Will Greenwald has been covering consumer technology for a decade, and has served on the editorial staffs of CNET.com, Sound & Vision, and Maximum PC. His work and analysis has been seen in GamePro, Tested.com, Geek.com, and several other publications. He currently covers consumer electronics in the PC Labs as the in-house home entertainment expert... See Full Bio
We tested and compared 9 of the most popular video monitors in this review using a comprehensive series of tests with continued use over several months. Our tests were designed to provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision on which product is right for your family and needs. Each monitor is scored based on performance experienced during our hands-on, side-by-side testing process. The test results determine the metric scores, and those scores combine to create overall scores and rank. Metric scores are derived from our in-house lab and user experience "in the field." Overall scores were weighted with a preference for the range, video quality, and sound clarity.
Watching your child from moment to moment is far more important than going over footage from previous nights, so baby monitors don't usually make a big deal about saving video for later, whether using built-in storage or through a cloud service. They can take snapshots and short clips when they detect movement, but they won't offer time-lapse videos of entire nights at once, or let you page through hours or days of footage. Those features are useful for identifying burglars, but they don't really help you watch your child unless you're in a Paranormal Activity sequel.
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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 iBaby M6S Wi-Fi is the easiest Wi-Fi monitor to setup and use with a score of 9 of 10. The Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi camera is hot on its heels with an 8. Both options walk users through the setup process step-by-step and have intuitive menus that will seem familiar to even the most novice user who is familiar with a smartphone. Both options come with a quick start guide that will have you up and watching your baby in no time.
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.
Interchangeable Camera Lenses: Some of the newest baby monitors have interchangeable lenses to best suit your baby's room. If you have the camera positioned close to the baby, like on the edge of the crib or on a nearby dresser, you might prefer the wide angle camera. If you have the camera positioned relatively far from the baby, like on a bookshelf on the other side of the room, you might prefer the regular narrow angle camera. Flexibility is nice, particularly if you end up rearranging the room or have to move things out of the reach of a growing menace.
* Guest Accounts: need to allow guest accounts for grandparents, but absolutely need the ability to turn OFF the microphone for those accounts. The camera is only in the baby's room, but the microphone extends as far as sound travels, and you probably don't want your mother-in-law listening to every discussion in your home. This is a HUGE security feature that is a requirement for anything with guest accounts
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.
The dedicated monitors did not score as well as the Wi-Fi products for features. It isn't that they don't have features, it's just that they don't offer as many, don't have features that make the camera easier to use or the features they have don't work that well. All of the dedicated monitors have 2-way communication, but they all also can only be viewed on the parent device that comes with the monitor. Some offer temperature sensors and lullabies, but most of them don't provide motion detection or great zoom. The highest score for features for the traditional video products was 5 of 10. Two monitors managed to earn the 5 rating, with the Infant Optics DXR-8 being the highest ranked overall with a feature score of 5. However, this monitor did not score well overall, or in key metrics, we think are essential for a good video monitor. So despite having a high score for features, we still would not recommend this monitor to a friend.
Lullabies: Monitors often include a selection of soothing sounds to help your baby drift off to slumberland. These can be traditional nursery rhymes of the rock-a-bye-baby variety, nature sounds, white noise, or some combination of all of them. It’s a good idea to check them out before you play them to your sleeping child to determine whether they might help or hinder their sleep.
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.
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.
For roughly a third of the price of our pick, the VTech is far more affordable. Losing video is a major sacrifice, of course, and we’re certain most parents looking for a first monitor will prefer being able to do a visual check-in on a baby. Budget advantages aside, we could see this being best for parents of toddlers who are considering replacing a failing monitor, and who know they will likely use a monitor only at night as a way to hear a kid crying out from a distant bedroom. Many reviewers have also found it useful as a way for adults to communicate, especially for caretakers who need to be able to hear when adults with mobility or medical issues need help in another room.
