Best Video Baby Monitor of 2020
Best Wi-Fi Baby Monitor
The Nanit Plus is a cool Wi-Fi video monitor that offers an above-crib viewpoint and has more baby-centric features than most of the Wi-Fi competitors. This options is easy to use, compatible with Alexa and has true to life video with an app that works even when using other apps. The Nanit offered impressive performance during testing and its subsequent overall score is impressive compared to much of the competition. This monitor includes temperature and humidity sensors, motion detection, 2-way talk to baby, a nightlight, lullabies and nature sounds, sound activation, and more. We think most parents will like the intuitive user interface and the full-crib downward viewing position. You can even add a movement monitor to this set up for a more complete picture of everything happening in the nursery and crib.
This monitor is one of the most expensive in the group, making it a potential no-go for tighter budgets. You also need adequate Internet for consistent monitoring, so if you have slow or sub-par service, it isn't going to work. However, if your budget allows and you're looking for baby-centric features, then the Nanit may be the dream monitor you've been looking for.
Read review: Nanit Plus
Best Baby-Specific Features
iBaby Care M7 Wi-Fi
The iBaby Care M7 Wi-Fi is an impressive Wi-Fi video monitor without equal in baby specific features. This monitor earned top scores for range, ease of use, features, and battery life with excellent results for video quality. The iBaby's impressive performance during testing and subsequent overall score places it as one of the top Wi-Fi monitors on the market. This monitor features humidity, temperature, and air quality sensors to help ensure that your baby stays cozy, and it comes with lullabies, bedtime stories, and white noise options. The iBaby is easy to use, has true to life images, and works as it should. It offers sound activation, motion detection, 2-way talk to baby, and a remote control camera. The iBaby will continue to monitor the baby even with another app running, something many other Wi-Fi options struggle to do.
This camera is more expensive than some competitors making it a potential no-go if your budget is small. It also requires the Internet, and if you have slow or sub-par service, you won't be able to use it. However, if you have the money and want to see your little one with lots of cool, useful baby-centric features, it is hard, no, impossible, to find something more suitable than the iBaby.
Read review: iBaby Care M7 Wi-Fi
Budget-Friendly Wi-Fi Monitor
LeFun 1080p Wi-Fi
The LeFun 1080p Wi-Fi is an impressive little Wi-Fi monitor with high scores for range and battery life, true to life video, and enough features to get the job done. This monitor earned a Best Value for Wi-Fi monitors for its budget-friendly list price that is the least expensive in the group, which means you get a top-performing monitor for an amazingly 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, something we didn't find in the other Wi-Fi competitors.
This camera has 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. It also requires a reliable Internet service in your home. However, given the low price, we think most parents will forgive these minor hiccups thanks to the impressive video images and cost most budgets can afford.
Read review: LeFun 1080p Wi-Fi
Great for Long-term Use
Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi
The Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi has impressive video images, Wi-Fi range, and is easy to use with enough features to keep most parents happy. Its impressive performance and security features help it win the Top Pick award for Long-term Use. The Nest Indoor is a cool surveillance camera you can use to watch your baby, but given that the design isn't specific to baby monitoring, it lacks some of the fun features parents may want like lullabies and a nightlight. However, it does offer motion detection, sound activation, 2-way talk, and 8x digital zoom with a large field of view that can easily encompass a baby's entire crib.
The Nest Cam camera does not have a remote control camera, relying instead on its large field of view you zoom into and then search. The downside to the Nest is it doesn't continue to monitor if you use another app or take a phone call making it hard to use full-time if you don't have a second device outside of your primary smartphone. The Nest Cam is also expensive (though not the most expensive in the review), and it is cheaper than some of the dedicated monitors. It also requires a good Internet connection and reliable service. On the upside, its long-term capabilities make it an investment we think parents will use for years as a nanny cam, home security, or checking on pets, thereby justifying the higher cost giving you a high-quality monitor you'll use long after the crib years.
Read review: Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi
Baby-friendly with Long-term Potential
The Arlo Baby is a high-quality baby monitor with potential long term use, especially if you already own other Arlo products as they use the same app. We like the video images of this unit, and it has better sound clarity than much of the Wi-Fi competition. The Arlo comes with features parents want like temperature and air quality sensors, and motion detection, sound activation, and 2-way talk to the baby.
The Arlo has a higher price than much of the Wi-Fi options that are not also movement monitors. And, it requires a reliable Internet connection to work correctly. The Arlo price could be justified if you plan to use your Wi-Fi monitor as a nanny cam or security camera when the baby outgrows the need. Also, the camera is not remote-controlled, but only one Wi-Fi option in this review is. Overall, the Arlo is a user-friendly camera with a variety of useful features and video quality parents will love.
Read review: Arlo Baby
Why You Should Trust Us
Our expert group of monitor testers is overseen by BabyGearLab founder, Dr. Juliet Spurrier, Board Certified Pediatrician and mother of two. Dr. Spurrier uses her vast experience and education as a pediatrician, in conjunction with the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations and her journey as a mother to choose products for testing, including video monitors. The testing team includes Bob Wofford, father of 7, and lead in-house product tester who has been an integral part of testing development and execution for video monitor since 2014. He is joined by Senior Review Editor, Wendy Schmitz, who has been reviewing and researching video monitors professionally since 2014 and is the mother of two. Bob and Wendy have evaluated over 32 video monitors since 2014, and well over 50 baby monitors, including video, sound, and movement, during that time.
Our testing took place in the BabyGearLab in-house lab and personal homes with little ones to watch. The monitor reviews draw on over 3 months of research and data compiling information on how well the monitors work and how easy they were to use and how well they stayed "connected." We used each monitor from setup through endless features to determine which had the best features, quality sound and video, ease of use, longest range, and most reliable connection.
Jump to: How We Tested Video Monitors
Analysis and Test Results
We tested and compared 16 of the top video monitors in comprehensive tests, side-by-side over several months. Our tests provide the details you need to make an informed decision about which monitor is best for your baby or situation. Our test metrics include range, video quality, sound clarity, ease of use, features, battery life, and EMF emissions.
Jump to: Buying Advice for Video Monitors
If you want to know the insider opinions of the BabyGearLab parents on what we would do or what we'd tell a friend based on our years of experience and tests, you can skip to that section and possibly save yourself some time. Spoiler Alert: it may not be what you think.
Luckily, with so many options on the market, prices for cool video monitors are very reasonable, Something we couldn't say 5 or even 10 years ago. There are cool video monitors with quality images and lower price tags, some on par or lower than sound monitors. With a variety of options, including Wi-Fi cameras, there is something for every budget in this lineup. Arguably, one of the most impressive choices is the Wi-Fi Lefun 1080p with the lowest price in the group. This monitor is a cool Wi-Fi option with impressive images and a straightforward user-interface. The LeFun is great for those with a tight budget and larger homes or more than four walls between the nursery and the parent's bedroom. While it has a momentary delay, it isn't long enough to impact baby monitoring, and the lack of features is something we think most parents will easily accept, given the low price and user-friendly design. Even the Editors' Choice winner, the Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi, can be considered a good value at almost three times the price of the LeFun because, theoretically, you can use it for years to come as a nanny cam, family cam, or security surveillance.
The range for video monitors is the distance and the number of walls between the nursery unit and the parent unit where the product stays connected and working without interruption or interference. While most manufacturers offer a "line of sight" range to describe their monitors, this distance is not a good indication of how well it will work inside your home where walls and interference abound. It doesn't matter how much you want a certain model or brand; if it won't stay connected in your house, it simply isn't going to work.
