The best baby monitors have
- Reliable transmission. An effective baby monitor should 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 audio and/or video signals. Monitors need 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.
- Minimal false alarms. If you opt for a motion detection monitor, you'll need to accept that occasional false alarms may rattle your peace of mind. Still, a good monitor will keep them to a minimum with adjustable sensitivity settings and more than one sensor pad for a mobile baby.
- Good battery life. Most baby monitors have a parent unit that can be plugged in even when the battery is low so that you can still keep tabs on your baby. However, that's not very useful if you don't have a plug nearby or want to easily move from room to room with the monitor. Pay particular attention if the parent unit requires disposable batteries -- you don't want to spend a fortune on a new set every week or two. Also note that audio-only monitors have a longer battery life than video monitors, which use more power.
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 microwaves. 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 your child's well-being, a motion detection monitor may ease your mind. (Note, however, that experts caution such monitors are not approved medical devices and don't actually protect against SIDS.) For many parents, an audio 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, nightlights, 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, audio 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 with their fragile cameras.
What's to come
Wearables aren't just for grownups anymore. Tech-savvy entrepreneurs are rolling out innovative wearable baby monitors that can track just about all of baby's vital statistics. The Owlet is a "smart sock" that tracks heart rate and oxygen levels, sending data to parents' smartphones, while the Mimo tracks sleep data using a Bluetooth-enabled onesie. Several others are to come, but take note: These monitors are pricey, and experts say they may unnecessarily alarm parents by providing too much data and setting off false alarms. They also warn that there is no evidence these monitors can prevent SIDS.