Baby monitors, despite the name, are meant more for the caregiver than they are for the baby. We asked parents about which features they felt were helpful, like a long range so they could wander carefree all over the house, and reliability so they weren’t struggling to maintain a signal. Other features like being able to play lullabies, or receive temperature alerts are only as useful as you make them. And a few features, like motion monitors, can be exceptionally comforting for some, and distressing for others.
A baby monitor's job is to transmit recognizable sound and, in the case of video models, images. The challenge is to find a monitor that works with minimal interference—static, buzzing, or irritating noise—from other nearby electronic products and transmitters, including older cordless phones that might use the same frequency bands as your monitor.
Rather than requiring an independent video display, the Withings Home sends footage via the cloud to your iOS device (phone or tablet). Its HD video is sharp, colorful and on par with or better than any other camera in its class. And it’s loaded with useful features that feel like the future, like push notifications when your baby makes noise or moves, and the ability to monitor your baby with unlimited range through your smartphone’s data plan. And it was the only smartphone-based camera tested to have background-audio monitoring. (Most importantly, these features aren’t just features. They really work every bit as well as advertised!)
Baby monitors may have a visible signal as well as repeating the sound. This is often in the form of a set of lights to indicate the noise level, allowing the device to be used when it is inappropriate or impractical for the receiver to play the sound. Other monitors have a vibrating alert on the receiver making it particularly useful for people with hearing difficulties.
D-Link Wi-Fi Baby Camera DCS-825L ($180) — We liked this smartphone-based camera, but in just about every way, it’s not quite the entire experience quality of the Withings Home. Plus, its eyeball-shaped camera is strange to mount on a wall. Notably, though, you can run the D-Link without the cloud, on your local area network only. This might be very attractive for those worried about bandwidth, or those who don’t trust any online security in the post-Snowden era.
The Vtech DM221 offers the features you need, coupled with the best sound clarity in our review of sound products. The DM221 comes with easy to set sound activation and adjustable mic sensitivity to help create a peaceful environment for a quality night's sleep with a parent device that only makes a peep when your little one does. The DM221's parent unit talk to baby feature sounds natural on the baby's side so your infant won't be alarmed by a robotic or static sound found in some of the competition. This unit is a budget-friendly choice that will work for almost any family.
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.
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.
Sound devices relay what is happening in baby's room via sound only. A great sound option is quiet unless the baby is making noise so that you won't be disturbed by white noise or constant static. This basic monitoring type can be all you need if your goal is being alerted when your baby is crying and needs your assistance. This style can be elementary with sound only like the V-Tech DM111 or it can have bells and whistles like a nightlight, 2-way talk, lullabies, and mic sensitivity adjustment features like the Philips Avent DECT SCD570/10. Most parents can get by with a sound only device as it provides the information you need to determine if your baby needs you or not.
Most dual monitors come with split- or even quad-screen viewing, and the DBPower Digital Sound Activated baby monitor does just that. This model supports up to four cameras, allowing you to monitor four rooms at once. With features like remote pan/tilt/zoom, room temperature monitoring and alert, two-way communication and manual or automatic video recording, we found the DBPower to be the best dual baby monitor.