We swapped in and out more than a dozen different video cameras in front of a Graco Pack ‘N Play, and we monitored a 3-month-old baby for weeks, filming through the mesh, spying during daytime naps, and watching in the pitch black of night. When applicable, we’d take the base units out of the test apartment, down flights of stairs, to check their range.
The NightLight’s previous pick, The Dropcam Pro, was refreshed as the Nest Cam. This monitor includes a bump in image quality and an enhanced mount that supports camera tripod and magnetic surfaces. At the time of the update, Nest Cam review units were unavailable, but we were able to test the updated Nest app (Nest Home) with our Dropcam Pro review unit. It was based on those results we chose the Withings Home as our pick. We will be fully evaluating the Nest Cam when review units become available.
Like most Wi-Fi–enabled monitors, the Arlo Baby offers several capabilities you won’t get with a simpler RF video monitor like our pick. You can access the camera remotely via your smartphone (or computer), you don’t need to worry about finding and charging a dedicated monitor, the video quality is far superior, and you can even store video online if you want. The Arlo is part of a robust, reliable security camera network, with more consistent app support and customer service than its Wi-Fi monitor peers. If you already use and love Arlo products, this could be a logical addition to your home-monitoring setup. Yet when you get down to actually using the product in the usual circumstances—at night, in the background, mostly on audio, with the occasional video check-in—you’re not really thinking about all of those features. That’s because you’re too busy trying to reestablish the connection and remain logged in! At times, relying on the Arlo means accepting a level of inconvenience our relatively simple RF video pick never puts you through.
The dedicated monitors did not score as well as the Wi-Fi products for features. It isn't that they don't have features, it's just that they don't offer as many, don't have features that make the camera easier to use or the features they have don't work that well. All of the dedicated monitors have 2-way communication, but they all also can only be viewed on the parent device that comes with the monitor. Some offer temperature sensors and lullabies, but most of them don't provide motion detection or great zoom. The highest score for features for the traditional video products was 5 of 10. Two monitors managed to earn the 5 rating, with the Infant Optics DXR-8 being the highest ranked overall with a feature score of 5. However, this monitor did not score well overall, or in key metrics, we think are essential for a good video monitor. So despite having a high score for features, we still would not recommend this monitor to a friend.
Battery: We wanted a monitor battery that could last overnight, or at least eight hours, without being plugged in. We thought the ideal product would automatically cut off an idle display screen to conserve battery, work at least a few hours unplugged with the screen on, and recharge fairly efficiently. We made a rechargeable battery a requirement. We preferred units designed to connect to power via a standard USB connector, and looked for reports that the baby monitors could reliably charge, recharge, and hold a charge long-term—a disappointingly rare ability in baby monitors. For Wi-Fi–enabled monitors viewed via a smartphone, we noted if using the monitor put an unusual strain on the phone’s battery life.
The features we focused on were those we thought either increased the performance of the monitor or made it more user-friendly for parents and increased the odds of getting good quality sleep. We looked for monitors that have sound activation that keeps the parent unit quiet when the baby isn't crying, so parents can potentially fall asleep faster because they don't have to listen to white noise. Some of the monitors were so loud, even at low volumes, that the white noise might keep light sleeping parents awake; this defeats the purpose of having a video product to begin with. We also liked the models with screens that automatically "wake" and/or go to sleep.
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