I got my first mobile phone when I was about 16 (if memory serves), and I paid for it with the modest income I earned from a casual evening job. It didn’t last long, because in 1997 I didn’t really have many people to talk to on the phone, or much of a need for a phone when I could just call them from home.
In 2019, the story is a little different. Many households don’t have landlines, and kids are getting mobiles younger and younger. While I’m not content to give my six year old son a mobile phone, studies are showing that many eight year olds have mobiles, and that trend is ever downward.
While I can’t – and wouldn’t – justify giving my son a smartphone, I am happy to let him try out a smart connected watch, and what’s what he’s been doing for the last month or two with Alcatel’s MOVETIME Family Watch.
What is the Family Watch?
At its most simple, the Family Watch is a watch your kid can wear that has a SIM card and some smart features in addition to just telling the time. Its colourful touchscreen shows the time and weather, and allows interaction with pre-defined others, which could be family members or trusted friends.
The features are – necessarily – very limited, and locked down. For my son, his Family Watch can call me, his mother, his grandparents, and his older brother. He can’t send or receive SMS messages, but he can send and receive little emojis, and he can send/receive voice recordings.
The flip side of the Family Watch is what it gives us as his parents. Our son straps his watch on in the morning, and goes to school. Sometimes we drop him, sometimes he takes the bus. Regardless, the Family Watch tracks when he leaves home, and confirms his arrival at school. It also gives him a way to call us should the bus not show up, or some other problem arise.
We can also see – on a Google Map layer – where the watch (and, by extension, our son) was most recently. It takes a little while to update sometimes, but usually within a minute or two it’ll give a fairly accurate location.
There’s an SOS button – which we don’t use – which can dial a pre-specified number in case of emergency, which also forces an update of the current location.
How secure is the Family Watch?
From the layman’s perspective, it seems pretty secure.
For starters, the watch can’t send or receive SMS, so even if some unknown actor obtains your Family Watch’s number, they can’t message your kid. If someone calls from an unapproved number, or a silent number, the watch won’t even ring – the call is silently rejected. Calls can only be placed to pre-approved numbers which are set in an app on a paired smartphone – your kid can’t go adding numbers themselves.
That’s probably not what people are especially concerned about, though. More likely, people would be concerned about someone tracking their kid and seeing where they are. There have been some horror stories in this space.
As far as we can tell, the location features behind Alcatel’s watch are a little more secure. There’s authentication required, for one, and some poking around in the app suggests it’s – relatively, at least – more difficult to intercept or modify the location tracking information.
Day to day, my only real concern about the Family Watch is that there’s no easy way to monitor the prepaid balance of a SIM used in it; because the watch can’t get SMS, low account balance warnings are silently disregarded. It would be handy if the watch could forward these to the authorised parents phones somehow.
How much does it cost?
Alcatel’s Family Watch retails for $180, which you can buy online or in Vodafone stores. You’ll need an Android or iOS smartphone to make it work, and the app works equally well on both.
Vodafone will sell you the Family Watch outright, or you can pay it off over 12, 24 or 36 monthly installments. You can also add a pre- or post-paid plan in store. Vodafone’s $10/month wearable plan includes unlimited calls and texts, and 1GB of data, which is well in excess of what the Family Watch can usefully use. It’s data usage is, as far as we can tell, extremely frugal.
You could also throw in a pre-paid SIM, and this is what we’ve done for our review. In a little under two months, I’ve put $10 of credit onto the SIM and it’s nowhere near running low, even with our son making pointless phone calls to us from time to time.
Should you buy one for your kid?
Honestly, this is not something we can either recommend or not; it’s a very personal decision that you should make after assessing whether you need it, and whether your kid will use it responsibly. Whether you need to stay in touch with your kid, or track their whereabouts, is something only you can determine for your family.
Of course there are those that will refer to privacy concerns. I’m not especially concerned about tracking the whereabouts of my six year old son, because my need (and indeed, obligation) to know where he is overrides – in my view – that particular aspect of his right to privacy.
The reality is, even if we’re talking about smart phones instead of watches, you can readily track your teenagers’ phones just as easily as you could track this smartwatch from Alcatel. Simply set up things like Find My Phone or other services and you can – if needed – monitor the location of their phone too. The older your kids the less likely they may be to want this kind of tracking, but that’s a discussion between you and your kids.
If your kids catch a bus to or from school, if they walk, or if they go to before or after school care, this kind of functionality may be very reassuring. Indeed, for us, it lets us know that our son is where he should be, and gives him a way to call us if he needs to, without having to carry a full smartphone.
We’ve found it very handy, and after an initial period where he fiddled with the watch constantly, our son has settled into a pattern where he only uses it as needed. During the recent school holidays, when he went to stay with his grandparents for a week, it gave him a means to contact us directly if he needed to … though to be fair, he only rang to ask if he could buy more video games. Typical.
When asked what he liked about the Family Watch, our son said:
It lets me call my parents, and it has funny cartoons for some of the features in the tools [menu]. I like wearing it because if I get lost I can call and ask for help. I like the colours and I like how it works. The emojis are a fun way to have a laugh with mum and dad too.
The only real complaint we’ve had is that the battery life will last a day, but not much more than one, and that’s without much by way of use. The battery life just doesn’t seem to be that great, so it needs charging nightly to be useful.
Overall the Alcatel Family Watch has been handy for us as parents, and enjoyable for our son to use too. On that front, we’d recommend it if – we stress – it’s something that you and your family need.
Alcatel has allowed Ausdroid to hang onto the Family Watch for ongoing use.