Beyond that, we wanted to hear from an expert on the products’ (perceived and real) security risks. So we spoke to Mark Stanislav, the director of application security for Duo Security and the author of Hacking IoT: A Case Study on Baby Monitor Exposures and Vulnerabilities, whose research has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press, CNET, Good Morning America, and Forbes.
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.
With a dedicated baby monitor, push-to-talk capabilities will usually be integrated, as well as the ability to record and share still images and video clips (even if some monitors require a subscription to do so). Baby video monitors will also usually have built-in music files that you can play to soothe your child. Just the ability to pan and tilt the camera — the Nest has a fixed 130-degree wide-angle perspective — means you can follow your kids wherever they scamper.
The iBaby M6 is your ultimate nursery assistant! This adorably sleek model wins our top pick for the best baby monitor with wi-fi. Not only can you keep tabs on baby through your iPhone or tablet, the iBaby monitor also allows you to live-stream footage to as many as four people (Hello, Grandma!), take, store and share photos of baby, and speak or sing to baby via two-way communication. Parents can remotely control the camera so that it swivels, tilts and pans for a larger viewing area. Baby’s first robot? We think so!
If you'd like to keep watch over your little one while they slumber, pick a video baby monitor. Whether you're at home or a little further away, you can use a real-time baby monitor camera to connect to your WiFi and check in on baby during nap times. Colour monitors work a little like your regular tablet, making them easy to pop in your bag or prop up on the coffee table. Choose from models that track temperature, alert you to sound and movement and even sing lullabies to settle baby if they get restless.
If you’re absolutely sure you want a Wi-Fi–enabled baby monitor, we found the iBaby M6S to be the best option of the three we tested (the others were the Arlo Baby by Netgear and the Evoz Glow Baby Monitor). The iBaby offers the benefits common to most Wi-Fi monitors and is slightly easier to set up than its competitors. But like its competitors, it shares the significant drawbacks, noted above, that we believe make RF monitors a better choice overall.
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.
This video baby monitor streams real-time footage to a 3.5" color display without connecting to the internet. The product’s battery will last around six hours if the display is always on but can last up to 10 on standby, and it’s range is up to 700 feet, though parents note it doesn’t reliably transmit a signal through numerous walls. In addition to providing high-quality video, the camera has an alarm function, two-way talk, a temperature monitor, and night vision. You can remotely adjust the camera’s angle or zoom with the controller, and if you want to use it as a regular baby monitor, you can turn off the video function.
The LeFun C2 720P Wi-Fi earned a 3rd place rank thanks to high scores for range and battery life, and impressive results for video quality and features. This monitor earned a Best Value for Wi-Fi monitors for its budget-friendly list price that is the least expensive in the group and its higher rank. This means you can get a great, top performing monitor, at a reasonable price. The LeFun has motion detection, sound activation, 2-way talk to baby, zoom, and a remote-controlled camera with real pan and tilt capabilities. The downside to this camera is a lag time when using the pan and tilt feature, and it is a little harder to use than the other Wi-Fi options we tested, but given the low price, we suspect most parents will forgive these flaws.
Most people don't have unlimited data plans for their smart phone, and are surprised to see very high data usage after just a few hours of streaming their wifi baby monitor. With HD video, you can go through a couple gigabytes of data in just a few hours, so keep that in mind. If your phone is connected to wifi that won't matter, but if you're using 3G or 4G LTE cellular service, you will definitely have slow video and tons of data usage.
Traditional video baby monitors don't offer the same high-resolution picture quality we're used to seeing on our smartphones and tablets. If you want high-resolution video of your baby, you'll have to go with a Wi-Fi monitor like the NestCam that streams video to your phone or tablet. The Phillips AVENT SCD630 video monitor may not be high-res, but it's the best of the bunch.
If we picked a winner based on features alone, this would be much higher up on the best baby monitor list! The folks at Project Nursery really pulled out all the stops with this feature-packed video monitor. Here are some of the stand-out features: remote camera pan and tilt, two-way audio intercom, infrared night vision, secure (encrypted 2.4GHz) wireless connection, motion alerts, lullaby music, convenient unintrusive sleep modes, low or high temperature warning, pairing for up to 4 cameras, accurate low battery warning system, and great battery life. But even with all of that, there's something really awesome and unique about this baby monitor: in addition to the nice 4.3" screen (there's also a 5" version for a much higher price), it also comes with a 1.5" mini video monitor that you can take with you! Put it on your waist, on the kitchen counter, on your wrist (using the included strap!), or on a table or desk while you do work. We found this mini video monitor aspect super versatile, with high-quality resolution and color video, and probably worth the added cost. Speaking of cost, having all these awesome features and the nifty extra monitor comes at a pretty reasonable cost (about $120) unless you upgrade to the 5" screen. Is it worth it? Well, in our testing the mini monitor had a battery life of about 7 hours when fully charged, which we were really impressed with. The larger "parent" monitor is usually plugged in (like on a bedside table), but on battery mode we got it to run overnight without charging for about 12 hours. That's great battery life for such a large-screen video baby monitor! So some high-quality lithium-ion batteries went into making these monitors, and it shows. The color screen and audio quality were also very high on both units, and it's awesome to have multiple parent units for different situations. Out of the box, setup was pretty simple, and all parts appear to be high-quality and well made. So with all those positives, why isn't this #1 on our list!? First, it has the remote camera pan/tilt, but we found that when the camera is tilted down too much the infrared night vision feature doesn't work so well (there's a glare/reflection). We needed to re-position it in our nursery so that it wasn't pointing down at such an extreme angle; we suspect this won't be an issue in most cases. Second, we tried to get both the large "parent" monitor to work at the same time as the mini monitor, but couldn't get them to both show video simultaneously. We understand that may not be a common use case, but might be nice for parents to be in different locations with both being able to monitor the baby's activity. Again, not a huge issue. Overall, this is an excellent baby monitor system with only some minor drawbacks. Worth the cost? We'll leave that up to you: if you want these awesome features, it's probably worth every penny! Update: So it's been about 6 months now, and we've noticed two things worth pointing out. One is that the cameras disconnect intermittently and have a real hard time reconnecting; this has happened in the middle of the night a few times, which was concerning. Second is that the battery life has declined quite a bit since when it was new, now only lasting a few hours off the charger.
