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Before buying or registering for a baby monitor (or any wireless product), be sure you can return or exchange it in case you can't get rid of interference or other problems. If you receive a monitor as a baby-shower gift and know where it was purchased, try it before the retailer's return period ends. Return policies are often explained on store receipts, on signs near registers, or on the merchant's website. But if the return clock has run out, don't feel defeated. Persistence and politeness will often get you an exception to the policy. Keep the receipt and the original packaging.
It's no secret that babies require a lot of stuff for a successful outing, so a good diaper bag is one of the most important purchases a parent-to-be can make. Based on personal testing and research, the Skip Hop Duo Signature is the best diaper bag for most parents, with a reasonable price tag, loads of pockets, several stylish patterns, and easy-to-wipe fabric that can take a beating.
The Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi and the LeFun C2 720P Wi-Fi came in a close second to the iBaby M6S Wi-Fi for features, both scoring an 8 of 10. Because these cameras are designed more with surveillance in mind and are not solely marketed for baby, they have several features that make parents lives easier, but not anything fancy and fun for baby. They do offer 2-way communication, but no lullabies or environmental sensors. Given that many parents already have "noise makers" (aka lullabies) covered by way of another product, the lack of this feature isn't a deal breaker in our book. So while these Wi-Fi cameras lacked the gadgetry fun of humidity sensing and the other bells of the iBaby M6S Wi-Fi, they still got the job of monitoring done in a way that is easy for parents to use. The bonus of the Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi camera is that it can be used for multiple applications when baby gets older and no longer needs an overnight monitor. This monitor can easily shift for use as a nanny cam, security, or pet camera. We think this takes the sting (if there is some) out of its lack of baby fun features, which in the end, most parents usually stop using when the novelty wears off.
Range of signal: Some baby monitors have better range than others. If you live in a big house with multiple rooms, range will be a key consideration for you. Anyone who lives in a single-story house or a smaller apartment may not need as much range. Many baby monitors have an alert when you get out of range, and the packaging typically gives you an estimate of the range. Bear in mind that range varies widely from home to home. The construction of the walls between you and the baby monitor may even limit the range.
Monitors for babies should have good video images that are clear and true to life, but they should also have quality sound that is easy to hear and clear enough that parents can quickly decide if they need to look at the viewing screen, go back to sleep, or get running to the nursery. So while you might consider video quality to be the most important metric for this kind of product, we rated both video and sound equally because, without one, the other doesn't much matter. If the sound is muffled, difficult to decipher, or not loud enough, then parents might miss baby's cries. If sound activation or thresholds for background noise don't work as described, then parents might lose sleep listening to a loud monitor. However, once alerted, you need a clear view of baby with enough details to determine baby's needs, day or night, or the video style monitor isn't much better than a sound only monitor.
Among the negative reviews, the most consistent complaint has to do with connectivity issues—either difficulty linking up initially or randomly dropping the connection while in use. These represent a slim minority among mostly positive reviews, and we did not have similar issues during our test. One consequence of losing the connection (whether it’s by a dropped link or via manually unplugging the camera) is that disconnecting causes the parent unit to emit a sharp, loud, repetitive beep. It is annoying—especially so if it happens in the middle of the night—but you should rarely hear it under normal circumstances.
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.
The LeFun camera connects to your WiFi, and you use the associated app to watch real-time footage in 750-pixel high definition. Because the product uses WiFi to transmit video, you don’t need to worry about walls obstructing the signal. The camera can pan an impressive 350 degrees and tilt 100 degrees, and it also has night vision that many reviewers say works well.
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.
Baby monitors are available in three primary forms: audio, video and movement. If your main concern is hearing when your baby wakes up, then an audio-only monitor will do the trick. These baby monitors tend to be smaller, and less expensive. With a video baby monitor, there are a wide variety of options available, including different screen sizes, cameras that tilt, pan and zoom, and night vision. This type of monitor tends to provide extra levels of security, allowing you to tell if your baby is lying down or standing up, to track sleep patterns, and to evaluate whether intervention is required, or whether your child seems likely to self-soothe and fall back asleep. Plus, if you get a video camera that connects to your Wi-Fi, you can use the camera as a nanny cam, and check the baby video even when you're away from home. Movement-based baby monitors are designed to track your baby's heart rate, movement, respiration, skin temperature and sleep quality.
