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iBaby monitor: Keeping an iOS eye on your little one

One of the nicest things about Apple's iOS mobile operating system becoming ubiquitous is that accessory manufacturers are coming out with some wonderful devices that work with your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad. The latest is one that new parents are going to love: the iBaby Monitor (US$199.95) from iBaby Labs.

Of course, you don't have to use the iBaby Monitor to look after a baby. The iBaby Labs website asks the question "Who's your baby?," pointing out that you might want to keep an eye on your dog or cat, an elderly relative or friend, or your house while you're out and about.

Design

The iBaby Monitor is a Wi-Fi connected webcam with built-in microphones, infrared LED night lighting, and a swivel base. The device is attractive -- made of white plastic, it's relatively unobtrusive and fits in just about anywhere.

Once it is set up, the Monitor can be placed anywhere there is a power outlet. The company includes a mount that can be used to place the camera out of reach on a wall if desired.

Functionality

I'd rate the setup of the iBaby Monitor as "somewhat easy." What I mean by that is that it isn't as drop-dead simple to set up as the Stem Innovations iZON camera, but it can still be accomplished by just about anyone using the Quick Installation Guide that comes along with the device.

To start the setup, you must be near a Wi-Fi router with an open Ethernet port. There's a small white "rubber duck" antenna that is plugged into the back of the Monitor to give the device relatively good range. The iBaby Monitor comes with an AC power adapter that is plugged in prior to setup, and then you run the included Ethernet cable between the router and the device.

While the iBaby Monitor goes through a set of warmup exercises, you download the iBaby Monitor app to your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch. This free app is used for the rest of the setup process. It was at about this point that things went a little awry in the setup. I have a Foscam Wi-Fi webcam set up in our house, and the iBaby Monitor app kept finding it, but didn't seem to be able to find the iBaby Monitor. I canceled out of the setup, and then noticed that the app had found both the "iBaby 1" and "RubyCam 1" Wi-Fi webcams, so I switched it over to iBaby 1 to continue the process.

From there, things went swimmingly. As soon as I had a Wi-Fi connection from the device to my iPhone, I could see the image and the app asked me to disconnect the Ethernet cable. After the initial setup, you can pretty much move the camera to any location near a power outlet and plug it in.

The iBaby Monitor, like my old Foscam webcam, can be swiveled over a wide range. Unlike the Foscam, which didn't come with any Mac or iOS software, the iBaby Monitor is controlled by just swiping the screen in the direction you wish to move the camera. The camera has a 350° pan range, and can also tilt up and down over a 70° range. That's great for coverage of a complete room, and with the wide-angle lens that's built into the camera, you see everything.

There are also infrared LEDs built into the camera for illuminating a dark room without waking the baby or Grandma. The lighting has a range of about 16 feet, so you won't want to set up the iBaby Monitor too far away from your intended subject.

If you're watching baby and babysitter from work, you might want to hear what's going on as well. The camera has two nice little microphones that pick up sounds and transmit them to the app. My favorite feature? You can plug speakers into the speaker ports on the back of this camera and actually talk to the person on the other end. This would be perfect for yelling at your new puppy just before she's about to relieve herself on your nice imported Turkish rug.

You're not going to be able to connect to your iBaby Monitor via 3G; it's just too slow. You can also view the video feed via a PC app or on the web. The website instructions were supposed to be in the Owner's Manual that was not included with the device, and the links to download a PDF version of the manual were not working at the time of this review. The device has a default DDNS address, user name, and password listed on it, but I was unable to attach to the device via a web browser. If the Owner's Manual becomes available before I return this device to iBaby Labs, I'll see if I can use a browser to view the feed.

One final feature set to talk about: the app has toggles for two alarm types -- a motion alarm and a sound alarm. I liked the way that the motion alarm worked; small motions didn't set it off, but somebody or something walking into a room was enough to make the iPhone start chiming. I never could get the sound alarm to chime, but it might be more attuned to the sound of a baby screaming.

The app was definitely made in China (along with the device itself) as the built-in FAQs use a charming mishmash of Chinglish to explain how to use the iBaby Monitor and app. (Note to iBaby Labs: you can hire me to do a proper English translation of the FAQs for the next version of the app.)

Conclusion

If you're looking for a really nice baby shower gift for a friend, or if you'd like a webcam that will work well with your iOS devices, then pony up the $200 and buy the iBaby Monitor. It has very few flaws, and the control provided by the free app is very good. The microphone and speaker ports are really the icing on the cake, though. This would be great for someone who was out of town on business but wanted to talk with the person or animal on the other end of the monitored connection.

For absolute ease of setup for a non-controllable baby monitor and the ability to monitor via 3G, I'd recommend the less expensive iZON Remote Room Monitor ($129.95). But if you want the ability to pan and tilt the camera, want to see what's going on in a darkened nursery, or want the two-way sound capability, drop the extra $70 for the iBaby Monitor. You'll be very happy that you did.