We began by shopping for baby monitors like anyone else would if they had dozens of hours to do it. The process started with a long list of best sellers at Amazon, Walmart, Target, BuyBuy Baby, Babies“R”Us, and Costco. We found monitors recommended in editorial reviews, such as PCMag, Reviewed.com, and Tom’s Guide. We also read a ton of discussion among parents in the Amazon reviews—what features they found especially useful, and what problems tend to occur. Thinking of all this, and comparing those concerns against the things we’ve appreciated and despised in our own years of monitor use, we developed the following selection criteria:
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) continues to warn parents against using wearable monitors on infants to track breathing and vital signs — as they aren’t FDA approved and don’t always provide the most accurate results. The caution has led to the advent of non-contact breathing monitors like Cocoon Cam Plus. It’s a ‘smart’ Wi-Fi baby monitor that not only lets parents watch live 720p high-def footage of their baby snoozing, but also track their real-time breathing, movements, and sleep patterns using computer vision and artificial intelligence. And it can do both from either above the crib or across the room, without requiring the child to wear any additional gadgets.
Video quality is a metric these products should perform well in, but most of them failed to offer a true to life image even in the daytime. It is disappointing that most dedicated video products aren't doing more than providing a blurry image of the baby in the room, and fail to show the baby's features or what the human eye would see in the room. The night vision is even worse than their day vision video, with some images being so blurry and hard to decipher that parents may end up going to baby's room simply because their baby has no face.
So, we split our remaining finalists into three groups: WiFi Monitors for those who want to have an unlimited range or the ability to check in on their baby from anywhere, Movement Monitors for those who are comforted by hearing their baby’s vital signs, and a “standard” category for parents who want a quality monitor, but aren’t looking for that extra level of support.
The best monitor for sound in our tests is the Philips Avent SCD630, with a score of 8 of 10. This monitor has the best sound activation and background cancellation features in the group, and while the sound is bright, it is also clear without an echo. Most of the competition earned 4s and 5s for sound, with all of the Wi-Fi monitors only earning 4s. It seems that no matter how good your parent device might be, the Wi-Fi cameras struggle for the most part to transmit clear sound with good sound features.
The Infant Optics DXR-8 has a superior battery life to any of the other video monitors we tested, as well as a simpler monitor interface that’s more intuitive and easier to navigate than those found on competitors. The range, image quality, price, and many other features are comparable to the best competitors. Other good qualities include its basic but secure RF connection, and ability to pair multiple cameras, but those are features common to several other baby monitors. Every baby monitor has its share of negative feedback, but in more than 10,000 Amazon reviews, the complaints about the Infant Optics are relatively mild.
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.
Child Safety: We care a lot about the safety and well-being of your babies, and our baby monitor reviews are no exception to that rule. Most of the safety issues with baby monitor systems revolve around the parent's due diligence: secure the wires out of reach and out of sight from your baby, make sure you put the camera out of reach (especially when you're mounting to the rail of a crib), and always keep them away from water and a running humidifier. In addition to these basic safety tips, the newer heart rate monitoring, breathing monitoring, and movement monitoring systems can add confidence to parents worried about their baby sleeping in a different room. A good example of a baby monitor with heart rate monitoring is the Owlet Smart Sock that can track heart rate and blood oxygenation levels, and stream that information to an app on your smart phone. Of course, don't be too confident because these devices are not hospital- or laboratory-grade monitoring systems, so keep that in mind.
Because the Nest Cam relies on an internet connection, it can fail if your internet is not reliable. So, if you'll experience sleepless nights worrying about connectivity or your internet connection, then you'll want to consider a dedicated option that works without the internet. However, if you have a large house, you could be restricted to Wi-Fi options only due to range limitations of dedicated products. For families looking for a product they can use for years to come that allows them to see little ones from outside the home, it is hard to beat this versatile camera and everything it brings to the table.