We tested for indoor range and open field tests to provide a complete picture using the same measuring devices in the same field and house with the same walls and interference. Remember that the values inside your home are more important than those in an open field unless, of course, you are leaving a baby alone in an open field (which we don't recommend).
Larger homes with more than 4 or 5 walls between the camera and parent unit might be limited to a Wi-Fi monitor. Most of the dedicated monitors only work through up to 4 walls, except for the Project Nursery 4.3 that stopped working at 3. The Motorola MBP36S has the longest range for dedicated monitors in this review, with an impressive 92 ft through 5 walls. So, if your needs are higher than that, then none of the dedicated monitors in this review are likely to work in your home. Also, there are other reasons not to choose the Motorola even if you need the range. Wi-Fi connected cameras, on the other hand, are limited only by the wireless router location/power in relation to the camera and parent unit, and the strength and speed of your Wi-Fi. If necessary, you can often move routers or add range extenders to increase the range between the components if the Wi-Fi monitor struggles to keep a clear or consistent connection. Purchasing a monitor from a retailer with a useful return policy (like Amazon) will allow you to test the monitor in your house to determine how well it works without the risk.
We recommend you test your monitor the day you get it; waiting could result in missing a return window. Even if your little one hasn't arrived yet, you should set up the monitor as it will be used and work with a partner or a radio to determine if the connection and features work the way you hope.
Audio and Visual Quality
Monitors should provide video that is clear and true to life, and they should also have quality sound that is easy to hear and clear enough for you to quickly decide if you need to look at the viewing screen, go back to sleep, or get running to the nursery. So, while you might consider video quality to be the most important metric, we rated both video and sound equally because, without one, the other doesn't much matter. If it has muffled sound, it is difficult to decipher, or not loud enough, then parents might miss the baby's cries and never look at the video. If the sound activation or thresholds for background noise don't work as described, then parents might lose sleep listening to a loud monitor. Then, once alerted by the sound, you need a clear view of the baby with enough details to determine the baby's needs, or the video monitoring device isn't much better than a sound monitor.
Most of the monitors we tested have average sound clarity that isn't excessively muffled or muted. Most had bright and high sound without a lot of mid-range or lower tones. This lack of tonal range isn't a deal-breaker, but it does make baby's cries harsher than they already are.
The best monitor for sound in our tests is the Angelcare AC327, with a score of 6 of 10, which isn't saying much given the level of technology that goes into these kinds of monitors. Most of the competition earned 4s and 5s for sound. It seems that no matter how great your parent device is, the Wi-Fi cameras struggle to transmit clear sound with useful sound features. The best sound score for Wi-Fi monitors is 5 earned by the Arlo Baby, Nanit Plus, and the Miku.
These photos show daytime images for the Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi (above left), which earned a perfect 10 of 10 for video quality, and the Infant Optics DXR-8 (above right), which received the highest score for video in the dedicated monitors.
Video quality is a metric these products should all perform well in, but most of them failed to offer a true to life image even in the daytime. Given advancements in technology, it is disappointing that most dedicated video products aren't doing more than providing a blurry image of the baby in the room, and many 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 or it looks like a small demon is in the crib.
Only the Wi-Fi cameras provide visuals on par with reality, with the Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi, Nest Cam IQ, and the Lefun 1080p Wi-Fi earning perfect 10s of 10. The iBaby Care M7 Wi-Fi earned an impressive 9 with the Nanit Plus coming in with an 8. All of these options have clear images with enough detail to let you see your baby breathe, which is significantly more impressive than viewing a faceless (and terrifying) blob.
The LeFun 1080p Wi-Fi (above left) has a top score for video quality and impressive night visuals, while the Motorola MBP36S (above right) offers very disappointing night video.
The high for dedicated monitors is only 6 earned by the Infant Optics DXR-8 and the Summer Infant Baby Pixel. These monitors have images that are darker than the actual room and sort of fuzzy. Still, they are better than the competing dedicated options we tested.
Ease of Use
Ease of use may seem less important because once you know how to use a product, it typically stops being challenging, and after a while, it can even feel intuitive when it clearly isn't. However, with monitors, there can be a learning curve depending on the type you select and the features it offers. While the dedicated monitors are plug in and go products that even technology-challenged grandmas can use, some take more skill or tech-savvy to negotiate. The Wi-Fi monitors, on the other hand, require some knowledge of technology and apps navigation or at least the patience to learn new things. With all of them, you need to set up the camera with your computer or another device, and you need to set up an account and be able to manage things like Wi-Fi passwords and other settings within the app. While this can be a no-brainer for many, it can be more difficult if you lack tech prowess.
If you struggle with technology and don't need or want to see your baby from any other location outside your home, you might want to choose a dedicated monitor that requires little setup and has a fairly intuitive user interface. We aren't saying that most people can't sort out the Wi-Fi monitors, but it is undeniably less work to plug the camera into an outlet and go than it is to download and sign up for an app.
The Infant Optics DXR-8 is the easiest to use dedicated option with a score of 8 of 10. This monitor is a "plug and play" that pairs the camera and parent unit by itself. The parent unit has limited buttons and the menu options are relatively intuitive. The menu could be easier to use, but we think most parents will stick to the buttons on the front of the unit after a few weeks of regular use. It also comes with different lenses to add to the camera which are easily interchanged even if it is annoying that you need to go into the nursery to do it.
The Miku is the easiest to setup and use with a 10 of 10 for ease of use. The Nanit Plus, iBaby Care M7 Wi-Fi and the Nest Cam IQ are close behind with scores of 9 of 10. The Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi and the Arlo Baby cameras are hot on their heels with 8s. All 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. They all come with a quick start guide that will have you up and watching your baby in no time.
Testing battery life was for the parent device only. While some of the dedicated options have a battery in the camera in the event of a power outage, most don't, and they are not intended for all-night use. So our battery tests only focus on the parent device.
For the parent devices of dedicated monitors, the battery life ranges between 6.75 and 11.5 hours. The Wi-Fi options are more challenging to gauge because the battery life depends on the parent device, whether or not it is used for other applications, and how old the battery is. However, we feel it is safe to say that most personal devices will work longer than the best dedicated monitor battery if the device is only being used for the Wi-Fi camera and is not running other applications simultaneously.
The Infant Optics DXR-8 has the longest dedicated monitor battery life with a runtime close to 11.5 hours. The Motorola MBP36S earned the lowest score with a runtime of just under 7 hours. While not a deal-breaker itself, there are plenty of other reasons to dislike the Motorola, and the battery life is only a small part of a disappointing picture (no pun intended).
The Arlo Baby is the only option in the review with a battery in the camera for long term use away from a plug. While this could be useful for travel, etc., you will still need a Wi-Fi connection, so it isn't as helpful as it may seem.
All of the units we tested offer features for convenience and functionality, but some offer additional features for fun or information. All have night vision with automatic sensor adjustment as light changes, and all have 2-way communication with baby. Some come with lullabies, and others offer temperature and humidity sensors. Whatever feature you may want, or never knew existed, are likely included in these products.
The features we focus on are those we believe increase the performance of the monitor or make life better for parents and increase your chances of getting good quality sleep. We prefer monitors with sound activation to keep the parent unit quiet when the baby isn't crying. We believe this allows parents to fall asleep faster because white noise and static can keep you awake. Some of the monitors are loud enough (even at low volumes) that they might keep light sleepers awake, which defeats the purpose of having a monitor. We also like units with auto "wake" and turn off screens.
