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.
This is the second most expensive baby monitor on our list (coming in just under $250), and there is a lot to love about it. First, it has the Samsung reliability and quality control, making it a long-lasting baby monitor that isn't likely to drop signals in the middle of the night. Second, it has a large 5" display with high definition 720p resolution. Third, it has the two-way intercom that allows you to not only hear but also to speak to your baby. Fourth, it has automatic voice activation so if your baby fusses or says something, the screen will turn on and alert you that something's up. It also has a pan-tilt-zoom camera, selectable music/lullabies and a night light on the camera (you can turn on/off remotely), and is expandable up to 4 cameras with just the one display. With all these awesome features, why is it second on our list? In our side-by-side comparison of the Infant Optics and this Samsung, we found the Infant Optics to come out ahead in several regards. First, let's talk about a few advantages of the Samsung: it has a larger screen than the Infant Optics, selectable music, the nightlight, and is expandable up to 4 cameras that you can view simultaneously on the single screen (you can buy the extra baby cameras here). That's a lot of great features. However, when we compare it to something like the Infant Optics that has the same price, there are several disadvantages relative to the Infant Optics and other baby monitors on this list. First, even though Samsung SEW3043W Brightview HD monitor touts a robust 900-ft range, we noticed that when we went outside the signal dropped repeatedly in our back or front yards; it was quite good, however, when going up to the third floor or basement while still inside the house. So there are some definite limitations on the range and signal connectivity. Second, the Infant Optics has the baby room temperature monitor, which we found useful during a few summer nights when we didn't realize how warm it was getting in the baby's room. Third, even though the Infant Optics screen is smaller, we found it to be a bit faster and more responsive as a touch screen, and a bit brighter as a monitor. The two night vision capabilities were about the same. With all these limitations, we're surprised that the Samsung is quite a bit more expensive than the Infant Optics.
Why spend money on a baby monitor, which serves a single specific purpose, when you could use an indoor home-security camera that you can repurpose once your kid leaves the nursery? We wondered the same thing, so along with with dedicated video baby monitors, we tested a Nest Indoor Cam, currently among our top-rated wireless home security cameras.
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 in 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 range1 or greater.
There are two basic types: audio and video/audio. Some are analog, others are digital. All monitors operate within a selected radio frequency band to send sound from a baby's room to a receiver in another room. Each monitor consists of a transmitter (the child/nursery unit) and one or more receivers. Prices range from about $25 to $150 for audio monitors and about $80 to $300 for audio/video monitors.
So what is the best baby monitor? That depends on what you’re looking for. A video monitor seems like an obvious choice over an audio monitor, but it does come with a higher price tag. If you have a large home or you spend a lot of time outside with older children while baby sleeps, a long-range monitor may be the best choice for you. And if you travel a lot, you may be more interested in a compact, simple-to-operate portable baby monitor rather than one that is mounted or otherwise heavy and difficult to move. In short, here are the factors you’ll want to consider when selecting the best baby monitor for you:
If you opt for a Wi-Fi video baby monitor, you'll need a strong internet connection, because if your internet fails, so does your baby monitor. These baby monitors operate like your average smart home security camera from Nest, Canary, or others. You connect the camera to your Wi-Fi network, and then you can access live video anywhere on your computer, smartphone, or tablet. Many of these types of cameras offer encryption and other high-tech security features.
Features are important, but we encourage you to consider which features you think you will realistically use and which sound like fun in theory, but probably won't happen in practice. Many of the monitors carry a higher price tag and justify the price with the addition of features parents are unlikely to use in real life. Features like alarm clocks for feeding schedules, and alerts for low humidity might feel like something you should consider, but in practice, sound activation and quality images are more useful. In fact, more features often translate to being more difficult to use, and many of the features are novelty functions that most parents stop using over time. A good example of this is the Philips Avent SCD630 with an ease of use score of 8, but a features score of only 4. Try not to fall for the propaganda of bells and whistles that you might only use for the first few weeks. In the end, what you want is a good monitor with great sound and video quality.
Another Summer Infant baby monitor option, not quite as great as most others on this list, but definitely a trusted and reliable model and one of the best baby monitors available on the market this year. In our testing, one of the first things we noticed about this baby monitor was the sleek mobile-phone-size touch-screen reminiscent of the older iPhones. What's nice about this form factor is that it slips easily into your pocket like a mobile phone. Many of the others need to be clipped to your belt or waist, as they are quite a bit too thick or large for the pocket. The actual video display is modestly sized, coming in at 3.5" diagonal viewing area. This is the same size as the Infant Optics model. And it has some great features. It has remote pan (side-to-side adjust), tilt (up/down adjust), and zooming capability. Two-way audio communication so you can hear baby, and talk back to baby (maybe sing a lullaby, or whisper something to help soothe your baby). The system is also expandable to up to 4 cameras. Each additional camera is about $99, and you can place them in various locations around the home and toggle between them with the video unit. In our tests, the battery lasted about 4-5 hours when off the charger (and being used), and charged back to full capacity in only a couple hours. We didn't think the picture quality was as good as most other options on this list, nor was the sound. We also hooked it up to multiple cameras and used the "scan" feature which rotated through the various cameras once every 8 seconds. In our opinion, it took a bit too long to switch to a particular camera. It was also pretty loud when we remotely adjusted the pan/tilt of the camera. Also, it's worth noting that the pan feature doesn't seem to work when it's zoomed in. So overall, you're getting a good form factor, a reliable camera, but not the best image quality. For about $150, we think you could do better with one of our higher-rated options!
Adjustable Camera Pan/Tilt/Zoom: One of the most annoying things that can happen when you're using a baby monitor is closing the door and then turning on the video monitor only to realize that your camera isn't aimed at the baby at all, and you can't see a thing. Most of the baby monitor systems would require you to go back into your baby's room and manually adjust the camera. Some of the systems we review below have remotely adjustable camera angles, so you can pan side-to-side, tilt the camera angle upward/downward, and zoom in or out, without having to go back into your baby's room. Super convenient, and a critical feature to stay at the top of our best baby monitor list. It's also nice to have a relatively wide-view camera, like the Summer Infant wide baby monitor, so that even if you don't have wireless camera panning and tilting, the odds of still seeing your baby are pretty high if you have a wide-angle camera.
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.
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.
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.
One of the biggest concerns with a baby monitor is going out of range and not hearing baby crying for you. Talk about a case of mom guilt! When shopping for the best long-range baby monitor, note that the range listed on the box doesn’t account for walls or doors; it’s a line-of-sight range. So, although you may not actually be able to travel 1,000 feet away from baby, you should be able to head to the basement to do laundry or be outside in the yard without worrying about missing baby’s cries.
It really depends on what you feel most comfortable with. There are audio monitors that allow you to listen to any noise coming from the nursery, vital monitors that track sleep and breathing and video monitors that add sight to sound. Babylist parents overwhelmingly choose video monitors. The security of seeing what your child is up to—like if they’ve gotten tangled in their swaddle, pulled their diaper off or climbed out of the crib—can be worth the extra cost of a video monitor.