Rechargeable batteries: Since the camera will most likely stay trained on your bundle of joy, it can remain plugged into AC power. But parent unit displays are designed to be always on and carried with you as you move from room to room. That can drain batteries quickly. Look for a parent unit that runs on rechargeable batteries, so you’re not constantly swapping them out.
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.
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From each category, we hand-selected our finalists: the monitors with the most positive reviews on Amazon and parenting blogs, plus any that had all four of our parent-favorite features. Then we sent several monitors home with three different testers, to see which ones actually made parents’ lives easier, and which ones were more trouble than they’re worth.
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.
The Infant Optics DXR-8’s interchangeable optical lens, which allows for customized viewing angles, truly sets this monitor apart. It gives the option of focusing in on a localized area or taking in the whole room. Couple that with the remote pan/tilt control and night vision and you’ve got a monitoring system that not only grows along with your baby, but one that can be adjusted to follow her around the room as she plays. Parents can calm their baby with the two-way talk feature and monitor the temperature to make sure the baby is safe and secure.
Many of the baby monitors we've tested are internet-connected, letting you watch infant with your phone or tablet through an app just as if you were checking a home security camera. Because of this, you might not actually get a standalone display to go along with the camera. They aren't out of the question, however; some camera-only baby monitors offer viewers as an add-on or in a bundle. And if there aren't any available, you can simply get an inexpensive tablet like the Amazon Fire to use as a dedicated viewer.
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.