Best baby gear for gadget-loving parents
A baby can be the start of a whole new exciting shopping opportunity for the gadget-loving parent. If you can think of even the smallest niche in the child-rearing adventure that needs to be filled, then you can bet that there are at least 50 products to choose from in answer.
We're not pretending to have tried all of them but the parents on the Pocket-lint team have put our sleep-deprived heads together to bring you the ones we feel are the most gadgety and the most fun to use, even if they're not entirely necessary in some cases. These aren’t the simplest or the most convenient but they are the best baby gadgets as far as gadget-lovers go.
Maclaren Grand Tour LX Travel System (£590)
Researching, test-pushing and purchasing a pushchair – sorry, travel system – has been likened to the stress of buying a house. There are many factors to consider and yet almost all products on the market require a compromise in at least one area. Can I get it in the boot of a car? How big is the shopping basket? Will Granny need a degree in engineering just to collapse it? Can I get a second mortgage?
Maclaren thinks it has some answers in the shape of its Maclaren Grand Tour LX. It’s from the stable that brought you the simple and incredibly popular collapsing pushchair-cum-stroller that many of us were slung in as kids, but in design is the complete opposite.
It’s not particularly light or easy to collapse (it needs tweaking on both sides, which is time-consuming), but the Grand Tour LX has a dashboard stuffed with lights, a clock, a temperature gauge, and even a strollometer. Must-have gadget? No, but fun; the lights can change colour and flash – handy if you intend to take junior down dark country lanes – and the clock, strollometer and temperature gauge are all within easy reach and are simple to use. And it has a cup holder. Cool.
For your passenger there’s a raincover, a three-position seat and a soft carrycot that’s a tad too small and doesn’t aid the collapsing, but overall the all-in-one Grand Tour LX is good value.
Other makes worth having a look at include Recaro Babyzen, also with lights; the bells-and-whistles-free Uppababy Vista and the Stokke Xplory for parents who aren't quite too posh to push. We'd also highly recommend the new Bugaboo Bee with all of its funky positions, colours and accessories or the Maclaren Techno XT for something that's actually portable and fits in the boot. When your baby is eventually a toddler, or thereabouts, the Maclaren Quest Sport is your best friend. Don't forget your footmuff.
Best for mobile
Texthook phone cradle ($25.99)
The Texthook isn’t something we’d recommend for inner-city parents. As much as it’s a very useful buggy dock for your mobile phone, it’s also a fantastic advert for thieves as to a potential victim that’s not going to be able to chase after them. That said, it’s a great way of staying hands-free while still keeping in touch.
The universal cradle is good for the bulk of smartphones out there with HTC, iPhone, Samsung, BlackBerry, Motorola, LG et al all accepted. Likewise, the velcro strap of the Texthook will secure itself to just about any make of buggy you could care to mention either.
Best baby carrier
Vaude Jolly Comfort II Child and Baby Carrier (£139.95)
Designed for those who don't want to let parenthood get in the way of their right to rock and/or explore, the Jolly Comfort II is your way of strapping the wee one to your back for a comfortable ride for the two of you. Weighing in at 3.4kg before adding child, it’s probably more likely one for dad than mum.
As well as being made in really high-quality material, it’s endlessly adjustable and really good for both parties - no complaints were heard from either. The straps are just as good in the wet or dry, there’s a cover for the kid, if not the parent, and the material repels water reasonably well. On top of that, there’s also loads of places to stuff toys, raincoats, drinks etc. The Vaude Jolly Comfort II carrier also comes with a changing mat hidden inside, and a handy zipped compartment below the baby seat to store an impressive amount of stuff - essential for a day out where a lot standing or walking is required.
Best baby monitor
Amplicomms Watch & Care V1000 monitoring system (£76.33)
It was only a matter of time until baby monitors developed into complex CCTV set-ups, though this is an entry level effort. As well as seeing your baby on a 2.4-inch LCD screen, there are five lullabies that can be played remotely using the two-way Watch & Care V1000 while night vision on the video camera is excellent. Set it up in the darkness of a bedroom and it still manages to show the cot – and contents – and though it’s easy to position for big cots, it lacks a hook that would make it much easier to attach to a moses basket.
Where it falls down slightly is with sound, which is dogged by echo; that’s fine for the parent receiver, but if you want to talk to your baby through the monitor (a surprisingly common feature on today's monitors) you do sound like Darth Vader, who wasn’t exactly a model parent (desertion, no birthday cards, chopped-off son’s hand with laserbeam, etc).
Those with money to burn ought to look at the Withings Smart Baby Monitor, a £269 device that films your baby and puts a live stream on a smartphone app. Otherwise, if you want something reliable and good at the bottom end of the scale, then go with the Tommee Tippee DECT digital monitor. There’s no video but it does have a pressure pad to detect movement. No movement for 20 seconds and the alarm bells start ringing. Only needed for newborns, of course.
Baby Monitor app and Alarm & Baby Activity Logger app (£2.99 & £1.99)
New parents are using their smartphones for everything. The Baby Monitor & Alarm app works using two phones (or an iPhone and an iPod Touch), one of which must be left beside baby; if/when he/she cries, you get a phone call or text. It doesn't replace a regular monitor, but is good for situations where a monitor won't work.
Baby Activity Logger is basically a diary that helps you learn your baby’s strange schedule. Easy to use, brilliant at helping reassure parents about feeding and sleep patterns, the only downside is that it’s a bit American in its terminology.
