The interface on the monitor, aka the parent unit, is basic, simple, and intuitive, while many of its competitors have awkward controls. When panning and tilting the camera, for example, the Infant Optics responds immediately and can move in very small increments. The text on the menu displays look like something off an old Motorola RAZR, but the commands are easy to interpret and less confusing than those of some competitors. A group of four buttons makes it easy to pull up the menu and make a change (to the volume, say) without losing sight of the image on the screen. Other nice minor touches, like a display that constantly notes the temperature in the baby’s room, appear on this model but not on all of its competitors. This is not a touchscreen, but frankly, if you’ve ever used an iPhone, you’ll find the touchscreens on most baby monitors to be sorely substandard.
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.
The audio is quite good as well, with very little distortion. As with other Wi-Fi video baby monitors, there is lag as the video stream travels through distant servers before reaching your smartphone. In our tests, the SCD860 had good results one moment and issues shortly after. This is one of the reasons we gave it a low score for connection quality. A few of our testers had trouble setting up this baby camera using the smartphone app. The camera doesn't work without a wireless connection, unlike traditional video baby monitors that use a handheld receiver. The app is easy to use, and it lets you set up push notifications and adjust the sound sensitivity. We had a few connection issues independent of our Wi-Fi connection, which could cause concern. For a time, we had no connection, so we didn't know what was going on in the other room. This monitor lets you track the temperature and humidity in your baby's room and has a nightlight with multiple light color options. If your baby is upset, you can use the app to talk to them or play one of the 10 lullabies through the camera's speaker. The Philips Avent Smart baby monitor SCD860 has a two-year warranty, which is the longest of all the models we tested.
If you aren't interested in having a video baby monitor, the VTech DM221 is the very best audio-only monitor you can buy. You can listen in on your baby or get vibration and light-based alerts when the monitor is in silent mode. The five LED lights indicate the level of sound so you can tell whether your baby is cooing quietly or shrieking for mom and dad.
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:
This really is the monitor that does it all! What puts this monitor heads and shoulders above the rest is the activity sensor pad that goes under baby’s mattress and monitors for lack of movement—a helpful enhancement for tracking baby’s breathing during those scary SIDS months. Once baby grows past that stage, breathe a sigh of relief, but don’t throw the monitor out with the bathwater, because the Angelcare AC517 also comes with both an audio and a video monitor! What more could you ask for?
If initial impressions mean anything, this is definitely one of the biggest bang-for-the-buck baby monitors on the market. It has some fantastic features, and is offered at a great price point at around $70! Here are some of the best features: first, it has very clear daytime video and crystal clear sound. Using 2.4Ghz communications, like most others on this list, it does a great job connecting, staying connected, and providing superb sound quality. It also is expandable with additional cameras - up to 4 additional cameras to be exact, which means you can really get one of these everywhere. Need one in the playroom, nursery, by the bassinet? Having up to 4 cameras connected is awesome, and the base station provides the easy ability to switch which camera you're looking at. Of course, it only comes with one out of the box, but you can buy extra cameras for about $40 each. We also liked that there is no complicated setup like with some of the IP cameras on this list, which means that there is no connecting to your internet router, or trying to get a phone app to connect. Of course, that also means you can only watch from the base station, not on your phone. About that base station. You can control whether you want digital video and sound, or sound only, and you can also remotely zoom in on your baby as needed (only 2 zoom levels though), but you cannot remotely pan or tilt the camera. There is a 2-way intercom (twoway talk) so you can talk to baby, or play one of the included lullabies. With the screen on, we were able to get the base station's battery to last for about 7 hours, and with just sound the battery lasted for about 11 hours. So definitely long enough for nap times during the day! Like many of the other ones on this list, you can put it into standby mode and have it voice activate automatically when the camera's microphone hears something in the room (like a fussy baby). We thought this feature worked really well and wasn't overly-sensitive and false alarming all night, which could get really annoying. So there are a lot of things to love about this baby video monitor. With such a low price, the feature list is obviously limited. We also thought the nighttime video quality really left something to be desired. We kept trying to increase the brightness to help, but it still was pretty poor relative to other units on this list. Finally, when we first reviewed this system we purchased 3 of them. After 1.5 years, only 1 of them is still working perfectly, 1 of them is a bit glitchy from time to time, and the other one had a screen failure. So we see some reliability and consistency issues with these baby video monitors, and that's the primary reason that it's not higher up on our list. In any event, we do recommend this camera, especially given the overall bang for the buck. But given how cheap it is, don't expect any miracles, or to be buying something to last you until you have grandchildren!
The Levana Lila is the second highest ranking dedicated monitor in the review, and 5th overall. This budget-friendly option has the longest battery life of any dedicated monitor we tested and scored well enough for ease of use and sound clarity that you won't be frustrated. Unfortunately, this monitor has a shorter range than the Philips Avent SCD630 and the fewest features in the group (which makes it easier to use). So it may not be a good choice for parents that want all the bells and whistles. This monitor does sport 2-way talk to baby, sound activation, and automatic screen wake/sleep, which are some of the most important features in our mind. The Lila has no zoom, and the field of view is rather small for a camera that is not remotely operated (no pan or tilt). However, if you want a dedicated monitor for the simplicity and peace of mind with less chance of a dropped signal, and budget is a factor, then the Lila can't be beaten.
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 a full charge, even when checking the display intermittently.) This model also charges via a USB connection, which actually sets it apart from a variety of competitors, some of which use ineffective and inconvenient proprietary DC chargers or even disposable batteries.