In our tests, the iBaby Care M7 Wi-Fi earned a 9 of 10 for features. It provides features that increase convenience for parents and are fun for a baby. For parents, this camera works with any iOS device, can be accessed anywhere with internet or cell reception (with a data plan), works with multiple cameras, and has sound activation. The user interface is intuitive, and the zoom/pan/tilt features work well. The iBaby features an actual remote-control camera with the widest field of view in the group, motion detection, and built-in remote-controlled lullabies that include the ability to add personal music choices or a voice recording. The iBaby M7 also has sensors for temperature, humidity, and air quality, so parents can ensure the baby is cozy. If that isn't enough, the app can remain running while using other apps, , and when parents turn the screen off. The only thing lacking is an auto screen wake and sleep, which isn't a deal-breaker.
The Arlo Baby also earned a 9 with similar features to the iBaby but without a remote control camera. Arlo features include lullabies, night lights, cord-free cameras, air sensors, and two-way talk.
The Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi, Nest Cam IQ, and the LeFun 1080p Wi-Fi come in a close second for features, each scoring 8 of 10, with the Nanit PLus earning a 7 here. Because many of the Wi-Fi cameras are more for security and are not solely about baby monitoring, they have features that make parents' lives easier, but nothing fun for a baby. They provide 2-way communication, but no lullabies or room sensors. Given that many nurseries have "noise makers" (aka lullabies), the lack of this feature isn't a loss, in our opinion. So while these Wi-Fi options lack the gadgetry fun, sensors, and the other bells on the Nanit Plus, iBaby M7 Wi-Fi and Arlo Baby, they get the monitoring job done in a way that is easy to use. The bonus of most of the Wi-Fi cameras is that they can work for multiple purposes when baby monitoring time is over. These options can easily shift into a nanny cam, security, or pet camera. We think this takes the sting out of the lack of baby-centric features, which in the end, most parents typically stop using when the novelty wears off.
The dedicated monitors didn't score as well as the Wi-Fi products for features. They don't offer as many features as their Wi-Fi counterparts, their features don't make the camera easier to use, or they don't work that well. All of the dedicated monitors have the 2-way talk, but they also can only be viewed on the parent device that pairs with the monitor. Some provide temperature sensors and lullabies, but most of them don't include motion detection or a real zoom. The highest score for features for the dedicated video options is 5 of 10. Two monitors managed this rating, with the Infant Optics DXR-8 having the highest overall rank of the two. Unfortunately, it didn't score well overall or in key metrics, we believe are essential to a good video monitor. So despite having a better features score, we still wouldn't recommend this monitor to a friend.
Features are important, but we encourage you to consider which features you will use and which sound like fun in theory, but probably won't be used over time. Many of the options have a higher price tag and justify this with features parents are unlikely to use. Features like alarm clocks for feeding schedules, and alerts for low humidity might seem like something you would use, but in practice, sound activation and quality images are more critical. In fact, additional features often translate to being harder to use, and many are novelty functions that most parents stop using. Don't be persuaded by bells and whistles that you might stop using in the first few weeks. In the end, what you want is a good monitor with great sound and video quality.
Sound Activation Vs. Notifications and Alerts
Sound activation functionality is something all parents should seriously consider. This feature helps keep the monitor silent unless a baby is actively making noise. This feature potentially results in acquiring more sleep as you aren't exposed to unwanted, annoying background noise. Sound activation translates to hearing only what you need to hear, a fussy or crying baby. This feature isn't available on all monitors.
Alternatively, notifications and alerts relay a message or email to your personal device (i.e., smartphone) when motion or sound occurs. This kind of feature is only found on the Wi-Fi monitors and isn't ideal for monitoring a baby because it is typically delayed, sometimes as long as 30 minutes after your little one started crying. The alert also can't provide details about the type of sound or motion and excessive vague messages can get annoying. For these reasons, we prefer sound activation over notifications/alerts which we believe are not useful for monitoring children.
Electromagnetic Field (EMF) Levels
Electromagnetic fields (EMF), or dirty electricity is something we believe should be discussed when considering wireless baby monitors. Given that all wireless devices emit some amount of EMF, we feel it is negligent not to discuss the potential for health risks associated with the kind of radiation emitted by wireless products. While the jury is still out, and studies are not entirely conclusive yet, there is enough evidence that EMF potentially causes health problems that we believe it is better to err on the side of caution when it comes to exposing your children than to ignore the potential.
Wireless devices and dirty electricity are darn near impossible to avoid in our technological age, but this doesn't mean that you can't make an effort to limit exposure for yourself or your child. Despite current scientific evidence being somewhat conflicting, we feel parents can and should make informed and deliberate decisions about exposing their children to potential health risks. Especially given that their developing bodies and systems are more susceptible to this type of radiation. We can't say with absolute certainty that monitors pose a potential health risk, but we also can't say for sure that they don't. Given this, we feel it is critical to test and report on the EMF emission levels of each contender we review, so you have the information you need to determine which products align best with your goals and beliefs.
The Wi-Fi products in this review have lower EMF emissions in our tests than the dedicated options with the lowest average EMF readings being 0.75 V/m for the Arlo Baby, 0.77 V/m for the Miku, 0.79 V/m for the Nanit Plus, and 0.84 for the LeFun 1080p Wi-Fi with the EMF reader 6 ft from the unit. The lowest average reading for the dedicated monitors at 6 ft is 1.89 for the Infant Optics DXR-8. It is more than double the amount of EMF emitted from the Wi-Fi monitors and something to consider when making your buying decision.
Your baby's potential exposure can be lower if the camera setup is more than 15 feet from the baby (adequate distance for night vision for most units). Given the sensitivity of a baby's developing systems, we recommend placing the monitor as far away from your little one as you can while still allowing the night vision to function as intended. For most of the video monitors in this review, this distance is between 10-15 feet away from the baby.
Even though the jury might be out concerning the potential effects of EMF on health, you don't need to wait for definitive proof before you err on the side of caution and make thoughtful adjustments or decisions. There is enough preliminary evidence on the topic that choosing to limit EMF exposure makes sense, even if it is "just in case." EMF exposure compounds over time and there has been an increase in the number of devices emitting EMF. You can help decrease your baby's exposure by:
- Turning devices off when not in use
- Unplugging wireless routers at night (not possible if using Wi-Fi monitors)
- Keeping in-use products as far from your baby as possible
- Don't put your Wi-Fi router in baby's room
Not convinced of the potential for harm? It never hurts to make thoughtful decisions to potentially increase the health of your home and the children in it. We encourage all parents to weigh the pros and cons of each home addition for how it might impact home health.
We purchased top baby video monitors and did a variety of tests and side-by-side comparisons over several months, to determine which products work the best, which features are the most important, and which monitors are not worth your time. While video monitors were once something of a luxury item, they have become more the norm, and are often found on baby registry lists and in nurseries. Because the prices of video monitors have come down in recent years (way down for many models), they are more affordable than ever. Once you add the convenience and peace of mind video images can provide with round the clock "eyes on baby," it is easy to see why parents feel this type of monitor is a must-have product for ensuring quality sleep for all.
Warning! - Watching is Addicting
While the ability to check on your baby visually (without disrupting a sleeping infant) is the main reason parents opt for a video monitor, it also happens to be highly addictive for new parents who won't be able to stop looking at the little person they created. Sure peace of mind during naps and the long nighttime hours is a tremendous asset, and can often prevent the need for parents to get out of bed, but just being able to spy on a little one cooing and breathing can be habit-forming. You might find yourself watching the baby so often that you get little else accomplished in the day or even sleep at night. Don't say we didn't warn you.
