Intuitive and User-Friendly Menu and Features: What good are 25 fancy features if you can't figure out how to navigate the menu and customize settings or change options? All of the best baby monitors reviewed above have great utility, with high video quality and a nice feature set, but some of them have relatively high usability, which comes in handy when you don't want to spend too much time shuffling through menus to change one silly setting.
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:
Like other systems, the Dropcam Echo allows you to put up more than one camera and monitor different rooms. The manufacturer says the Dropcam Echo automatically detects motion and sound, and you can get an e-mail message or notification on your smart phone or iPad when something changes in the baby's room. Dropcam will store your video feed for either a weekly or monthly fee.
The Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi tied for the high score in this review with the iBaby M6S Wi-Fi. This monitor earned the high score for video quality, range, and battery life, with second place scores for ease of use and features. Its impressive performance helped it win the Top Pick award for Long-term Use. The Nest is a cool surveillance camera you can use to watch your baby, but given that it isn't specifically designed with baby in mind, it lacks some of the fun features parents may want like lullabies and nightlight. The Nest Cam offers motion detection, sound activation, 2-way talk to baby, and 8x digital zoom. The Nest Cam camera can not be controlled remotely, but instead relies on a large field of view you can zoom into and then search in a way that looks similar to pan and tilt. The downside to this camera is it does not continue to monitor if you use another app or take a phone call making it hard to use full time if you only have one device, so we recommend using a device other than your phone for consistent baby viewing. The Nest Cam is the most expensive Wi-Fi monitor in the group, but it is still cheaper than 3 of the dedicated monitors, and its long-term use possibilities make it an investment we think parents will use for years to come as a nanny cam, home security feature, or checking in on pets.
In addition to the standard parent and baby unit, these monitors include a device that tracks your baby’s movements, breathing, or heart rate, and offer time-sensitive alarms that alert you if your baby hasn’t moved in the last 20–30 seconds. While they aren’t proven to reduce SIDS, many new parents told us these monitors gave them added peace of mind.
Instead, baby monitors offer more options for letting you know when something might be wrong at that moment. Temperature and humidity measurements are common among high-end monitors, along with alerts and notifications for when movement or a lack of movement is detected. The Baby Delight 5" Video, Movement and Positioning Monitor, for example, includes a pendant sensor that monitors your infant's movement and breathing patterns, letting you know if it gets too quiet or still.
"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."
Though we feel that the image quality on the Infant Optics is adequate, it’s hardly impressive by current (or even recent) standards. You can capably check to see if your kid is in bed and sleeping soundly, but you’re not going to see a little trail of drool trickling out of their mouth. If you want a crisper, clearer image, your best option is our Wi-Fi–enabled also-great pick, the Arlo Baby, a model we feel has a few shortcomings that put the Infant Optics above it in spite of our pick’s weaker image quality.
Last, a few features are simply not that useful, but they’re more like unnecessary clutter than legitimate flaws. The talk-back feature can be difficult to understand on the baby end of the line (we found that it works best—that is, intelligibly—if you speak about a foot away from the microphone, and avoid shouting). A “shortcut” button to control the monitor’s volume and brightness doesn’t really save you much time. There are other features on the menu—with the little songs, a timer, and a zoom, you have a total of about seven. But honestly, after testing this monitor for some time and others for years longer, the only thing you really need to be able to do regularly is adjust the volume.
To test each camera’s night vision, we used the monitors in darkened bedrooms with blackout curtains, with and without night-lights. For a more extreme test, we set the cameras up in a windowless room in a basement with a towel blocking light from the door. We aimed all of the cameras at a doll’s face approximately 6 feet across the room, looked at the monitors, and tried not to creep ourselves out.
Encrypted Wireless Communications: Here's something creepy and strange - there are reports of people tapping into even the best baby monitors and getting some bizarre pleasure from watching your baby sleep or watching you feed the baby in the middle of the night. A few of the manufacturers have included wireless encryption on their systems to make this much less likely.
Ease of setup and installation factored heavily into our ratings, including whether an account needed to be created and if there were any extra subscription fees necessary. Each unit had cords protruding out of its back, so design wasn't much of a factor in my choice, though parents should take care to keep dangling cords and wires away from their children's reach when setting up a monitor.
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.