Review: Onaroo Personal Baby Assistant

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Short Version: Tracking your baby’s daily activities can be a time consuming process, but it yields some interesting and useful data to help you better understand everything that’s going on with your little one. The Onaroo Personal Baby Assistant is a stand-alone gadget to help you record the things your baby does: when and how much she eats, when and how long she naps, and what kind of dirty diapers she makes. It’s much more convenient than writing the same information down in a log book — especially late at night — and it’s extremely easy to toss into a diaper bag to take with you around town. It might not be the right gadget for folks who fill their smartphones with baby-oriented apps, but it satisfies its niche pretty well.

Features:

  • Easily track baby’s daily activities (eating, sleeping, pooping)
  • Track health and medication, too
  • Enter data on the device or on the website
  • View and print a variety of charts
  • MSRP of $49.95

Pros:

  • Extremely intuitive to use
  • Very sturdy
  • Lights up for easy nighttime use

Cons:

  • Reports from the website are inflexible
  • Windows-only upload component
  • No dedicated clock battery

Review:
Raising a baby takes a lot of work. Quite literally, this little person’s life is in your hands. As a new parent myself, I found myself wanting to have a firm understanding of my baby (as much as I could, at any rate, given that babies are in many ways completely inscrutable). The only way to get any kind of understanding is through collecting hard data. It’s not sufficient to say “I think she ate about 2 ounces, maybe an hour ago?” You don’t want to underfeed or overfeed your precious little angel, so accurate record keeping is important. My buddy used a notebook and a Bic pen to record each feeding, nap, and diaper change for his son. This was a tedious, labor-intensive process. Raising a baby is already labor intensive, why add to the work? Why not use technology to help?

The Onaroo PBA is a simple-to-use little handheld computer dedicated to tracking your baby’s activities. Three big, easy to press buttons allow you to quickly navigate the interface and enter data. Entering data is context aware, so that recording a nap is as easy as starting a new nap timer. When baby awakes, stop the timer and confirm that you want to save the nap in the PBA’s memory. The same process works for feedings, on a per-breast basis for nursing mothers. You can record pumping, too. For parents using formula, you can simply enter how many ounces baby ate. You’re not locked into one or the other, either: the PBA happily tracks breast and bottle feedings. Every time you change baby’s diaper you can record in the PBA whether it was pee, poop, or both, as well as the severity of each (light, normal and heavy for pee, and soft, normal or hard for poop).

There are lots of websites and apps that provide the same functionality as the PBA. American Innovative, the folks that make the PBA, are a gadget company, so they made a gadget to do these things. Surprisingly, there are lots of parents who don’t have a smartphone, and who might want to track their baby’s activities. And some folks who might use a smartphone might find it annoying to leave said smartphone in baby’s room every night. The PBA is a nice option for these folks.

The PBA provides a modicum of reporting right from the device itself. You can see, for example, how many times you changed your baby’s diapers on a given day, how many ounces your baby ate, or how much time baby spent eating. Looking at these reports, I observed to my wife that our daughter spent a total of three hours eating on one particular day. This was not, of course, one marathon three-hour feeding frenzy, but several 10-20 minute feedings though the course of the day. My wife dryly replied “Yes, and I spent three hours of my day feeding her.” This was a pretty powerful realization for both of us.

The PBA can also upload its data to the Onaroo website, where you can get a better view into the data you’ve collected. You can generate PDF reports to share with your pediatrician, as well as share read-only links to your baby’s online records. You might share these links with your family, for example, or your tech-savvy pediatrician. The reports are not modifiable, so if you’re not seeing the data you want, there’s not much you can do about it. The process of uploading from the PBA to the Onaroo website is also Windows-only. Sorry Mac and Linux users.

Navigating the website can be a little laborious. You need to scroll through week by week, rather than jump to a specific week or day you’d like to review. The charting periods aren’t as granular as we’d’ve liked, either: you can view a week or a year at a time. A monthly view would be nice. I would expect to see such an option soon.

The information on the website, as well as the PBA, is useful in aggregate but we found that it wasn’t presenting us with what we really wanted to see. For example, the graphical summary of feedings reports time or ounces, but not time of day:

The breakdown of daily feedings shows all the data we might want to see, but does so in a way that makes it hard to recognize trends over time:

We had tried to use the PBA to help us identify our daughter’s natural schedule, as we were trying to follow the 12 hours sleep by 12 weeks old plan. The data collected by the PBA did help us, but it took a little more analysis than a quick look at a graph.

Our baby has been thankfully healthy, so some aspects of the PBA never came up in our testing. If our baby had not gained sufficient weight between checkups, for example, the PBA would have allowed us to review how much she had been eating. If she hadn’t been eating enough, that should have been evident in the report. Similarly, we didn’t have to record medication dosages, which would be another excellent use of the PBA.

The device itself is a solid little gadget. It’s survived multiple drops and general abuse in our household. It’s powered by two AA batteries which lasted a surprisingly long time. All data is preserved when you change batteries except for the current date and time. It’s not a huge burden, but it is a small nuisance to have to reset the date and time after every battery change. Thankfully, battery changes should be an infrequent event.

I liked using the PBA, and made a conscious effort to record things when I could. Usually this was diaper changes, but I was also sometimes able to record naps. My wife made a real effort to use the PBA (thanks, honey!), especially during the late-night feedings (thanks, honey!), but ultimately decided that it wasn’t the right gadget for her. We both found that it was all too easy to neglect to record something because the baby demanded so much of our attention. I would often leave the nap timer running, for example, long after our daughter awoke. It is possible to add and edit past entires from the PBA to correct these situations, but it’s considerably more laborious than just clicking “start” and “stop” on a timer. As such, I would often cancel the incorrectly recorded nap and simply never enter the proper time. These kinds of gaps in the data collection aren’t terrible if they’re infrequent, but if you do it more than a couple of times a week, it drastically reduces the value of the record keeping that the PBA provides.

If you’re a data freak who likes to make Excel PivotTables, the PBA probably isn’t what you want. If you have a nanny or other child care provider, though, the PBA might be worth considering: give the PBA to your care provider and ask them to use it to record your baby’s day. Even if you don’t use it exclusively, the PBA can be a handy device to have in order to gain insight into your baby’s life. The PBA is reasonably priced for what it does, and if it helps you help your baby, then it’s a solid investment.

Product Page: Personal Baby Assistant

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