The best baby monitors have

  • Reliable transmission. An effective baby monitor must be able to pick up and transmit sound or video from baby's room without undue static, losing its connection or picking up other signals within its usable range.
  • Clear signals. Monitors must have enough sound sensitivity and visual clarity to deliver clear signals to parents; for instance, parents should be able to distinguish a cry from a coo and tell whether a child's eyes are open or closed.
  • Easy operation. Monitors should be simple to set up, with intuitive controls and a range of alerts that let parents know whether the connection is lost, they are out of range, battery power is low, and so on.

Know before you go

The potential for interference in your home. Before you choose a monitor, consider what wireless devices you are currently using as well as potential interference from your immediate surroundings. Common culprits include cordless phones, cell phones, Wi-Fi routers and even microwave ovens. If you live in a densely populated area or an apartment building, potential for signal interference increases. Look for a DECT monitor if interference is a concern.

What level of monitoring you want or need. If you want to see your baby's every move, it may be worth purchasing a high-quality video monitor. If you are losing sleep from anxiety about SIDS, a movement monitor may ease your mind. For many parents, a sound-only monitor is sufficient. If you work away from home and/or have a smartphone, you may appreciate being able to stay connected via a smartphone-compatible monitor.

When and where will you rely on the monitor the most? To sleep soundly, parents may not want to hear every move their baby makes, or they may be bothered if the monitor transmits white noise from a fan or air conditioner. If you fall in this category, a voice- or sound-activation feature will be a must. Parents who are busy vacuuming may want a monitor that has a vibrate mode and/or sound signal lights. Parents with large backyards should look for a long-range monitor. Parents who work outside the home may want to be able to check in with their child at any time of day with a monitor that connects to the Internet.

Do you really need a lot of bells and whistles? Add-ons such as lullabies, night-lights, temperature sensors and multiple parent units are nice, but they can boost your bottom line. Consider whether you'll really use such features before you shell out for them.

How many children will you monitor at once? If you have more than one child or plan to in the near future, look into video monitors that let several cameras connect to one parent unit. Unfortunately, sound-only monitors lack the ability to monitor more than one room.

Does portability matter? Some parent units have belt clips or lanyards to make toting them around the house easier. If you travel, sound monitors are generally the easiest to set up on the road, and they aren't as susceptible to damage as video monitors' fragile cameras.

What's to come

Wearable technology isn't just for adult gadget-lovers anymore. The Owlet Smart Sock, which debuted in limited numbers in 2013, is a baby monitor in a washable, hypoallergenic bootie. It lets parents check on baby's heart rate, temperature, oxygen levels, sleep position, sleep quality and movement -- all from their smartphones, which receive the data wirelessly from the bootie. The Mimo Baby Monitor tracks similar information and hides its sensors in a kimono-style onesie. It then relays it to a docking station that can transmit the information to parents' smartphones. While these wearable baby monitors are cutting-edge cool, regulators are less enthusiastic. Just like lower-tech motion-detection monitors, experts emphasize that these monitors don't protect against SIDS.

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