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How to turn an old tablet or phone into a baby monitor

Keep an eye on your baby, for free, with this DIY system.

baby-monitor.jpg

Keep an eye on your baby with your phone or tablet.

Alina Bradford/CNET

If you want to keep an eye on your little bundle of joy when you're in another room, just grab an old phone or tablet. All you need after that are a couple cheap accessories and you'll be well on your way to knowing your baby is safe and sound, no matter where you are.

How to set up your DIY baby monitor

Setting up a baby monitoring system is simple and only takes a few minutes. First, download Skype on your monitor -- your old phone -- and on the device you will be checking the monitor with -- your regular phone. Set up a Skype account for each device and sign in.

On the baby monitor's account, set it up so it can automatically accept video calls from you, since your baby probably doesn't know how to work Skype just yet.

The process varies with iPhones ($809 at Walmart), Android phones and Kindles. Here's how to set up Android and Kindle Fire HD:

  1. Open Skype 
  2. Click on Settings 
  3. Under the Voice and Video calls settings, tick the box that says Answer calls automatically 

Here's how to set up auto answer with iPhone: 

  1. Open Skype and go to Skype > Preferences > Calls > Answer automatically > Configure 
  2. Select Answer automatically with video 

Pick a location

Now that you have the video and audio portion of the monitor working, select a place for the monitor. To do this, start a Skype call -- seeing the video live will let you pick the perfect placement.

First, you'll need to pick a good, sturdy stand. For phones, l like the Acuvar Flexible Tripod or the GripTight One because the legs of the stands can be wrapped around just about anything. For tablets, a regular stand just won't do because it will be too hard to aim the camera. Stands such as the Gamut Tablet Stand or the Kantek Adjustable Tablet Floor Stand give you much more flexibility on where you can set up.

Set the "monitor" -- aka your phone or tablet -- on its stand. Look at the video on your personal device and tinker with the monitor until the camera is pointing at your child's crib or play area. 

Keep in mind you'll want the monitor's location to be close to an outlet so you can keep the phone or tablet plugged in. Be sure that the cord is well out of baby's reach, though, to prevent a strangling hazard. Likewise, do use a stand -- clipping anything onto the side of your baby's crib is hazardous.

Use your monitor

Now, whenever you want to drop in on junior, all you need to do is start a Skype session with the baby monitor's account.

The perk of this type of setup, other than it being free, is that your baby can see you, too. So if your child needs you to sing a song or hear some soothing words, you can give them without physically being in the room. This is great for when you're cooking dinner, tending to another child or otherwise busy.

If you're the type of parent who wants to keep an eye on baby all the time, consider getting a smartwatch that pairs with your personal phone, such as an Apple Watch ($409 at Walmart), Android Wear or Samsung Gear. This way you can watch the video feed on your wrist instead of carrying your phone everywhere. Before you purchase, make sure that the smartwatch supports video streaming, of course.

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Is it safe?

It's pretty likely you've already heard horror stories of baby monitors being hacked. The best assurance we can offer is that -- barring any new, sophisticated hacking methods -- using your phone as a baby monitor might be the safest option yet. That's because, as Laura Hautala explained in her story, the monitors themselves were vulnerable.

Your phone, on the other hand, is a much safer bet. That's because your phone or tablet-based setup, including Skype, is protected by the same security standards as anything else on your phone. 

You do need to take some precautions, though. For the best security, be sure to put strong passwords on your Wi-Fi and your Skype account. Whenever possible, use two-factor authentication.

Also, put some security guards on your monitor's Skype account. Go to Tools > Options > Privacy and for every category, tick the option from people in my contact list only. This will ensure that only you can contact the baby monitor using Skype.

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Skype privacy options.

Screenshot by Alina Bradford / CNET