Being a new parent is an exciting and occasionally stressful journey into uncharted territory. There are so many things to learn about your baby and all the different products you need to keep your little one happy and healthy. One of the most important and expensive purchases you'll make when you're outfitting your nursery is buying a baby monitor.
Our hands-on reviews put 32 video baby monitors to the test, examining their features, image clarity (day and night vision), convenience, reliability, safety, the range of reception, and versatility. We came away with over 15 of the top baby monitors of the year, including the top-ranked Infant Optics monitor to the super versatile Project Nursery monitor.
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.
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.
A baby monitor, also known as a baby alarm, is a radio system used to remotely listen to sounds made by an infant. An audio monitor consists of a transmitter unit, equipped with a microphone, placed near to the child. It transmits the sounds by radio waves to a receiver unit with a speaker carried by, or near to, the person caring for the infant. Some baby monitors provide two-way communication which allows the parent to speak back to the baby (parent talk-back). Some allow music to be played to the child. A monitor with a video camera and receiver is often called a baby cam.
"WORRY FREE! as long as my baby has on her sock to sleep, I know what her heart rate and oxygen levels are. If the sock doesn't pick up the reading due to poor fit I'm notified, if we aren't close enough to the base station, I'm notified. Any time her levels drop below or rise above what's normal, I'm alerted. I love being able to check on her stats via the app without having to wonder or reach in and feel just to end up waking her."
Whether you allow others one-time or occasional access to enjoy a special moment or you establish a schedule during which a regular caregiver can view and listen through the monitor, the process of controlling access is equally easy. Now, what if your baby or toddler just did something super cute when no one else had access? No worries, you can share video clips or stills right over the web.
One detail that really sets the Arlo apart from the other Wi-Fi–enabled monitors we’ve tried sounds pretty simple but it’s actually a big deal if you’re using a monitor on a nightly basis: The Arlo can stream audio via your phone’s speaker while the app is in the background, unlike many other monitors we’ve seen that operate via smartphone, which work only while the app is in the foreground. This allows you to use the Arlo more easily while you sleep, which is how we’ve always used traditional monitors like the Infant Optics or VTech, our other picks. Just be sure you’re charging the phone overnight while doing this. Like the other video monitors we tested, our phones struggled to last a full night on battery alone when used in this way; running the monitor audio-only in the background (on an iPhone X in summer 2018 tests) often drained the phone battery by more than 70 percent between when we went to bed and when we got up seven hours later.
Dropcam Pro ($200) — The Dropcam Pro was The Nightlight’s first top pick, but was bumped down due to its limited app functionality. If you’re an Android user, or interested in ponying up for the Nest Aware service (prices begin at $10 per month), this is a very good alternative pick and includes one feature the Withings Home lacks: zoned alerts (where you can just receive alerts for the crib, for example).
The Infant Optics’s range within our test houses was never an issue, and, as with other monitors 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). You can easily 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 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.
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. That alone puts it head-and-shoulders above many other monitors we tested.
While some monitors keep you tethered to a certain range in your house, this camera is very easy to use, no matter where you are. Watch your baby on a phone, computer or tablet while you’re home or out on a date night. You can talk directly into the app to soothe your baby and get alerts if the motion sensor is triggered while baby’s down for a nap.
A WiFi monitor gets rid of the parent unit entirely and replaces it with a smartphone app. That app connects to the baby unit over the internet, rather than standard radio frequencies. As a result, you’ll never have to worry about being out of range from your camera. If you’re at dinner and want to check in on the babysitter, you’re still connected. Since it operates from an app, it’s also easier to flip through features than trying to figure out a finicky, low-quality touchscreen, or a dozen different buttons.
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 of a full charge, even when checking the display intermittently.) This model also charges via a USB connection, which sets it apart from competitors, some of which use ineffective and inconvenient proprietary DC chargers or even disposable batteries.
Our favorite standard video monitor, HelloBaby, masters the basic features. It’s the easiest to set up and its video and sound quality competes with monitors twice the price. Its screen is smaller than most, but its simple interface gives you immediate access to the most important functions: talk-back, zoom, and pan; while menu button opens up customizable settings for temperature, sound, lullabies, and timers.
There are a few things you can demand from a decent HD video baby monitor, like a crystal clear image and good night vision capabilities. And there are things you can expect of a good Wi-Fi-enabled monitor, like easy remote access from a smart device with real-time streaming audio and video. Then there are things you might hope for from a baby monitor, like two-way talk and solid battery life.
Unfortunately, The DECT SCD570/10 is one of the most expensive sound devices we tested with a price that rivals some of the video options. This higher price means that parents looking in this price range may want to consider a video product instead to get more bang for their buck. Alternatively, if you want a sound option with full-bodied sound and fancy features for baby, and you aren't interested in watching your little one, then the SCD570 could be the one for you.
The Philips Avent SCD630 earned a 4th place rank, but it is the number 1 ranked dedicated monitor we tested. It has the longest range and highest ease of use scores for the dedicated options and the best score for sound clarity out of all the monitors we tested in this review. The Philips has lullabies, a nightlight, 2-way talk to baby, automatic screen wakeup/sleep, sound activation, 2x zoom, and a temperature sensor. While it struggles to offer true to life images and has fewer features than most of the competition, it is hard to deny that this plug and play monitor is a simple solution for video baby monitoring, and it gets the job done with little fuss and only a small learning curve. However, if you want a remote-controlled camera, you should look elsewhere, as this one is manual with a smaller field of view.
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.
The LeFun camera connects to your WiFi, and you use the associated app to watch real-time footage in 750-pixel high definition. Because the product uses WiFi to transmit video, you don’t need to worry about walls obstructing the signal. The camera can pan an impressive 350 degrees and tilt 100 degrees, and it also has night vision that many reviewers say works well.
The most troubling pattern you see in the one-star Amazon reviews is the reports of battery life declining (or failing) over time. This is part of a larger trend in baby monitors in general, and our take on it is that the battery tech within these monitors is just not at the level people have come to expect after living with good phones and tablets and other quality electronics. Reading the negative reviews for this and many other monitors reminded us of the kinds of problems people had with rechargeable batteries years ago. Here’s a good example of what we mean. So for now, for any baby monitor, set your expectations accordingly.
The HelloBaby might be a standard monitor, but it excels at the basics. It scored better than some of the more expensive WiFi monitors in picture clarity, and was hands-down the easiest to use. Just open the box, plug in the two devices, and you’re ready to go. No difficult packaging to tear through, and no account setup or device pairing necessary. Our testers had it up in running in less than 3 minutes each time.
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.