Microphone sensitivity: There’s a difference between hearing your baby cry, and hearing every little noise. All baby monitors have the option to turn down the volume, but some offer thresholds for parents who are more comfortable with only hearing the biggest upsets, and prefer not to hear the self-comforting noises their baby makes as they fall asleep.
Surprisingly, there are low-cost options to be found in the video monitors, some with prices similar to or better than their sound counterparts. These great buys include dedicated and Wi-Fi cameras for the basic and more tech-savvy parents alike. Consider the Best Value Levana Lila as a no-nonsense option that anyone can easily use with a price under $100. Or the LeFun C2 720P Wi-Fi with a list price of $70 and video images good enough to get the job done. If you have a higher budget, and find value in products that will last for years to come, the Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi has a list price around $200, but for the money, you can use it for years in multiple capacities outside baby monitoring, including security and a nanny cam. With awesome products like these, it is easy to see why video monitors have gained in popularity in recent years.
Battery: We wanted a monitor battery that could last overnight, or at least eight hours, without being plugged in. We thought the ideal product would automatically cut off an idle display screen to conserve battery, work at least a few hours unplugged with the screen on, and recharge fairly efficiently. We made a rechargeable battery a requirement. We preferred units designed to connect to power via a standard USB connector, and looked for reports that the baby monitors could reliably charge, recharge, and hold a charge long-term—a disappointingly rare ability in baby monitors.
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.
Reliability. This is a tough one, as it requires long-term knowledge of system reliability, through thick and thin. There are many baby monitors on the market that start out excellent but tend to glitch out or completely fail within the first several months of ownership. This is especially the case for many unrecognized brand names that are saturating the market. If you're buying this as a baby registry gift the last thing you want to do is make the new parents think you cheaped out on a junky baby monitor! All of the best video monitors that make it onto our list have withstood the test of time, lasting at least 6 months, and in some cases several years at this point (like the Infant Optics option!). Another point about reliability that's worth mentioning is that most modern wifi baby monitors will keep a local connection to your app even when the internet is down. So as long as you're still in your house, you can continue streaming video even when the internet is down.
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.
This monitor comes with a 2.4" color screen that connects to its camera over a secure, interference-free connection, providing you with video up to 900 feet away. It boasts a two-way talk system and night vision, as well as several extra features like temperature monitoring, voice-activation mode, 2x zoom and more. The manufacturer doesn’t specify how long the battery on this video baby monitor lasts, but reviewers say you can get around six hours of continuous use from it.
In addition to being untested for efficacy, physiologic monitors can increase both your stress and your baby’s stress with false alarms and unnecessary trips to the hospital. Dr. Christopher Bonafide, of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia wrote that parents are increasingly bringing healthy babies to the hospital over a false alarm, noting that changes that often set off a monitor are “just normal fluctuations.”
Encrypted Wireless Communications: Here's something creepy and strange - there are reports of people tapping into even the best baby monitors and getting some bizarre pleasure from watching your baby sleep or watching you feed the baby in the middle of the night. A few of the manufacturers have included wireless encryption on their systems to make this much less likely.
A good WiFi monitor is convenient and feature-rich — or else we may as well stick with the HelloBaby. The iBaby takes both aspect to the next level. It was the fastest WiFi model to set up at only five minutes. Once you download the app, a straightforward tutorial walks you through every feature. We liked that you can choose both sensitivity levels and notification options for noise, motion, temperature, and humidity — meaning the iBaby won’t alert you to those quiet falling-asleep sounds, or small movements unless you want it to.
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.
Wireless systems use radio frequencies that are designated by governments for unlicensed use. For example, in North America frequencies near 49 MHz, 902 MHz or 2.4 GHz are available. While these frequencies are not assigned to powerful television or radio broadcasting transmitters, interference from other wireless devices such as cordless telephones, wireless toys, computer wireless networks, radar, Smart Power Meters and microwave ovens is possible.
