Want reassurance that your baby is safe and sound in the crib? Look no further than your smartphone. Thanks to a slew of new apps, your trusty mobile can easily double as a baby monitor. "We use cell phones to Skype, teleconference, and enjoy audio and video with friends and family," says Scott Steinberg, a leading technology expert and author of the Modern Parents Guide Series. "It's intuitive that you'd be able to also use these devices to keep an eye on the one you love the most -- your child."
A phone-based monitor has one big benefit: It lets traveling parents check in on their little love nugget anywhere, at any time. And setup is a cinch, even for sleep-deprived new moms and dads.
Still, some parents may be wary of streaming what goes on in the nursery, especially in light of recent news stories about hacked baby monitors. Rest assured that, though the thought is scary, the chances of it happening to you are relatively low. "Realistically, as long as you're using a secure solution and an adequately protected network and account, you're probably safe," says Steinberg. Still, a little extra precaution can't hurt. "Make sure your Wi-Fi network is password-protected, and always use the strongest password possible," he adds. For instance, don't use obvious choices like "password," your birthday, or "123456." Also, resist the temptation to upload the monitor feed to the Web so you can share it with all your friends and family.
Dust off an old smart phone that you have lying around -- you'll need two phones to pull this off. (And if you don't have an old phone, chances are you will soon considering how often new versions come out!) The good news is that you won't have to pay to use your old phone since you only need Internet access and it should work on the same Wi-Fi network you use with your current phone. Download the app of your choice onto both phones. Set up one in the nursery and point the camera at the crib. "The key thing is putting the phone far enough to see your baby but not too far away as to not be able to tell what's going on," advises Steinberg. Don't forget to check that it's connected to your Wi-Fi network and plugged into an outlet. This phone will be your baby monitor; the other will be the "parent station." Before you hit the switch, be sure to enable the app's enhanced security features to keep the video streams of your baby private, accessible only by you.
With all the monitoring apps out there, how do you know which one is right for you and your family? To help suss out the best of the bunch, we turned to Tim Baran, an app specialist and blog editor for Rocket Matter, a legal software company. Here are his top three picks:
Cloud Baby Monitor ($3.99)
This tricked-out app broadcasts video and audio, allowing you to listen to your baby's every coo, view her movements, and even sing her to sleep. (Industry-standard encryption protects all communication, for extra peace of mind.) "It also provides noise and motion alerts so you're instantly aware of your baby's discomfort, [and offers] built-in lullabies, various white noises and a night light -- all of which you can control remotely," says Baran. Bonus: You can download a companion app for a Mac and watch your baby from your computer.
Dormi ($8.99 for lifetime unlimited usage, with additional pricing options)
This popular app for Android users provides audio and video streaming, so you can hear and see your baby and talk to her remotely. And if you're talking to someone on your phone, and your child starts crying, the phone will vibrate to notify you. Dormi operates over Wi-Fi and cellular networks, and works at any distance; plus, you can connect as many Android devices as you need.
Baby Monitor 3G (iPhone and Android App, $3.99)
Have an Android and an iPhone? Check out the Baby Monitor 3G, which lets you mix-and-match phones that run on both operating systems. "It transmits live snapshots or video feeds from your baby's room, provides vibration alerts, and allows your baby to hear your voice," Baran explains. All communication is protected by industry standard encryption, and the app works with any Internet connection (read: Wi-Fi or cellular). Plus, you can check in from the comfort of your Mac, PC, or Chromebook.
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