This is a nice new addition to our best baby monitor list, with some nice advanced features that make it quite a bit more than just a baby video monitor. Unlike the Infant Optics, this wifi baby monitor uses your own smart phone rather than an external screen. This is just like the popular wireless security cameras you can setup around the house and watch on your smartphone. So instead of walking around the house with a baby monitor screen, like from your bedroom to living room and kitchen, you can simply fire up the app and see what's going on instantly, no matter where you are. In the bathroom? No problem. Out on a date night and want to check in on what the baby sitter's up to? No problem. Just open the app on your phone (Apple or Android) and it will connect to the camera in just a couple seconds and show you a live streaming video feed (with audio) of your sleeping baby. In our testing, we thought the video quality was very good in both daylight and night vision conditions. It was the 720p high definition that helped with clarity, though the wifi video feed did become a bit choppy at points when testing on a network other than our home wifi. That's not surprising, and is just like any other live streaming video. One cool thing about the app is that we could minimize it and still have the audio playing, so you can hear everything from your baby's room while doing something completely different; in that regard, it operates a bit like a music player (iTunes, Spotify, etc). Installation of the system was pretty easy, though a bit more involved than others because of its unique features. First, you install the app on your phone and register with Cocoon Cam. Plug in your camera and use the app to scan the QR code on the back of the camera. That will get the camera and your app working together. Then, you need to mount the camera on the wall of the nursery, about 5 feet above the baby. Don't try to put it on a dresser or edge of the crib. Mount it on the wall so that it's pointing down at your sleeping baby and can see all 4 corners of the crib; we found that installing it correctly was the most important aspect for getting it to work reliably. If you don't have wifi, the camera can also be plugged into your router with an ethernet cable (they provide a short one). OK, so now that it's up and running, and assuming you've installed it per instructions, you'll be able to take advantage of its awesome features. First, the system has an awesome breathing/activity monitor that will let you watch your baby's breathing patterns. It uses infrared light to track the rise and fall of your baby's chest to monitor breathing and activity. Second, for peace of mind, it can send you little alerts when things change, like breathing has slowed or sped up. Correct baby camera placement is critical for these features, so make sure to follow instructions. The way it works is that your video feed is streamed live to the Cocoon Cam cloud where machine learning algorithms securely process the video and assess breathing, and then that information is streamed continuously to the app on your phone. It worked surprisingly well given the complexity of the data streaming and analytics. We did get some anomalous readings in our testing, but mostly when the baby camera wasn't correctly installed above the crib, so it wasn't in clear view of the baby. It also didn't work well when our baby was sleeping on her side, or when her lovies were strewn across her back in random ways. It did work impressively well as a breathing monitor, even with a swaddled baby. Third, the system allows you to download and review videos and activity data, which is a nice touch. Finally, the newest version of this baby monitor includes cry detection, which works reasonably, but we had some false alarms with other noises. So this video baby monitor provides some advanced functionality for parents interested in monitoring their baby's breathing activity and having the flexibility of using their phone as a screen. If you're just looking for a video monitor that uses a phone app, but without the breathing monitor capability, check out some of the other wireless wifi options such as the Nest Cam or Lollipop. We're not completely certain it has the accuracy of a mat-based breathing monitor, and the reliability of the breathing status indicators wasn't perfect, especially if the camera isn't perfectly installed. And no remotely controlling the camera angle (pan, tilt). So overall, this is a great baby monitor, and we're really impressed with how Cocoon Cam's newest model performs, and the feature list is really extensive. Interested? You can check out the Cocoon Cam here.
The Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi and the LeFun C2 720P Wi-Fi came in a close second to the iBaby M6S Wi-Fi for features, both scoring an 8 of 10. Because these cameras are designed more with surveillance in mind and are not solely marketed for baby, they have several features that make parents lives easier, but not anything fancy and fun for baby. They do offer 2-way communication, but no lullabies or environmental sensors. Given that many parents already have "noise makers" (aka lullabies) covered by way of another product, the lack of this feature isn't a deal breaker in our book. So while these Wi-Fi cameras lacked the gadgetry fun of humidity sensing and the other bells of the iBaby M6S Wi-Fi, they still got the job of monitoring done in a way that is easy for parents to use. The bonus of the Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi camera is that it can be used for multiple applications when baby gets older and no longer needs an overnight monitor. This monitor can easily shift for use as a nanny cam, security, or pet camera. We think this takes the sting (if there is some) out of its lack of baby fun features, which in the end, most parents usually stop using when the novelty wears off.
Many audio/video monitors feature infrared light or "night vision" so you can see your baby on the monitor even when she's sleeping in a dark room. And some audio models feature a night light on the nursery unit that you can activate from the receiver. Other features may include adjustable brightness, and the ability to let you activate music or nature sounds to soothe your little sleeper by remote.
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The iBaby doesn't have the best sound which is somewhat disappointing considering the great video quality. It is also going to look out of place should you try to use it for any other purpose outside baby monitoring. This limited use means it doesn't retain value the way the Nest Cam will. However, if you want a baby-centric video option that has lots of fun bells and whistles, then the iBaby is the one for you.
Rechargeable batteries: Since the camera will most likely stay trained on your bundle of joy, it can remain plugged into AC power. But parent unit displays are designed to be always on and carried with you as you move from room to room. That can drain batteries quickly. Look for a parent unit that runs on rechargeable batteries, so you’re not constantly swapping them out.
Although the security of these monitors has been questioned because of the ability to publicly access the mobile video stream, the options below offer high-security, password-protected mobile streams to ensure your privacy. It's highly unlikely that potential intruders are tapping into your baby monitor, but nice to have the extra layer of security. And, of course, the most secure connection is the one over your home's secured Wi-Fi network.
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.
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.
Microphone sensitivity: There’s a difference between hearing your baby cry, and hearing every little noise. All baby monitors have the option to turn down the volume, but some offer thresholds for parents who are more comfortable with only hearing the biggest upsets, and prefer not to hear the self-comforting noises their baby makes as they fall asleep.
Ease of setup and installation factored heavily into our ratings, including whether an account needed to be created and if there were any extra subscription fees necessary. Each unit had cords protruding out of its back, so design wasn't much of a factor in my choice, though parents should take care to keep dangling cords and wires away from their children's reach when setting up a monitor.
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