How to buy the best baby monitor
Keep an eye on your sleeping baby ... or not sleeping baby.
Monitoring your baby
With the help of a baby monitor, you can hear your bub and even transmit soothing sounds to them from virtually anywhere.
Baby monitors give you the chance to get on with other activities, knowing you'll be the first to hear when your baby calls. They come in handy if you have a large house, especially two-storey, or your baby's room is some way from the kitchen or living areas of your home. Basic audio-only baby monitors are still effective, but you may be considering other features such as video, Wi-Fi connectivity or movement sensors.
In this article:
- What are the types of baby monitors?
- What should I look for in a baby monitor?
- Wi-Fi baby monitors
- Making your own baby monitor
- Baby monitor privacy and security issues
- SIDS and baby monitors
- How much should I pay?
Want to know how we get our review results? Check out how we test baby monitors.
What are the types of baby monitors?
Baby monitors fall into three broad categories:
- Audio: Essentially a walkie-talkie between you and your baby's room. Though common for decades, these are gradually being replaced by video based systems.
- Video (proprietary signal): A system that sends a video feed from a camera, to a tablet-like viewing device. This uses a unique broadcast signal that can only communicate between devices specified by the manufacturer.
- Networked video (Wi-Fi/3G/4G): Video that utilises your home Wi-Fi or mobile network to send the signal. Often uses a tablet or smartphone-based app to broadcast the video feed, in addition to the proprietary viewing device. Some only offer an app.
Though most video-based baby monitors support sound, some will only stream an image. This is specified in our test results.
Wi-Fi baby monitors
A baby monitor with Wi-Fi capability:
- Can be viewed anywhere with an internet connection, as long as the baby monitor is in Wi-Fi range with a good signal and the carer unit is in Wi-Fi or 3G range.
- Might also have smartphone compatibility, so you can download an app and monitor your child remotely, and so can family and friends all over the world. If you're going to view your monitor over the internet, make sure the connection is secure and that the firmware is up-to-date.
- Is effective as long as the Wi-Fi signal is strong. Once Wi-Fi is lost, the 3G signal will kick in for the carer unit. However, be wary of areas in the house where both Wi-Fi and 3G signals may be poor – you wouldn't want the signal to drop out without you noticing.
- Bear in mind that accessing video feeds over a 3/4G network will add to your monthly data usage. If you have a low data cap, limit your streaming and connect to Wi-Fi as often as possible.
If you live with other people that are constantly connected to your Wi-Fi network, you may want to consider a model that doesn't require Wi-Fi. As more and more devices connect, the network becomes clogged and can slow down, which may affect the signal strength between your baby monitor and viewing device. You can get around this by connecting to a proprietary signal instead.
What to look for in a baby monitor
Sound range, interference and sensitivity
The baby monitor should maintain a good quality sound, even when you're at the other end of the house. The monitor should also be able to pick up and reproduce soft sounds.
- Baby monitors using common radio frequencies may pick up signals and interference from other nearby devices (including those of your neighbours) such as cordless phones, microwaves, or other baby monitors.
- Some monitors let you choose from several frequencies to minimise this.
- Monitors that use DECT (digital enhanced cordless communication) are more private and offer less interference as the frequency isn't as common as other devices in the home.
- They may also work across wider distances.
- Wi-Fi monitors can also be more private if you configure your privacy settings properly.
- To sound an alarm when there is no movement after a certain length of time.
- Something to consider in light of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
Keep in mind that:
- Baby monitor cameras generally transmit a clear picture with good colour during daylight
- But in dim and dark lighting the image shows up as black and white, and can have poor contrast.
Camera viewing angle
Where will the camera need to be positioned?
- Cameras lacking wide viewing angles mean you may not get your baby entirely in shot.
- Some cameras can be controlled remotely with pan and zoom functions so you can keep better track of what's going on.
Some models let you connect additional cameras to the same account.
