Every parent who's ever wondered, "What happens with my kid when the lights go out?" has two options: Stake out the child's room Navy SEAL-style, or install a video baby monitor to keep watch when your eyes can't be there in person. A mounted camera can beam live video from your child's room to a handheld viewer or to your smartphone — or to both.
After a month of testing six products, our choice for the best baby monitor is the iBaby Monitor M6T, now available for around $160. iBaby's monitor, which taps into a smartphone to help you check in on your child at night, boasts an impressive array of features, including 360-degree pans and crisp images, even in night mode. This all comes at an attractive price.
Our runner-up, the Motorola MBP853 Connect, costs about the same and gives you the option of picking up video streams from either your phone or a dedicated handheld viewer.
Do You Need a Kid-Centric Video Monitor?
In an age in which home-security cameras are getting ever smarter and packing in more features, you may wonder why you'd even need to consider a dedicated video monitor. Why not repurpose an existing home security camera, the thinking goes, and set that up in my child's room instead?
To put that approach to the test, we also evaluated the Nest Cam as a baby monitor alongside our other models. As our runner-up among wireless home security cameras, the Nest Cam gives us a good opportunity to see how a general camera compares to a model created specifically to monitor kids.
The Nest boasts some impressive hardware specs, such as true 1080p/30fps video and a 3-megapixel camera sensor. Setting up the Nest Cam specifically to look in on a 2-year-old at night, we found the video quality on Nest's camera to be sharper and more detailed than on any baby video monitor we tested. Also significantly, some of the Nest Cam's features overlap with those that most parents will want to consider in a video baby monitor.
The Nest Cam includes push-to-talk features as well as alerts triggered by motion or sounds. And when your child is past the age when you need a nighttime monitor, you can repurpose the Nest Cam to check in on other parts of your home — something that's difficult to do with a monitor designed specifically to watch over infants.
That said, when we tested the Nest Cam solely as a baby monitor, we learned that despite its strengths as a home security camera, it's not created specifically for parents. You can't take still photos or record custom video clips out of the box (although the latter can be done with a pricey annual subscription). Plus, there's no way to trigger kid-friendly music to soothe your crying child, and the camera's sound quality is average at best.
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There are important benefits to owning the units that are created directly for parents. Push-to-talk capabilities will usually be integrated, as well as the ability to record and share still images and video clips (even if some monitors require a subscription to do so). Baby video monitors will also usually have built-in music files that you can play to soothe your child. Just the ability to pan and tilt the camera — the Nest has a fixed 130-degree wide-angle perspective — means you can follow your kids wherever they scamper.
The Nest Cam was engineered for general security monitoring; it excels at that, and a new version, the Nest Cam IQ, provides an even sharper picture and more on-board intelligence. (At $299, it's also nealry double the price of our top-rated dedicated baby monitor.) But we believe dedicated video baby monitors offer enough unique functionality that parents will appreciate over a more general wireless home-security camera.
How We Tested
In addition the Nest Cam, we tested five baby video monitors: the iBaby Monitor M6T, the Levana Keera PTZ Baby Video Monitor, the Motorola MBP853 Connect, the Philips Avent Digital Baby Monitor and the Vtech VM343. Three baby monitors (Levana, Philips and VTech) relied solely on 2.4-GHz radio frequency (RF) antennas; iBaby, like the Nest Cam relied solely on Wi-Fi, while Motorola's device used either Wi-Fi or RF. When setting up the baby monitors, we spaced them apart from each other 1 foot or more to avoid potential signal interference.
We evaluated each monitor on the following criteria:
Range: I situated each monitor at an elevated position in my child's room and approximately 7 to 8 feet from the head of my son's bed. The four units with handheld viewers were tested from 12, 20 and 35 feet away through one wall in a 35-year-old apartment complex; we connected both the Nest Cam and iBaby M6T to my Wi-Fi network.
Display: I evaluated the screen quality on both the handheld viewers and the video-streaming smartphone apps. Wi-Fi signal strength and download speeds (~10-13 Mbps) were always more than acceptable for HD-quality video. I also made observations in differences of quality between full-color daytime vision and black-and-white night vision, which all units featured.
Audio: I checked whether the monitors offered push-to-talk features to speak with my child remotely and how clear the sound was on the other end. I also considered if there were other audio features, such as pre-programmed lullabies.
Battery Life: The four devices that had handheld viewers came with removable, rechargeable batteries. I ran down each of these units several times by keeping video continuously streaming and turning off sleep and power-saving modes.
Features: I tested all built-in features such as pan and zoom, motion and sound detection, temperature and humidity sensors, and sleep timers. I also took note of how easy the interfaces were on both handheld viewers and streaming apps.
Setup: Ease of setup and installation factored heavily into our ratings, including whether an account needed to be created and if there were any extra subscription fees necessary. Each unit had cords protruding out of its back, so design wasn't much of a factor in my choice, though parents should take care to keep dangling cords and wires away from their children's reach when setting up a monitor.
On Our Radar
These video baby monitors have come out since our last round of testing; we're planning on including them in future updates to this guide.
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