All of the products in our review have features for convenience and overall function, but some also offer features for fun or additional information. All of the products have night vision with sensors for automatic adjustment with light changes, and all offer 2-way communication with baby through the camera. Some of them come with lullabies, and others have nifty temperature and humidity sensors. Overall, whatever you might be looking for, or never knew existed but now want, can probably be found in the products we tested.
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.
The iBaby’s video and audio quality were among the best in the WiFi group, but like all WiFi monitors, quality and how well it displays real-time action depends largely on your internet quality and speed. Our testers only experienced a delay of less than a second, more noticeable than HelloBaby’s, but nowhere close to Motorola’s three-second delay.
To save on battery life, some audio/video models only turn on when the baby makes an unusual motion or sound. Some models come with a motion-detector pad that fits under the crib sheet. This type of motion sensor is intended to prevent SIDS. Sensitive enough to detect changes in breathing, an alarm sounds if there is no movement after 20 minutes. However, if the baby simply rolls off the pad, the alarm may sound.
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.
The most important thing to look for in all kinds of baby monitors is audio quality. Regardless of whether you want a video-based baby monitor or not, you need clear audio so you can hear your baby properly. You'll also want one with sound activation so that you don't have to listen to white noise 90% of the time. With sound activation, you'll only hear the noises from your baby's room when there's something important to hear.
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.
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.
The LeFun is an inexpensive Wi-Fi camera that makes internet watching affordable for almost every family. This useful camera works with your personal device and is the only option here that features true pan and scan features to move the camera around the room remotely. The image quality is also impressive given the lower price and simple design. This camera is a good choice if your house is bigger or you'll be spanning more than 3-5 walls between rooms where range could become an issue.
Baby's exposure could potentially be even lower if parents place the camera on a wall at least 15 feet from baby (a distance still good for night vision to work properly with most monitors). Given the sensitivity of baby's developing systems we recommend placing the monitor as far away from the baby as possible while still being able to utilize the night vision as intended and see baby's face to determine if they are awake or sleeping at a glance. For most of the products, this distance is between 10-15 feet from the baby.
The longest battery life for the dedicated products in our review is the Levana Lila, which ran for 12.75 hours in full use mode. The manufacturer claims this unit will work up to 72 hours in power saving mode, but we only tested the monitors in full use. The Infant Optics DXR-8 came in second place with a shorter run time of closer to 11.5 hours. The Motorola MBP36S earned the lowest score for battery life with a runtime just under 7 hours. While not necessarily a deal breaker, there are plenty of other reasons to dislike the Motorola MBP36S, and the battery life is just a small part of a disappointing overall picture (no pun intended).
We wanted to recommend a less expensive video monitor, but at any price notably lower than our pick, every product we tried had such serious problems—usually, poor video quality and ongoing connection issues—that we feel a higher end audio-only monitor offers a much better value for a limited budget. The VTech DM221 audio monitor is the best choice in the category—it’s consistently a best seller at multiple retailers, with strong reviews (four out five stars over 4,703 reviews on Amazon) and similarly high ratings at Walmart, Target, and BuyBuy Baby.
You might prefer one that has lights as well as sound. All the audio monitors we rated had this feature. The Philips Avent DECT SCD510, which sells for about $120, has a series of small LED lights on the parent monitor. The louder the sound in your baby's room, the more lights go on, so you'll notice his crying even with the unit set on mute. Audio monitors are generally less expensive than audio/video models.
If you struggle with technology and don't need or want to see your baby from any other location besides your home, you might want to stick with the dedicated monitors that require little setup and have fairly intuitive user interfaces. This isn't to say that most people can't sort out the Wi-Fi monitors, but it is undeniably less work to just plug the camera into an outlet and go than it is to sign up and download software applications.
Both Baldwin and Kay recommend iBaby’s M6S Wi-Fi video monitor for its design and ease of use. Resembling a little robot, the iBaby offers 360-degree views and 110-degree tilt, 1080p video with night vision, and even comes equipped with lullabies. Other features include temperature, humidity, and air-quality sensors, which Baldwin admits are bells and whistles, but could be useful depending on what kind of parent you are. And, of course, everything comes straight through to your smartphone or tablet, which can also remotely control settings. And while some parents may be concerned about potential hacking of Wi-Fi monitors, Baldwin found that the risk is fairly low and usually occurred in cheap, off-brand models.
Project Nursery offers a variety of monitor options that include fantastic features like remote camera control, two-way communication, motion, sound and temperature alerts and the ability to play white noise or lullabies. But what we like best about this one is that it comes with a traditional 5-inch screen monitor and a 1.5-inch mini video monitor that you can wear like a bracelet. Both monitors have a long battery life, too.