But these nursery essentials can be as fussy as the babies they keep tabs on. And like virtually every other household appliance, they are growing increasingly more capable and complex. In addition to conventional video baby monitors that use a camera and a handheld LCD display, often called a “parent unit,” there are now also Wi-Fi-enabled systems that connect to your home network and use your smartphone as both the display and the controller, much like DIY home security cameras. These latter models offer high-defition video, intelligent alerts, and the ability to check on your child from anywhere you have an internet connection.
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. That alone puts it head-and-shoulders above many other monitors we tested.
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.
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.
Range: Range is the main drawback of an RF model, as audio monitors can roam farther out, and a Wi-Fi connection can theoretically be checked anywhere. We wanted an adequate range in a typical home—to be able to maintain a signal up or down a flight of stairs, across the house, and out on a patio or driveway, but we didn’t expect much beyond that. We zeroed in on monitors rated to about 700 feet of range1 or greater.
Searching for a big-screen video baby monitor that will stay put in one place, like on your bedside table, in the kitchen, or living room? And won't break the bank? Then this is the one for you. It has a sleek and truly large 7" display, that looks like a digital picture frame, and is about the size of an iPad Mini. We found the video to have a great quality signal, the monitor to be high resolution for good visibility, and the night vision to work reasonably well (it's grayscale, not greens, but still sufficient to watch baby sleep or check status). It was also really easy to setup, simply plug in the camera, and plug in the video monitor, and you're all set. It comes with great features: it has an integrated two-way audio intercom system, a sleep mode that dims the screen but leaves on the audio, adjustable volume, and adjustable wireless channels to ensure signal clarity even with interference from other devices. In our test, we found everything in this baby monitor system really easy to learn and use, and really enjoyed the "talk" feature that allowed us to talk to our baby in the other room. There were three primary drawbacks, however: first, it is a stationary system, meaning that the display does not have a battery. This is the biggest drawback relative to the above systems. You can move it from room to room, however, as long as you bring the (albeit short) power cord. Second, unlike most others on this list, it does not allow you to remotely control the camera tilt or zoom. Finally, the overall quality isn't up to par with the others on the list. The sound quality wasn't so great, the image sometimes choppy, and the night vision somewhat poor quality relative to others. Overall, it has some great features, and if you're looking to save a bunch of money for a decent video monitor that isn't super versatile, this is one of the best baby monitors for bang for the buck!
The dedicated monitors did not score as well as the Wi-Fi products for features. It isn't that they don't have features, it's just that they don't offer as many, don't have features that make the camera easier to use or the features they have don't work that well. All of the dedicated monitors have 2-way communication, but they all also can only be viewed on the parent device that comes with the monitor. Some offer temperature sensors and lullabies, but most of them don't provide motion detection or great zoom. The highest score for features for the traditional video products was 5 of 10. Two monitors managed to earn the 5 rating, with the Infant Optics DXR-8 being the highest ranked overall with a feature score of 5. However, this monitor did not score well overall, or in key metrics, we think are essential for a good video monitor. So despite having a high score for features, we still would not recommend this monitor to a friend.
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.
With a baby monitor, you're able to keep tabs on your little one(s) during nap time or nighttime, and still go about your day. Generally, the number one benefit provided by the best baby monitors are peace of mind, followed closely by the benefits of security and convenience. Plus, since homes and habits vary, a baby monitor may have additional uses, like allowing you to monitor how long it takes your preschooler to fall asleep, keeping track of playtime, or even using it as a pet cam.
The price of the Infant Optics, at about $150, is on the higher end for baby monitors. As much as we wanted to recommend a more affordable option, we found their shortcomings to be major enough—terrible video quality and poor connections were common—that we couldn’t recommend one. The Infant Optics offers a better value even though it’s among the more expensive options out there. Many people use these daily for years, which helps justify the investment, and the reports of reliable customer service from other customers are reassuring. If you have to spend less, go audio-only.
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).