A Visual Monitor Can Mean More Sleep for Everyone
You might be asking yourself do I need a video monitor? Probably one of the hardest parts of being a new parent is the inevitable sleep deprivation that comes with it. In addition to the paranoia of possible nighttime dangers and wondering if the baby's room is the right temperature, there is middle of the night wake ups where you aren't sure if you heard the baby cry or not and you can't shake the worry without getting up to check on your baby in person. Between feeding and diaper changes, worried midnight visual checks of breathing is not an uncommon event for parents of newborns. Rest assured you are not alone in your fears or your lack of slumber. When it comes to bringing home a new little person, one of the few things most parents can agree on is the terminal lack of sleep they endure over time.
A video monitor can alleviate some fears by giving parents the opportunity to "lay eyes" on their baby without getting out of bed and losing valuable sleep. Often the noises that the baby makes in the middle of the night don't indicate a problem or necessitate an in-person visit. Having a visual monitor by your bed can help you to make an informed decision on whether or not your baby needs assistance, or if she can self-soothe and go back to sleep without you.
While an audio-only monitor can alert you to noise in the baby's room, you may not be able to assess whether the baby needs you. However, with a live video, you can make a better decision about whether to get up and help the baby. Without video, you'll need to get up immediately and check to avoid increased agitation from your little one, or you can sit and listen for further crying and risk that the baby will be inconsolable by the time you get there. If you get up and go to the baby, there is a greater chance you both will lose precious sleep that possibly wasn't necessary. Having a monitor that provides instant visuals might be worth all the money in the world if it means you both get more shut-eye. Luckily, monitor prices have come down, and the quality has gone up, making it more affordable than ever to invest in a monitor that can last through toddler time, and potentially act as a nanny cam or provide security later in life.
To find out what we would do or what we would recommend to a friend trying to decide what monitor they should buy, skip to the What We Would Do section. It might save you some reading and time.
Types of Video Monitors
There are essentially three kinds of video products, and only two of them are easy options for baby watching.
Dedicated Video Baby Monitors — this kind of monitor is by far the most common. It works like a walkie-talkie with the camera unit placed in the baby's room, and the parent unit used mobile or put in the parent's bedroom. The parent unit allows you to watch and listen to the baby. Each product is slightly different in the features they offer, but the basic principle is the same; the camera watches baby and parents can see the baby on the parent unit to determine the level of need. Many versions offer the addition of multiple cameras, sound activation, 2-way talk, zoom in, and camera pan and tilt from the parent unit. The parent unit works only with its corresponding camera, and it can't work for any other kind of activity, hence, why it is considered a "dedicated" monitor.
Wi-Fi Video Monitors — this type requires internet capabilities and a compatible device for use as the parent unit (Apple or Android device, or a computer). These monitors come with a camera that utilizes an app or internet website where parents log in and create an account for setup. These are more complex monitors and have a higher chance of failure given the variables that can go wrong. With reliance on an Internet connection, Wi-Fi use, and a separate device for monitoring, there is an increased chance of technical difficulties or errors not present with the dedicated monitors. However, this type of monitor uniquely allows parents to observe little ones from anywhere with an Internet connection. While not the main reason parents decide to purchase a visual monitor for baby, being able to check in on little ones from work can be very appealing for parents who miss their baby. Also, some models offer the ability to invite friends and family to take a peek too. This peeking can be very rewarding and exciting for long-distance grandparents to feel close or involved. Given the increase in availability, improved technology, and cheaper pricing of this type of monitor, we included several in our review. Also, the connection range of Wi-Fi monitors is far greater than that of dedicated options. Depending on your home size, Wi-Fi monitors might be your only option.
Wired Monitors- this type is more akin to a surveillance system than an actual "baby monitor." It requires hardwiring the camera and a video monitor device, which might necessitate professional installation and is often cost-prohibitive, not to mention overkill. While it will certainly do the job viewing your baby, it really is more than you need for checking in on your baby's well-being. This kind of system is often in places of business where security is a concern and surveillance a priority to discourage illegal activities. While we did not review any monitor of this type, we think it is important to mention because it is the only kind of camera monitoring device that lacks "dirty electricity" concerns.
Range in Video Monitors is Worse than Sound Only Monitors
How far away can I be from the camera and how many walls can be between the units for clear reception? The range is one of the most significant problems with monitors but even more so with video variety. Range problems, or lack of a useful range, encompass the biggest complaints about the monitors, and it is what drives most of the overall dissatisfaction for parents when it comes to the monitors they've purchased. If a monitor doesn't work in your home, then it is a useless item that doesn't even make a proper doorstop.
The problem usually begins with the range listed on the side of the box or manufacturer website. These ranges sound pretty good and make potential buyers feel warm and fuzzy only to buy the monitor and be disappointed. In the fine print, which most parents don't read, it will go on to say that the actual range varies depending on walls, other electronics present in your home, and what materials make up your house. So a monitor that claimed 500 ft on the box might be more like 65 feet and two walls. This range might work in smaller homes, but it isn't likely to work in larger spaces or through floor/ceiling transitions. One of the lowest scoring monitors in our range test was the Project Nursery 4.3, which did okay in the open field range test but lost significant points for only working up to 54 feet indoors with just three walls between camera and parent unit. We suspect most parents will not be leaving their baby in an open field, so that range is useless to the typical consumer.
On the upside, most of the video options use digital technologies that experience far less interference from other devices. The digital technology helps the monitors eliminate static interference that is a problem with cheaper sound monitors. Also, for the Wi-Fi options, parents don't need to worry about range from baby unit to parent unit; as long as the Wi-Fi signal is strong, the monitor should work, with just a minor concern over how far away from the wireless router the units are placed. If need be, parents can add a signal boost or extender to increase the router range.
Therefore, it is essential to do a little research in your home by measuring how far away the baby's room is from where the parent unit will go, then factor in how many walls the signal needs to travel through. This distance will give a place to start when looking at the ranges advertised by the manufacturers. We tested the monitors in our review for their range in open spaces, as well as in-home distances and how many walls. These tests provide a better picture than that offered by the makers, but it is only an estimate because it can still vary depending on what your house and what is in it. Your specific range will vary based on your home's construction, but at least with our guide, you should be able to avoid the monitors that have no hope of working. One of the top scorers for the range in our tests is the Philips Avent SCD630, which works over 92 feet with five walls between the camera and parent unit. If you need more than five walls or less than five but more than 92 feet, then a Wi-Fi monitor might be a better option.
We strongly suggest that you purchase items through a retailer with a good return policy to avoid frustration and disappointment in a product that doesn't work in your home. If you have a lot of difficulties finding a monitor with the range you need, you might consider switching to an audio-only product or using a Wi-Fi option. However, keep in mind that Wi-Fi options potentially have an increased possibility of failure, though we had great success with the iBaby Care M7 Wi-Fi, the Nest Cam IQ, and the Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi. However, if your internet is spotty overall, or your upload speed isn't fast enough, it could necessitate an audio monitor as a backup.
Surprisingly, Sound is Still Key
Even though what you really want to do is gaze upon the beauty of a little person you love, and so, therefore, you are only thinking about video quality, display size, and night vision, the sound clarity of a video monitor is still an important key factor. After all, when you are fast asleep, enjoying the limited time you get to sleep with a new infant, it is not the movement on a screen that wakes you, but it is the sound of a baby crying through the monitor that alerts you and disturbs your slumber. Given this belief, we looked at each monitor for sound-related features. Does the volume adjust high enough to hear when sleeping? Does it offer a voice activation feature, so you don't have to listen to the white noise of the baby's room as you try to fall asleep?
