Video baby monitors are simple, inexpensive tools for watching your child, and HD video is not a necessity for this task. While some baby monitors have excellent video, even those with lower quality video are suitable for watching your infant. Screen resolution does not necessarily mean good image quality, so we didn't use it as a point of comparison, relying only on video performance as observed in our tests.
We have been following news that the Amazon Echo Spot, available in December 2017, can work as a baby monitor. While we plan to test these claims firsthand, our initial interview with Amazon confirmed a few hunches, and we believe certain shortcomings will make the Echo Spot hard to recommend as a baby monitor. First, it’s not a “baby monitor” per se; the Echo Spot will project video from an existing home security camera or other Wi-Fi camera through its screen. This approach has a few disadvantages, which we outline in the What about a Wi-Fi baby monitor? section. Amazon also confirmed that the Echo Spot would broadcast the same footage you would see on that camera’s app, and that it would not work as a display for RF monitors, like our pick in this guide. The Spot can use voice commands (for example, “Alexa, show me the nursery”), and we’ll determine in testing if that capability overcomes a common flaw in other Wi-Fi monitors and security cameras, namely a sluggish response time when loading video over a standard app. You can also “drop in on the nursery” to hear audio, and potentially talk back, depending on the camera’s functions. As with the voice function, the ability to see the temperature of the baby’s room, plus pan/tilt, play music, and other functions, will be dependent on the camera the Echo Spot is attached to.
Some baby cams can work at night with low light levels. Most video baby monitors today have a night vision feature. Infrared LEDs attached on the front of the camera allow a user to see the baby in a dark room. Video baby monitors that have night vision mode will switch to this mode automatically in the dark. Some advanced baby cams now work over Wi-Fi so parents can watch babies through their smartphone or computer.
The features we focused on were those we thought either increased the performance of the monitor or made it more user-friendly for parents and increased the odds of getting good quality sleep. We looked for monitors that have sound activation that keeps the parent unit quiet when the baby isn't crying, so parents can potentially fall asleep faster because they don't have to listen to white noise. Some of the monitors were so loud, even at low volumes, that the white noise might keep light sleeping parents awake; this defeats the purpose of having a video product to begin with. We also liked the models with screens that automatically "wake" and/or go to sleep.
General Usability: This one is two-fold. First we wanted to make sure each monitor could perform under bright, dim, and no light; and pick up even the faintest sounds. Then we looked at how easy it was to use the monitor. Could we adjust the screen brightness, or were we going to be half-blinded when we picked it up at 1AM? Was the monitor voice-activated, or does it pick up white noise in the background? How sensitive were the alarms, and did they sound like a baby-waking screech or a soft ping?
If you sleep in the same room as your baby or live in a small enough space that you can always hear or see what your baby is up to, you probably don’t need a monitor. Otherwise, most parents enjoy the convenience a baby monitor provides—instead of needing to stay close to the nursery or constantly checking on your child, you’re free to rest, catch up on Netflix or get things done around the house during naptime. Monitors can also double as a nanny cam to keep an eye on your child and their caretaker.