With a dedicated baby monitor, push-to-talk capabilities will usually be integrated, as well as the ability to record and share still images and video clips (even if some monitors require a subscription to do so). Baby video monitors will also usually have built-in music files that you can play to soothe your child. Just the ability to pan and tilt the camera — the Nest has a fixed 130-degree wide-angle perspective — means you can follow your kids wherever they scamper.
With a baby monitor, you're able to keep tabs on your little one(s) during nap time or nighttime, and still go about your day. Generally, the number one benefit provided by the best baby monitors are peace of mind, followed closely by the benefits of security and convenience. Plus, since homes and habits vary, a baby monitor may have additional uses, like allowing you to monitor how long it takes your preschooler to fall asleep, keeping track of playtime, or even using it as a pet cam.
The more old fashioned video monitors are better if your internet isn't reliable because they use a dedicated video monitor instead. You can also choose to pair high-tech Wi-Fi security cameras with cheaper audio-only baby monitors to have the best of both worlds. We've tested a few baby monitors and researched the rest to find the best ones you can buy no matter your preference.
Last, a few features are simply not that useful, but they’re more like unnecessary clutter than legitimate flaws. The talk back feature can be difficult to understand on the baby end of the line (we found it works best—that is, intelligibly—if you speak about a foot away from the microphone, and avoid shouting). A “shortcut” button to control the monitor’s volume and brightness doesn’t really save you much time. There are other features on the menu—counting the little songs, a timer, and a zoom, you have a total of about seven. But honestly, after testing this monitor for some time and others for years longer, the only thing you really need to be able to do regularly is adjust the volume.
Intuitive and User-Friendly Menu and Features: What good are 25 fancy features if you can't figure out how to navigate the menu and customize settings or change options? All of the best baby monitors reviewed above have great utility, with high video quality and a nice feature set, but some of them have relatively high usability, which comes in handy when you don't want to spend too much time shuffling through menus to change one silly setting.
Your phone might not have great battery life. Many parents who use a wifi baby monitor come to the realization that their smart phone battery life isn't so great when they are streaming a live video and audio feed from their baby monitor. If you have a newer iPhone or Android device, it will probably do pretty well, but if you have an older phone the batter is probably a bit weaker already and you will notice your battery life dropping pretty quickly during use. So definitely consider battery life and charging options for your smart phone when you are choosing between a self-contained versus wifi baby monitor.
Dropped connections are another problem. "We tested our Wi-Fi monitors on two separate routers and consistently had problems -- we'd often lose the connection some time in the night and not even realize that the monitor had disconnected until morning," Wirecutter says. "This happened with all three Wi-Fi models we tested. We never really felt confident relying on any of the connected monitors overnight, despite the fact that the modem and router were literally on the other side of a wall from the monitor."
Unfortunately, The DECT SCD570/10 is one of the most expensive sound devices we tested with a price that rivals some of the video options. This higher price means that parents looking in this price range may want to consider a video product instead to get more bang for their buck. Alternatively, if you want a sound option with full-bodied sound and fancy features for baby, and you aren't interested in watching your little one, then the SCD570 could be the one for you.
Alex Colon is the managing editor of PCMag's consumer electronics team. He previously covered mobile technology for PCMag and Gigaom. Though he does the majority of his reading and writing on various digital displays, Alex still loves to sit down with a good, old-fashioned, paper and ink book in his free time. (Not that there's anything wrong wit... See Full Bio
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.
Wireless encryption: This ensures that no one else can tap into your monitor’s “feed” and see what’s going on in your house. WiFi-enabled monitors are great for portability and range, but may be more susceptible to hacking. If you go this route, be sure to secure your home wireless network and keep the monitor’s firmware updated. Otherwise look for digital monitors with a 2.4 GHz FHSS wireless transmission.