Even without a mobile video-streaming app, VTech's VM343 ($200, as low as $149 online) has many of the best features you'll want in a baby monitor for a reasonable price. The handheld viewer is on the bulky side, and its battery life is short, but overall, the VTech has what parents need.
Editors' note: VTech was the target of a major security breach in November 2015 that could have leaked private customer info; the company says it has "taken thorough actions against future attacks."
VTech's monitor measures 5.6 x 3.4 x 0.6 inches, making it bigger and thicker than a regular-size iPhone. At 7.2 ounces, the VM343 might seem a little hefty, but the housing is solid and feels good in your hand.
The removable battery sits beneath the kickstand on the underside. The antenna swivels off the top but also locks back into place when not in use, and there are 10 main action buttons on the front that control power, volume, direction, push-to-talk, image magnification and the main menu.
From there, you can control alert volumes, pair up to four total cameras and even adjust for five levels of screen brightness or motion sensitivity. (Be warned: Every time you change a menu setting, you'll get a confirming but annoying beep, and you can't turn off that function.) You can see the temperature reading clearly on the screen, which is not always the case with these monitors.
The monitor buttons have excellent tactility and click with confidence, but the confusing part may come in the dark. The buttons themselves don't light up, and with the unorthodox layout — left and right directional arrows on one side, up and down on the other — you may be left fumbling until you can memorize where your fingers want to go.
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Four successive lights atop the monitor (showing the connection link, battery status, sound alert and push-to-talk feature) are more intuitively placed than the lights on other baby cameras we tested and will let you know quickly if anything is amiss.
Camera Range: 270-degree pan, 120-degree tilt
Handheld Monitor: Yes
Mobile App: No
Temperature Sensor: Yes
Humidity Sensor: No
Handheld Viewer Size: 5.6 x 3.4 x 0.6 inches
Weight: 7.2 ounces
Video Recording Capabilities: No
With a push-to-talk feature, temperature sensor, up to nine levels of sound alerts and activation modes that kick on from either motion or sound, the VTech ticks a lot of the boxes for what every parent should be looking for in their home baby monitor.
The VM343 is wall-mountable and has just a couple of built-in infrared lights that won't make your child think something's going bump in the dark. But you better enjoy what you see when peeking in on your kid, because there are no options for taking pictures or video as there is with the iBaby or Motorola monitors.
The camera pans left to right 270 degrees, and up and down 120 degrees. That's a respectable range, on a par with the Motorola and Levana models we also tested, but it's the bare minimum for what a camera should do.
The VM343 uses a stand-alone monitor instead of a mobile app. You can watch full-motion 25-fps video on the monitor, which gives you clear images both in daylight and at night. You can't record that video, though.
Plug-and-play connectivity was quick and easy with the VM343; apartment walls presented no problems, even at 20 to 30 feet away.
Among the units we tested with their own monitor, VTech's 4.3-inch color LCD display was the clearest and most vibrant. In daylight, the feed was crisp and floral, with a very clean picture. At night, there was no issue seeing facial features from 8 feet away, and the letterbox-style screen shape gave off a comforting wide-screen presentation.
The remote camera movements were quick and authoritative, with little noticeable lag. Our testing showed about 4.5 hours of continuous video streaming, which is on the low side for the monitors we tested, but perhaps understandable given the superior stream quality. You can also turn off the LCD screen and leave it to be activated by sound (which only kicks on with loud noises like a baby's screams) to maximize battery life.
For the price and the features, the VM343 is an excellent choice for parents hoping to save a few bucks on pricier models like Motorola's MBP853 and who prefer to have a dedicated monitor. But the lack of a smartphone streaming option and the inability to capture video keep this baby monitor a notch below other comparable units.