While we aren't looking for home theater-quality sound from these products, we are looking for a sound reception that is clear, easy to interpret, and accurately reflects what is happening in the room. Sound activation is just a bonus (the one we think is key) that helps decrease the ambient noise parents must endure falling asleep while still monitoring the baby. If sound activation isn't a feature, we also looked at whether or not the volume could be adjusted low enough to avoid hearing house noises, but still loud enough for a crying baby to wake a dead tired parent at 2 am. Luckily, most of the models offer voice activation and most were loud and clear enough to wake the dead, or at least the zombie-like state most parents fall into at some point during babyhood. While video monitors are not necessarily on par with the audio-only products, they are adequate to do the job.
In our tests, most of the monitors struggled in the sound department with a poor somewhat muffled sound, bright sounds that lack mid-range or low tones, and an inability to reduce or filter out background or white noise even on the lowest setting. The background white noise of some of the parent units could be enough to prevent restful sleep for parents.
You want to see those chubby cheeks and fluttery eyelashes on your little miracle, or you wouldn't be looking at this kind of product. Most of the parent units had similar display sizes, and those that were larger didn't necessarily offer a better or clearer image. With the exception of the Wi-Fi models, where the display is contingent upon what device you use as a parent unit, the other monitors we looked at were roughly similar in size (somewhere between 2.4-4.3 inches, with the majority coming in at 3.5 inches). What we discovered is that being able to clearly see the baby outweighs how big the display is on the parent unit. Sure, it would be great to see each breath on a bigger display, but seeing a grainy image on a bigger display is disappointing compared to a clear image on a smaller display. In an ideal world, you would get a clear image on a display that is big enough to see detail, but still small enough to transport easily from room to room if necessary.
So while bigger might be better for some devices, it isn't always the best. We think it is more important to have a display that shows your baby and the room as it truly is, than a large image that renders an unclear visual. If you can't see baby well enough, then there is no point in having a video monitor. If the goal is a video that gives parents the opportunity to assess baby's needs without leaving their warm bed, then a display parents can't see well doesn't fit the bill, no matter what the size.
The Wi-Fi cameras provide the best video images in part thanks to their 1080p technology and the parent device which is usually advanced compared to the parent unit that comes with the dedicated monitors.
Night Vision is More Important than Daytime
Undoubtedly, you will be using your monitor during the daytime while little ones are napping, but your primary viewing time will probably be at night. This use makes the night vision, and display options offered during the wee hours, more important than the quality of image the camera provides during daylight. All of the monitors we tested included infrared LEDs that provide a black and white view of the baby even when the room is very dark. While a black and white picture is not as great as color, it is the only viewing option available for night time peeping.
For infrared to work, the camera must be close to the baby so that the LEDs can work their magic. Too far away and you won't be able to see the baby, too close and the camera or its cord could pose a potential health risk. Some of the cameras boasted a range up to 20 ft or more, but most worked best at closer to 10-15 ft. Luckily, it would appear as though most of the monitors we reviewed work well enough to position the camera just about anywhere in a standard size room. However, keep in mind if you live in a large house with giant bedrooms that you might need to be more flexible on where you place the camera to ensure proper night vision capabilities while maintaining a safe distance from the baby and crib.
The clarity of images for the night viewing portion will be naturally downgraded somewhat from the visual of daytime viewing. However, this doesn't mean you can't find a monitor and camera combo that offers a clear picture. Many of those we tried are so crisp at night we could see more details of baby and the nursery than were necessary for proper monitoring. In general, we are not disappointed with the night vision of most of the models in this review. The poorer quality video only lights up a small portion of the field of view with a spotlight effect. This effect leaves parts of the room black or with fuzzy images that lack the ability to see if the baby's eyes are open. All of the Wi-Fi monitors offer the best night video.
Pan and Tilt
In the beginning, baby won't be doing much but lying in bed and manufacturing waste products, so the idea of needing a pan and tilt feature might leave you feeling like they are gimmicky and not worth the extra price. You will probably set up your camera, point it directly at your lovable human larva, and that will be the end of the story. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your point of view, the baby is going to start moving, and before you know it, your baby will be cruising all around the crib and sometimes out of the crib like a monkey at the zoo. When this happens, and trust us, it will happen, you will find yourself saying "Ah, now I see what all the fuss is about" when it comes to a remote-controlled camera.
Most of the monitors on the market today will claim they offer pan and tilt. However, there are two kinds of pan and tilt, so make sure you are getting the one you want and think you are getting. The first kind of pan and tilt is the true pan and tilt where your actions on the parent unit cause the camera in the baby's room to move and scan the room (remote camera control). It changes the field of view by increases the amount of space you can view through the camera by moving the camera to see more parts of the room. Depending on which camera you choose and where you mount it, you might be able to view the entire room using the pan and tilt features. This type is the least limiting and most versatile version of pan and tilt. The iBaby Care M7 Wi-Fi offers a true pan and tilt with remote control over the camera in the baby's room, causing it to move and pan the room physically. If you aren't sure about a specific model, you can usually tell by looking closely at the camera. If the camera doesn't appear to swivel from side to side, like the Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi and the Philips Avent SCD 630, then it probably doesn't offer a true pan feature.
The second kind of pan and tilt is more like a bait and switch (sort of). This pan and tilt does NOT control the camera in the room at all. What it actually does is pan around the original field of view while using the zoom feature. So, first you need to zoom in, then you can pan around the field of view you originally had only with closer images. This type gives the illusion of pan and tilt, but it doesn't increase what you can see or how much of the room is available for viewing. Whatever your original field of view was, that is all you will ever have. Ever. You will never see where the baby has gone unless you go into the room and manually move the camera to a new location which isn't practical if you are trying to avoid disrupting baby.
While the kind of pan and tilt each model has may not be a deal-breaker, and in a smaller room the remote control might feel like overkill, it is worth researching which version a product has so you know what you are paying for and exactly what you are getting. Thinking you are getting a camera and parent unit with real pan and tilt and total control, only to find out you have no control over the camera at all, can be frustrating and disappointing. If the camera offers a field of view almost as large as the room, you might be able to forgive that isn't adjustable from the parent unit.
As there are two types of pan and tilt, there are two types of zoom. The first is an optical zoom, or a traditional zoom in and zoom out feature you might be familiar with on some cameras where the camera lens does the work to zoom into the desired object. This type offers the best clarity of image, and it has the most versatility with the clearest images. The Infant Optics DXR-8 comes with an interchangeable 2x optical lens that manually attaches to the camera, and no other camera in this review offers optical zoom.
The second and sadly more common type of zoom is called digital zoom. Digital zoom is sort of like using the zoom feature on some software or a crop tool. It is also similar to how many smartphones and tablets work when you want to make a portion of an image larger. This kind of zoom looks like it brings you closer to the desired action, but it doesn't really get closer. All it does is crop and eliminate the portions of the image you don't want to see. So while it looks like the baby's face might be closer, it isn't. This type results in images that aren't as clear and are often pixelated. Because you only see the same image, cropped, you are losing some of the resolution and clarity when you zoom. This lack of resolution means this is not the best kind of zoom. Cameras that only offer this kind of zoom often result in images that are unclear and make it hard to distinguish details like the baby's face. The Wi-Fi cameras offer the best digital zoom with the clearest details. Most of the cameras in the review offer a 2x digital zoom, likely because a more significant digital zoom would leave the images too grainy to see what is happening.
