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The main reason you’re going to need a baby monitor is to answer a simple, but time-honored, question: Why the hell is my baby crying? It’s only been in the last 30 years or so that parents have relied on the remote surveillance of their sleeping children. For the eons before that it was a combination of a) natural, ear-piercing cries and b) all sleeping in the same hut/yurt/igloo.
Now you have to decide how much to spend, how far the range, how connected the WiFi, and how feature-packed the device. These are the main questions you should ask yourself before dropping some cash.
- Video, Audio or Both: First-time parents are suckers for hi-def, night-vision cameras where they can pick up on exactly how their child’s chest is rising and falling. You will do this dozens of times a night. Past the SIDS-scare age, you may just want an audio monitor (which a lot of video ones double as), because you’ll know a I’m-Hungry cry from a I-Lost-My-Sock whine.
- Sound Activation: Even the guys in the FBI van outside your house take coffee brakes. If you don’t need constant sound monitoring, there are a lot of devices that go into “cry mode”, that only alert you to alert-worthy noises.
- Range: Make sure that the monitor will connect in all the rooms that you take it into. If it doesn’t, take it back because no amount of aluminum foil will save it. And if you have good WiFi coverage in your home, chances are all your devices will connect without a problem. Also, you should check to make sure the signal is encrypted so this doesn’t happen.
- Other Features: Night lights and lullabies are nice, but chances are you already have some toys that already do this. Pass.
Pros: Technically not a “baby monitor”, the Nest Cam has your kid covered while still integrating with those other Nest products that make sure you don’t burn to death in your bed. Baby Gear Lab gave it a “top pick” because it has “impressive reliability”, “excellent video” (1080p with a 130-degree field of vision), “and enough features and device compatibility to keep baby under watch for hours.” Gizmodo points out some upgrades from the old Dropcam that make it simpler to install, like “a redesigned body … with a magnet that will make it far easier to hang around the house.”
Cons: It’s not a traditional baby monitor, so don’t expect it to function like one (no flashing red LEDs to let you know sleep training isn’t working). You’ll also need a decent Internet connection, and a better streaming plan. BGL says it “requires a minimum upload speed of 0.5 Mbps. Even with a connection close to this speed we still had success using this monitor with only a couple of seconds delay. The distance from a WiFi router is the main thing that can impact performance and result in loss of connection.” Hope your baby likes his new teether from Netgear.
Nest Cam ($199)
Pros: The Nightlight gives it a thumbs up, citing that its “3.5-inch screen still captured subtle movements, and you can change the camera angle remotely.” But they were hypnotized by “its LED audio monitor. Both clear and soothing (the LEDs aren’t blinding, they’re just gentle, subtle lights), we kept it running long after formal testing was complete.” The MBP36S also plays lullabies. Just your standard ones. No River of Dreams-era Billy Joel.
Cons: Not enough River of Dreams-era Billy Joel. Also, the monitor’s dynamic range is kind of shoddy. BGL says, “Even at the lowest setting, it was louder than we wanted.” Some Amazon reviewers also weren’t that kind to the Motorola longevity, saying the battery crapped out after a little more than a year. Pro tip: Keep it plugged in, people.
Motorola MBP36 ($250)
Pros: This is the Lorex, it speaks for your kid. The Sweet Peep has BGL’s “Best Value” stamp, earning “its highest score for battery life and respectable scores for sound and video.” For the reasonable price it also offers “useful features like sound activation, a nightlight, lullabies, talk to baby, and digital zoom” that just happens to be cheaper than most of the other monitors that do this. One Amazon reviewer also pointed out, “My wife was a stickler for not wanting a wireless product due to the history of hacking and this product has made her to happy.” Hear that hackers? Try harder!
Cons: Too many goddam buttons, and not clearly marked ones at that, frustrated more than a few Amazon customers (who are usually pretty irritable to start with). One reviewer also said, “The screen was very bright and even on a lower setting can keep you up at night.” While BGL complained that “some of the features (like zoom) are buried in a menu system that requires multiple button pushes to get to, which is something that could be a challenge to parents in the middle of the night.” Also a challenge to parents: Getting out of bed.
Lorex Baby Sweet Peep ($90 – $250)
Pros: If you think children should be heard and not seen (progressive!) the Philips Avent has pretty much all the same features as top-of-the-line camera monitors, sans camera. It has a range of more than 90-ft inside, a night light, lullabies, and a “cry mode” so you’re only alerted to cries for attention, not farts of contentment. Baby Gear Lab drops the mic, saying “The bottom line is this monitor blew away the competition and left the rest of the audio products in the dust.”
Cons: Not many. Some may find a bit on the high side for not having a camera, and one Amazon reviewer didn’t like the two-way feature of the SCD570, saying “I could use this more often to speak into the monitor and calm our child, but it is a bit scary, and so we have decided to use it very rarely.” What? How is a disembodied voice telling your child to go to sleep scary?
Philips Avent DECT SCD570/10 ($150)
Pros: Unlike monitors that only tell you whether or not your kid is making noise, this actually uses hospital technology to let you monitor their oxygen levels. The Owlet bootie tracks heart rate, skin temperature, and rollovers, then downloads that data to your smartphone. It also connects to a base station that monitors constantly, just in case you’re not near said smartphone. Great for those who are concerned about O2-levels in their newborn babies. Bad for those who are anxious or compulsive. Or, as they’re commonly known in psychology textbooks: Parents.
Cons: It’s only meant for when your baby sleeping perfectly still, which, depending on what kind of parent you are, either puts you at ease or terrifies the living shit out of you. One Amazon reviewer points out the main flaws for their newborn, “the preemie sock is more prone to false positives than the normal socks,” “There is no way to turn the sock off,” and “you can’t use your phone at night if you don’t want yellow alerts waking up your baby.” That last one sounds like a red alert for your iPhone addiction.
The Owlet ($250)
Pros: If Dick Tracy popped out a couple of kids (and who wouldn’t with 90s-era Madonna), this would be his 2-way wrist radio. The Babble Band owners are taken with this thing because it’s easy, lightweight, and according to one reviewer “allows mom and dad freedom to move from room to room without losing contact with the baby.” You also don’t have to wear a traditional monitor clipped to your belt buckle — because wearing tech on your belt hasn’t been cool since … ever.
Cons: Amazon customers were frustrated by the fact they had to be in the same room as the baby to charge this, and that’s pretty often considering, “the band only works for 8 hours., then requires 5 to 6 hours to charge.” Also, as anybody who’s been to a concert knows, if you point a microphone to the monitor in their room, you’ll get screeching feedback. Then the baby’s awake, defeating your need for a baby monitor.
The Babble Band ($60)
Pros: No need to turn around while you’re doing 80 mph on the highway. Just tap your Garmin navigation screen (assuming first that you have one in the first place) and you can see your child napping, screaming, vomiting, or cursing at other drivers with minimal eye-shifting. Installation is just clipping the Bluetooth cam to headrest, and Garmin gives you the option of adding up to 4 more cams. If the NFL has taught us nothing, it’s the more angles you can see, the better.
Cons: You threw out your Garmin GPS in the mid-2000s because you got an iPhone. There aren’t a ton of reviews yet for a product that just recently launched, but you and Garmin know the biggest impediment is the fact that your phone has a pretty stellar navigation system baked in.
Garmin babyCam ($199)