Baby monitors: What to look for

You don’t need infrared cameras and temperature gauges.

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From the December/January 2014 issue of the magazine.

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Image Source/Getty

Image Source/Getty

Not all that long ago, baby monitors were straightforward, one-way radios that simply enabled parents to listen in on infants when the adults had to step away from the nursery. Now, high-end baby monitors have infrared video cameras, humidity sensors and movement detectors—as if parents need a complete communications command centre to properly care for kids.

To get a sense of how far things have come, look at one of the top products today, Withings’ Smart Baby Monitor. For a hefty $300, it has a pan-tilt-zoom camera and Internet connectivity, so you can stream video to your Apple or Android smartphone.

If you want to save a few bucks on your purchase, get a model that doesn’t have video. Many parents get by just fine with audio only. (Heck, your parents did!) A solid choice is the Philips Avent Dect system, which sells for $120. It offers superb sound and excellent range—33 metres indoors, according to website BabyGearLab’s tests. It’s designed to thwart interference from other household devices like cordless phones. The portable receiver beeps if it’s taken too far away from the transmitter, which can play music and provide a soft glowing night light.

Yet some parents find the peace of mind that video offers is worth the price. “It makes a parent feel more secure when they can actually see the baby as well as hear the quality of the cry,” says parenting expert Becky Brittain. “Spending the extra money for the video monitor is worth it.”

Still, you don’t need to shell out $300. For example, Jennifer Nichols Parnell, a blogger at MommyBeta, bought a Foscam Internet camera ($68 on and linked it to her existing Angelcare sound and movement monitor ($94 for the AC401 model on The combination works well. “My husband was on a business trip and could see my daughter sleeping soundly and say good night through the camera as I got her ready for bed.”

No matter which model you choose, be sure to buy one that uses digital technology, which provides better sound quality than analog. Choose a monitor with good range and test the unit as soon as you can. Sound-activated lights indicate baby is calling—a great feature when you’re vacuuming or wearing headphones. Other nice features are adjustable sound activation, which lets you turn down the sensitivity when you don’t want to hear baby’s every tiny twitch and shift, and a power indicator that tells you when the batteries should be replaced or recharged. That’s all a parent really needs for peace of mind.

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