Most monitors (including our pick) are designed for use at home, usually while the baby is less than a few hundred feet away, well within range of a local video stream that bypasses the Internet. But many people want to use the monitor remotely—either to see what’s happening at home while they’re at work, traveling, or out on a date. For those needs, a Wi-Fi–enabled monitor, like our also-great pick, is the way to go. A Wi-Fi–enabled model works fine at home, too, but it’s not quite as simple as one that skips the routine connection and login hassles, as well as the potential security concerns, of a Web-based video option.
The camera, which is the most elegant looking of the testing group, sits on a magnetic base that unfortunately cannot be mounted on the wall and must sit on a surface. The camera itself cannot be tilted or panned. It can only be adjusted manually within the concave base—meaning it can be pointed downward, at least a little bit, but its wide-angle lens lessens the needs for dramatic angle adjustments. The unit also include a “privacy mode” where the decorative cover can be rotated to block the camera and signal it to not record any audio or video.
A word of caution about extremely cheap baby video monitors (we're talking devices that cost less than $50): they're not known for their security and can be hacked. Be sure to always change the default password of any connected device you purchase. You can also protect yourself by sticking to known vendors who post frequent firmware updates and have easy-to-reach customer support.
Video, Audio, or Both: First-time parents are suckers for high-definition, night-vision baby monitors where they can pick up on exactly how their child’s chest is rising and falling. You will do this dozens of times a night. Past the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome-scare age, you may just want an audio baby monitor (which a lot of video ones double as), because you’ll know an “I’m hungry” cry from an “I lost my sock” whine.
Interchangeable Camera Lenses: Some of the newest baby monitors have interchangeable lenses to best suit your baby's room. If you have the camera positioned close to the baby, like on the edge of the crib or on a nearby dresser, you might prefer the wide angle camera. If you have the camera positioned relatively far from the baby, like on a bookshelf on the other side of the room, you might prefer the regular narrow angle camera. Flexibility is nice, particularly if you end up rearranging the room or have to move things out of the reach of a growing menace.
The Dropcam Echo is an example of a digital video camera system that uses your existing wireless network, allowing you to use your computer or other device as the receiver. (We haven't tested this type of monitor.) Parents go to the Dropcam website, sign in to their account, and then connect the Dropcam to their router using an Ethernet cable. (Once the connection is made, you don't need to use the cable again.) The Dropcam locates your wireless network, you enter your unit's serial number, and the unit begins streaming encrypted video that you can view on a computer, iPhone, iPad, or Android device. You mount the camera in your baby's room and plug it into an electrical outlet.
If you hope to keep tabs on your little one while snoozing there are a few different options depending on what your goals are or what information you hope to have. The traditional baby monitoring device was designed to tell parents what was going on in the room as far as a baby crying or needing assistance. Since then, monitoring products have evolved into seeing the baby and even knowing if your baby is moving. Knowing which products do what can help you determine which type meets your goals and is right for your family.
Most people don't have unlimited data plans for their smart phone, and are surprised to see very high data usage after just a few hours of streaming their wifi baby monitor. With HD video, you can go through a couple gigabytes of data in just a few hours, so keep that in mind. If your phone is connected to wifi that won't matter, but if you're using 3G or 4G LTE cellular service, you will definitely have slow video and tons of data usage.
Whether you allow others one-time or occasional access to enjoy a special moment or you establish a schedule during which a regular caregiver can view and listen through the monitor, the process of controlling access is equally easy. Now, what if your baby or toddler just did something super cute when no one else had access? No worries, you can share video clips or stills right over the web.
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.
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.
Environmental sensors: Many monitors include the ability to set thresholds and upper limits for room temperature and/or humidity, and they'll alert you when these ranges are exceeded. While they can't control the temperature or the amount of moisture in the room's air, this feature can help you improve your child’s comfort, which will help them get more restful sleep.
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.