Editor's note (5/13/2019): The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a recall notice for all Fisher-Price Rock 'n' Play Sleeper models due to its involvement in the deaths of more than 30 infants. The USCPSC recommends you cease using this product immediately and contact Fisher-Price directly for a refund.
I started reviewing baby-related technology a few weeks after my wife delivered our first child. But dealing with the forced frugality of early parenthood (our "Friday-night-movie" money has been reallocated into "diapers-and-wipes" money) at the same time as testing the trendiest and priciest infant tech has made me reluctant to label any products "must-buy."
Then I put my infant son in the Fisher-Price Deluxe Newborn Auto Rock 'n Play Sleeper with SmartConnect (or if you hate long product names like I do, the SmartConnect Sleeper). It's a simple sleeper that works during the first year or so of your baby's life. It keeps them comfortably on their back to avoid SIDS, and features a curved base so parents can rock their children to sleep. More notably, the SmartConnect Sleeper offers automated movement that helps soothe your child as well as a Bluetooth-connected app so you can do so hands-free. And did I mention the cost? The sleeper is $100, a surprisingly reasonable price when similar products without the smarts can cost as much as $150.
Every baby's needs are different, but the SmartConnect Sleeper offers enough features to appeal to most parents. Personally, after testing and living with the sleeper for a couple weeks, my family's having a hard time adjusting to life without it. It's well worth a $100 investment if you're in need of a little calm in the hectic life of new parenthood. For that reason, the SmartConnect Sleeper has earned CNET's Editors' Choice Award.
The Fisher-Price SmartConnect Sleeper has a pretty standard basic design. The plush material that cradles your baby is comfortable and breathes well. The sleeper rocks on the curved tracks at its base. You can even attach the included textured plastic rings to the harness so your baby can receive tactile stimulation while falling asleep.
Here's where the smarts come in: On the side of the sleeper, a control panel allows you to queue music, ambient sound, vibration and rocking. This control panel is replicated on the iOS and Android-compatible app with more precision -- you can control vibration patterns and intensity, rocking speed and even specify particular environmental sound effects.
Other devices feature vibration and speakers (although SmartConnect's are better than most of the competitors' I've tried out). The novel addition is the automatic rocking. A short leg extends from the bottom of one of the sleeper tracks and rocks the baby. It's a simple mechanism, but it moves the baby like you do when you're rocking them to sleep.
While some devices, such as the 4moms MamaRoo, have attempted to replicate parental movements to nominal effect, the SmartConnect Sleeper consistently calmed my 10-week-old son and kept him asleep much more reliably. Whether this was due to the better seat design or the rocking pattern, I didn't really care -- the important thing was, I got more sleep at night and was more alert during the day.
The last feature I love is a small one on the app: the ability to set timers for the settings (however, the timers only work for 30-minute increments). For example, you could set the music to play for 30 minutes and vibration to continue for 60 minutes. Sure, this is a simple mechanism, but it's these small touches that make the SmartConnect Sleeper so consistently meet the needs of parents and reduce the chances that you might accidentally wake the baby.
I can think of a few features I'd like to see SmartConnect add in the future. First off, you can't play your own music through the speaker. There's no auxiliary input, no Bluetooth playability -- nothing. Custom music should be standard for devices of this sort, but almost no developers are doing it (and when they do, the speakers are worse than my phone's).
I'd also like to see some kind of basic movement monitor, so if your baby starts kicking like they're waking up, the sleeper automatically begins rocking.
Small additions like these wouldn't dramatically raise the overhead of the sleeper. And given the already modest price for a device of this sort, these are less critiques than suggestions for making a great product even better.
Short answer: absolutely.
When you have a baby, two basic products will make you shell out the big bucks: a car seat and a sleeper. My wife and I have tried out five different bassinets, co-sleepers and sleepers that ranged from $50 to $150. Of those five, the Fisher-Price SmartConnect Sleeper kept our son comfortable and asleep the most consistently. He even enjoyed sitting in it while awake -- even more so than both our baby seats.
Sure, Fisher-Price's sleeper doesn't do everything, but it does the important things well, and for a reasonable price. If you're a new parent looking for a sleeper, this is the one for you.