For parents of newborns, few things can be more important than knowing you’ll be there the moment your baby needs you. No wonder a baby monitor usually appears pretty high on the “must buy” list for families with expectant mothers. But don’t rush into buying the most expensive, assuming it’s the best – this is a purchase where you need to think about which features you actually need, and which ones you don’t.

All baby monitors should have clear sound quality, minimal (or no) interference and a good range and signal strength (which manufacturers often exaggerate), particularly if you have a larger home and garden. If you want to see your child, as well as hear them, you’ll need a video monitor. Or perhaps you’ll be more reassured by movement sensor pads, which sit underneath the mattress and set off an alarm if there’s no movement for 20 seconds – although for some people, this just causes more anxiety (and there is no evidence it can actually prevent cot death). 

Other features, which you may or may not want, include lullabies, temperature sensors, night lights, light shows, feeding timers and intercoms. Do you want to use a parent unit or your own smartphone or tablet? If you go for a parent unit, do you want it to be able to withstand drops? What about the battery life? And are the batteries rechargeable? Do you want a belt-clip? If using your phone or tablet, is the app straightforward to use?

BT Video Baby Monitor 6000: $249.00, fruugo

Great sound quality? Tick. Excellent signal coverage, even in the garden? Tick. Easy to set up and simple controls? Tick. Battery life longer than a day? Tick. This monitor covers a lot of bases, and also has a large, 5in colour screen with camera that can be titled, panned over a large area and zoomed in so you can see your baby at all times. Even if you don’t use the whizzy extras – lullabies, feeding timer, intercom and temperature sensor among them – this is a quality bit of kit that can justify the hefty price-tag. As with many video monitors, the darker the room, the poorer the picture quality – but the night light really helps.

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Tommy Tippee Closer to Nature Digital Sound Monitor: $84.00, fruugo

This is our favourite audio monitor due to the strong signal coverage and battery life – which easily lasts a day – and the fact that it still works after being knocked, bumped or dropped. You can chat to your baby when you’re not in the room and there are a lot of features for the price, including temperature display, night light, paging feature, warning light for low battery or poor range and belt-clip so you can wear your monitor. Unlike with many monitors, there’s no interference from other devices, although we found we had to have the volume on high at all times and if there’s background noise going on, the clarity isn't quite as good.

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Netgear ABC1000 Arlo Baby 1080p HD: $168.95, Amazon

This funky-looking video monitor costs a bomb, but we think the fantastic picture quality and night vision image, along with the ability to monitor your baby from your phone and share images, with your other half, for example, justifies the hefty price-tag. We weren't’t initially convinced as pairing it up with your smartphone is a bit tricky, but once we got going, we were wowed by how easy it was to talk to your baby, check the temperature (and even humidity) in your baby’s room and play lullabies or white noise to help get your baby to sleep – not to mention seeing and hearing them at all times. But if the wi-fi connection isn't good where you are (for example, when you’re on holiday), then this won’t be good either.

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Angelcare AC403: $109.99, Amazon 

If you’re a fan of movement sensor pads, this one works well (except on a memory foam mattress). The audio quality is good, while on the parent unit the battery life is over a day. The signal is brilliant, even in the garden – and as soon as it weakens, you’ll get a warning alarm (which also goes off when the battery is low). We also found the temperature sensor and sound-sensitive lights lived up to their promise and the belt-clip quick to attach. But good luck setting it up – the instructions aren't great and, unusually, it doesn't’t have rechargeable batteries.

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Nokia Home Video Quality Monitor: $93.50, Amazon

This smart-looking monitor doubles up as a security camera and techy parents will love the fact that it works via your smartphone once you’ve downloaded the app. If that all sounds too complicated, don’t fret as it’s actually very simple to get going (no thanks to the instructions, though) and although there are a lot of bells and whistles, they are genuinely useful – lullabies, night light, two-way talk and even an air-quality monitor among them.  The sound quality is outstanding and the video quality good, although it stops short of being excellent. 

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Panasonic Smart Home Baby Monitoring Camera KX-HN6001EW: $89.99, Amazon

We tested several video monitors with poor picture quality, but this one impressed us, except in very dark rooms. The sound quality and signal range are notable and it’s robust and easy to work, with the lullabies, temperature sensor, intercom and feeder timer features all working well. Instead of a parent unit, the camera wirelessly connects to the wall-mountable hub which enables your smartphone or tablet to become your control station. On the upside, this means you have less to carry around; on the downside, you’re at the mercy of your wi-fi connection. There are no tilt or pan options, but you can add more cameras.

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Motorola MBP331: $109.03, Amazon 

The picture quality here is good, with a large, 8 inch color screen. It also shares some of the nice-to-have features such as intercom, room temperature sensor and low battery alert, all of which live up to manufacturer’s promises. But the sound quality could be a bit better and it doesn't’t feel quite so robust. A case of weighing up your priorities.

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The Verdict: Baby monitors

Our favorite video monitor is the BT Video Baby Monitor 6000, with its excellent quality and wide range of functions making it worth the money. Tommy Tippee Closer to Nature Digital Sound Monitor is a great audio monitor, which does everything you need it to and more for only just over $80.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.