Anxious parents can keep tabs on their child's heart rate, blood oxygen levels and sleep trends for a lot longer now with Owlet's newest Smart Sock.
Don't call Owlet a baby monitor anymore: The company announced Wednesday its brand-new Owlet Smart Sock Plus, which fits children up to five years old (and 55 pounds). Launched in 2015, the original Owlet Sock monitors heart rate, blood oxygen level and sleep patterns, and fits babies up to 18 months (or about 30 pounds). The company says extending the product's use into early childhood is the most common request its customers make.
The Owlet has come a long way since CNET first covered the smart baby breathing monitor in 2013. Back then, the "sock" was more of a boot, and the company was still in crowdfunding mode. Today, the third-gen Owlet Sock is lightweight and minimalist, and the company says over 1 million babies have had their vitals monitored by the product.
The new Smart Sock Plus looks and functions the same as the Smart Sock 3, but it comes in larger sizes. Plus, the company has updated its tracking algorithms to account for older children.
This kind of baby tech can start to seem like a solution in search of a problem. But the appetite for monitoring baby vitals has only increased in the years since Owlet's launch, and the smart baby monitor field is crowded with competitors like the Nanit Pro, Cubo AI and Miku Smart Baby Monitor, which measure and track breathing, oxygen levels, temperature, sleep quality and other stats, organizing it all in visually appealing charts and graphs that data-hungry millennial parents like me eat right up.
I'm no stranger to the joy of (sometimes useless) data collection -- I manually tracked my son's milk intake, diapers and naps for a full year, for no good reason. I track my own sleep, physical activity and heart rate with my Fitbit Charge 4, and the Owlet app provides similar bio-intel, but for my son.
It's neat to notice trends and patterns you wouldn't otherwise have access to. Like when I'm singing my son to sleep before bed, the Owlet sock tells me his heart rate slows. It's a data geek's Hallmark card: My BPM calms at your voice. Aww.
Owlet's real appeal, though (and, honestly, the only justification for its $359-$459 price tag), is the peace of mind it brings parents of newborns. I didn't try the Owlet until my son was almost 18 months old, and by then he was unswaddled, sleep-trained and even safe to keep a small comfort object in his crib.
While I still wake several times every night to make sure he's OK, the anxiety has cooled to a low simmer compared to the early days, when I'd wake with a start, convinced by my half-conscious lizard brain that my son had stopped breathing.
Owlet positions the Smart Sock Plus as a way to monitor your child's well-being as they age out of infancy. That promise is just vague enough to sound appealing without actually making any claims about utility. I'm not sure the average parent can learn anything actionable about their child's well-being from sleep patterns or heart rate data.
Sleep tracking a kid is about as interesting and about as useful as sleep tracking yourself -- it's more of a curiosity than a tool, at least in the absence of health problems.
Owlet's Smart Sock isn't a medical device, and the company makes no claims about SIDS prevention (in fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics actually advises against using breathing monitors like the Owlet to reduce the risk of SIDS).
I think of the infant-sized Owlet Smart Sock as a security alarm on a house that doesn't have doors yet. Once the doors (and locks) are installed -- once your child can roll over on their own -- you might still want an alarm, but its exigency goes way down.
Still, the peace of mind during the newborn phase is definitely worth it, if your budget allows, and if, like me, you follow safe sleep habits to a T and still can't get to sleep yourself. The Owlet or another breathing monitor could provide that extra layer of assurance necessary to "sleep when the baby sleeps."
The Owlet Smart Sock Plus, which comes with three sock sizes and a base station that doubles as a wireless charger, costs $359. That's a pretty hefty price, especially considering the camera monitor is extra ($159 to buy separately, or $459 for a bundle with the Smart Sock Plus). Existing Smart Sock 3 users can upgrade to the Smart Sock Plus with a $69 extension pack.
When CNET's David Priest reviewed the original Owlet Smart sock, the price -- then $250 -- was a sticking point. "While I like the Owlet Baby Monitor, I can't recommend it as a priority purchase until the price drops or the feature list grows," he wrote.
Now that the Smart Sock has been extended to fit 5-year-olds, the price is almost 50% higher than it was in 2016. Considering how much the necessity for "peace of mind" decreased for me even over the first year, it's hard to say whether the extended age and weight range is worth the price hike just for keeping tabs on "well-being."
But what I can say is that, after taking my son to the emergency room recently for an allergic reaction that left his entire face swollen and his heart rate spiking, it would have been nice to bring him home with an Owlet Smart Sock.