Motion and audio sensors: In the old days, parents were forced to endure a consistent ambient hiss from their audio monitors while they listened for their child’s stirrings or cries. Mercifully, many modern baby monitors will stay in “quiet mode” until they detect motion and/or sound, which will trigger an alert, such as activating the handheld video display or pushing a notification to your smartphone.
Baby monitors shouldn't be used as a substitute for adult supervision. They should be considered as an extra set of ears—and, in some cases, eyes—that help parents and caregivers keep tabs on sleeping babies. Using one can alert you to a situation before it becomes serious, for example, if your baby is coughing, crying, or making some other sign of distress. Experts warn that you can't rely on a monitor to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
For parents who want to monitor their baby’s cries from the office, or the gym, or Tahiti, the BB-8-looking iBaby M6S syncs right up to your house Wi-Fi connection ⏤ so instead of using a dedicated handheld receiver, you watch all the action on a smartphone app. It offers impressive 1080p HD video (with record function), a 360-degree view with 110-degree tilt, and an array of high-tech sensors including motion, sound, in-room temperature, air quality, and humidity. The only thing it seemingly won’t do is fix your X-Wing fighter. Although it makes up for it with night vision, two-way talk, and 10 programmed lullabies and bedtime stories, to which you can even add your own voice.
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.
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 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.
But these nursery essentials can be as fussy as the babies they keep tabs on. And like virtually every other household appliance, they are growing increasingly more capable and complex. In addition to conventional video baby monitors that use a camera and a handheld LCD display, often called a “parent unit,” there are now also Wi-Fi-enabled systems that connect to your home network and use your smartphone as both the display and the controller, much like DIY home security cameras. These latter models offer high-defition video, intelligent alerts, and the ability to check on your child from anywhere you have an internet connection.
On many of our requirements, the Infant Optics DXR-8 delivers as well as the best monitors we tried: It has an adequate range for home use, acceptable image quality, an ability to add on multiple cameras, and overall simplicity and ease of use with a minimum of annoying quirks. It doesn’t offer the remote access or video storage options of our Wi-Fi–enabled pick, and its dedicated monitor may not seem as convenient as accessing a view via your smartphone—but the Infant Optics is easier to use where it matters most: You just pick it up, poke a button, and put it back down. Most of its specific flaws concern battery life and charging, but this is a common problem among baby monitors, and the company has a good record of responding to customer service issues.
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
The Motorola MPB36S is the workhorse of the baby monitor world. Moms that own this monitor seem to keep it around for years and use it for their second — and sometimes even third — babies. If you’re not too tech savvy or get overwhelmed with instruction manuals, then this option may be for you. It’s easy to set up, which makes it a favorite for parents who love to travel with their little ones in tow. You can even add another camera without too much hassle or expense.
The more old fashioned video monitors are better if your internet isn't reliable because they use a dedicated video monitor instead. You can also choose to pair high-tech Wi-Fi security cameras with cheaper audio-only baby monitors to have the best of both worlds. We've tested a few baby monitors and researched the rest to find the best ones you can buy no matter your preference.
We were also disappointed that the Angelcare’s parent unit lacks an out-of-range warning. If you’re in the backyard or basement and the monitor disconnects, it’s not clear whether you’re looking at a napping baby or a frozen screen. Still, it beat out the Baby Delight for sound and video quality and offers a few customizable features: You can adjust the volume on the baby unit as well as the parent unit, and set up timed alarms and temperature alerts.
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.
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.
Most dual monitors come with split- or even quad-screen viewing, and the DBPower Digital Sound Activated baby monitor does just that. This model supports up to four cameras, allowing you to monitor four rooms at once. With features like remote pan/tilt/zoom, room temperature monitoring and alert, two-way communication and manual or automatic video recording, we found the DBPower to be the best dual baby monitor.