• Review: Withings Smart Baby Monitor

    Some people will tell you that babies mean you have to give up childish interests like gadgets. Those people are wrong. Babies actually represent a whole new field of shiny things for the serious tech enthusiast, and it really doesn't get much more serious than a $400 baby monitor.

    Yes, let's get this out of the way up front: the Withings Smart Baby Monitor is $400 AUD. Let's also get this out of the way: it's totally worth it.

    A little background for those of you without kids (parents can skip to the next paragraph): You don't ever want to disturb a sleeping baby. You finally get them to sleep, then you inadvertently wake them up and have to start all over again. But on the other hand, how do you know whether or not they're asleep? Our daughter sleeps across the hall from us, so we can clearly hear when she's awake. But some mornings she seemed more rested than others, and there's not much worse than an overtired baby at the end of the day, so we suspected she wasn't sleeping as early (or as consistently) as we had assumed. This is where video baby monitors come in you can peek in without doing anything (like, say, breathing) that might wake your baby up. With higher-end monitors, you can use your iOS device to view the video feed, rather than dedicated hand-held device. The Withings monitor takes this a step further and makes video available over the internet, with zero configuration.

    So without further ado, let's get into it.

    First impressions

    Withings has taken a cue from Apple in terms of packaging the box the Smart Baby Monitor comes in is uncannily similar to that of a 3rd generation iPod. When you lift off the top, the monitor itself is revealed, nestled in its custom-cut foam block. Underneath you'll find a carry bag, the battery and power adaptor, a bedside stand and the user manual.

    The monitor itself is roughly the size of two of the new Airport Express (the white one) stacked on top of each other, in a clamshell configuration with the video lens on the upper half and touch controls on the bottom. All you need to do to get started is to put the battery in, connect it to power and the monitor boots up (indicated by a pulsing blue nightlight on the inside top surface).

    Setup

    At this point the monitor isn't connected to the network there's a network status light on the back that confirms this by blinking green and amber. However, if you open up Bluetooth on your iOS device you'll discover there's a new item called SBM-XXXX. Connect to this, and you're prompted to download a required app WithBaby from the App Store.

    Once this has downloaded and you launch the app, you're presented with the configuration which is simply a list of detected Wi-Fi networks (or you can manually enter an SSID). Tap on one, enter the password, and that's it. If you can join a Wi-Fi network on your iPhone, you can configure this monitor so that it's accessible over the internet. After the initial connection, you can disconnect from Bluetooth and interact with the monitor solely via Wi-Fi. (There's an Ethernet port on the back of the monitor as well, however it's not addressed in the setup manual and we didn't have a nearby network port to test it.)

    All that remains is to find a spot for the monitor. You can either sit it flat on a nearby surface (or slightly propped up there's a little lip that pops out from the bottom so you can raise the angle a little) or you can attach it to a stand that clips onto the side of your baby's cot.

    This is not a sleeping baby.


    Use

    When you launch the app after the initial setup, it displays the video feed with a readout at the bottom displaying temperature, humidity and noise level. This is normal video if there's sufficient light (like an overhead light, or if your curtains are open during the day) or infrared if not. The video quality is quite clear, if somewhat delayed (about 1-2 seconds). Double-tapping on the screen zooms in and attempts to refine the focus on the zoomed area, with some loss of frame rate. You also get in-room audio, which is surprisingly sensitive you can hear how your baby is breathing.

    Tapping on the screen brings up additional options (most of these are also controllable directly on the monitor itself via the touch controls):

    • Microphone icon: when held down this lets you broadcast audio to the monitor so you can say hello.
    • Light icon: turns on the nightlight for 3, 15 or 60 minutes, or indefinitely, configurable to use one of a few hundred colours.
    • Music icon: turns on one of five lullabies for 3, 15 or 60 minutes, or indefinitely.
    • Camera icon: takes an instant screenshot without any of the app chrome.



    Tapping the graph button at the top right changes these buttons to a 15-minute rolling graph of the motion and noise levels detected in the room.

    Lullaby function


    You can choose whether to have monitoring continue in the background when you minimise the app. If you do, a persistent red status bar is displayed and the in-room audio continues. We found that this really drains the battery though, so be sure you're connected to power if you use this feature. You don't really need to use it, though, as there are a series of push notifications you can enable when changes in motion, noise, temperature and humidity are detected. These all have configurable thresholds so you can adjust them to exclude normal changes.

    All of these features work via the internet as well I remotely checked in on my daughter during my work day a number of times. This is particularly impressive as this was done with zero configuration no dynamic DNS, no port forwarding, just a Wi-Fi connection.

    Remote use

    You can also take the monitor elsewhere and run it from the battery. When you do this, it detects that your home Wi-Fi network isn't available and automatically activates Bluetooth instead. As long as you're within Bluetooth range (say, a couple of rooms) you can use it as you would at home. This worked well in brief testing when visiting friends.

    Issues

    We had only two fairly minor issues with the Smart Baby Monitor. One happens when you have more than one device actively monitoring (with audio on) and you take one of them into the room with the monitor this produces a low amount of feedback, but the apps seem to recognise that it's happening and it stops after five seconds. The other is with the ring of red LEDs that surround the camera lens when the monitor is in infra-red mode these occasionally mesmerise our daughter which results in a vaguely Paranormal Activity look.

    All tuckered out


    Conclusion

    A $400 baby monitor isn't for everyone. However, once you use the Withings Smart Baby Monitor you will very quickly become accustomed to it. It is basically the Mac of baby monitors well-designed, intuitive, easy to set up, and better than anything else out there.


    Distributor/online store: Household Technology

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