Gadgets

Withings Smart Baby Monitor Review: Always Watching, Always Judging

Babies are helpless. They need things, like food and shelter and comfort, and you have to give these things to your baby unless you are a horrible person. Babies often need things in the night, or upon waking up from naps. And, of course, for new parents, SIDS is a concern, or should be.

So we monitor them. That can be as simple as peeking through a crack in the door, or it can be as complex as, well, as this Withings Smart Baby Monitor, that not only checks your kids’ movements and sounds, but also the temperature and humidity of the room and lets you interact remotely.

Withings first announced this device at the beginning of 2011. But it’s just now hitting the market. To say that it has been hotly anticipated would be a significant understatement. This is the baby monitor every parent I know has been waiting for. So how does it do?

Why It Matters

Baby monitoring isn’t something you have to do, necessarily, but most parents will probably want to. Most video monitors on the market share a few common weaknesses. Most aren’t able to be viewed remotely — they are limited to a local area network. Most don’t tend to work with your existing screens, like a computer monitor or iPhone or iPad. The ones that do tend to be more flexible also tend to be a pain to set up.

This Withings Smart Baby Monitor offers some next-level tracking. It covers every conceivable base in terms of detection (night vision, temperature, humidity, audio and video), works with your iOS devices, allows two-way communications, lets you set smart alerts, and can be monitored remotely. Setup is beyond easy, and the device is even aesthetically pleasing to boot — unlike your ugly, ugly baby.

Using It

Setup is so so simple: Plug in the camera and pair it with your iOS device via Bluetooth. Installing the software on my phone and getting everything configured took less than five minutes.

Once up and running, it’s pretty self explanatory. Point the camera at the crib (there’s even an attachment clip for the crib rail). It detects light, and automatically turns on an LED IR lamp in darkness, so you can still view your precious little bundle of cold symptoms with the lights out.

It has customisable alerts for noise, temperature, movement and humidity, and you can set any of them to deliver push notifications. So, for example, you can be notified instantly if it detects any movement at all (and boy will you get a lot of alerts if you set it to that) or configure it so that the baby has to move quite a bit and for up to five minutes before you get pinged. It offers a lot of flexibility in terms of how much time and action sets off an alert.

You can also interact with the camera remotely, turning on and off a nightlight, using your phone’s microphone to broadcast your voice over the camera’s speakers, or to play a lullaby. I found these last two features to be truly effective ways to confuse and scare the shit out of a baby.

Like

The killer feature, bar none, is ease of use. The iPhone app is intuitive and dead simple. Adding additional users is child’s play. Even configuring the custom alerts was a snap.

And of course monitoring on an iPhone rather than having to get yet-another screen is in and of itself pretty great. Sure, you can do that with an IP camera and app like LiveCams Pro, but this is so much easier to setup. It is to setting up a security camera what dialling into AOL was to compiling your TCP/IP stack to get to your ISP.

It’s also great for monitoring remotely (for the most part, see below). You can log in from anywhere and check on your baby. And because it supports multiple accounts, you can monitor your kid from the office while the nanny is monitoring on another device at home, for example, or give a login to the grandparents so they can view a child they may not get to visit as much as they’d like.

I loved how alerts worked. Once your baby is at a certain age, you don’t need to hear every little coo and gurgle. Which was, oddly, what I dug about the “non-stop listening” mode. Non-stop listening keeps the audio running while the app is in background mode. But you can turn it off and just rely on alerts. I loved being able to run the app in the background without having to devote attention to it, yet know that if my kid woke up and started crying or moving around I’d be alerted.

The humidity tracking was a novel feature, but one that I appreciated. Especially in winter, when you may be trying to keep a heated room from getting too dry, this is a nice metric to be aware of.

No Like

My biggest annoyance is that you can’t adjust the camera angle remotely. That means — especially at night when your baby will likely move around a great deal — it’s impossible to follow the kid from one side of the crib to another if she makes a big move. And while Withings refers to its wide angle, I’d strongly prefer the camera was on some sort of axis that let me pivot it around the room, like most video monitors.

Also, the night vision could have been considerably brighter. Compare the image of a crib in a dark room with the Withings night vision versus a Foscam IP security camera’s night vision. Both cameras were set up side by side, and powered on and off individually so their lamps didn’t interfere with each other. Not only is the image lighter on the Foscam, it’s far more vivid and easier to make out what you’re peeping. And of course, you are going to be using this almost exclusively in the dark.

Another annoyance is that if you are going to monitor remotely, you only get 15 minutes free a day, after that you’ll have to pay $US6 for another 100 minutes. Sure, 15 minutes is ample time to do a quick check, but this seems like a cost that should be built into the device.

Then there are the buttons: attractive, nightmarish touch-sensitive deals that don’t work very well. They were responsive only with repeated, angry poking. Like with the inability to pivot the camera, this seems like a style over substance decision.

I also have concerns about sending video of my child through Withings servers. How secure is that data?

Finally, it’s quite expensive.

Should I Buy It

This is perhaps the best video baby monitor on the market today. It beats every other dedicated baby monitor I’ve seen hands down in terms of ease of use and reliability. Being able to keep the video monitor in my pocket (my iPhone!) is really nice. Finally, it’s wonderful for its ability to let you view remotely, and overall I recommend it if you are planning to buy a dedicated baby monitor.

But do you need a dedicated baby monitor? That’s not so clear. There are a lot of solutions that will give you better performance. For less than $US100, for example, you can get a wireless IP camera and configure it to work with just about any screen — mine works with my computers, phones, Android tablet and even my television. If you’re comfortable with your router settings and know how to do things like assign a static IP address based on a device’s MAC address (and don’t desire extras like temperature and humidity monitoring, two way audio, lullabies and night lights) the audio and video capabilities you get with a security camera are even better than Withings — especially in the dark. Punch a hole in your router, and you can even monitor on just about any device with a screen, from anywhere.

But that does take a good bit of technical wrangling. For many people that kind of setup is a nonstarter. If you just want something super easy, that works well, and doesn’t require yet-another screen, then this is definitely for you.

Withings Smart Baby Monitor
Price: $US300
Video: 3MP HD video sensor (2048×1536) with LED IR night vision
Audio: Dual input microphone, 16 bit sound sampling at 44.1 kHz, AAC 32 kbit/s encoding
Networking: Ethernet, Bluetooth, 802.11 b/g/n

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