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Keep an eye on those you love with the Withings Smart Baby Monitor

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In early March, TUAW's intrepid Dave Caolo reported on the U.S. release of the Withings Smart Baby Monitor, a US$299 device that works with your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch to let you keep an eye on your baby, aging parents or grandparents, or even your pets. As you'll see later in this review, it does more than your average cheap Wi-Fi baby monitor, even providing a level of two-way interaction.

Design

I am a huge fan of Withings products, all of which are incredibly well-designed and very functional. I've used a Withings Wi-Fi Body Scale for almost two years and keep my health in check with their iOS-connected blood pressure monitor, and both devices work flawlessly month after month. As I'd expect, the Smart Baby Monitor is another Withings product that balances great design and functionality with easy integration to your favorite iOS device.

The monitor is a small 3.6" x 3.6" x 2.5" (92mm x 92 mm x 63 mm), .65 lb. (293 gms) white box that flips open like a jewel box to reveal the camera and many controls. It's actually quite attractive, looking more like something that Jony Ive would design for Apple than your run-of-the-mill webcam. The monitor has a 3 megapixel HD camera at 2048 x 1536 pixels -- that's identical to the resolution of the new iPad.

The Smart Baby Monitor also has a large speaker through which your voice or lullabies can be transmitted to baby, a multicolor nightlight, audio sensors, humidity and temperature sensors, and tactile command buttons. There's also a support stand for attaching the monitor to a crib, although it can be set on almost any flat surface and has a surprisingly wide-angle lens.

For nighttime use, the monitor has infrared LEDs that "light up" the area up to about 15 feet (5 meters) away. Those LEDs automatically power up or down based on the amount of ambient light in the room. There's even a carry bag included if you wish to take the Smart Baby Monitor with you on a trip.

To connect to the Internet, you'll need to have either a Wi-Fi network (up to 802.11n) or Ethernet connection. The monitor also requires a nearby power plug, although it can run off of an internal Lithium-ion battery for use when you're not near a plug. A handy red LED flashes near the power socket on the monitor to tell you when you need to recharge the battery.

Setup and Functionality

As with the other Withings products I've used, the Smart Baby Monitor is a piece of cake to get set up and running. Once the device is plugged in and powered up, you make a Bluetooth connection to the monitor through the iOS settings app on your favorite device. As soon as a connection is established (no pairing code required), you're asked if you wish to install an app from the app store -- that's the WithBaby app (free). With three taps and your iTunes password, the app is installed, and you can launch it.

You're asked if you wish to accept push notifications. With this capability, you can receive alerts from the monitor on sound, movement, temperature or humidity. You'll need to set up a free account, which requires only an email address and a password. You can have up to three different accounts connect to the monitor simultaneously. One nice feature is that by default, the iOS app is set up to monitor sound even when the WithBaby app isn't running.

There's a place to set up a baby profile. When I added one, there was a Next button at the bottom of the profile page that didn't seem to work -- I had to kill the app, then start it up again and go through the process a second time in order to get it to finish. Once that was complete, I had access to a high-resolution image of the room the camera was pointed to. Double-tapping or reverse-pinching the screen allowed me to zoom in on details. In bright lighting conditions, the image is in color; when the infrared illumination is turned on the image is grayscale.

Unlike many web cameras with the ability to be used in dark conditions, the bright-light abilities of the Smart Baby Monitor are incredibly good. I was even able to point the camera out into the bright Colorado sunshine and get a shot out the window.

With a tap on the screen, you get access to some simple controls that provide a way to look at sound and motion in the room over the past fifteen minutes, speak to your baby, turn the nightlight off or on, play lullabies, or take a screenshot. The nightlight can also be set to a number of different colors and intensities through the app. There are four built-in lullabies -- it does not appear that there's a way to add your own from iTunes.

Since the video is transferred through Withings' server to securely travel to your iOS device, there's a bit of a lag in both the video and audio. However, that lag was only about a second or two at worst, which is much better than the ten-second lag I've seen with some other monitors.

One thing that I wish Withings and other companies would do is market these as "home monitors" rather than baby monitors. For people with elderly relatives, this product would be a great way to keep an eye (and ear) on them and even talk to them on a regular basis, and I can see where this would be an amazing product for watching what the dog or cat is doing while you're away from home. You could even yell at your pet if she's clawing at the couch.

Conclusion

Withings makes great products, although the $300 price tag on the monitor is a bit steep -- you might want to ask someone to give you one of these for a baby shower gift. The video is some of the best I've seen from a baby monitor, and the feature set is unparalleled. I can definitely recommend the Smart Baby Monitor to any new or prospective parents as a top-notch product that will keep them happy through baby's first years and beyond.

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