The push notifications were a great way to keep tabs on the little one but not perfect. False alerts happened (e.g., shifting sunlight through the blinds dinged be a motion alert), but that was consistent with all of the smartphone-based monitors. Push notifications can sometimes make a parent feel blasé, but in practice, they make you no less attentive.
The Infant Optics’s range within our test houses was never an issue, and, as with other monitors we tested, we had to walk outside and down the street before losing the signal. The image quality was good enough to make out facial details 6 feet away in a completely dark room (as it was on others we tested). You can easily add more cameras to the set—you can use up to four Infant Optics add-on cameras, which are separate purchases, usually for about $100. You can mount the camera on a wall easily; pan and tilt 270 and 120 degrees, respectively; and set the parent unit to scan between multiple cameras to keep an eye or ear on everybody at once—another nice feature that’s not unique to this model.
Unfortunately, picking up the Arlo for that super-brief check-in is rarely as simple as on a basic video monitor. The Arlo loses its connection routinely, for example. You sometimes have to log in to the app again. Or the app freezes, showing video from hours earlier, or crashes, at times because the app or your phone’s OS is due for an update. Or you pick up your phone to check on the kids and end up stressing out about some other notification you didn’t mean to see at 4 a.m.
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.
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If you opt for a Wi-Fi video baby monitor, you'll need a strong internet connection, because if your internet fails, so does your baby monitor. These baby monitors operate like your average smart home security camera from Nest, Canary, or others. You connect the camera to your Wi-Fi network, and then you can access live video anywhere on your computer, smartphone, or tablet. Many of these types of cameras offer encryption and other high-tech security features.
The LeFun is an inexpensive Wi-Fi camera that makes internet watching affordable for almost every family. This useful camera works with your personal device and is the only option here that features true pan and scan features to move the camera around the room remotely. The image quality is also impressive given the lower price and simple design. This camera is a good choice if your house is bigger or you'll be spanning more than 3-5 walls between rooms where range could become an issue.
Monitor options: We wanted easy, intuitive, responsive controls, whether they were on a touchscreen or physical buttons. We also wanted the monitor to withstand being knocked off of a nightstand or messed with by a toddler, and generally be tough enough for the rigors of life in a home with young children. We didn’t really care if we could set an alarm, use the monitor as a night-light, or play chintzy music through the camera—but seeing the temperature in the kids’ room was a detail we appreciated.
Sound activation is a feature we think parents should consider. This feature creates a quiet monitor unless the baby is actively making noise and translates to parents potentially getting more sleep because they aren't kept awake by ambient noises. Having sound activation means you only hear what you want to. This feature can be found in dedicated and Wi-Fi monitors.
Surprisingly, there are low-cost options to be found in the video monitors, some with prices similar to or better than their sound counterparts. These great buys include dedicated and Wi-Fi cameras for the basic and more tech-savvy parents alike. Consider the Best Value Levana Lila as a no-nonsense option that anyone can easily use with a price under $100. Or the LeFun C2 720P Wi-Fi with a list price of $70 and video images good enough to get the job done. If you have a higher budget, and find value in products that will last for years to come, the Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi has a list price around $200, but for the money, you can use it for years in multiple capacities outside baby monitoring, including security and a nanny cam. With awesome products like these, it is easy to see why video monitors have gained in popularity in recent years.
Larger homes or locations with more than 4 or 5 walls between the camera and parent unit might be stuck with a Wi-Fi monitor. Most of the dedicated monitors only worked up to 4 walls, with the exception of the Project Nursery 4.3 that stopped working at 3. The Philips Avent SCD630 has the longest range for dedicated monitors in this review, with an impressive 92 ft through 5 walls, so if your needs are greater than that, then none of the dedicated monitors we tested are likely to work for your situation. Wi-Fi connected cameras, on the other hand, are limited only by the wireless router location in relation to the camera and parent unit, and the strength and speed of your Wi-Fi connection. If necessary, routers can often be moved, or range extenders added, to increase the range between the components if the Wi-Fi monitor struggles to keep a clear or consistent connection. Purchasing a monitor from a venue with a simple return policy like Amazon means you'll be able to test the monitor in your house to determine how well it works without the risk of being stuck with a useless product.
Frequency: Some baby monitors operate on the same 2.4GHz frequency band as household products like microwaves, cordless phones, wireless speakers, and so on. When the monitor is on the same frequency as a number of other products, you can experience interference and static. You may want to get a monitor that uses a different frequency like 1.9GHz, which the Federal Communications Commission sets aside for audio-only applications. It's called DECT, or Digitally Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications.
Many baby monitors actually work against the very thing you need them for most: getting some sleep! Whether you’re sitting up at night staring at the screen or pressing your ear to the speaker to see if you can hear anything, a lot of available monitors require your full participation. Not the Owlet Smart Sock 2. This smart monitor actually helps you reclaim hours of much-needed sleep as a new mom. Instead of studying a screen or jumping up every five minutes to check on your baby, this tiny device gives you hard proof that your baby is still OK in the next room.
Alex Colon is the managing editor of PCMag's consumer electronics team. He previously covered mobile technology for PCMag and Gigaom. Though he does the majority of his reading and writing on various digital displays, Alex still loves to sit down with a good, old-fashioned, paper and ink book in his free time. (Not that there's anything wrong wit... See Full Bio
If you sleep in the same room as your baby or live in a small enough space that you can always hear or see what your baby is up to, you probably don’t need a monitor. Otherwise, most parents enjoy the convenience a baby monitor provides—instead of needing to stay close to the nursery or constantly checking on your child, you’re free to rest, catch up on Netflix or get things done around the house during naptime. Monitors can also double as a nanny cam to keep an eye on your child and their caretaker.
A WiFi monitor gets rid of the parent unit entirely and replaces it with a smartphone app. That app connects to the baby unit over the internet, rather than standard radio frequencies. As a result, you’ll never have to worry about being out of range from your camera. If you’re at dinner and want to check in on the babysitter, you’re still connected. Since it operates from an app, it’s also easier to flip through features than trying to figure out a finicky, low-quality touchscreen, or a dozen different buttons.
"For 2 or more children this is fantastic! You can pair multiple cameras and set the monitor to scan back and forth viewing multiple rooms. The lens change feature is also nice (a zoom lens...included) allows you to get a close view of the crib/swing/etc even if the camera has to sit far away. The (wide angle lens.... optional purchase) allows you to view most of the bedroom. This is great for older kids rooms so you can see if they get out of bed and what they are doing… Long-lasting battery provides reliable charge: 10 hours in power-saving mode, 6 hours with the display screen constantly on."
A big screen, a camera that zooms and a built-in nightlight make the In View monitor a great pick when you’re on a budget. The monitor also offers all the standard features: low-battery and out-of-range indicators, sound-activated lights and rechargeable batteries for the handheld monitor. Use the camera as a tabletop or mounted on the wall. And if you plan on having a big family, the monitor works with up to four cameras.