Best breast pump
Medela Swing breast pump (£129.99)
Speak to any mother out there and the only model of pump on anyone’s lips is the Medela Swing. It’s not cheap but you really don’t want to be going through the hassle of doing all the expressing with anything non-powered.
It’s lightweight (and therefore great for overnight trips) and quiet (some make a serious racket). It also has the uncanny knack of working in a natural rhythm that mimics a baby surprisingly accurately, apparently. More importantly, it also works in about half the time of others – about 10 minutes – thanks to Medela’s two-phase expression tech, and there are different sized personal-fit breastshields available.
If that’s not enough for you, then you can get yourself a medical standard version from Medela and rent the Symphony pump which might not be such a bad idea if you intend using it a lot. Not as portable but quicker and more effective.
Philips AVENT 3-in-1 Electric Steam Steriliser SCF285 (£35.99)
It sterilises things in six minutes. Six minutes! Get home with a crying baby and time is of the essence, and the AVENT steams ahead of the competition. Usability is brilliant. Unlike many brand-specific sterilisers, it has open spaces for you to put in whatever you want, so it’s compatible with all and any bottles if you decide to cross the floor to Tommee Tippee at a later date. Others can be jigsaw-like, a bit like dishwashers with specific shaped racks.
As well as being quick, it's versatile, too; just a little section of it can be used, and it doesn't take up much space on the worktop. Best of all, even the most sleep-deprived luddite can use it, even in the middle of the night – you just put a bit of water in the well and push the only button there is. Great value for money. And if you'd rather go with a microwave version, then there's also the AVENT Express II which does the job in just two minutes; a bargain too at just £12.
Best bottle & food warmer
Travel Baby Bottle Warmer (£8.99)
It’s cheaply made and looks it, but this low-cost Babytec Baby Bottle Warmer is small, and does exactly what it says on the box.
Because it plugs into a car cigar lighter socket, it works worldwide, and it doesn't use water, making it ideal for travel of all kinds. Lightweight and easy to use, it takes around 15 minutes to warm bottles, though it doesn't sterilise.
Best bedside light
Autofade Bedside Lamp (£19.99)
Able to emit a veil of very low light, the Autofade Bedside Lamp is designed to allow everyone involved to see what they're doing at 3am, but not fully wake-up. Perfect for night feeds.
The design is rather plasticky and cheap, which suggest it’s not great value, and there's no pretty colours projected on to the ceiling and walls but it does the job. What we do like about it is that It works on a standard dimmer switch and auto-fade feature means that the lamp gradually fades to nothing over 15 minutes, which could come in handy later in your wee one's existence if they grow up to be a bit scared of the dark.
Best sleep device
Ewan the dream sheep (£29.99)
Now we're not saying that the Dream Sheep is a surefire way to induce sleep in an unsettled infant but when times are desperate it's worth giving anything a go and your first shot in this department should be Ewan.
Fed three AA batteries, this sleep aid emits low-frequency sounds and a soothing pink glow along with four tracks designed to lead straight to slumberland in the shape of "vacuum cleaner", "rain", "harp" and a "womb sequence". Working on a 20-minute timer before nodding off himself, Ewan has a Velcro-powered tail to attach to a pushchair, though he’s unlikely to get much dreaming done like that.
Best for keeping it together
Itzbeen Baby Timer (£24.99)
Similar to the Activity Logger app, the Itzbeen is a dedicated hardware way of keeping track of what your baby might need next. It’s essentially a multi-timer with several clocks keeping track at the same time. Some are dedicated to sleep, feeds and last time the nappy was changed but you can also customise too.
At the end of the day, the Itzbeen doesn’t function any differently from something you can get for your phone but, unlike your mobile, it’s a device that’s not going to go walkabout when your partner’s looking for it. The only reason not to get it is if you’re going to do everything on-demand. But, if you’re going to get all Gina Ford about things, it’s a great way to keep track of what’s going on without having to resort to pen, paper and your memory circuits.
Best for dummies
Pipila Portable Dummy Steriliser (£19.99)
Dummy sterilisers are far from an essential but the Pipila Portable variety is so high tech that it's worth adding to the arsenal just to marvel at how it works. It's a sterilizing lamp that resembles a tiny alien spacecraft.
The lid raises and a spat-on-the-floor dummy can be inserted into the chamber. Then just press it down to activate the UV light, which takes a few minutes to kill bacteria in an utterly tasteless manner. Available in blue, red, and lime and using two AAA batteries, it will leave you teat-ering on the brink of germ-free parenting. Sorry. Couldn't resist.
Best for colds
Nosefrida Snotsucker (£8.50)
Watching your kid, yourself and your partner suffer during a cold can be incredibly annoying. How can such a small attack on their health cause such a time of hell? Well one reason is that it takes a very long time for them to learn to blow their nose and you’d probably be getting pretty peeved too if your nasal cavities were bunged up with bogies that you just couldn’t clear.
Previously there have been two choices at this point: either sit there and watch or - for the brave only - suck it out mouth-to-nose. Most people always found the latter option just too rank to imagine but now there is a product to protect you. Meet the Nosefrida Snotsucker and it does what it says on the tin. Insert one end into your mouth, the other end up your sprog’s hooter, make sure there’s the filter in the middle and get sucking. Hey presto, the snot collects in the tube in the middle. Pretty grim, but well worth it.