Ease of setup and installation factored heavily into our ratings, including whether an account needed to be created and if there were any extra subscription fees necessary. Each unit had cords protruding out of its back, so design wasn't much of a factor in my choice, though parents should take care to keep dangling cords and wires away from their children's reach when setting up a monitor.
The Levana Lila is the second highest ranking dedicated monitor in the review, and 5th overall. This budget-friendly option has the longest battery life of any dedicated monitor we tested and scored well enough for ease of use and sound clarity that you won't be frustrated. Unfortunately, this monitor has a shorter range than the Philips Avent SCD630 and the fewest features in the group (which makes it easier to use). So it may not be a good choice for parents that want all the bells and whistles. This monitor does sport 2-way talk to baby, sound activation, and automatic screen wake/sleep, which are some of the most important features in our mind. The Lila has no zoom, and the field of view is rather small for a camera that is not remotely operated (no pan or tilt). However, if you want a dedicated monitor for the simplicity and peace of mind with less chance of a dropped signal, and budget is a factor, then the Lila can't be beaten.
iBaby makes a really confusing range of baby monitors. From cheapest to most expensive this includes the iBaby Monitors M2, M2S, and M2 Plus, iBaby M6, M6T, and M6S, and the new iBaby M7. The M2 series is usually under $100 and is pretty poorly reviewed overall. The M6 series is usually about $125 and is decently reviewed. Finally, the new M7 is brand new and only differs from the M6S in that it has a smell detector and night sky projector that can shine the moon and stars onto the ceiling (our review of the M7 is above). There's truly a lot to love about the iBaby M6S. It looks great, is pretty easy to setup, and has a ton of appealing features. Some highlights are that it uses 1080p high definition video, it senses room temperature and humidity levels, has an air quality sensor (measures the presence of volatile organic compounds or VOCs in the nursery), is dual band wifi compatible (2.4 and 5GHz), and a two-way intercom. It also can record HD videos, remotely pan (rotate) and tilt up/down, and you can setup alerts for motion, sound, and VOCs (from 1 to 4 with 4 being best). So it basically has everything that might be on your list of baby monitor essential features, and we were really excited to set it up. Out of the box, we found it easy to download the app to our smart phone (Android or Apple), connect to the monitor and connect it to wifi, and get things up and running. A couple notes here - first, your wifi password needs to be shorter than 32 characters or the app won't accept it, and second, there is no way to manually set an IP address for the camera. When we used it on our home wifi network, we found that the images were clear and decently fast (low lag), and the night vision was high-quality and not too grainy. We especially liked the pan and tilt features from the app, which allows you to move the camera's view angle around without going into the nursery (and it uses a cool screen-swipe gesture to do it). Once we left our home's wifi connection and tried to connect to the camera from a 4G LTE or a different wifi network, that's when we started to run into problems. It was choppy and laggy, which to be honest is what we expected when attempting to stream 1080p HD video outside of your home network. So we changed the resolution settings on the app (Settings - Display Settings - Resolution) to downgrade it to a lower quality stream; that seemed to help a bit. We also had difficulty connecting to the camera at times, whether we were at home or elsewhere, which was one of the more frustrating things about the iBaby Monitor M6S. The temperature and humidity sensors seemed to work pretty well, and we confirmed their accuracy with a separate thermometer and hygrometer (they were pretty decent in accuracy). For the two-way intercom, the speaker in the camera seemed pretty poor quality so it was hard to hear my voice when attempting to speak to (or sing to) our baby. Finally, we had some issues with alerts coming through to the app as intended. We setup the temperature, humidity, and VOC alerts, and had really intermittent alerts when we tested them out. The temperature and humidity sensors seemed to be reading just fine, they just weren't reliably triggering an alert when they deviated from a range. For example, we set a temperature alert for 80 degrees then blew a hair dryer at the camera; it warmed way up, but the alert wasn't triggered, so that was frustrating. We didn't test the VOC sensor, though one could imagine you could open up a can of paint next to the camera and see if it sends an alert. So overall, we have a decent wifi baby monitor that has some excellent features but also leaves a lot to be desired in the reliability department. Interested? You can check out the iBaby M6S Baby Monitor here.