- Viewing devices cycle through the streams, providing different viewing angles.
- Or you can set up cameras in multiple-rooms if, then turn them on/off when needed.
- Another good option for keeping better track of what's going on.
- Some monitors let you play a tune into the room to gently send baby off to sleep.
For when you can't immediately respond to your baby's call.
- Allows you to soothe bub from another room.
- You can also communicate with someone else who's in the room with your little one.
- Remote communication is possible with baby monitors that can connect to networks, with accompanying apps.
- This is useful if you want to talk to a babysitter for example.
Sound indicator lights
- The sound indicators will light up to alert you when bub cries.
- They allow you to 'see' the noise your baby makes rather than hear it.
- This is particularly useful if you're talking on the phone, have visitors or you're in a noisy room, or if you or other carers have hearing difficulties.
- Also good if you wish
- If the monitor is only powered by the mains, you can't use it in areas that are unplugged
- You may be hanging out the laundry or gardening, for example.
- Battery powered viewing devices, and smartphone/tablet apps, get around this problem.
Baby room temperature monitor
- Some models allow you to set an upper and lower temperature limit.
- The monitor will sound an alarm when the room temperature goes above or below them.
Camera mount type
There are a range of camera mounts available that let you place the camera in a variety of locations. These include:
- Flat surface: Place the camera on a chest of drawers, changing table, windowsill and so on. This is the most common mount type.
- Clamp: Lets you attach the camera to the side of a bookshelf, top of the bassinet or floor lamp for example.
- Wall mount: Includes fitting to drill the camera into the wall.
The most versatile models offer a combination of these mounts, giving you the freedom to place the camera anywhere you want, more or less.
Other features on some baby monitors
- Low battery indicator
- Carer unit belt clip
- Night light
- Volume control
- SD card slot to record sound and video
Make your own baby monitor
You can turn two smartphones (or tablets) into a baby monitoring system by downloading a suitable app to each device.
- There are plenty of apps around to choose from, and because they only cost a few dollars they may be worth a try if you have a spare smartphone lying around.
- The 'child' unit uses the device's built-in microphone and camera to check baby's sound and movements.
- The 'parent' unit lets you keep an eye and ear on them from wherever you are.
- One downside is that picture quality in dark lighting conditions can be very poor unless you turn on the phone's light, which could disturb baby's sleep.
- And, like all internet-enabled devices, it won't work if your connection goes down.
Cordless phones as baby monitors
Some cordless phones can be used as baby monitors.
- This allows you to put the handset in bub's room and set it to monitor sounds, which will be transmitted to the base unit.
Security cameras as baby monitors
Wireless security cameras (aka IP cameras), are also a suitable substitute.
- They include many of the same features such as live video footage, two-way communication and night-vision.
- They can connect to apps via a home or remote network.
- Many baby monitor manufacturers also make wireless security cameras. In fact, some even market their security cameras as suitable baby monitors.
Baby monitor privacy and security issues
Audio baby monitors operating on public transmission frequencies mean that anyone with a receiver (such as a two-way radio, walkie-talkie, or another baby monitor) could listen in to conversations you have near the baby monitor.
- If you're using a Wi-Fi enabled baby monitor, set it up with a secure login password known only to you (separate to your local Wi-Fi password).
- If you don't change your camera's login password from the default (which is often blank), you risk leaving your connection vulnerable to hackers.
- There've been several reported cases of hackers remotely yelling at babies via unsecured Wi-Fi baby monitors, or accessing open webcam feeds that haven't been protected with a unique password.
- Make sure your Wi-Fi monitor is upgraded to the manufacturer's latest firmware version to close potential security loopholes (the instructions should tell you how to do this), and that any associated smartphone apps are also up-to-date.
SIDS and baby monitors
There's no evidence that using a baby monitor will prevent SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
How much should I pay?
While some can cost as little as a few dollars for an app, other baby monitors we've tested range in price from $50 to $400.