- Using artificial intelligence, the Cubo AI Smart Baby Monitor ($189) sent me an alert when my baby’s face was covered.
- Covered face and rollover alerts, along with cry detection and “danger zones” set this smart video monitor from the rest.
- Setup is simple, even for the smartphone-challenged, and three different stand options are included.
- The app-based design allows for the Cubo’s advanced features but can sacrifice some of the reliability.
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A little birdie told me that my baby wasn’t okay. I’m not trying to use a tired cliché – I’m talking about Cubo, an artificially intelligent video baby monitor that also happens to look more like a little plastic bird than a camera.
Using facial recognition, the Cubo AI Smart Baby Monitor alerts parents if the baby’s face is covered, or if the toddler just climbed out of the crib entirely. Designed by a parent who knows that panicked feeling when you check on your baby only to find their face covered and a pediatrician, Cubo is made to offer more peace of mind without resorting to expensive wearable monitors.
While not perfect, Cubo's faults fall into two categories. The first is that the Cubo has the same downsides of every app-powered monitor, which I'll get into later in this review. And the second? Getting a taste of what an AI baby monitor can do only leaves an appetite for even more smart features.
Design and specs
The Cubo looks more like a nursery decoration than a security camera. The glossy white body is shaped like a bird, while a fake wood-grain piece in the middle houses the camera. That center piece moves to switch from the lens looking below the bird for mounting above a crib to in front of the bird to sit on a shelf. Mounting the camera above the crib is required for the covered face and rollover alerts.
The Cubo comes with three mounts. I used the crib mount, which is designed to fit most crib railings and arch over the top. It's plenty sturdy for monitoring a baby but may need to be switched for toddlers who like to climb and pull on everything. A free-standing mount uses a water-weighted bottom to get that same overhead view on beds like a bassinet or playpen. The last mount is a mobile stand that sits on a shelf.
The camera records and livestreams in 1080p HD (with black-and-white night vision), offering sufficient detail for monitoring but not quite enough to use the 4x digital zoom to see breaths. Other specs include:
- Sony-made sensor with night vision
- 135-degree wide-angle lens
- 18-hour playback
- Two-way audio
- Temperature and humidity sensors
- Built-in night light
- Device-specific encryption
The Cubo needs to be mounted above the crib for the facial recognition features to work, but the included stands mean that's possible without mounting anything to the wall. The crib stand was fairly easy to assemble. The mobile stand is as simple as plugging it in and rotating the camera. The option to use multiple stands made it easy to grab the monitor from the nursery and plug it in the mobile stand so I could watch the baby while hauling out the trash or checking the mail.
Setting up the Wi-Fi was even easier. The app walks you through the steps, which include placing a QR code in front of the camera - after which, the monitor will confirm the connection. From there, setup is simply a matter of adjusting alert preferences in the app and even customizing them with your baby's name.
Inside the app, the home screen includes a live view with a time stamp and the room's temperature and humidity. Tap on this to enter a full-screen mode with controls for taking a photo or video. If you tap again, additional controls pop up for the two-way audio. A timeline allows you to rewind the live footage (up to 18 hours), including a helpful gray bar that notes when the baby was in the crib.
Under that live view are moments that the Cubo AI camera snapped by looking for movement and smiles. Mine were mostly images of the baby crying and sucking on his hands, and the app often went several days without snapping any pictures.
A second tab inside the app houses the alerts, which are paired with an accompanying video clip to replay the moment that triggered the alarm. The third tab houses the settings, where you can customize alerts, add your baby's profile, and even turn the built-in nightlight on and off. The settings offer a good set of options: You can turn on both covered face and rollover alerts, or only covered face alerts, or turn sleep safety alerts off, set a "danger zone," and adjust the sensitivity of the cry detection.
What it's like to use
While any video baby monitor will allow you to hear the baby, the camera inside the Cubo actually knows what it's seeing. Using face detection, it can detect if the baby's face is covered or if the baby rolled over, sending an alert to the smartphone that, in keeping with the design of the camera itself, also sounds like a bird.
