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.
Though it’s not a video monitor, the Owlet does track your baby’s heart rate and oxygen while they sleep, and notifies you if something appears to be wrong. Just slip a comfortable wrap with a sensor over your wee one’s foot (it works with babies 0–18 months) and download the app to your phone. You’ll receive alerts in real-time should your child’s vital signs change. It also comes with a base station that changes color when something is up.
The Samsung's display, at 5 inches, is among the largest and crispest you'll find on a baby monitor. However, the touchscreen response is sluggish, which makes it difficult to smoothly pan or tilt the camera. And when you pull up the menu, you lose the video and the audio output—that's a weakness compared with our pick, which continues to display video and play sound while navigating menu functions.
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.
Ease of use may not seem like a big deal because once you know how to use something, it won't seem that hard, and after you use it for a while it can feel intuitive even if it isn't. However, with this type of product, there can be a learning curve depending on what kind you choose and how many features it has. While the dedicated monitors were plug in and go options that even grandma can manage, some of them took a little more skill to navigate and learn. The Wi-Fi options, on the other hand, do require some knowledge of technology and the way apps work. With all of them, you will need to set up the camera with your computer or another device, and you will need to set up an account and be able to manage things like Wi-Fi passwords and various settings inside the application. While this may seem like no big deal to some parents, it could be challenging for those that are less tech-savvy.
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 Wi-Fi monitors all have lower EMF readings than the dedicated options with the lowest average EMF readings being 0.87 for the LeFun C2 720P Wi-Fi and 0.92 for the Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi with the reader 6 ft from the camera. The lowest average value for the dedicated monitors at 6 ft is 1.89 for the Infant Optics DXR-8 and 1.91 for the Philips Avent SCD630.
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.
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.
A big screen, a camera that zooms and a built-in nightlight make the In View monitor a great pick when you’re on a budget. The monitor also offers all the standard features: low-battery and out-of-range indicators, sound-activated lights and rechargeable batteries for the handheld monitor. Use the camera as a tabletop or mounted on the wall. And if you plan on having a big family, the monitor works with up to four cameras.