A WiFi monitor gets rid of the parent unit entirely and replaces it with a smartphone app. That app connects to the baby unit over the internet, rather than standard radio frequencies. As a result, you’ll never have to worry about being out of range from your camera. If you’re at dinner and want to check in on the babysitter, you’re still connected. Since it operates from an app, it’s also easier to flip through features than trying to figure out a finicky, low-quality touchscreen, or a dozen different buttons.
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 HelloBaby might be a standard monitor, but it excels at the basics. It scored better than some of the more expensive WiFi monitors in picture clarity, and was hands-down the easiest to use. Just open the box, plug in the two devices, and you’re ready to go. No difficult packaging to tear through, and no account setup or device pairing necessary. Our testers had it up in running in less than 3 minutes each time.
The more old fashioned video monitors are better if your internet isn't reliable because they use a dedicated video monitor instead. You can also choose to pair high-tech Wi-Fi security cameras with cheaper audio-only baby monitors to have the best of both worlds. We've tested a few baby monitors and researched the rest to find the best ones you can buy no matter your preference.
A big screen, a camera that zooms and a built-in nightlight make the In View monitor a great pick when you’re on a budget. The monitor also offers all the standard features: low-battery and out-of-range indicators, sound-activated lights and rechargeable batteries for the handheld monitor. Use the camera as a tabletop or mounted on the wall. And if you plan on having a big family, the monitor works with up to four cameras.
Moms particularly love the ability to record sounds and play songs. You can sing your own lullabies to play for your baby while you’re at work or connect to the iTunes music on your computer (Does your baby like the Beatles? Find out!). The monitor also lets you record videos and take photos for later. Your toddler’s daring and clever escape from the crib could become the family’s favorite video to watch at the holidays. You can also talk directly to your child through the monitor if you want to soothe him or her to sleep without causing a commotion by going into the nursery.
Sound activation is a feature we think parents should consider. This feature creates a quiet monitor unless the baby is actively making noise and translates to parents potentially getting more sleep because they aren't kept awake by ambient noises. Having sound activation means you only hear what you want to. This feature can be found in dedicated and Wi-Fi monitors.
The range of a product can make or break whether or not you can use certain options in your home. Depending on the distance from your room to the baby's nursery and the construction of your home or interfering appliances, you could be limited in your options of what will work for you. If your house is large or has more than a handful of walls between the two room, you'll be stuck with a Wi-Fi option only (assuming you have Internet). If your home is smaller or has fewer walls, then you'll have more options. Many of the wearable movement choices work in the baby's room and are not dependant on communicating with a parent device. However, if your room is out of earshot, then you'll never hear the alarm go off making the unit virtually useless without a sound monitoring addition. Choose your product carefully if you think the range will be an issue and purchase from retailers like Amazon that have a generous return policy. Also, don't let it sit in the box, try it out right away and send it back immediately if it doesn't work in your space. Do not rely on the manufacturer's range claim, as we have found these claims to be wildly inaccurate for many brands during our testing.
Winner of this year’s JPMA innovation award for safety, the Nanit Smart Baby Monitor is an over-the-crib Wi-Fi video monitor that uses computer vision technology to track a baby’s sleep habits/patterns and provide data-crazed parents with stats and customized sleep tips in the morning, most of which are written by medical professionals. The only catch is that to receive these reports and tips, you need to pay $100 a year for Nanit Insights, the company’s subscription-based service. For parents who’d rather not pay the monthly fee, Nanit is still a sleek HD video monitor with night vision, one-way audio, and a soft glow LED nightlight.
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.
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.
In early 2011, two infant strangulation deaths prompted a recall of nearly two million Summer Infant video monitors. The CPSC also reported that a 20-month-old boy was found in his crib with the camera cord wrapped around his neck. In that case, the Summer Infant monitor camera was mounted on a wall, but the child was still able to reach the cord. He was freed without serious injury.
During our tests, we found ourselves among the fraction of buyers having problems with the display on the DXR-8. Our first test unit worked fine out of the box, but after a couple of hours running on battery, the display became distorted and nothing would fix it. Likewise, you’ll find a few complaints on Amazon of users experiencing dead pixels after about a year of use (here’s one and here’s another). The good news: Those folks reported that Infant Optics replaced their monitors even though some were out of warranty. In fact, the company consistently receives decent feedback on customer service. Infant Optics quickly replaced our faulty unit (but as a media inquiry, that’s not comparable to typical customer service), and the new unit has performed fine.
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.
Type: After considering the options, weighing the relative advantages, and experiencing many firsthand, we determined our ideal monitor would be an RF (radio frequency) video monitor rather than one of the two main alternatives: a Wi-Fi (or cloud-based) model that you can check on your phone, and bare-bones audio-only speakers. (We approached our research with an open mind and gave an equal chance to all three types.) Since the best audio monitors cost far less, we have recommendations for both video and audio types—and we answered the question, What about a Wi-Fi baby monitor? with a firm conclusion that RF video can better provide what most people want: a clear view of a baby, a secure connection, and a dedicated monitor that can operate in the background without tying up your phone.
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.