From a pure imaging standpoint, night vision is vital for watching your baby sleep from another room, and is standard for most baby monitors. Motorized pan and tilt (which lets you swivel the camera from afar) isn't quite as common, but is very welcome if you have a toddler and want to scan an entire room. High-definition is a nice plus, but you don't need the highest-resolution sensor to keep tabs on your baby—most of the monitors we test use 720p cameras rather than 1080p.
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The iBaby doesn't have the best sound which is somewhat disappointing considering the great video quality. It is also going to look out of place should you try to use it for any other purpose outside baby monitoring. This limited use means it doesn't retain value the way the Nest Cam will. However, if you want a baby-centric video option that has lots of fun bells and whistles, then the iBaby is the one for you.
Both Baldwin and Kay recommend iBaby’s M6S Wi-Fi video monitor for its design and ease of use. Resembling a little robot, the iBaby offers 360-degree views and 110-degree tilt, 1080p video with night vision, and even comes equipped with lullabies. Other features include temperature, humidity, and air-quality sensors, which Baldwin admits are bells and whistles, but could be useful depending on what kind of parent you are. And, of course, everything comes straight through to your smartphone or tablet, which can also remotely control settings. And while some parents may be concerned about potential hacking of Wi-Fi monitors, Baldwin found that the risk is fairly low and usually occurred in cheap, off-brand models.
Clarity of Daytime and Night Vision: When wireless baby monitor systems with screens were first introduced onto the market they used somewhat outdated display technology that made for a grainy, distorted and often unreliable picture. Newer baby monitors use a liquid crystal display similar to the ones used in your smart phone and other consumer electronics, so these HD video baby monitors tend to have very nice color contrast and high resolution, and are also substantially more reliable. All of the stand-alone baby monitors we list above have high-quality displays, and we do not recommend some of the relatively old fashioned ones that can still be found on the market. Of course, night vision doesn't use color - so the display will be either grayscale or show a slightly green hue. That's important to keep in mind before you try it out for the first time; not even military special operations have color night vision, so don't expect anything amazing, even from the best baby monitor!
The audio quality is excellent, thanks to VTech's use of DECT 6.0, so you shouldn't hear any interference, static, or echoing when you listen in on your baby. Since the monitor uses a special frequency to relay the signal from the monitor in your baby's room to the parental unit, everything is encrypted and secure. No one but you will hear your baby.
As you’d expect, the talk back functionality and audio quality in general are great—easily better than the crude talk back features on our video monitor picks. With the battery lasting about 19 hours on a full charge, this monitor had the strongest battery life of any in our test (not entirely a fair comparison, as this is the only one with no screen to power). Rated to a range of 1,000 feet, it exceeds the range of our pick (700 feet) both as advertised and in practice during tests.
How far away baby's monitor can be from the parent unit is what determines a product's range. While many manufacturers offer a "line of sight" range to describe a monitor's range, it is not a good indication of how well it will work in your home with walls and interference. It doesn't matter how much you like a specific model or brand, if it doesn't work in your house, it simply isn't going to work. We tested both indoor range and open field tests to provide the best information, but remember that the values inside your home matter more than those in an open field, unless of course, you are leaving a baby alone in an open field (which we don't recommend).
Video, Audio, or Both: First-time parents are suckers for high-definition, night-vision baby monitors where they can pick up on exactly how their child’s chest is rising and falling. You will do this dozens of times a night. Past the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome-scare age, you may just want an audio baby monitor (which a lot of video ones double as), because you’ll know an “I’m hungry” cry from an “I lost my sock” whine.
Some good things about this model set it apart from competitors. The iBaby connects when you simply plug in your phone via a USB port on the camera body and grant permission for the monitor to access your wireless settings. The competitors make you enter a router’s network key—certainly doable, but not as easy as the iBaby. With 360-degree pan and 110-degree tilt motion, the iBaby can technically see more of the room than our Infant Optics pick—although its bulbous shape is a little harder to arrange than the pick’s simple wall-mount or stand-up base. The M6S model’s video quality and night vision were on a par with that of our former runner-up, the Samsung SEW3043 BrightView HD (but those results will vary with the quality of your Internet connection and your device’s display). The audio from the camera can play in the background on your phone, so you don’t have to keep the app open at all times.
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.
Another Summer Infant baby monitor option, not quite as great as most others on this list, but definitely a trusted and reliable model and one of the best baby monitors available on the market this year. In our testing, one of the first things we noticed about this baby monitor was the sleek mobile-phone-size touch-screen reminiscent of the older iPhones. What's nice about this form factor is that it slips easily into your pocket like a mobile phone. Many of the others need to be clipped to your belt or waist, as they are quite a bit too thick or large for the pocket. The actual video display is modestly sized, coming in at 3.5" diagonal viewing area. This is the same size as the Infant Optics model. And it has some great features. It has remote pan (side-to-side adjust), tilt (up/down adjust), and zooming capability. Two-way audio communication so you can hear baby, and talk back to baby (maybe sing a lullaby, or whisper something to help soothe your baby). The system is also expandable to up to 4 cameras. Each additional camera is about $99, and you can place them in various locations around the home and toggle between them with the video unit. In our tests, the battery lasted about 4-5 hours when off the charger (and being used), and charged back to full capacity in only a couple hours. We didn't think the picture quality was as good as most other options on this list, nor was the sound. We also hooked it up to multiple cameras and used the "scan" feature which rotated through the various cameras once every 8 seconds. In our opinion, it took a bit too long to switch to a particular camera. It was also pretty loud when we remotely adjusted the pan/tilt of the camera. Also, it's worth noting that the pan feature doesn't seem to work when it's zoomed in. So overall, you're getting a good form factor, a reliable camera, but not the best image quality. For about $150, we think you could do better with one of our higher-rated options!
The VTech DM221 audio monitor is the best choice in the category—it's consistently a best seller at multiple retailers, with thousands of positive customer reviews. Losing video is a major sacrifice, of course, but we could see this monitor being a good choice for parents of toddlers who are considering replacing a failing monitor, or people who want a monitor only so they can hear their kid crying out from a distant bedroom.
Like many monitors in this price range, the SafeVIEW provides a lot of bells and whistles: remote zoom, tilt and pan of the camera, two-way communication and a range of 900 feet so you don’t have to stress about chatting with your neighbor outside during naptime. The SafeVIEW also has a built-in nightlight that you can turn on and off using the monitor. And, if the monitor is going nuts every time a big truck drives by or during a thunderstorm, you can decrease its sound sensitivity to not pick up the background noise.