It’s very much a cliché, but when you’re becoming a parent for the first time, looking into the products you’re expected to purchase for your new arrival can be a little overwhelming.
It’s an area we normally have no experience in—until you absolutely have to—so it’s not easy to make an informed purchase. Besides the furniture for the room, the one item I researched in-depth was the baby monitor (because, in case you didn’t know, babies need your constant attention).
You have that in-built worry of wanting to be there to help your newborn when they cry, wake in the middle of the night, or simply just wanting to know that they are sleeping alright.
So what are my credentials when it comes to this particular topic? Well, on October 15 2013, my daughter, Finn Ava Jean Mateljan was born into this crazy old world of ours. I’m a first-time Dad.
But this review starts a few months earlier…
I’ll be honest: there was a constant fear of “am I buying something we don’t really need?”
In the months leading up to Finn’s birth, my wife and I were doing all the typical things you’d expect from soon-to-be parents; buying all the items new parents “need”. I say “need” because as with everything in life, there are some items some people can’t live without but others will never come to need.
Baby monitors come in a whole range of types: a plethora of systems with different features and specifications, limitations, physical sizes, and price points. I looked through the range available and realised I didn’t want another gadget for the house; I wanted something that worked with the systems and products we already had.
With this in mind, I said goodbye to all the baby monitors with small video screens, the ones with separate receivers, and the one left standing was the Withings Smart Baby Monitor.
There were two main reasons it was the winner. For one, it was a single unit that had video and audio capabilities, and also acted as a nightlight.
The second reason was based on the fact that, like most of you reading this article (I think it’s safe to say), we all have a mobile device which is either a phone or tablet near us in our house at all times.
This monitor uses your phone or tablet as the receiver unit to view your baby, plus also sends push notifications to alert you to either motion or noise from the baby’s room.
It ticked all the boxes.
Let’s be honest though: with an Australian retail price of $299, the Withings Smart Baby Monitor does sit towards the the top end of available baby monitors. Sure, there are more expensive units out there (with more accessories), but they went against my original plan of keeping this simple.
So I took the plunge, purchased a unit, and set it up.
The setup is remarkably simple; plug in the unit to the wall, download the app on your phone or tablet device, then connect via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and you’re done. This is a good time to point out that I’ve only ever used the iOS apps (it’s universal for iPhone and iPad) but I’m fairly certain the Android experience would be similar.
With it all set up, I ran a few tests using our first child (our dog, Bernard) to act as the baby. I had Bernard run into the room a few times, which prompted an alert to be received stating “Motion detected in baby room” which I was happy about. It all seemed to do what it said.
Now the thing to remember was that I based this product purchase on a theory of how it would work in our house. Our house that was about to go through a huge change with a newborn coming in to shake things up. Would it actually work in practice?
(This is part where I stopped writing this review. We pick back up when Finn is 3 months old.)
Three months later
Finn is doing great. Being cute, growing strong, and not giving us sleepless nights at all (seriously, we got a good one). My wife and I have both been using the monitor for the last 3 months and we’ve found it really useful; not just with the technical features, but how you’re able to use the app to your advantage.
Let’s start with the app itself.
It’s simple and does the job perfectly. A simple feature I love? The app automatically loads showing the live video stream, with on-screen display for the current room temperature, humidity and the noise level within the room. We’ve found these to be really helpful, especially when finding the perfect temperature for Finn to have a comfortable sleep.
With the app running in the background push notifications work as you’d expect, but you’re able to customise the alert thresholds and also turn off selected alerts.
For example, when setting the thresholds we’ve opted to set the noise threshold to alert us after constant noise for longer that 15 seconds. We don’t want to be notified of every tiny noise – you’ll be surprised how much babies love the sound of their voice when they are drifting off to sleep!
Setting up additional devices is simple too. My wife and I have it running on our individual iPhones and iPads so we can always be sure that one of us will be notified when Finn is crying or moving about in her bassinet. The best part is that when we have grandparents come over to babysit, we can just connect their devices to monitor with no need to leave our iPhone or iPad with them.
The unit comes with an in-built nightlight and speaker with the ability to select and play pre-loaded lullabies. You can change the colour of the light using a colour wheel interface on the app or even set it to “Rainbow” which scrolls through the entire available colour spectrum.
As Finn’s vision has become stronger, we’ve found her looking at the nightlight (even during the day) as she drifts off to sleep, so the Rainbow feature works nicely as a low level stimulus as she winds down.
The lullabies are your expected tunes; no Rockabye Baby songs here. The song list is long enough so you’re not playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (The Alphabet Song) every night and driving yourself crazy.
A handy option is being able to put both the music or nightlight on their own timer, so when you’re putting your newborn back to bed in a 2am sleep haze you can set the nightlight to turn off in 15 minutes and lullaby to end in 30 minutes.
Handy as you won’t be waking yourself up in the morning with a light still on and Brahm’s Lullaby playing on repeat for 5 hours.
The video monitoring has been the best feature for our house. Being alerted of noise in the room and to then check on your iPhone if you need to go into the room or not is ideal.
You’re not unnecessarily walking into the room and accidentally waking your baby up, or (in the middle of the night) stumbling out of bed waking up your partner unless you have to do so.
These are small things but make a big difference.
The video quality is good enough to see what’s happening in the room and also automatically switches over to night vision mode in low level light. Sure it’s not crystal clear high-definition vision but it does the job.
Selfishly, the best feature with the video monitoring for me is being able to view the video stream even when I’m not at home.
You’re able to view video streaming via a mobile connection and an external Wi-Fi, all securely through the Withings servers with an ability to password lock your video steam too if required.
For me, I travel often for work or I have long days in the office, so being able to load up the app and even just see your kid sleeping in real time makes a big difference to feeling connected to their day.
Speakers & stats
Finally, there are a few features that we personally didn’t find useful at all, the main one being the ability to speak to your baby via the in-app microphone through to the monitor speaker. We tried it once and it sounded like a McDonald’s drive-thru speaker. We won’t be using it again, but it’s there if we change our minds.
The app also captures stats. Imagine a FitBit for your baby but completely useless in how it displays collected information. It keeps a log of every alert, noise, and motion – which is great but it just displays the information as a long text list.
It would be more helpful if the information was displayed in a graphical format that grouped data together, allowing you to see certain stats easily like the average sleep time for your baby. Withings have released a few updates since they launched this product early last year, so I’m hoping they continue to develop the app as time goes on.
I’m one happy customer with the Withings Baby Monitor and it has achieved the original goal I’d hoped.
It hasn’t added multiple new gadgets to the house and works perfectly with our existing devices. Most importantly though it allows me to monitor Finn when I’m busy doing other things.
It’s a relief being able to get stuff done around the house and only being notified when you’re needed. You know your baby is catching some much-needed shut-eye and you can carry on with the household chores as normal. Yes it is more expensive than most, especially considering that it is something you’re only going to be using for a certain period of your life, but it does deliver on its promises.
So if you’re becoming a parent for the first time, the question I’d have you ask yourself isn’t “is this product for me?” but more “what do I need in a monitor?” and then go from there.
This certainly ticked all the boxes for us, and has well and truly paid for itself in peace of mind.
The Withings Smart Baby Monitor is AU$299.95 and available from the Apple Online Store.