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
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.
Range, clarity and minimal interference are factors that should be considered when you're selecting a device for baby monitoring. Range especially is something you'll want to verify/test yourself once you get any of the monitors home because they are often rated in a line-of-sight situation, but rarely used that way. Depending on the monitor type, whole home Wi-Fi can be a great option to keep your monitor wirelessly connected just about anywhere in your home. With video baby monitors, you may also want to consider getting one with the ability to record, while a low battery indicator, volume control, temperature display, and a music player may also be important convenience factors for you. Privacy can also be a consideration. Digital monitors are more difficult to hack than analog monitors because their transmissions are encoded.
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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.
"Quick and easy set-up is Nest Cam's secret sauce -- they promise a 60 second set-up and that's pretty much what we found in our testing," Baby Bargains says. Still, "Nest Cam isn't a perfect solution as a baby monitor." In addition to the signal dropouts, Nest Cam's audio cuts out anytime your phone's screen goes to sleep. It also drains the battery, Baby Bargains says, so you'll have to leave your device plugged in all night. The camera is fixed – it won't swivel – and the audio can lag behind by 3 to 5 seconds, depending on your router's speed.
Baby monitors, despite the name, are meant more for the caregiver than they are for the baby. We asked parents about which features they felt were helpful, like a long range so they could wander carefree all over the house, and reliability so they weren’t struggling to maintain a signal. Other features like being able to play lullabies, or receive temperature alerts are only as useful as you make them. And a few features, like motion monitors, can be exceptionally comforting for some, and distressing for others.
Frequency: Some baby monitors operate on the same 2.4GHz frequency band as household products like microwaves, cordless phones, wireless speakers, and so on. When the monitor is on the same frequency as a number of other products, you can experience interference and static. You may want to get a monitor that uses a different frequency like 1.9GHz, which the Federal Communications Commission sets aside for audio-only applications. It's called DECT, or Digitally Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications.
Another big plus? Its "basic but secure" radio frequency (RF) connection, Wirecutter says. Unlike monitors that transmit via Wi-Fi (and can be hacked from virtually anywhere on Earth), the DXR-8 is pretty hack-proof. It uses a 2.4 GHz FHSS (Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum) signal. Long story short, a hacker would pretty much have to be in the apartment next door, using just the right listening equipment to eavesdrop on your baby, tech journalist Carl Franzen explains at Lifehacker. He goes on a personal quest to find a hack-proof baby monitor before the birth of his first child – and settles on the DXR-8.
The Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi tied for the high score in this review with the iBaby M6S Wi-Fi. This monitor earned the high score for video quality, range, and battery life, with second place scores for ease of use and features. Its impressive performance helped it win the Top Pick award for Long-term Use. The Nest is a cool surveillance camera you can use to watch your baby, but given that it isn't specifically designed with baby in mind, it lacks some of the fun features parents may want like lullabies and nightlight. The Nest Cam offers motion detection, sound activation, 2-way talk to baby, and 8x digital zoom. The Nest Cam camera can not be controlled remotely, but instead relies on a large field of view you can zoom into and then search in a way that looks similar to pan and tilt. The downside to this camera is it does not continue to monitor if you use another app or take a phone call making it hard to use full time if you only have one device, so we recommend using a device other than your phone for consistent baby viewing. The Nest Cam is the most expensive Wi-Fi monitor in the group, but it is still cheaper than 3 of the dedicated monitors, and its long-term use possibilities make it an investment we think parents will use for years to come as a nanny cam, home security feature, or checking in on pets.
We were also disappointed that the Angelcare’s parent unit lacks an out-of-range warning. If you’re in the backyard or basement and the monitor disconnects, it’s not clear whether you’re looking at a napping baby or a frozen screen. Still, it beat out the Baby Delight for sound and video quality and offers a few customizable features: You can adjust the volume on the baby unit as well as the parent unit, and set up timed alarms and temperature alerts.
With a 1,000-foot range and DECT technology, the VTech Safe & Sound Digital Audio relays sound with excellent clarity. Two-way communication offers a way to calm a baby when he or she is waking up or trying to fall asleep. It also includes a night light for late-night feedings. The digital display indicates signal strength and power/battery life. This monitor offers a full range of alarms when your baby wakes — audio, indicator lights, and vibration.
Beyond security, Wi-Fi monitors have other disadvantages. In our tests, connectivity was more of an issue with Wi-Fi monitors than it was with RF monitors. 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. 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. Other owners (like this one) have had the same issues.
Look for a monitoring system that is a good fit for your home and lifestyle. For example, if you’re in a small apartment in a busy city, having a monitor that has a long range won’t be as important to you, but one that screens out background noise will. For parents that frequently travel or work long days, being able to check on your child from anywhere and talk over the audio can help keep you connected. But, for those who are with their kids most of the time this might not matter much. The point is, consider what will make parenting easier and your family happiest and you can’t go wrong.