The Owlet Smart Sock 2 promises parents of newborns something that they haven’t felt since they found out they were pregnant—peace of mind. The company states 94% of parents who use the smart sock report improvements in their own sleep, as well as reduced anxiety. Why? Well, the Owlet sock tracks a baby’s oxygen levels and heart rate while he or she sleeps. Then, if any of these levels fall outside of a preset range, a notification is sent to the base station, smartphone, or tablet. Knowing a monitor can do this, and do it well, certainly seems comforting.
Since John and I are out of the newborn phase of fatherhood, we asked friends of Fathercraft, Todd and Paige, to do a review of the Owlet monitor to see how it worked for them and their baby, Miller, and loaned them a Smart Sock 2 we’d purchased. What follows is their review based on interviews we did after 3 months of testing the Owlet.
But first, if you’d like to see the Owlet in action, here’s John with a video review of the Cam and Smart Sock 2:
Enter Todd, Paige, and Miller
Miller decided to join Paige and Todd a little bit early—12 weeks, in fact. Because of this, he was kept in the NICU, where they used pulse oximetry to track his oxygen levels. On top of this, he needed to be on supplemental oxygen for the first 12 weeks of his life.
When they finally got to take him home, Paige and Todd wanted to continue monitoring Miller, so Paige researched the various options. Their goal was to ensure that Miller continued to stay stable as he came off the oxygen. And, as residents of Denver who enjoy the mountains, they wanted a way to keep an eye on him while they were at higher altitudes. It was important to them to get a device that would allow them to do more than just breathing monitoring, as the NICU professionals the spoke to noted that it was the least reliable method for tracking vitals.
After thorough research, Paige didn’t find many options. The Owlet Smart Sock 2 was one of the few. In the NICU and medical communities, though, there is some debate about whether the Owlet is a good idea. One of the reasons for this is likely the fact that it isn’t an FDA-approved device. This doesn’t mean that it’s not safe, it simply means that it can’t be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent conditions and diseases. Another criticism of so-called “smart” vital sign monitoring devices is they can trigger false alarms, fraying parents’ nerves and leading to unnecessary testing.
For Todd and Paige, their single goal was better monitoring of Miller, and they’d read good things about the Owlet. So they decided to try it out for themselves and pair it with the video monitor they were already using—the Infant Optics DXR-8.
What’s an Owlet Smart Sock 2 again?
The Smart Sock 2 isn’t literally a sock. But it is a fabric contraption that wraps around your baby’s foot to hold a sensor in place against her skin. The soft fabric fits snuggly so it doesn’t slip off with middle of the night tosses and turns, but since you choose the right size for your baby and use velcro to put it in place, it’s not uncomfortably tight either. The Owlet uses pulse oximetry, which is clinically proven to effectively track sleep, oxygen levels, and heart rate. It’s the same tech that you may have experienced if you’ve ever gotten your blood oxygen levels checked at a hospital or doctor’s office using that thing with the red light that goes on your finger.
During setup, parents can set high and low zones for heart rate and oxygen levels. When your baby’s oxygen and heart rate stay within these zones, the base station glows with a green light. If the levels leave this range, the base station and your phone notify you with sounds and lights.
On top of this, Owlet offers additional information in its app. Parents can view live readings and can see their baby’s sleep trends and historical data for both heart rate and oxygen levels. You can also set up your phone to send you notifications about changes in the various measurements, which is especially useful if you will be in and out of the room where you keep the base station.
The full Owlet Smart Sock 2 package costs $299.99. You chose between Mint, Blue, and Pink for the sock color. Owlet also offers a payment plan with Affirm, so you can slowly pay off the device with payments as low as $25 per month. Additionally, Owlet offers a 45-day Peace of Mind Guarantee. So if there is anything you do not like about the product in the first 45 days after purchasing it, you can return it — plenty of time to understand if the product meets your needs
Here’s what comes in the box:
- 3 fabric socks (between the 3 of them they should cover 0-18 months)
- Owlet App information (works with Android 4.4 and newer and iOS 8 and newer)
- Smart Sock sensor
- Charging cords
- Base station
Setting up the Owlet is fairly straightforward. You download the iOS or Android app to your phone or tablet, which guides you through the setup process and connecting the Owlet base station to your home wifi network (required for the Owlet app to function).
Answer a few basic questions about your child, set your preferred range, and you’re good to go.
The sensor slides easily into the sock, and you choose the sock size that best fits your child at any given time. Here’s the “sock” and sensor. The sensor slides in through the slit in the sock
Putting on the sock is a simple wrapping process that’s easy to master. Here’s what the sock looks like on John’s son Calvin (8 months old at the time:
The Owlet sensor connects to the base station via Bluetooth, and has a range of about 100 feet.
Owlet also offers a second app, called Connected Care. Connected Care gives you access to sleep trends, historical analysis of heart rate and oxygen levels, and health insights. It’s a subscription service and costs $8 per month. *Note Connected Care is currently only available through iOS*
At first, Todd and Paige found this information to be really useful, but as Miller got a bit older they found that they didn’t use it as much as they thought they would so they discontinued their subscription.