You might prefer one that has lights as well as sound. All the audio monitors we rated had this feature. The Philips Avent DECT SCD510, which sells for about $120, has a series of small LED lights on the parent monitor. The louder the sound in your baby's room, the more lights go on, so you'll notice his crying even with the unit set on mute. Audio monitors are generally less expensive than audio/video models.
Many baby monitors actually work against the very thing you need them for most: getting some sleep! Whether you’re sitting up at night staring at the screen or pressing your ear to the speaker to see if you can hear anything, a lot of available monitors require your full participation. Not the Owlet Smart Sock 2. This smart monitor actually helps you reclaim hours of much-needed sleep as a new mom. Instead of studying a screen or jumping up every five minutes to check on your baby, this tiny device gives you hard proof that your baby is still OK in the next room.
Netgear brought the best features of its Arlo line of home security cameras to its first baby monitor. That includes Full HD video, night vision, sound and motion detection, two-way audio, 24/7 recording, and free cloud storage. Netgear also used feedback from Arlo owners to add a nursery-centric spin to the Arlo Baby, with a multicolored LED nightlight, a built-in music player with nine lullabies, environmental sensors, and artificial intelligence that can recognize your child’s cries.
Traditional versus Wifi Baby Monitors: Starting around 2010, parents began to switch from using baby monitors with a yoked camera and screen, to using wifi cameras that can stream over smart phones, tablets, and personal computers. At the time, there weren't very many wifi cameras aimed towards the baby gear market, so people were going with familiar wifi camera brands like Nest and Samsung. Over the next few years, companies slowly began introducing baby-themed wifi cameras onto the market. While even high-quality HD wifi cameras can be found for under $50 (like this one) nowadays, companies began to realize they could package a wifi camera as a baby monitor, change the colors and themes of the app, and charge 3-4 times the price. And they continue to use this strategy to this day! So which is better? Well, this really comes down to one thing: do you want to be able to view the nursery while you're not at home? If you answer yes to this question, then you need to use a wifi monitor as opposed to a typical baby monitor. A wifi baby monitor (or any wifi camera) will connect to your internet (some are wired, some through wifi only) and stream live (well, slightly delated) video to an app on your phone. That will work in the house or out of the house, as long as you have a fast internet connection. So you can simply BYOP (bring your own phone) and leverage 20th century technology! That seems really appealing, and we highly recommend some of the newer ones (like the Cocoon Cam, Lollipop, and Nanit), but there are some things to keep in mind when figuring out the type of monitor to buy:
With more than 24,000 Amazon reviewers giving this monitor a near five-star rating, we’re proud to include the Infant Optics DXR-8 video baby monitor on our list of best baby monitors. Parents rave about its crystal-clear picture in both light and darkness, and the interchangeable wide-angle lens for larger viewing areas (sold separately). Not only that, the DXR-8 has the ability to pan and zoom across baby’s room without parents having to enter the room and move or adjust the camera. We think these features make the Infant Optics DXR-8 the best video baby monitor.
The Infant Optics’s range within our test houses was never an issue, and, as with others 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). It’s easy to 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 you can 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.
When your baby arrives, you might need to make some adjustments around your home. A fire guard is a simple addition that can help keep your baby away from danger, especially once they start crawling. Home safety improvements will help keep your little adventurer safe as they begin to explore. Making additions like a bed rail help prevent day-to-day accidents.
Today’s best baby monitors are not your mama’s baby monitors! High-definition video monitoring is becoming the norm, and many baby monitors are now app-enabled or have wi-fi capabilities. Even basic audio monitors have stepped up their game, with many implementing DECT (Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications) technology to eliminate the interference and the lack of security that comes from monitors using the 2.4 GHz frequency band. If you’ve ever heard your neighbors chatting through your baby monitor, you’ll appreciate this change! DECT also prevents super-creepy baby monitor hackers from spying on baby—or you!
Video products for monitoring baby is a growing industry, and it feels like every company is jumping on the bandwagon and throwing something into the already overflowing market of monitors. This plethora of products can make sorting through products difficult and attempts to narrow the field daunting. Luckily, we have already done the legwork by doing an initial review of the top products and choosing 9 of the most popular and well-rated options to test and compare. After months of hands-on testing, we feel confident that no matter what you might be looking for in a video product for monitoring baby, that you can find it in one of our award winners or the top-ranked products in this review.
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.
While digital monitors minimize the possibility of unwittingly broadcasting images and sounds to other devices, any wireless device (analog or digital) can interfere with other wireless devices, such as your baby monitor, cordless phone, wireless speakers, or home wireless router. To solve the problem, first, try changing the channel on your baby monitor or on your router. If you still have interference and you can't return the monitor, try keeping other devices as far away from your baby monitor as possible.
Alex Colon is the managing editor of PCMag's consumer electronics team. He previously covered mobile technology for PCMag and Gigaom. Though he does the majority of his reading and writing on various digital displays, Alex still loves to sit down with a good, old-fashioned, paper and ink book in his free time. (Not that there's anything wrong wit... See Full Bio