Traditional versus Wifi Baby Monitors: Starting around 2010, parents began to switch from using baby monitors with a yoked camera and screen, to using wifi cameras that can stream over smart phones, tablets, and personal computers. At the time, there weren't very many wifi cameras aimed towards the baby gear market, so people were going with familiar wifi camera brands like Nest and Samsung. Over the next few years, companies slowly began introducing baby-themed wifi cameras onto the market. While even high-quality HD wifi cameras can be found for under $50 (like this one) nowadays, companies began to realize they could package a wifi camera as a baby monitor, change the colors and themes of the app, and charge 3-4 times the price. And they continue to use this strategy to this day! So which is better? Well, this really comes down to one thing: do you want to be able to view the nursery while you're not at home? If you answer yes to this question, then you need to use a wifi monitor as opposed to a typical baby monitor. A wifi baby monitor (or any wifi camera) will connect to your internet (some are wired, some through wifi only) and stream live (well, slightly delated) video to an app on your phone. That will work in the house or out of the house, as long as you have a fast internet connection. So you can simply BYOP (bring your own phone) and leverage 20th century technology! That seems really appealing, and we highly recommend some of the newer ones (like the Cocoon Cam, Lollipop, and Nanit), but there are some things to keep in mind when figuring out the type of monitor to buy:
Long Range: Monitors that don’t connect to WiFi have a limited range, usually around 600 to 1,000 feet. While this is large enough for all but the biggest houses, we asked our testers to find out how far they could wander away — and how many walls they could put between them and the baby unit — before they went out of range, as well as to report back on what happened when they did. Sometimes there was an alarm or a notification, but other times the screen simply froze.
So what is the best baby monitor? That depends on what you’re looking for. A video monitor seems like an obvious choice over an audio monitor, but it does come with a higher price tag. If you have a large home or you spend a lot of time outside with older children while baby sleeps, a long-range monitor may be the best choice for you. And if you travel a lot, you may be more interested in a compact, simple-to-operate portable baby monitor rather than one that is mounted or otherwise heavy and difficult to move. In short, here are the factors you’ll want to consider when selecting the best baby monitor for you:
We wanted to recommend an inexpensive video monitor, but their flaws were so significant that we decided we’d rather spend less on a quality audio-only monitor like the VTech DM221. This is a well-reviewed best seller in the category, and it has crisp sound and better talk-back functionality than the best video monitors we found, as well as a longer range and better battery life than our video picks. It easily beats out its audio-only competitors for various basic reasons like being cordless, rechargeable, or less expensive.
Video products add the element of visual peeking on your baby, so you can see if your baby is crying but calming down without you or if you need to make your way to their side. Most video products work well in the dark and have adequate sound so you can see and hear what is happening in the room. Some options are dedicated with a camera that talks to a parent unit, like the Levana Lila while others use your Wi-Fi to send information from the camera to your personal device like the Nest Cam. Wi-Fi options are great for larger houses where range could be an issue, and it's also nice for away from home monitoring. While video images are not mandatory for getting a good night's sleep, they do provide more information that can help you determine your little one's needs before you get out of bed. With the price of video products being lower than ever, it is no longer considered a luxury product and many parents are choosing this style over sound only products. However, proceed with caution! Spying on your newborn can be addictive and lead to less sleep which defeats the purpose of a getting a monitoring device in the first place.
Once you've settled on a type and have considered your range, you can look at the potential choice and which features they have. The more budget-friendly choices usually lack bells and whistles but are still functional. If you want more features like nightlights, lullabies, and talk to the baby, then you may pay more and the unit could be more difficult to use. The one feature we think is important is sound activation to help keep your device quiet when your baby is quiet, thereby increasing your chances of a full night's sleep.
The audio quality is excellent, thanks to VTech's use of DECT 6.0, so you shouldn't hear any interference, static, or echoing when you listen in on your baby. Since the monitor uses a special frequency to relay the signal from the monitor in your baby's room to the parental unit, everything is encrypted and secure. No one but you will hear your baby.
We have been following news that the Amazon Echo Spot, available in December 2017, can work as a baby monitor. While we plan to test these claims firsthand, our initial interview with Amazon confirmed a few hunches, and we believe certain shortcomings will make the Echo Spot hard to recommend as a baby monitor. First, it’s not a “baby monitor” per se; the Echo Spot will project video from an existing home security camera or other Wi-Fi camera through its screen. This approach has a few disadvantages, which we outline in the What about a Wi-Fi baby monitor? section. Amazon also confirmed that the Echo Spot would broadcast the same footage you would see on that camera’s app, and that it would not work as a display for RF monitors, like our pick in this guide. The Spot can use voice commands (for example, “Alexa, show me the nursery”), and we’ll determine in testing if that capability overcomes a common flaw in other Wi-Fi monitors and security cameras, namely a sluggish response time when loading video over a standard app. You can also “drop in on the nursery” to hear audio, and potentially talk back, depending on the camera’s functions. As with the voice function, the ability to see the temperature of the baby’s room, plus pan/tilt, play music, and other functions, will be dependent on the camera the Echo Spot is attached to.
Its parent display unit is the smallest we tested, with a screen only 2.4 inches wide, but the video quality was among the best. By comparison, Infant Optics’ bigger screen didn’t offer a better picture, and our Motorola model had an obvious two-second delay — even when we took it off WiFi and used its direct signal mode to rule out connectivity issues. The differences are slight, but we were impressed that the HelloBaby could keep up with monitors twice its price.