The first thing you need to consider is whether you want to have an audio-only baby monitor or one that incorporates video. Some parents choose to use smart home security cameras that send a video feed and alerts to their phones via an internet connection instead. Your choice largely depends on your budget and how high tech you want the baby monitor to be.
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.
Sound devices relay what is happening in baby's room via sound only. A great sound option is quiet unless the baby is making noise so that you won't be disturbed by white noise or constant static. This basic monitoring type can be all you need if your goal is being alerted when your baby is crying and needs your assistance. This style can be elementary with sound only like the V-Tech DM111 or it can have bells and whistles like a nightlight, 2-way talk, lullabies, and mic sensitivity adjustment features like the Philips Avent DECT SCD570/10. Most parents can get by with a sound only device as it provides the information you need to determine if your baby needs you or not.
Many of the baby monitors we've tested are internet-connected, letting you watch infant with your phone or tablet through an app just as if you were checking a home security camera. Because of this, you might not actually get a standalone display to go along with the camera. They aren't out of the question, however; some camera-only baby monitors offer viewers as an add-on or in a bundle. And if there aren't any available, you can simply get an inexpensive tablet like the Amazon Fire to use as a dedicated viewer.
If your internet goes down, your baby monitor goes down. A wifi baby monitor uses your home's internet connection to communicate to servers, then to your app. So if your internet connection goes down, then you will no longer be able to stream video of your baby. That's a huge consideration to keep in mind because you never know when your internet will slow down or simply stop working for several minutes or hours, and you will be stuck without a working baby monitor. There are a few wifi baby monitors that will still communicate locally (within your home's network) when the internet goes down, such as the Lollipop or Nanit. They do this by switching from internet to local area network when an outage is detected, so you can have confidence that if you're connected to your home wifi you'll still see your baby.
If you want to be as streamlined as possible and happen to have extra Apple devices hanging around, the Bump recommends the Cloud Baby Monitor app, which turns your iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Apple Watch, and even your laptop into a secure Wi-Fi baby monitor. Use one device in the nursery as a camera, then have high-quality live video and audio transmitted to a secondary device, or even a third or fourth. Using the “parent unit,” you can talk to your child through two-way video and audio, turn on lullabies or white noise, and adjust the night-light on the other side. The app will also alert you to any noise and motion occurring in the other room.
Both Kay and Baldwin chose the Infant Optics DXR-8 as their top choice in video baby monitors (it also has nearly 24,000 4.4-star reviews on Amazon). The DXR-8 uses secure 2.4 GHz FHSS wireless transmission (as opposed to Wi-Fi) to send crystal clear color video and audio to the receiver, has a solid battery life, allows for remote pan, zoom, and tilt capabilities, and comes with an interchangeable zoom lens (with a wide-angle lens sold separately). Other features include a two-way intercom, remote temperature display, and the option to set the monitor to audio-only.
If you want remote access to see footage inside your home while you’re away, why not just use an indoor security camera? If that’s your sole objective, we think such cameras are a better choice than a dedicated baby monitor—and we explain which ones we like and why, in detail, in our guide to wireless indoor home security cameras. But in comparing our picks here against the Nest Camera (a popular, mainstream option, and a pick in our security camera guide), we found that security cameras start to lose their appeal when you try to use them in the ways most people regularly want to use baby monitors—at home, at night, all night, while a kid sleeps. Many won’t stream audio in the background, which means that to continuously monitor your baby, the app has to be open at all times. Some can take several seconds to pull up a live feed—not ideal when you want to see why a baby is crying. They can work well if you’re traveling and want to see what the family is up to, or if you’re out for the night and want to check on the kids without bugging the sitter—but as useful as that capability is, we concluded that it really is a different task from what most people want to accomplish with a day-to-day monitor.
We took these criteria into consideration, factored in user feedback and reviews from across the Web, and eventually narrowed the list to eight cameras for testing. We used each camera for several months, taking notes on the interface and any difficulties we ran into. We connected each model to multiple routers, and used each from various distances and through walls to test range. We also ran each monitor from a full charge down to zero to check battery life. Finally, we evaluated each monitor's night vision in dark environments. Read more about our tests in our full guide to baby monitors.
To save on battery life, some audio/video models only turn on when the baby makes an unusual motion or sound. Some models come with a motion-detector pad that fits under the crib sheet. This type of motion sensor is intended to prevent SIDS. Sensitive enough to detect changes in breathing, an alarm sounds if there is no movement after 20 minutes. However, if the baby simply rolls off the pad, the alarm may sound.
The longest battery life for the dedicated products in our review is the Levana Lila, which ran for 12.75 hours in full use mode. The manufacturer claims this unit will work up to 72 hours in power saving mode, but we only tested the monitors in full use. The Infant Optics DXR-8 came in second place with a shorter run time of closer to 11.5 hours. The Motorola MBP36S earned the lowest score for battery life with a runtime just under 7 hours. While not necessarily a deal breaker, there are plenty of other reasons to dislike the Motorola MBP36S, and the battery life is just a small part of a disappointing overall picture (no pun intended).
Once you've settled on a type and have considered your range, you can look at the potential choice and which features they have. The more budget-friendly choices usually lack bells and whistles but are still functional. If you want more features like nightlights, lullabies, and talk to the baby, then you may pay more and the unit could be more difficult to use. The one feature we think is important is sound activation to help keep your device quiet when your baby is quiet, thereby increasing your chances of a full night's sleep.
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.