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WeMo: UhOh and HoHum (a review)

Review: Withings Baby Monitor

The first thing that grabs your attention about the Withings Baby Monitor is its design. Unlike any other webcam on the market, it doesn't make you feel like you're running a peep show. The shiny, minimalist white box is inoffensive and minimalist. The "S.A.F. (spousal approval factor) is quite high, indeed. And you immediately discover its best feature; to turn if off you simply close the lid. (Well, not completely off, as we'll discuss later.)

The second thing that grabs your attention is the price. Compared to the slew of cheap webcams that are flooding the market, this one is a pricey $299. But don't stop reading, as this is a textbook example of "you get what you pay for." (Also, if you're a long-time home automator like me, you remember when much less sophisticated cameras were closer to $500.) As of this writing, you can save a few bucks and get Prime shipping at Amazon.

Setting up the Baby Monitor is a snap. For those of you who have suffered through the archaic configuration of other webcams, you'll be surprised to hear that you don't even need a computer. You can completely configure the Baby Monitor via iPhone, using Bluetooth. This means the camera is easy to travel with, all you have to do is get it connected to the local Wi-Fi network, a step that will strike fear in the hearts of those who own other cameras, but not you.

Baby Monitor also differs from other webcams thanks to the quality of its picture. The video is high-resolution, and the sound (it has both a mic and a speaker) is very, very good. It's so good you could even use this as sort of one-way-video calling system. (Not that I recommend that. Try FaceTime instead.)

The lens is impressively wide angle, and on the iPhone, you can pinch image to zoom in. (This is like a digital zoom, but it's handier and more natural.) If your iPhone is in portrait orientation, you can do a pseudo-pan by dragging the image left or right.

So, aside from great looks, excellent a/v, and the world's easiest setup, why is it worth the price? Well, there's more. There are some baby-specific features such as notifications for sound and motion, and the ability to turn on a nightlight and play a lullaby. But for me, the best extra feature is the video overlay that shows the room's temperature and humidity. You'd normally have to set up a whole different, geeky system to get these measurements remotely, but Withings throws them in with the rest of the package.

Now, there are some downsides, in addition to the cost. The first is that you're limited to 15 minutes of live streaming per day. This surprised me, and Withings should do a better job of explaining that up front, but in practice it hasn't been an obstacle for me. UPDATE: No longer true, according to the Withing FAQ.

Also, if you're planning on using this as a pet cam, be aware that the sound and motion notifications are decidedly not tuned for that use. You'll mostly likely end up turning those off. If you're a pet owners who tries not to humanize their animal, you'll also have to grit your teeth and try to ignore the "WithBaby" app name and other baby-related UI and settings,

You should also be aware that although the camera supports three simultaneous viewers, you can't access it using a web browser. Everyone will need to use the free iOS app instead. I suppose that this might make the camera more secure (through obscurity) but I'd like to know more about how it actually works under the hood before making that assumption.

Finally, related to security, you should absolutely be aware that the audio feed is always live, even when the monitor is closed. As a baby monitor, this makes sense. But if you're pressing it into other uses, it could be a little creepy.

I hope this helps you evaluate if this is the webcam for you. It's impressive in a lot of ways, puzzling in some others, but overall a very high quality and a nice package.

See also: Monitor Your Home with an Internet Camera



Super helpful. Considering upgrading our audio-only monitor to a video one, and love Withings' other products. Not sure I'm pleased to hear that this limits the video to 15 mins per day; can imagine myself watching NoahTV more than that. Useful input into my decision, thanks!

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