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The Smart Baby Monitor actually took longer to arrive than my baby did. Announced at CES in January 2011, it only started shipping at the end of February 2012, but it’s every bit the bundle of joy I hoped it would be. An Apple-esque marriage of form and function, Withings’ sleek design and tight iOS integration doesn’t just give parents peace of mind, it raises the bar for luxury iPhone accessories.
Closed, the petite clamshell Smart Baby Monitor fits comfortably in my hand. And when opened to reveal the high-resolution (2048x1536) 3MP video camera, it feels a bit like an old-school iPod, with its gleaming white enclosure, touch-sensitive buttons, and circular speaker.
The beauty of the Smart Baby Monitor is only trumped by its brains. Powered by the free WithBaby app, the picture, while not up to its own Retina capabilities, is quite good, even over 3G. In proper lighting, the monitor provides full-color video, but at night (when it’s most useful), lower-quality, black-and-white LED night vision takes over. You can pan and zoom the live video as far as the camera will allow, about three-quarters of a standard crib. But be sure to leave the monitor plugged in: the removable battery has enough juice for only about an hour.
Withings crammed a number of sensors—heat, humidity, noise, and motion—that can be configured as alerts, along with a multicolor nightlight and series of lullabies. A loudspeaker allows two-way communication, and nonstop listening mode keeps the audio running after the app is closed. Everything is accessible through the WithBaby app, whether from the next room or miles away. I work nights, but with constant notifications, I’m never too far away to check in on my boy or play a lullaby, turn on the nightlight, even sing him to sleep—all with smooth audio and very little lag (about a second or two). I found myself wanting to adjust the monitor’s position when he shifted, but that needs to be done manually.
Because the video travels through Withings’ servers if you’re not using your home Wi-Fi network, you’re limited to 15 minutes of free streaming a day. In-app purchases (100 minutes for $5.99) will be available soon, but the limit wasn’t an issue for us during testing. Mac access would have been nice, but being confined to iOS was hardly a hindrance.
Once they start charging for viewing, Withings might want to beef up their network—monitoring has been disabled several times without warning, effectively locking us out until the problem is corrected. We also had some issues with crashing while in nonstop listening mode and experienced a fair amount of buffering when running off the battery.
The bottom line. If Apple ever decides to take up the “hobby” of making baby monitors, it’s going to have a hard time making a product better than Withings. But all that attention to detail comes at a price: the monitor (which includes a magnetic crib-side stand and a carry bag) is $299.
iPhone 3Gs or later, third-gen iPod touch or later, or iPad
Sleek, portable design. Tight iOS integration. Incredible remote access.
Some crashing and buffering. Unreliable servers. Weak battery. Expensive.