Parents are spoiled for choice nowadays, thanks to the rise of the connected home and new technologies like live-streaming video and high-resolution cameras. No matter which type of baby monitor you buy — whether it be an old-school audio-only monitor or a fancy Wi-Fi video monitor — it will have two parts: a monitor in the baby's room and a receiver that you carry around with you to hear and/or view your baby.
We tested monitors daily over a period of several months, in three houses: one nearly 100 years old with plaster walls, plus a newer home with standard drywall construction, and a two-level 1960s home with a driveway on another level from the kids’ rooms. We tried the cloud-based monitors with two routers to be sure that any connection issues were with the monitors themselves and not the Internet connection.
One minor but potentially annoying flaw: The “on” lights on the parent unit are a touch bright, and you may be more sensitive to them since you’re likely to have the unit within view as you sleep. They appear as greenish yellow light from the face of the unit, and a charging light, which is blue when it’s fully charged. Depending on how sensitive you are to light, you may want to lay the display face down on a nightstand or cover the status lights with tape.
The interface on the monitor, aka the parent unit, is basic, simple, and intuitive, while many of its competitors have awkward controls. When panning and tilting the camera, for example, the Infant Optics responds immediately and can move in very small increments. The text on the menu displays look like something off an old Motorola RAZR, but the commands are easy to interpret and less confusing than those of some competitors. A group of four buttons makes it easy to pull up the menu and make a change (to the volume, say) without losing sight of the image on the screen. Other nice minor touches, like a display that constantly notes the temperature in the baby’s room, appear on this model but not on all of its competitors. This is not a touchscreen, but frankly, if you’ve ever used an iPhone, you’ll find the touchscreens on most baby monitors to be sorely substandard.
We wanted to recommend a less expensive video monitor, but at any price notably lower than our pick, every product we tried had such serious problems—usually, poor video quality and ongoing connection issues—that we feel a higher end audio-only monitor offers a much better value for a limited budget. The VTech DM221 audio monitor is the best choice in the category—it’s consistently a best seller at multiple retailers, with strong reviews (four out five stars over 4,703 reviews on Amazon) and similarly high ratings at Walmart, Target, and BuyBuy Baby.
Because the Nest Cam relies on an internet connection, it can fail if your internet is not reliable. So, if you'll experience sleepless nights worrying about connectivity or your internet connection, then you'll want to consider a dedicated option that works without the internet. However, if you have a large house, you could be restricted to Wi-Fi options only due to range limitations of dedicated products. For families looking for a product they can use for years to come that allows them to see little ones from outside the home, it is hard to beat this versatile camera and everything it brings to the table.
At over $200, are advanced audio/video monitoring systems with multiple cameras and receivers with large screens, as well as the ability to connect to several mobile devices. While they are loaded with features, it’s important to look closely at the audio and video quality. Expensive monitors are just as susceptible to interference as inexpensive ones.
"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.
Wireless encryption: This ensures that no one else can tap into your monitor’s “feed” and see what’s going on in your house. WiFi-enabled monitors are great for portability and range, but may be more susceptible to hacking. If you go this route, be sure to secure your home wireless network and keep the monitor’s firmware updated. Otherwise look for digital monitors with a 2.4 GHz FHSS wireless transmission.