’t expect much beyond that. We zeroed in on monitors rated to about 700 feet of range or greater.1
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.
Most monitors (including our pick) are designed for use at home, usually while the baby is less than a few hundred feet away, well within range of a local video stream that bypasses the Internet. But many people want to use the monitor remotely—either to see what’s happening at home while they’re at work, traveling, or out on a date. For those needs, a Wi-Fi–enabled monitor, like our also-great pick, is the way to go. A Wi-Fi–enabled model works fine at home, too, but it’s not quite as simple as one that skips the routine connection and login hassles, as well as the potential security concerns, of a Web-based video option.
The iBaby M6S Wi-Fi is the easiest Wi-Fi monitor to setup and use with a score of 9 of 10. The Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi camera is hot on its heels with an 8. Both options walk users through the setup process step-by-step and have intuitive menus that will seem familiar to even the most novice user who is familiar with a smartphone. Both options come with a quick start guide that will have you up and watching your baby in no time.
Unfortunately, picking up the Arlo for that super-brief check-in is rarely as simple as on a basic video monitor. The Arlo loses its connection routinely, for example. You sometimes have to log in to the app again. Or the app freezes, showing video from hours earlier, or crashes, at times because the app or your phone’s OS is due for an update. Or you pick up your phone to check on the kids and end up stressing out about some other notification you didn’t mean to see at 4 a.m.
A word of caution about extremely cheap baby video monitors (we're talking devices that cost less than $50): they're not known for their security and can be hacked. Be sure to always change the default password of any connected device you purchase. You can also protect yourself by sticking to known vendors who post frequent firmware updates and have easy-to-reach customer support.
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.
Wireless devices and dirty electricity are almost impossible to get away from in our current technological age, but it doesn't mean we can't take steps to limit the exposure to ourselves and our children. Even though the current evidence is somewhat conflicting, and shows we need more studies and research because the potential is there for harm, parents should make informed and thoughtful decisions regarding their children's exposure to potential health risks, especially given that their bodies are developing and more susceptible to this type of radiation. We can't say for certain that monitors pose a health risk, but we also can't say for certain that they don't. Given this information, we feel it is important to test and report on the EMF levels of each monitor so parents can decide for themselves which product fits in best with their goals and concerns.
When it comes to video monitors, you'll want to make sure that the one you're buying offers night vision and a decent resolution. Most baby monitors with a dedicated viewer sadly have low VGA resolutions, which are much worse than the majority of smartphones you can buy these days. A few have a 720p HD resolution, which is decent. We hope more baby monitors go that route in the future.
How far away baby's monitor can be from the parent unit is what determines a product's range. While many manufacturers offer a "line of sight" range to describe a monitor's range, it is not a good indication of how well it will work in your home with walls and interference. It doesn't matter how much you like a specific model or brand, if it doesn't work in your house, it simply isn't going to work. We tested both indoor range and open field tests to provide the best information, but remember that the values inside your home matter more than those in an open field, unless of course, you are leaving a baby alone in an open field (which we don't recommend).
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.
This baby monitor system lets you listen in on your child with a “smart audio unit,” or you can install the Safety 1st companion app to turn your smartphone into a video display, complete with motion and audio alerts. While it lacks some of the nonessential features of the Arlo Baby, we give it high marks for its excellent video quality, customizable alerts, and its ability to grant regulated camera access to other caretakers.
Movement monitoring devices do not claim to prevent SIDS, but they could potentially provide peace of mind for a better night's sleep for parents. To reduce the likelihood of SIDS, you should practice safe sleep guidelines for EVERY sleep (with or without a movement device). Always put your baby on their back to sleep, they should have their own firm sleep space with a tightly fitted sheet. Read our article on How to Protect your Infant from SIDS and other Causes of Sleep-related Deaths for more information about best sleep practices and setting up a healthy sleep environment for your baby.
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.