Starting off with a disclaimer, this author won't pretend to know the least bit about parenting first-hand. That said, some of the basic principles in this otherwise complex field for grown-ups aren't entirely foreign to him.
Take, for example, the freedom vs. safety conundrum - you want to always know where your child is, yet you can't constantly be watching over them, plus they do need to be introduced to the concept of independence at some point. You might get them a smartphone, but those are expensive, prone to losing, and open up a world of possibilities a 5-year-old is clearly not prepared for. Cue in the kids' watchphone/GPS tracker.
Early efforts into this area date back to at least a decade ago, when the watch formfactor was still too small to cram all of the components needed - rather, the components were too big to fit. Those were the days of animal-inspired toy-looking devices with large buttons and zero display. It only took a couple of years for screens to appear in this segment as well, making kids' phones look a little more like their adult counterparts.
Buddy Bear child phone from 2006 (image credit: mobile-review.com)
All these devices share a common set of features - they allow only a limited number of pre-selected phone contacts to be dialed and only accept calls from a similar short list. Some have GPS, and some have an emergency call function. The concept is for you to be able to reach your precious one and for them to be able to contact you when in need while shielding them from the distractions of an actual full-fledged phone.
Fast forward to 2013 and parallel to a few more phone-shaped kids' phones, the first watch-sized devices started appearing. They solve a major issue with the previous phone-like designs - wearing the thing on the wrist makes it far less likely to get lost or forgotten on a school desk or the playground.
The Gator Caref (short for 'care for family', at least in its creators' minds) was one of the trailblazers in this segment and you could probably still buy one today. Available in a multitude of colors, the Caref is waterproof (though nothing in the line of an IP rating has been cited) and has GSM and GPS radios built-in, plus an LCD display. Using the companion app you can set up 3 phone numbers to go with each of the watch' buttons.
The 'SOS' function, evoked with a 3-second press on the S-button, will dial all three numbers in turn as well as immediately send location data to the app. For less intense situations when your little one is in the neighborhood, a 'safe zone' feature lets you set up a safe radius, and the app will alert you when your child has left the virtual confines of the safe zone, so you can take action - possibly starting by calling them.
The FiLIP (and its FiLIP 2 sequel) is another prominent figure in this area. It ups the phone number count to 5 and also adds A-GPS for an even more precise location service. The emergency call on this one requires a 4-second press on the red button, and not only will it call the pre-set numbers in sequence until someone answers, but will also record the call and ambient noise.
The FiLIP has safe zones too - not one, but five. It does show a clock with time and date, but also puts the display to another good use - you can send your kid SMS messages, or as the company puts it - 'This feature is one way from parent to child, there is plenty of time for texting when they are teenagers.'
The FiLIP's wristband is rather unorthodox in that it doesn't make a full loop. You could opt for a spacer with a latch to complete the loop, as well as two different extenders to accommodate different-sized wrists. Separate wristbands are available too - the watch part itself is removable so you can replace worn out or damaged bands. You can also mix and match bands and spacers making for some more colorful combos. There's no word on water resistance, though.
Not so with the KiGO Watch - it carries an IPx8 rating (up to 30 minutes and up to 1.5m deep), but its makers are confident enough to extend that to 3 meters. On top of the usual stuff, it offers a few neat features like wrist detection - it will alert the companion app on your smartphone when the watch has been taken off. There's also a small flashlight on board.
Its makers advertise it as the smallest and lightest of its kind and boast about its tough glass and shockproof build. Solving the size issue is an adjustable velcro strap.
The hereO watch is only marketed as splashproof, but other than that it comes with the similar full set of features. We're not particular fans of the bulge on the wristband, though.
Tinitell (tiny telephone, maybe?) is another take on a similar concept, only minus the display. It can store up to 12 phone numbers, though - the most of this bunch.
The most radical implementation seems to be the My Buddy Tag. All the connectivity it packs is Bluetooth - so you always must be around. The smartphone companion app will alert you when the child has gone out of range, and also when the Tag is submerged in water - the others don't seem to have thought of that. No service fees on this one, and lowest price to boot, but also a rather different use case.
The niche has meanwhile started attracting more than just start-ups. Perhaps the biggest brand-name in the field is Alcatel (or rather TCL). The company's MOVETIME Track & Talk offering, announced at MWC, and formerly known as CareTime (or is it really a different model, information is pretty scarce), is also not that different from the ones by up-and-coming makers. The Track & Talk can store up to 10 phone numbers, is water-resistant and packs a step tracker - not a universally available feature.
Alcatel MOVETIME Track&Talk
Back to lesser-known makers, the MyKi Watch from All Tesco Robotics is another product targeting the same market, only a rather recent one. As such it packs pretty much of all of the features, you can think of - GPS and cell ID tracking, voice calls, touch sensor for watch removal notification, step counter, the lot.
Your kid gets a 5-number phonebook, 3 SOS call numbers, and a chat feature - voice only from the watch, voice/text to it. An interesting feature is the speed limit - you can set up a notification should your child's speed exceed a certain number - before you wonder just how fast a kid could run, think of the scenario where they jump into a car they weren't supposed to.
The folks behind the MyKi Watch have just released a MyKi Pet product too, with similar features to the kids' watches, only meant to be used by the man's best friend, obviously. That's a whole different niche, though.
What we have to say as a summary is that the child's phonewatch/tracker combo is one that makes perfect sense as an in-between solution for when your kid is no longer constantly with you, yet not quite as responsible as to be trusted with a proper feature phone or even a smartphone. Voice calls are the primary everyday use case, and it's somehow a lot more acceptable for a 7-year-old to speak to their watch than it is for a grown-up, reagardless of how much Google is trying to convince us that is the way to go with the latest Android Wear releases.
The convenience of the watch form factor is undeniable too, as it frees both the child from the responsibility of actually carrying a phone around, and the parent from worrying why the kid hasn't moved an inch for 2 hours, when the device is actually left somewhere and Junior is in a whole other place.
The main problem with most such devices is battery life. Some fair better than others, but the goal here is rarely a full 16-hour adult's day - extraordinary situations aside, you're unlikely to be leaving your child unatttended for as long.
Hit us up in the comments with your thoughts on the kids' tracking watches, and if you find the topic interesting enough we might get one (or a few) for review.