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.
Though it’s not a video monitor, the Owlet does track your baby’s heart rate and oxygen while they sleep, and notifies you if something appears to be wrong. Just slip a comfortable wrap with a sensor over your wee one’s foot (it works with babies 0–18 months) and download the app to your phone. You’ll receive alerts in real-time should your child’s vital signs change. It also comes with a base station that changes color when something is up.
WiFi Baby boasts a secure and clear connection to your baby through its high-quality camera. Using a WiFi or 3G/4G network, you can access the password-protected stream directly from your Mac or PC, or through several third-party apps, on an iOS or Android device. Like the Dropcam monitor, WiFi Baby has a video recording function that gives you the option of reviewing past footage, which comes in handy if you end up using it as a nanny cam or security camera for the house. Using the WiFi Baby-compatible apps, you can stream live video and audio feeds of up to four cameras simultaneously.
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.
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 on 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.
Movement products are designed to sense the movement associated with a baby breathing. These products attempt to discern when your little one has not moved within a prescribed period that could indicate that they have potentially stopped breathing. While this may seem like a no-brainer option for parents worried about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), they are not foolproof, have not been approved by the FDA as a medical device, and are known to have false alarms where the baby is fine but then suddenly awakened by a loud alarm. While it is an interesting kind of product, we caution parents that this type of device is not a substitute for safe sleeping practices and doesn't prevent SIDS. However, if you are willing to accept false alarms, it can provide another layer of monitoring to help some parents sleep better at night. Movement sensing products are only useful until babies start to roll over, at which point they become unreliable.
We wanted to recommend a less expensive video monitor, but at any price notably lower than our pick, every product we tried had such serious problems—usually, poor video quality and ongoing connection issues—that we feel a higher end audio-only monitor offers a much better value for a limited budget. The VTech DM221 audio monitor is the best choice in the category—it’s consistently a best seller at multiple retailers, with strong reviews (four out five stars over 4,703 reviews on Amazon) and similarly high ratings at Walmart, Target, and BuyBuy Baby.
Internet speed is a challenge with wifi cameras and wifi baby monitors: people want cameras with high definition video (720p or 1080p), but most internet connections are nowhere near fast enough to stream that high-quality video in real time. So parents get really frustrated with their HD wifi baby monitors because they find the video choppy, laggy, and unreliable. Most modern wifi cameras allow you to lower the resolution of the video so you can still see your baby, but not in high def.
During our tests, we found ourselves among the fraction of buyers having problems with the display on the DXR-8. Our first test unit worked fine out of the box, but after a couple of hours running on battery, the display became distorted and nothing would fix it. Likewise, you’ll find a few complaints on Amazon of users experiencing dead pixels after about a year of use (here’s one and here’s another). The good news: Those folks reported that Infant Optics replaced their monitors even though some were out of warranty. In fact, the company consistently receives decent feedback on customer service. Infant Optics quickly replaced our faulty unit (but as a media inquiry, that’s not comparable to typical customer service), and the new unit has performed fine.
Compared with competitors, the Infant Optics DXR-8 has a more intuitive, easier to use interface, and the battery life on its parent unit (aka the monitor) lasted longer than on any other video option we found. On other requirements, it delivered 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. 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.
If you’re looking to spend under $100 on a video monitor, Baldwin recommends the Babysense baby monitor as a solid budget pick. For $75, it comes equipped with a 2.4-inch HD LCD color screen, secure interference-free connection and 2.4 GHz digital wireless transmission, two-way intercom, digital zoom, infrared night vision, room-temperature monitoring, and more.
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.
The Nest boasts some impressive hardware specs, such as true 1080p/30fps video and a 3-megapixel camera sensor. Setting up the Nest Cam specifically to look in on a 2-year-old at night, we found the video quality on Nest's camera to be sharper and more detailed than on any baby video monitor we tested. The Nest Cam includes push-to-talk features as well as alerts triggered by motion or sounds. And when your child is past the age when you need a nighttime monitor, you can repurpose the Nest Cam to check in on other parts of your home.
Gone are the days of silently peeking into the nursery to check on your napping baby and then, whoops, accidentally waking them up (“No, no, please no!”). A baby monitor uses a camera to watch over the crib, while you carry a handheld device that lets you know what’s going on with your child at any given moment, no matter where you are in your home. There are also other monitors that track sleep or breathing either with a clip or sock.