By Harry Sawyers, Sarah Kovac, Winnie Yang
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Who should get this
Not everyone needs a baby monitor. If you live in a smaller house or apartment, keep your infant in close proximity, or just generally don't feel the need to monitor your baby as they're sleeping (the infant cry is hard to miss!), you may find that a monitor is unnecessary.
But, for many parents, a baby monitor is a part of daily life. A baby monitor gives you a camera and/or microphone near the crib, and a separate rechargeable parent unit (aka, a monitor) that connects wirelessly and can travel with you throughout the house, either working while plugged in or running off its battery. It's nice to see your children in bed, dreaming happily, sleeping in adorable new positions, cuddling with animals, and generally doing okay.
How we picked and tested
We began by making a long list of best sellers at Amazon, Walmart, and other websites, and read through customer reviews and editorial reviews from other publications. Based on what we read and our own years of monitor use, we looked for monitors with the following qualities:
- Uses RF (radio frequency) to transmit video, rather than Wi-Fi
- Rated for at least 700 feet of range
- A battery that can last at least eight hours, and is easily rechargeable
- Priced around $100 for video monitors, and well under $100 for audio-only monitors
- Decent audio and image quality
- Easy and intuitive controls
- Durable enough to withstand being knocked off a nightstand or messed with by a toddler
- Ability to pan and tilt the camera from the parent unit
- Ability to support multiple baby units from one monitor
We took these criteria into consideration, factored in user feedback and reviews from across the Web, and eventually narrowed the list to eight cameras for testing. We used each camera for several months, taking notes on the interface and any difficulties we ran into. We connected each model to multiple routers, and used each from various distances and through walls to test range. We also ran each monitor from a full charge down to zero to check battery life. Finally, we evaluated each monitor's night vision in dark environments. Read more about our tests in our full guide to baby monitors.
Our pick: Infant Optics DXR-8
The Infant Optics DXR-8 has a superior battery life to any of the other video monitors we tested, as well as a simpler monitor interface that's more intuitive and easier to navigate than those found on competitors. The range, image quality, price, and many other features are comparable with those of the best competitors. Other good qualities include a basic but secure RF connection, an ability to pair multiple cameras, and simple tactile buttons.
It may surprise you to hear that simply being able to last through the night, unplugged, with the display off, qualifies as exceptional battery life for a baby monitor. The Infant Optics was one of the only monitors in our testing that could easily do that, and then last a while longer the next day. That alone puts it head-and-shoulders above many other monitors we tested.
Runner-up: Samsung SEW-3043W BrightView HD
The Samsung SEW-3043W BrightView HD's primary advantages over our pick are a larger, crisper display and a sleeker-looking package overall. But it is not our pick because its main disadvantage—a slow and unresponsive touchscreen—is such an annoying flaw that we're sure you'd prefer our pick's reliable tactile controls. The Samsung also falls short of our pick on battery life and because of other long-term battery and charging issues. On many other measures, the two monitors came out more or less even.
The Samsung's display, at 5 inches, is among the largest and crispest you'll find on a baby monitor. However, the touchscreen response is sluggish, which makes it difficult to smoothly pan or tilt the camera. And when you pull up the menu, you lose the video and the audio output—that's a weakness compared with our pick, which continues to display video and play sound while navigating menu functions.
Budget Pick: VTech DM221
We wanted to recommend a less expensive video monitor, but at any price notably lower than our pick, every product we tried had such serious problems—usually, poor video quality and ongoing connection issues—that we feel a higher-end audio-only monitor offers a much better value for a limited budget.
The VTech DM221 audio monitor is the best choice in the category—it's consistently a best seller at multiple retailers, with thousands of positive customer reviews. Losing video is a major sacrifice, of course, but we could see this monitor being a good choice for parents of toddlers who are considering replacing a failing monitor, or people who want a monitor only so they can hear their kid crying out from a distant bedroom.
As you'd expect, the talk-back functionality and audio quality on the VTech are great—easily better than the rudimentary talk-back features on our video monitor picks. With the battery lasting about 19 hours on a full charge, this monitor has the strongest battery life of any in our test. Rated to a range of 1,000 feet, it exceeds the range of our pick (700 feet) both as advertised and in practice during tests.
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