Owlet now offers a free trial, which can be helpful for parents who are on the fence.
What about the Owlet Cam?
Since the Owlet Smart Sock doesn’t actually include a video aspect, in 2019 Owlet released the Owlet Cam, a camera designed to work in conjunction with the Smart Sock. If you’re wanting to use the Sock, having the Cam allows you to also have a more traditional video baby monitor that works well with the sock; you use the same app for both.
We’ve been testing the Owlet Cam over the last few months, and while it’s pretty bare-bones from a feature perspective (especially when compared to something like the Nanit Plus—our review here), it’s a high-quality camera, has great night vision, and turns the Owlet into the complete package from a baby monitor & vital signs monitoring perspective. We’ll be adding more on the Owlet Cam here shortly.
The Owlet Cam is $149 as a standalone item, or you can buy it in a package with the Smart Sock for $100, making the complete package $399.
An Owlet review
Paige and Todd tried out the smart sock on Miller for more than 3 months. They started the testing when they came home with Miller—he was just a few weeks old at that point. And then they continued to test it until he was a little past the 3-month-old mark. It quickly became a habit to use the Smart Sock every night. They even used it during most of his naps—it just made them feel more comfortable. And even though it took a little getting used to putting the sock on before bedtime and naptime, it quickly became a no-brainer—especially once they got a handle on how the sock’s wrapping process worked.
Todd and Paige feel very confident about their testing phase because when Miller came home from the NICU he was using supplemental oxygen. While he was still on the supplemental oxygen, they had to complete medical-grade home oxygen tests. This meant that they got to compare the Owlet’s results directly to the medical-grade, professional oxygen test administered by a nurse.
And it didn’t take long for the Owlet to impress them. It was accurate to the professional oxygen test within a few percentage points every single time. Additionally, the Owlet tended to register oxygen levels as slightly lower than the medical device, which Todd prefers—better to err on the side of caution.
Then there is ease of use. Both the medical grade monitor and Owlet’s Smart Sock attached to Miller’s foot. However, the medical monitor was attached with tape and fell off a number of times. This triggered an alarm, which was designed to sound was the same whether the monitor fell off his foot or he stopped breathing. Todd mentioned that the CIA could use this as a form of torture!
The Smart Sock, on the other hand, doesn’t revert to the alarm if it falls off the foot. It plays a song instead, which Todd and Paige noted they only found out because they forgot to turn the sock off once before they took it off Miller’s foot. They wouldn’t have known otherwise because the Owlet’s sock never came off on its own during the 3 months of testing.
Another pleasant aspect of the Owlet is that it’s a hell of a lot more subtle and ‘friendly’ than the machines couples who’ve experienced time in the NICU are used to. While in the NICU, Todd and Paige were forced to get used to the beeping and humming of all the machines. They saw numbers and monitors every day and night. The Owlet, though, gave them all the same information, protection, and peace of mind, but in a much more subtle and homey way. Paige mentioned that she glanced at the base station if she woke up in the middle of the night, but she didn’t just lay there and stare at it. In fact, both Todd and Paige said they agreed with the 94% of parents noted above who said it helps both of them sleep better.
Experiencing the power of pulse oximetry in the mountains
When Miller’s pediatrician gave them the ok to take Miller up to the mountains there was one caveat. If Miller started to look lethargic, they should turn around and head back down. As Todd put it, “it can be tricky to figure out if a newborn, who sleeps 20 hours every day, is lethargic.”
Fairly soon after arriving, though, they decided Miller seemed a little sleepy. So, they slipped the Owlet on him and saw that his oxygen levels were indeed registering as a little low. So they brought him back to Denver. While it was a shorter than hoped-for trip, the Owlet ended up keeping Miller safe.
Now that we’ve covered how the Owlet worked during the 3 month testing period, let’s jump into the good, the bad, and a verdict.
On hesitation from the medical community
As Todd previously stated, some medical professionals that they spoke with or who had written about at-home oxygen monitoring options stated their doubts about the Owlet. One of the biggest concerns was that the device could give parents a false sense of security—some parents may even grow too relaxed in their baby’s sleep habits (i.e. put them down on their stomach). Paige, though, had an interesting thought about this theory: Any parent who would spend $300 on a device to monitor their baby’s oxygen levels would be neurotic enough to practice safe sleep habits. We cover safe sleep practices and SIDS/SUID risk-reduction here.
The phone alerts: These were instant, giving them confidence that they could get to Miller as soon as he started to show any signs of distress.
Travel: The Owlet is easy to travel with and makes a huge difference. When they went to the mountains, they figured out immediately that Miller wasn’t doing well. To them, that is a major bonus.
The fit: The sock fit great. It didn’t bother Miller, fit him well, and he never kicked it off.