My son triggered an alert by rubbing both of his eyes, obscuring his face with the arms of his thick winter sleep sack. It was the only "false" alarm for the covered face alerts in a month of use - but his face was really covered, just temporarily. The alert also provides a replay of the incident.
The face detection sends notifications when the baby is in the crib and another when the baby is out of the crib or completely covered. Besides being helpful for when toddlers learn how to crawl out of the crib, the alerts allowed me to see my son when he was home with a babysitter.
With the camera facing forward, a "danger zone" alert allows you to draw a box on the screen where you don't want a toddler venturing. The setting works well - too well actually. I was surprised that the camera didn't need to see a face to send the alert, allowing it to work when the tot is walking away from the camera and when any person, pet, or moving object headed toward that zone. Because of the constant alerts, this is a feature I would use only occasionally.
Importantly (and in the aftermath of the recalled incline infant sleepers), Cubo isn't trying to replace safe sleep recommendations. In fact, it includes them right in the app and the instructions. Getting an A.I. baby monitor doesn't mean you should start putting stuffed animals and loose blankets in the crib, but it will help if the baby comes unswaddled, rolls over, or perhaps (a fear in my house), the cat gets locked in the nursery and decides to sit on the baby.
The biggest downsides to the Cubo baby monitor are the cons that come with any app-based, Wi-Fi connected monitor. The livestream could fail if the connection fails, the internet is too slow, or the app crashes. Watching the counter on the app, there were a few times where the camera stopped live-streaming for a few seconds before catching up. It felt consistently a few seconds behind, sounding like an echo to the baby's real cries. Once, I heard myself fetching the baby from the upstairs nursery after we'd come downstairs.
In most cases, a few-second delay won't cause any issues, and I did receive alerts when my internet connection dropped completely. But I did restart the app once or twice when the timer on the live feed stopped and didn't catch back up. Another time, the audio failed until I restarted the app. While crashes were rare, I was concerned that an app freeze at the wrong time could mean sleeping through baby's cries.
That concern, however, extends to any baby monitor that relies on an app or internet connection. A quick perusal of app reviews for the Owlet Smart Cam reveals some of the same issues. And of course, performance is also dependent on internet speed and the device - I tested the Cubo using 7 Mbps download speed and an iPhone 7. Like any app-based smart monitor, live-streaming an entire nap will wear out the smartphone battery quickly.
During roughly a month of testing, the cry alert notifications were more reliable. I preferred using the livestream simply because cry alerts won't allow you to hear coughing or cooing.
While not perfect, getting a taste of what AI could do inside a baby monitor only made me hungry for more. If the monitor detects when the baby is in and out of the crib, why couldn't it also track baby's sleep patterns? Why not automatically start the livestream when the baby is detected, or at least stop sending temperature alerts when the baby isn't even in the room?
Some of those requests may, admittedly, be limited by the operating system and not the app itself. But the wish list is more complementary than complaints - because when given a monitor that does what other monitors can't, I can't help but wonder what else it could do.
The bottom line
Cubo's AI alerts parents to unsafe sleep conditions without any wearable devices, a feature that few monitors even come close to. With nearly any technology, the more features you add, the more places things could go wrong, and Cubo is no exception. While the bird has earned a perch over my son's crib for the AI features alone, I'm going to keep my old school audio monitor on overnight to ensure those rare app crashes don't mean sleeping through his cries. Another option is to use the more reliable cry alerts, rather than leaving the app livestreaming all night.
The Cubo AI's $299 list price is more than basic video baby monitors but competitive among smart monitors. The price is similar to the Nanit Plus, which offers sleep tracking but no covered face or cry alerts, and $100 less than the Owlet, which uses a wearable to track breathing and heart rate. While at the whim of an internet connection and app, the Cubo, for the most part, allowed me to rest a little easier while my baby slept.
Pros: Covered face and cry alerts, good picture quality, versatile stand options, attractive design
Cons: Can lag with internet connection, app not as reliable as monitors with a dedicated parent unit