Sound Activation vs. Notifications and Alerts
Sometimes features and the terminology used for monitors can get a little confusing. While it is easy for those in the industry to toss around terms as if we all know what they mean, it isn't always easy for parents to know what the heck they are describing.
Sound activation is one of our favorite features, and we think it is one of the top features parents should consider. But what is it? Monitors are designed to relay sound from the baby unit to the parent unit. Many monitors do this by sending a constant stream of noise from one room to another and do very little to differentiate between ambient room sounds and the baby crying. This means you will be hearing the monitor all the time, all night long, while you try to sleep (possibly unsuccessfully). Sound activation is a feature that limits the level and type of sounds transmitted from one unit to another. This means the parent unit is silent when the baby isn't making noise. A feature like this can help parents get more sleep by offering a quieter room for them to sleep. This might be an all or nothing function, or it could be something parents can adjust themselves using a sound sensitivity adjustment feature. Either way, having sound activation means you only hear what you want to hear, when you want to hear it. This feature is available in some of the dedicated and Wi-Fi enabled monitors, but not all.
Notifications and alerts are an entirely different animal and not as useful for parents monitoring a baby. These features work by sending a message to your handheld device or an alert email telling you that a sound or motion has occurred in the room. While this feature might be useful if you are using the monitor for security (its original intended purpose), it isn't great for baby.
Notifications often come after the fact, so by the time you get the notification that sound is happening in the baby's room, your baby could have been crying for several minutes or longer depending on the monitor. Also, a sound notification is not going to tell you if the baby is crying hysterically and needs you now, or is just cooing to herself and doesn't need you at all. But what about motion alerts? Well, while a motion alert might be interesting if you are worried about someone entering the room without your knowledge, it is also going to come after the fact, and the monitor could send you loads of motion alerts for baby playing with her toes. We found the notification and alerts feature to be mostly useless for younger babies and only mildly useful for older babies and toddlers. While testing the monitors we felt we received far too many alert notifications and found the constant stream sort of annoying. This feature is only available in the Wi-Fi enabled monitors.
In the end, we like the sound activation feature and almost consider it a deal-breaker if a monitor doesn't offer it. However, if you don't mind white noise and the sound of constant static, perhaps it isn't a deal-breaker for you. Alternatively, the ability to receive a notification is not a necessity and is more of a personal choice, one you might even find yourself turning off (as we did eventually), and it is a feature we don't recommend using for baby.
A video monitor might have a longer shelf life than an audio-only monitor. Let's face it what your preschooler might be shouting from behind their door is probably far less important than whether or not they've snuck a marker into nap time and are decorating the walls and furniture with it (true story). So while most audio monitors will hit the donation pile by the time children are 3, a video monitor might just be hitting its stride of usefulness. The ability to be able to monitor little ones at all times, regardless of what room you are in, might be exactly what you need to relieve anxiety and increase alone time. Add on the feature of two-way talking, and you could be telling little Johnny to drop that marker without even getting out of the bathtub. The ability to add cameras to your device will increase its usefulness over time by giving you the ability to monitor multiple rooms or different parts of a larger room so you can keep tabs on two children or one rambunctious one.
Most of the monitors we looked at could add at least one additional camera, one is a single camera only device, while others could add up to 4 or more. If you have plans in the future for more children, or you can imagine the need for more cameras down the road, it is probably best to purchase them now, just in case compatible cameras are no longer available down the road. You can count on the additional camera sold separately to run you around $100 each (for dedicated monitors, depending on the brand) or the same as the first camera for Wi-Fi options. This cost might be worth it if it means not needing to buy a new unit when baby number two comes along.
The other aspect of multiple cameras to consider is that the Wi-Fi versions can offer the ability to be used as a nanny camera so you can see what is happening even when away from home. Being able to put a camera in each room your child and nanny might occupy means the nanny can't escape the eye of big brother, and you can feel more confident in your choice of caregiver.
Electrical Pollution or Dirty Electricity
Excuse me? Dirty what? This concept falls into the category of things you didn't know you needed to know, but really should know, and then after you know will wish you didn't know. Electronic devices all have an electromagnetic field (EMF) associated with them, wireless devices and items like microwaves have even more. EMF can be associated with radiation, which can potentially be harmful in heavy doses. With more and more technology in our homes, much of it wireless, the amount of EMF exposure is on the rise. Overexposure to these fields might have consequences to human health (the studies are still in the works). These consequences might even be more significant to babies because they are in the process of developing and have thin skulls for bone and brain growth. These factors could potentially leave a baby more vulnerable to exposure to EMF than adults.
Most baby monitors are wireless devices and are more likely to have significant EMF emissions than wired electronics. Also, the cameras are often placed close to the baby's crib, giving baby increased exposure for the duration of their sleeping hours. Some preliminary studies indicate that exposure to the kind of radiation caused by wireless electronics may cause health issues over time. The jury might still be out on this topic, but we feel it is essential to review the information and limit exposure to these types of electronics emissions when possible, to be on the safe side at least until more research happens and conclusive evidence presented either way.
Putting the monitor as far away from the baby as possible can decrease the amount of EMF the baby is exposed too. Using monitors only when absolutely necessary, can also help limit exposure and the potentially harmful effects. Some monitors with voice activation might (we aren't sure, but it is suggested by different sources) also limit the transition amount of EMF, and finally using a Wi-Fi version that is plugged in with an Ethernet cable usually limits it even further. In general, decreasing the number of electronics in a baby's room is a good idea. After that, unplugging devices when not in use is a significant second step. Finally, placing any electronic devices as far away from sleeping baby as possible is also smart.
We used an EMF monitor with each device in our review to determine EMF levels and how far away the camera needed to be from the crib to limit exposure to the baby. At 6 inches away from the baby monitor pretty much all the monitors gave off an EMF reading of 6+. At 3 feet away from the devices most of those reading were split in half or better. At 6 feet away (most cameras can be placed at least 10 - 15 feet from the baby) most of the camera readings were 2 or below. If you want to limit the amount of EMF your baby is exposed to, picking a device with the lowest reading is your best bet, then placing it as far away from the baby as possible to still be useful is the second step. The parent units didn't decrease as much as the cameras with distance, but it is probably still a good idea to keep them as far away as possible to be still usable.
As with any product, safety and security are important to us here at BabyGearLab. The dedicated monitors are relatively safe given their lack of internet connectivity and use of DECT technology to encrypt the signal (DECT encryption technologies are generally quite secure although some hackers have managed to find a hole in some DECT portable phones that transmit without encryption). But, Wi-Fi monitors present a more compelling target for hackers, and some products, such as some of the Foscam models (which didn't make the cut for our review), have been a victim to some well-publicized and somewhat disturbing hacks where hackers are watching the baby and used the speak-to-baby feature to scare parents.
Nest Cam Offers Strong Security
To our knowledge, there have been no successful hacks of the Nest Cam cameras (or its predecessor the Dropcam) without the hacker having physical possession of the device. We think this is significant since it suggests that Google's (owner of Nest) substantial and on-going investment in security technology, is paying off for parents who rely on their Nest Cam products. Google uses a unique architecture in their implementation that relies on a secure encrypted connection between Nest Cam and Google's secure servers, and a separately authenticated and secure connection between devices (computers, phones, tablets) and the Google servers. It appears to be a reliable configuration, and given Google's unique investment in security across their product family, and commitment to paying substantial rewards to any hacker who can find security holes; we believe Nest Cam is the best bet for those parents interested in Wi-Fi monitors and also concerned about security.
