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.
It may surprise you to hear that simply being able to last through the night, unplugged, with the display off, qualifies as exceptional battery life for a baby monitor. The Infant Optics was one of the only monitors in our testing that could easily do that, and then last a while longer the next day before needing a charge. (The manufacturer claims it lasts 10 hours with the display off—we got that amount of time off of a full charge, even when checking the display intermittently.) This model also charges via a USB connection, which sets it apart from competitors, some of which use ineffective and inconvenient proprietary DC chargers or even disposable batteries.
But these nursery essentials can be as fussy as the babies they keep tabs on. And like virtually every other household appliance, they are growing increasingly more capable and complex. In addition to conventional video baby monitors that use a camera and a handheld LCD display, often called a “parent unit,” there are now also Wi-Fi-enabled systems that connect to your home network and use your smartphone as both the display and the controller, much like DIY home security cameras. These latter models offer high-defition video, intelligent alerts, and the ability to check on your child from anywhere you have an internet connection.
Among the negative reviews, the most consistent complaint has to do with connectivity issues—either difficulty linking up initially or randomly dropping the connection while in use. These represent a slim minority among mostly positive reviews, and we did not have similar issues during our test. One consequence of losing the connection (whether it’s by a dropped link or via manually unplugging the camera) is that disconnecting causes the parent unit to emit a sharp, loud, repetitive beep. It is annoying—especially so if it happens in the middle of the night—but you won’t hear it under normal circumstances.
The Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi and the LeFun C2 720P Wi-Fi came in a close second to the iBaby M6S Wi-Fi for features, both scoring an 8 of 10. Because these cameras are designed more with surveillance in mind and are not solely marketed for baby, they have several features that make parents lives easier, but not anything fancy and fun for baby. They do offer 2-way communication, but no lullabies or environmental sensors. Given that many parents already have "noise makers" (aka lullabies) covered by way of another product, the lack of this feature isn't a deal breaker in our book. So while these Wi-Fi cameras lacked the gadgetry fun of humidity sensing and the other bells of the iBaby M6S Wi-Fi, they still got the job of monitoring done in a way that is easy for parents to use. The bonus of the Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi camera is that it can be used for multiple applications when baby gets older and no longer needs an overnight monitor. This monitor can easily shift for use as a nanny cam, security, or pet camera. We think this takes the sting (if there is some) out of its lack of baby fun features, which in the end, most parents usually stop using when the novelty wears off.
This option doesn't have sound activation, so there is has some noise all the time similar to white noise. This sound may not be a deal breaker if it comes from a fan or noise maker in baby's room and some parents may even find the sound helpful for sleeping or reassuring them that the unit is working. The DM111 is an excellent choice for families on a budget who want to hear the baby and don't need all the frills commonly found in more expensive choices.
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.
There are two basic types: audio and video/audio. Some are analog, others are digital. All monitors operate within a selected radio frequency band to send sound from a baby's room to a receiver in another room. Each monitor consists of a transmitter (the child/nursery unit) and one or more receivers. Prices range from about $25 to $150 for audio monitors and about $80 to $300 for audio/video monitors.