We wanted to recommend an inexpensive video monitor, but their flaws were so significant that we decided we’d rather spend less on a quality audio-only monitor like the VTech DM221. This is a well-reviewed best seller in the category, and it has crisp sound and better talk-back functionality than the best video monitors we found, as well as a longer range and better battery life than our video picks. It easily beats out its audio-only competitors for various basic reasons like being cordless, rechargeable, or less expensive.
In terms of bang for your buck, it’s tough to beat the Babysense. For less than $100, it comes loaded with bells and whistles more commonly found on higher priced models. Not only does it boast a 2.4-inch HD LCD color screen with infrared night vision, pan/tilt, and 2x zoom, but it includes two-way talk back, a sound activated ‘Eco’ mode (the screen stays off) to save battery life, 900 foot range (with out-of-range warning), and an in-room temperature monitor that sends alerts if it gets too hot or cold. It uses 2.4 GHz FHSS wireless transmission for security and even comes with both a built-in alarm/nap timer and lullabies.
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 opt for a Wi-Fi video baby monitor, you'll need a strong internet connection, because if your internet fails, so does your baby monitor. These baby monitors operate like your average smart home security camera from Nest, Canary, or others. You connect the camera to your Wi-Fi network, and then you can access live video anywhere on your computer, smartphone, or tablet. Many of these types of cameras offer encryption and other high-tech security features.
Long Range: Monitors that don’t connect to WiFi have a limited range, usually around 600 to 1,000 feet. While this is large enough for all but the biggest houses, we asked our testers to find out how far they could wander away — and how many walls they could put between them and the baby unit — before they went out of range, as well as to report back on what happened when they did. Sometimes there was an alarm or a notification, but other times the screen simply froze.
To test each camera’s night vision, we used them in darkened bedrooms with blackout curtains, with and without nightlights. For a more extreme test, we set the cameras up in a windowless room in a basement with a towel blocking light from the door. We aimed all the cameras at a doll’s face approximately 6 feet across the room, looked at the monitors, and tried not to creep ourselves out.
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.
One minor but potentially annoying flaw: The “on” lights on the parent unit are a touch bright, and you may be more sensitive to them since you’re likely to have the unit within view as you sleep. They appear as greenish yellow light from the face of the unit, and a charging light, which is blue when it’s fully charged. Depending on how sensitive you are to light, you may want to lay the display face down on a nightstand or cover the status lights with tape.
If all you want is a no-fuss audio monitor, the Bump and Baldwin both recommend VTech’s DM221 audio monitor, which consistently garners a lot of accolades. Using digital audio technology, the DM221 offers clear audio transmission and eliminates the crackle of analog models. A two-way intercom allows you to talk to your baby, while a five-level sound indicator can visually alert you to cries from the other room. The transmitter also features a soft night-light for your child. And don’t sleep on its compact size, which makes it perfect for travel.
The Nanit couldn’t be more perfect for analytical types. The camera—when placed just so—uses computer vision to watch your baby’s every move, and then tell you what it means. You get a notice on your phone, which acts like a handheld monitor, when your child is awake, acting fussy or has fallen asleep. The Nanit also assigns a sleep score to each night based on how many hours your child was actually crashed out. Other stats include how many times you went into your child’s room and how long it took for your little one to fall asleep. Because the Nanit streams live video and audio to your phone, you can also check in on your kiddo when you’re away from home. It also has a nightlight and temperature and humidity sensors.