Infamous Hacks of Foscam Monitors
In this section, we'll try to give you a sense of some of the history of hacks of Wi-Fi monitors, in particular, the Foscam products, and what you should know about Wi-Fi monitor security.
Since all the Wi-Fi monitors need to transmit the video signal over the internet, they implicitly provide a potential target for hackers to intercept the signal and decrypt it. However, differences in how the video signal transmits over the internet, and the use of different encryption technology, mean that different monitors offer very different security profiles. A few cases with some Foscam models have been widely publicized and left parents feeling a little uneasy about who might be looking in or talking to their beloved babies, and rightfully so. Given that no camera connected to the internet is 100% fail-safe, it makes sense for parents to educate themselves and take some precautions.If you search the internet for "video baby monitor hacks" you'll quickly find a series of articles such as:
Foscam claims that firmware updates have addressed these security holes, but the company is unique in offering additional security recommendations that seem bizarre and arcane for a consumer product aimed at parents.
Check the logs of your Foscam cameras often. Foscam cameras have embedded logs which allow you to see exactly which IP addresses are accessing the camera. You will be able to tell if an outsider has gained access to your camera.
We feel that the topology used by the Foscam IP cameras, where you connect directly to the camera via its IP address, is inferior to the encrypted security method used by Google with their Nest products. For these reasons and others, the Foscam IP based cameras did not make the cut for our review.
Across the board, Wi-Fi monitor manufacturers recommend that you:
- Make sure you have the most recent firmware for your camera
- Set your own password; do not rely on default passwords
- Make passwords at least 8-10 characters long and use a combination of lower and upper case letters, numbers, and special characters to make it harder to guess
- Change passwords periodically
- Limit what the camera can see
- Unplug the camera when not actively monitoring your baby. Do not rely on turning it off; many cameras can be remotely activated if hacked
Security by Product
Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi, our Top Pick for Wi-Fi Monitoring, is unique in their implementation, which relies on secure and encrypted communication from the device to their servers, and from the server to your PC, tablet, and phone. We feel this is a vastly superior topology for assuring security, and also a key part of why the Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi is so easy to install and use. Nest Cam advises parents to keep their apps up to date and not to enter your Nest Cam username or passwords into 3rd party sites. Nest Cam is only supported by the Nest Cam website and app, and requests from other sources could be a security risk. You can read more about the precautions Nest Cam has taken, and continues to take, to ensure the security of their product and the safety of their users here.
We were unable to find any stories about hacked Nest Cam feeds. Even when private companies have tried to, they've been unable to hack into Nest Cam's predecessor, the Dropcam's feeds, without first having physical access to the camera itself to take it apart to "read" its identification data. A concern we feel is unlikely unless you have a sworn enemy (Superman vs. Lex Luthor) or are famous and accept gifts from strangers (you probably shouldn't do this).
Dropcam (the company name before Google's purchase) Co-founder and CEO had this to say about attempts to hack the Dropcam by the Synack company in 2014:
We did not find much in our research about security and the LeFun C2 1080P Wi-Fi, but we did find some interesting articles concerning the iBaby M6 (not to be confused with the iBaby M6S Wi-Fi of the iBaby Care M7 Wi-Fi that we tested for this review). A study found that the iBaby M6 had some vulnerabilities that made it potentially susceptible to hackers. Here is the article that reported on the findings that listed the iBaby M6 and the iBaby M3S as monitors NOT to buy.
We contacted iBaby multiple times for comment and information on what changes they may have done to the newer models to address any of the potential security concerns outlined in the study, and they directed us to a statement on their website. When pressed for more information or the opportunity to offer specific details outlining exactly how the concerns were addressed, the Co-founder and President had this to say:
What does this mean for the iBaby Care M7 Wi-Fi and the iBaby M6S Wi-Fi? It is hard to say. We could not find any information about this monitor being hackable, and it is not one of the versions called out in the article or the study. We do suggest parents proceed with caution and follow all advice for avoiding a hack if they choose to purchase an iBaby monitor.
From our research, we believe that Nest Cam offers the most secure internet monitor we reviewed and has the power and resources of their parent company (Nest/Google) to help back them and prevent potential hacking issues. Nest Cam even uses its own servers and special private key codes and certificates.
Best Crib Viewing Requires Wall or Ceiling Mounting
As a general rule of thumb for infrared LEDs to work, the cameras need to be relatively close to the baby. If the camera is too far away, the night vision won't work as well as it can.
With this in mind, we suggest the cameras be mounted on the wall or ceiling as far from the crib as possible to decrease exposure to EMF, but as close as necessary to work in the dark. Not all cameras can be mounted, so if you think this is something you will need or want, be sure to check the specifications for details. If necessary, a small shelf might be useful for models that aren't mountable.
For the sake of safety, please be sure to route and secure ALL cords up and away from children's reach. They are a significant strangulation hazard and should never be within reach of baby or in proximity to fall into or be pulled into a crib. Do not wait until your baby is more mobile. They will get there before you know it, and the first time you notice could be after they find the cord.
First - Wi-Fi or Dedicated Unit
This decision will be largely a personal preference, peace of mind, or the range needed for your specific purposes. If you have Wi-Fi in your home and aren't sure if you want to go with a Wi-Fi option, you need to consider how well your wireless works and if it is reliable. If it works well and is reliable (isn't spotty or has connectivity issues), then it might be a good option for you that offers lots of potential down the road. It will allow you to move the parent unit farther from the baby's room, and the video feed can be seen online from just about anywhere in the world. The downside is this type of monitor will fail if your internet fails, which could leave you without any real coverage, which might go unnoticed if it happens in the middle of the night. Some also don't seem to work that well on all parent devices. The best kind of devices are those that are mobile and can be placed bedside for easy night time monitoring, so keep this in mind if you find the Wi-Fi products tempting, you will probably need a device that can do nothing but monitor your baby, at least during the night time hours.
A dedicated unit is a nice option if you have limited internet, lack dependable Wi-Fi connectivity, or don't have a device to use as a parent device. These models have a baby monitor and a dedicated parent unit that works harmoniously and continues to work via battery even if the electricity goes out. If you want true peace of mind monitoring, these models are probably the better bet. Both options can come with cameras that have all the features most parents will be looking for, and the ability to connect multiple cameras should you decide to in the future.
Second - Field of View/Pan/Tilt/Zoom
The second thing to think about in narrowing your options is whether or not you want to be able to control the camera from the parent unit, or if you are content just being able to navigate about in a stationary field of view, and how large that field of view is.
If you want or need the ability to control the camera inside the baby's room from the parent unit, then it is essential to get a model that has true pan and tilt. This is a feature that is usually in higher priced models, but it is not a guarantee, just reading that a model has a pan/tilt/zoom feature is not enough to ensure that the camera is actually adjustable from the parent unit. For instance, the Philips Avent SDC630 is one of the higher-priced dedicated options and has a list price higher than all the Wi-Fi monitors, but it has a manually operated camera. Be sure to read the fine print before purchasing any monitor if this is a desirable feature to you. It can be frustrating to have a baby or an older toddler just out of the field of view and there is no way to see them without going into the room and disturbing them. Being able to adjust the camera from the parent unit is a bonus, especially if the field of view is a small one in standard mode. While it might not seem as important when your baby moves very little, it can increase the longevity of the unit if parents can continue to monitor mobile toddlers long after infancy has passed. Nothing is more frustrating than being able to hear the "party" taking place in a 2-year-old's room, but being unable to "see" it from a stationary camera with a limited field of view.