Accuracy: When Todd and Paige saw that the Smart Sock’s readings matched the medical grade readings, they were sold.
The ‘wish it were different’
The base station: The base station is a critical part of the Owlet monitoring system, but it emits a bright green light to let you know your child is ok. Todd and Paige found it overly bright and distracting when trying to sleep. It created so much light, in fact, that they ended up putting a t-shirt over it. It would be nice to have the option of switching the light off or at least the ability to dim it. [Update for 2020: turns out you actually can dim the light, which we weren’t aware of during original testing, but it’s doable via the app!]
The lack of video: Paige and Todd already had Infant Optics when they decided to get the Owlet. But if they had opted just for the Owlet, they wouldn’t have had video. And even with the comprehensive information the Owlet provides, Todd still likes to turn on the video. The first reason for this is that they, like most other parents, still want to see and hear their baby. Todd said he can’t imagine a parent using the Owlet without a video or audio monitor in addition to it. The second reason that the video monitor is so essential is that while the Owlet is extremely accurate with Miller’s heart rate and oxygen levels, it isn’t always accurate about whether he is awake or asleep. However, this might be because he has a higher heart rate than normal.
All this means that if you’re thinking about the Owlet, you’ll likely also need to consider a second monitor for video.
Multiple babies: Paige’s sister has twins and also used the Owlet. She liked it, but in order to monitor both babies, she had to set up two different accounts on two different phones or an iPad and a phone. They also have to have two different base stations.
Do not disturb or airplane mode: Like many people Paige and Todd prefer to put their phones on ‘Do Not Disturb’ when they go to bed. Unfortunately, when they do this the Owlet notifications can’t come through. (This isn’t just an Owlet thing, though. It applies to any WiFi monitor, and applies to those of you who like to sleep in airplane mode too.)
Multiple apps: The Owlet apps couldn’t be easier to use. The weird part is that there are two separate apps. One is the Owlet app that sends notifications to your phone. The other is the subscription-based Connected Care app that shows your baby’s overall trends.
When we asked Paige and Todd what their verdict on the Owlet was, Paige said the fact they’d decided to purchase their own after testing out ours said it all — the Owlet (at least for them as first-time parents of a baby born prematurely, was worth every penny).
Todd suspects that they will continue using the Smart Sock until Miller is about a year old. Or maybe if they forget to take it with them when they go on a trip and are forced to get used to not having it on him for a few days. In other words, they feel very comfortable with the Owlet and they are thrilled with the feeling of safety and security it is giving them.
To wrap up, let’s dive into some frequently asked questions about the Owlet Smart Sock 2.
Do you need a video monitor in addition to the Owlet?
The Owlet Smart Sock doesn’t offer video or audio monitoring, though the Owlet Cam adds both. When we asked Paige and Todd, they said they couldn’t imagine using the Owlet without a video monitor (though, per AAP recommendations, they kept Miller in their room for the first 6 months, so he had the Owlet Sock on even though they could see him. Their testing occurred before the Owlet Cam was introduced.)
Todd and Paige used a video monitor in addition to the Owlet. And, we’d have to concur with them — after 4 kids we struggle with the idea of using the Owlet without a video or audio monitoring option. Looking for more info on monitors? Here are our baby monitor reviews and recommendations.
Do you need WiFi for the Owlet?
The Smart Sock connects to the base via Bluetooth, meaning it can function without wifi, which is nice in case your wifi stops working or your phone battery dies. However, to connect the base station to your phone so you can get notifications on your phone, you’ll need to connect it to your home wifi network.
What is the range of the Owlet?
The Owlet sock and base have normal Bluetooth range, meaning about 100 feet. If your base station is connected to wifi, you can receive alerts and monitor your baby via the smartphone app anywhere you’re connected to wifi or have a cellular connection (if enabled).
How long do the Owlet batteries last?
The sock’s battery will last for roughly a day and then you’ll need to recharge it, and you’ll need to get in the habit of plugging the sock’s monitor into the base station for charging when you remove it from your child.
How do you clean the Owlet Smart Sock?
To clean the Smart Sock, all you will need to do is remove the sock sensor, handwash in lukewarm water and mild detergent, and hang dry.
How accurate is the Owlet Sock?
Based on our testing: extremely. Our testers had a nurse come to their house and use hospital-grade equipment while the Owlet was also tracking. Owlet’s measurements were within a few percentage points.
Is the Owlet safe?
According to the company, Owlet uses the same technology you’d find in your doctor’s office (pulse oximetry), and low-energy Bluetooth 4.0. They do note it’s not an FDA-approved medical device.
Can you use an FSA/HSA account to pay for Owlet?
You sure can, at least for purchase of the Smart Sock 2 or the Smart Sock & Cam bundle. Purchasing the Cam by itself is not HSA/FSA eligible, as monitors that are eligible have to include a breathing/movement monitoring component.
Editor’s Note: this review was originally published in November 2018, but was updated in November 2019 to include new information on Owlet Cam & additional details and FAQs.