Larger homes or locations with more than 4 or 5 walls between the camera and parent unit might be stuck with a Wi-Fi monitor. Most of the dedicated monitors only worked up to 4 walls, with the exception of the Project Nursery 4.3 that stopped working at 3. The Philips Avent SCD630 has the longest range for dedicated monitors in this review, with an impressive 92 ft through 5 walls, so if your needs are greater than that, then none of the dedicated monitors we tested are likely to work for your situation. Wi-Fi connected cameras, on the other hand, are limited only by the wireless router location in relation to the camera and parent unit, and the strength and speed of your Wi-Fi connection. If necessary, routers can often be moved, or range extenders added, to increase the range between the components if the Wi-Fi monitor struggles to keep a clear or consistent connection. Purchasing a monitor from a venue with a simple return policy like Amazon means you'll be able to test the monitor in your house to determine how well it works without the risk of being stuck with a useless product.
But, for many parents, a baby monitor is a part of daily life. If you need to visually confirm that your baby is safely asleep for the night in order to leave the room and relax, it can feel like a necessity. A baby monitor gives you a camera and/or microphone near the crib, and a separate rechargeable parent unit (aka, a monitor) that connects wirelessly and can travel with you throughout the house, either working while plugged in or running off its battery. Monitors are most commonly used for new babies, but even once your household is past the infant stage you may appreciate an easy way to check to make sure your kid is still asleep, still breathing, or still in the room at all. It’s nice to see your children in bed, dreaming happily, sleeping in adorable new positions, cuddling with animals, and generally doing okay. A baby monitor can make that happen.
The Dropcam Echo is an example of a digital video camera system that uses your existing wireless network, allowing you to use your computer or other device as the receiver. (We haven't tested this type of monitor.) Parents go to the Dropcam website, sign in to their account, and then connect the Dropcam to their router using an Ethernet cable. (Once the connection is made, you don't need to use the cable again.) The Dropcam locates your wireless network, you enter your unit's serial number, and the unit begins streaming encrypted video that you can view on a computer, iPhone, iPad, or Android device. You mount the camera in your baby's room and plug it into an electrical outlet.
This unit only works until little ones can roll or crawl. It can be uncomfortable for some babies or ineffective if little ones are too small or their diapers don't fit well. We worry parents will rely on this kind of device to prevent SIDs and caution you that there is no evidence that it does or can prevent the incidence of SIDs. However, if you want to know when your little one is moving at a predictable rate, and knowing may help you sleep better, then the Snuza could be the right option for you that won't break the bank or require adjustments to your nursery.
There are two basic types: audio and video/audio. Some are analog, others are digital. All monitors operate within a selected radio frequency band to send sound from a baby's room to a receiver in another room. Each monitor consists of a transmitter (the child/nursery unit) and one or more receivers. Prices range from about $25 to $150 for audio monitors and about $80 to $300 for audio/video monitors.
If you're looking for a smartphone-compatible baby monitor that's designed first and foremost to fill that role, Wirecutter calls the iBaby M6S (Est. $135) "the least bad Wi-Fi monitor (so far)," simply because it's "slightly easier to set up than its competitors." Once again, however, experts disagree: Baby Bargains says Nest Cam "runs circles around iBaby when it comes to set up and ease of use."
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
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.
The iBaby’s video and audio quality were among the best in the WiFi group, but like all WiFi monitors, quality and how well it displays real-time action depends largely on your internet quality and speed. Our testers only experienced a delay of less than a second, more noticeable than HelloBaby’s, but nowhere close to Motorola’s three-second delay.
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.
It may surprise you to hear that simply being able to last through the night, unplugged, with the display off, qualifies as exceptional battery life for a baby monitor. The Infant Optics was one of the only monitors in our testing that could easily do that, and then last a while longer the next day before needing a charge. (The manufacturer claims it lasts 10 hours with the display off—we got that amount of time off a full charge, even when checking the display intermittently.) This model also charges via a USB connection, which actually sets it apart from a variety of competitors, some of which use ineffective and inconvenient proprietary DC chargers or even disposable batteries.
"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.
Ease of use may not seem like a big deal because once you know how to use something, it won't seem that hard, and after you use it for a while it can feel intuitive even if it isn't. However, with this type of product, there can be a learning curve depending on what kind you choose and how many features it has. While the dedicated monitors were plug in and go options that even grandma can manage, some of them took a little more skill to navigate and learn. The Wi-Fi options, on the other hand, do require some knowledge of technology and the way apps work. With all of them, you will need to set up the camera with your computer or another device, and you will need to set up an account and be able to manage things like Wi-Fi passwords and various settings inside the application. While this may seem like no big deal to some parents, it could be challenging for those that are less tech-savvy.
You can get the same system, with a traditional monitor screen that’s slightly smaller at 4.3 inches, for cheaper. If you’re interested in having two zoom cameras or an app that lets you see your baby while away, Project Nursery offers those configurations as well. You can also record video and take photos with it as well (requires an SD card sold separately).