The Infant Optics DXR-8 is the highest scoring dedicated monitor that offers true pan and tilt capabilities. Both the iBaby Care M7 Wi-Fi and the LeFun 1080P Wi-Fi have a remote-controlled camera with true pan and tilt abilities. However, the Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi and the Nest Cam IQ both have a large field of view, with almost the entire room covered in standard view, making the need for remote camera manipulation mostly unnecessary. Parents can still take a peek at children from work no matter where they might be sleeping or playing in their room, and after zooming in can pan around the room as necessary for a greater detailed image. If the field of view is large enough, and the image quality is good, then zooming in and panning within the original field of view is still acceptable.
Third - Additional Features
After you decide if you want a Wi-Fi Model or dedicated unit, and you have narrowed those down to only the ones that offer the kind of pan, tilt, and zoom features you want, you will likely be looking at only one or two possible options. If there is only one, then your job is done and you have found the best option for your needs. If there is more than one possibility, then you need to consider the additional features that mean the most to you. Many of the monitors have additional features, but very few have all of them, and even fewer will have all the ones you may want.
Some of the features to consider would be:
- Ability to add cameras
- Two-way talk to baby
- Sound activation
- Motion detection
- Parent unit screen size (Wi-Fi options have the greatest variability)
- Visual quality
- Temperature and other air sensors
- Lullabies and other baby-centric features
If you have a strong preference for any of these additional options, then this will likely narrow down the field to only one possibility and the video monitor of your dreams. We highly recommend sound activation or a sound threshold setting option. Whether or not a monitor has this feature is almost a deal-breaker for us. We think being able to fall asleep and still monitor the baby is essential. Falling asleep is easier if the monitor is quiet and not generating superfluous noise. The iBaby Care M7 Wi-Fi offers more additional baby-centric features than any other monitor we tested.
If budget is a concern for you, like many parents, then it can also be a deciding factor in narrowing down your choices. The monitors in our review range in list price between $56 and $400. Once you've narrowed the field price could be the deciding factor that helps you find "the one." The LeFun 1080P Wi-Fi is the cheapest monitor in the review and it earned a higher overall score. Sure, it doesn't have a nightlight or lullabies, but if you want a monitor that allows you to see your baby, is silent when the baby is and has the 2-way talk, it does that for a very reasonable price.
What Would BabyGearLab Do
We recommend a hybrid solution that includes a combination of a Wi-Fi video monitor with a top-rated sound monitor.
Isn't getting two monitors sort of redundant? What gives?
The goal of buying any monitoring device is peace of mind and more sleep. While viewing your little one is helpful and can provide useful information, it is the sound of your baby crying that wakes you from your slumber. However, the Wi-Fi video monitors universally (in our testing) offer subpar sound and frequently are devoid of the advanced sound filtering/activation features readily available on the best audio monitors. These advanced sound functions can greatly increase your chances of better and longer sleep. So, if you employ an exceptional sound option as your main device, you'll get impressive sound when you want it, only when your baby is in distress, otherwise, it will remain mum, when you and the baby are sleeping (which is vital to deep, restorative sleep).
The Wi-Fi video devices' role begins when you are alerted to the crying via your sound monitor. You can then utilize the video monitor to see your baby to determine if they need you. Also, Wi-Fi monitors let you check-in away from home, or when your baby is with a sitter — something we love.
You can decide to rely on the video monitor's sound properties, but none of the Wi-Fi monitors we tested provide sound clarity or functionality on par with the sound monitors. In general, the Wi-Fi video monitors in our lineup always relay some constant background noise (static or white noise). This chronic sound relay can impact the ability to fall asleep or stay asleep, and when your baby does cry, the sound you hear can be challenging to decipher.
If you buy a quality sound monitor, you'll get the audio clarity and features you need to get the sleep you require, all at an affordable price. If you then pair a sound monitor with a Wi-Fi video unit like the Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi or the wallet-friendly LeFun 1080p Wi-Fi, then you create a combination with excellent sound features and superior visuals when you need it. The sound monitor ensures that you have quality sound that can wake you from a deep sleep but remain quiet when necessary and it can also act as a backup should your internet unexpectedly go down or suffer a failure in the middle of the night.
We feel the combination of a Wi-Fi camera and a sound monitor is a win-win and one you can buy for a wallet-friendly price on par with or cheaper than some of the fancier video competitors.
Our testing process for video monitors included all the same tests we used for sound monitors, which you can read about in our general Baby Monitor How We Tested article.
Testing Range and Interference
We performed tests for range and interference both in an open field with a line of sight and in a typical home with the usual obstacles of walls, floors, and other electrical equipment. The range was tested and compared to the competition to score and rank the products according to how well they stay connected, at what distance they lost connection, and how many walls they continued to work through. You can read more about the tests we performed on both sound and video monitors, in our general Baby Monitor How We Tested article.
Audio and Visual Testing
For audio testing, we used a decibel meter for recording max levels of volume and for the level of white noise that could be heard or adjusted to silent. Tones and clarity were compared in a side-by-side manner monitor to monitor.
Testing Night Video
All the video monitors we tested incorporated IR LEDs into their camera to enable automatic nighttime viewing. For the Wi-Fi enabled monitors, we tried to use a variety of supported devices to get an average feel for the kind of images the camera could produce. When applicable we used multiple iOS and Android devices.
Testing Ease of Use
The video products have significant differences in their ease of use in large part due to how easy they are to set up. Most of the dedicated monitors had an average score given how easy they were to plug in and use combined with how difficult and convoluted some of their user interfaces were. Some of the parent units had menus and folder options that required too much effort and guesswork to operate resulting in frustration or avoidance of certain features that were hard to find. We ranked monitors on how easy they were to operate as well as the initial setup. Some lost points for multiple button pushes to use the zoom features or icons and interfaces that were hard to decipher.
Products received more points for features that increase performance or make the product easier to use. If a feature did not benefit the parent or increase performance it did not receive as many points. Some features, like lullabies, did not receive any points, because while possibly something parents want or think is nice to have, it doesn't help the monitor function better, nor does it benefit parent or baby by creating a better monitor. Sound activation, auto screen sleep and awake, and sound sensitivity adjustments were features that received more consideration, while humidity sensors and nightlights did not. These features might be noted, but they did not add to the overall features score.
Testing Electromagnetic Field (EMF) Levels
EMF values were recorded using an EMF reader at approximately 6 inches from the monitors, 3 feet, and 6 feet away. All the monitors were tested in the same location with the same ambient EMF recording to eliminate erroneous readings related to external products other than the monitors. We repeated the test multiple times and in different locations to ensure the accuracy of the readings and an average of the readings was determined for the final reported readout.
Testing Battery Life
We tested the product batteries for longevity by using the products in full use mode with the parent screen on, not in sleep mode. If the product did not have the ability to stay on a viewing screen, we woke the screen every time it fell asleep automatically. Products were tested only after receiving a full charge of over 24 hours.
We love the ability to look in on your baby that a video monitor provides. Our favorite approach is to combine a sound monitor, as your core monitoring solution inside the house, combined with a Wi-Fi monitor that lets you look in on your baby to see what is going on. We hope our months of hands-on, side-by-side testing of video monitors, helps you find the right solution for your family, no matter what your goals may be for viewing your little one.
— Juliet Spurrier, MD & Wendy Schmitz