Traditional versus Wifi Baby Monitors: Starting around 2010, parents began to switch from using baby monitors with a yoked camera and screen, to using wifi cameras that can stream over smart phones, tablets, and personal computers. At the time, there weren't very many wifi cameras aimed towards the baby gear market, so people were going with familiar wifi camera brands like Nest and Samsung. Over the next few years, companies slowly began introducing baby-themed wifi cameras onto the market. While even high-quality HD wifi cameras can be found for under $50 (like this one) nowadays, companies began to realize they could package a wifi camera as a baby monitor, change the colors and themes of the app, and charge 3-4 times the price. And they continue to use this strategy to this day! So which is better? Well, this really comes down to one thing: do you want to be able to view the nursery while you're not at home? If you answer yes to this question, then you need to use a wifi monitor as opposed to a typical baby monitor. A wifi baby monitor (or any wifi camera) will connect to your internet (some are wired, some through wifi only) and stream live (well, slightly delated) video to an app on your phone. That will work in the house or out of the house, as long as you have a fast internet connection. So you can simply BYOP (bring your own phone) and leverage 20th century technology! That seems really appealing, and we highly recommend some of the newer ones (like the Cocoon Cam, Lollipop, and Nanit), but there are some things to keep in mind when figuring out the type of monitor to buy:
This monitor is known for its zoom lens, included in the box, that lets you see your baby up close even if you have to position it farther away from the crib. You can use the monitor to remotely adjust the camera, and you don’t have to worry about plugging the monitor in overnight—it can sit on your nightstand for up to 10 hours in the power-saving mode (similar to sleep mode on your computer, but it still provides sound monitoring while the display is off) and up to six hours with the display screen constantly on.
In early 2011, two infant strangulation deaths prompted a recall of nearly two million Summer Infant video monitors. The CPSC also reported that a 20-month-old boy was found in his crib with the camera cord wrapped around his neck. In that case, the Summer Infant monitor camera was mounted on a wall, but the child was still able to reach the cord. He was freed without serious injury.
Summer Infant has been making high-quality, reliable baby monitors for many years. One problem with the Summer Infant monitors is that it's difficult to figure out which one has the features and quality you want, given the very wide range of options. Some are much better than others, and this is definitely one of the better ones we've tested. This color baby monitor has a high-quality 5" high resolution LCD display, which is a similar quality to the Project Nursery monitor in terms of color, contrast, and brightness. When we first got our hands on this, we were excited that maybe it was a nice wide angle panorama camera. But it turns out what they meant by "panorama" is that you can remotely tilt, pan, and zoom. The panning does go nice and wide, allowing you to swing the camera side to side about 180-degrees. But the camera angle itself is no different than the other monitors on this list. That being said, this is a great baby monitor with some great features. In addition to being able to remotely pan, tilt, and zoom the camera, some of the best features were: 1) a subtle night light that you can turn on/off remotely, and can choose it to glow with a soft blue or red color, 2) a sensor that tells you the temperature of your baby's room at all times, 3) a sound-activated light bar on the top of the receiver that tells you when there's noise in the room (even when volume is off). We thought the big hand-held unit was great, with a convenient kick-stand to put it anywhere in the house, great battery life, and good range. We were able to walk around in the backyard with this unit and still get a good, stable image. Note that you can add an extra camera to this, and it will cycle through the two cameras automatically (it does not do split-screen to see both at once). Downfalls? Well, the night vision isn't quite as good as with higher-ranked monitors on this list, and even the lowest volume level seemed really loud for sleeping parents. Also, even though the screen is nice and big, the digital video quality is sub-par relative to several other options on this list. Overall, this is a great addition to our best baby monitor list, as it has great features and falls in the middle of the price range. For about the same price, we'd go with the Infant Optics or Samsung option, unless you value the larger screen size.
Most people don't have unlimited data plans for their smart phone, and are surprised to see very high data usage after just a few hours of streaming their wifi baby monitor. With HD video, you can go through a couple gigabytes of data in just a few hours, so keep that in mind. If your phone is connected to wifi that won't matter, but if you're using 3G or 4G LTE cellular service, you will definitely have slow video and tons of data usage.
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