We tested each product we purchased in key metrics that allow them to function as expected, or provides an additional feature or benefit. Monitors act as something of a lifeline for parents, so it is important that they work well, have adequate range, provide useful images, and are easy to use. If a product doesn't work well enough to instill confidence, then it will fail to offer parents the one thing they really want, more sleep.
The Nanit Smart Baby Monitor is for the tech- and data-obsessed parent who wants to know and track everything about his baby. Winner of the Bump’s 2018 Best of Baby Awards, the Nanit is an over-the-crib Wi-Fi camera that not only offers standard video monitoring capabilities, but also provides sleep insight reports and sleep scores via the app. The bird’s-eye-view camera provides real-time HD-quality video and uses “computer vision” to track whether your child is awake, sleeping, or fussing. Then, Nanit synthesizes this data to generate nightly sleep reports and sleep scores, even providing tips on how to help your baby sleep better. Says Kay, “The Nanit is a two-in-one in that you’ve got this monitoring app, but you’re also getting helpful training and guidance when it comes to sleep, which is different from a lot of the competitors.” Priced at $279, it’s definitely on the high-end of baby monitors, but if that extra functionality is important to you, it may be worth it. For other parents, however, the Nanit may be more than you need.
We prefer RF monitors to Wi-Fi, but if you’re seeking the latter, we don’t recommend getting the Ezviz Mini, the Palermo Wi-Fi Video Baby Monitor, or the LeFun C2, all of which Amazon reviewers report have connectivity issues, among other problems. We dismissed two other Wi-Fi monitors we tested—the Arlo Baby by Netgear and the Evoz Glow Baby Monitor—for being harder to set up than the iBaby Wi-Fi monitor. They were not notably better than the iBaby in some other way, and they share the other significant shortcomings of Wi-Fi monitors as a category.
In addition to the standard parent and baby unit, these monitors include a device that tracks your baby’s movements, breathing, or heart rate, and offer time-sensitive alarms that alert you if your baby hasn’t moved in the last 20–30 seconds. While they aren’t proven to reduce SIDS, many new parents told us these monitors gave them added peace of mind.
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.
Both Baldwin and Kay recommend iBaby’s M6S Wi-Fi video monitor for its design and ease of use. Resembling a little robot, the iBaby offers 360-degree views and 110-degree tilt, 1080p video with night vision, and even comes equipped with lullabies. Other features include temperature, humidity, and air-quality sensors, which Baldwin admits are bells and whistles, but could be useful depending on what kind of parent you are. And, of course, everything comes straight through to your smartphone or tablet, which can also remotely control settings. And while some parents may be concerned about potential hacking of Wi-Fi monitors, Baldwin found that the risk is fairly low and usually occurred in cheap, off-brand models.
However, the Baby Delight’s biggest flaw is one of technicality: Its button sensor is just large enough to avoid being labeled as a choking hazard, but it doesn’t leave a lot of room for error. In fact, the button does become a choking risk after your child is 3 years old, and the new parents we spoke to felt uneasy about using it after 12 months just to be safe. Still, if you’re only interested in monitoring movements for the first few months, the Baby Delight is a more user-friendly alternative to the Angelcare.
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.
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.
Clarity of Daytime and Night Vision: When wireless baby monitor systems with screens were first introduced onto the market they used somewhat outdated display technology that made for a grainy, distorted and often unreliable picture. Newer baby monitors use a liquid crystal display similar to the ones used in your smart phone and other consumer electronics, so these HD video baby monitors tend to have very nice color contrast and high resolution, and are also substantially more reliable. All of the stand-alone baby monitors we list above have high-quality displays, and we do not recommend some of the relatively old fashioned ones that can still be found on the market. Of course, night vision doesn't use color - so the display will be either grayscale or show a slightly green hue. That's important to keep in mind before you try it out for the first time; not even military special operations have color night vision, so don't expect anything amazing, even from the best baby monitor!
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.
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:
We wanted to recommend an inexpensive video monitor, but their flaws were so significant that we decided we’d rather spend less on a quality audio-only monitor like the VTech DM221. This is a well-reviewed best seller in the category, and it has crisp sound and better talk-back functionality than the best video monitors we found, as well as a longer range and better battery life than our video picks. It easily beats out its audio-only competitors for various basic reasons like being cordless, rechargeable, or less expensive.
The Levana Lila video product is a dedicated camera and parent unit which means you don't need to tie up your personal device or use the internet. This option is user-friendly and has a respectable range that could work for most average size homes. The Lila has long-lasting battery life and a reasonable price with fewer features than much of the competition, but that is part of what makes it easy enough for grandma to use.
When it comes to video monitors, you'll want to make sure that the one you're buying offers night vision and a decent resolution. Most baby monitors with a dedicated viewer sadly have low VGA resolutions, which are much worse than the majority of smartphones you can buy these days. A few have a 720p HD resolution, which is decent. We hope more baby monitors go that route in the future.
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.
We tested a Nest Camera for the sake of comparison, to see the advantages and disadvantages of a popular security camera versus baby monitors designed expressly for watching babies at home. We have also considered the Arlo Baby monitor, which we’ve seen in demos but not tested firsthand for this guide. Our findings are in Why not just use a security camera? For far more information on all the other similar options—including a detailed look at other Arlo indoor security options, like the Arlo Q—see our guide to the best wireless indoor home security camera.
Many parents find that a basic sound product more than meets their needs. They plan to run to baby's aid each time they hear them cry, and they don't need to spy on their baby with video. Using a sound option is the cheapest way to go to get a quality product that works well. However, if you need or want to see your baby, then a video option is the only way to meet this need. Choosing a Wi-Fi option means no concerns about range, the ability to see your baby when you are away from home, and usually better image quality. Wi-Fi also means you'll be able to use it for longer as potential security or nanny cam; this adds value you may not be considering right now (but should). Movement monitoring options are a luxury that most parents can do without. If you're worried about your little one and SIDs, studies show that having a baby sleep in their own bed in your room (along with standard safe sleep practices) goes a long way in helping to prevent SIDs and could potentially be more effective than movement monitoring. Choosing a great beside bassinet may be a better solution than a movement product. However, if your heart wants a movement product, then be sure to consider a sound or video option to pair with it so you can be sure to hear the alarm from another room.
Long Range: Monitors that don’t connect to WiFi have a limited range, usually around 600 to 1,000 feet. While this is large enough for all but the biggest houses, we asked our testers to find out how far they could wander away — and how many walls they could put between them and the baby unit — before they went out of range, as well as to report back on what happened when they did. Sometimes there was an alarm or a notification, but other times the screen simply froze.
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.
The Motorola MPB36S is the workhorse of the baby monitor world. Moms that own this monitor seem to keep it around for years and use it for their second — and sometimes even third — babies. If you’re not too tech savvy or get overwhelmed with instruction manuals, then this option may be for you. It’s easy to set up, which makes it a favorite for parents who love to travel with their little ones in tow. You can even add another camera without too much hassle or expense.
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.