Reviewed by Louise Totton
I really don’t like to think of myself as an over-protective or a helicopter parent at all. I want my children (aged 7 and 9) to have the same freedom that I did when I was growing up. From around the age of nine, I walked to school myself, would vanish for hours on end to various friends’ houses and pretty much only came back when I was hungry! Without wanting to go too much into whether the world is actually a less safe place at the moment or whether it is all about perception, I will say that I don’t quite have it in me to give my children that level of freedom. It’s possibly because we are so used to being in constant touch with each other that I do feel deeply uneasy at the thought of not knowing exactly where my girls are.
By the same token, at their ages, I am not prepared for them to have mobile phones; the idea of them having the whole internet open to them on a tiny, pocket device is well beyond what I am comfortable with. So there lies the dilemma – we want our children to have freedom, are unwilling to give them that freedom without them being contactable, but by giving them the means to be contactable we are giving them potential access to a very adult World.
One possible solution to this comes in the form of the Xplora 1 Kids’ Smart Watch. We were sent one to try out, and we were over the moon to have the opportunity to test-drive it.
First thing’s first – kids are mad about the appearance of things and my girls were not disappointed with their Xplora watch. The watch is available in three colour options – pink and white, blue and orange, and blue and green. We chose the pink and white option and it looks great. The strap is a lovely bright pink chunky rubber strap with a proper buckle so it can be adjusted to fit most wrist sizes. It fitted both of my girls, and me also but is too small for my other half’s wrist. The body of the watch is black glass fronted with a small white bezel and edging and I have to say, it really looks the part! The watch comes securely packed in a box with a charging dock and cable, an instruction book and a sticker with the watch / SIM ID on.
The watch is charged via a charging dock and the instructions said it should only take a couple of hours to charge. Unfortunately, it seemed we initially had a faulty watch as the charge indicator light was flashing orange, which apparently indicated a charging error. We got in touch and a new Xplora 1 was sent out to us really quickly, so we were able to get on with our test-drive!
The second watch charged with no issues at all, and within 2 hours we had a fully charged watch and were ready to get it set up. The watch is set up and controlled via the Xplora app, which I installed on my Android smartphone. The app is also available for Apple devices.
Setting the watch up initially is a pretty straightforward process and we found following the instructions in the book very easy. The app is installed onto the parent’s phone and the watch is then paired with the parent’s phone. This is done via a series of security codes sent as text messages to the watch, and those security codes subsequently being entered into the app on the parent’s phone. We found this took a couple of attempts, but all in all, the process was pretty painless, and we were set up within 15 minutes. If you had children who each had a watch, all of the Xploras can be managed from the one parent smartphone app. During the set-up process, we also set an approved contact list for the phone and also a safety zone of within about half a mile of the house – more on Safety Zones and approved contact lists later.
One thing that this device isn’t, is a fully-fledged wearable device to rival an Apple Watch. That isn’t what this is designed for – the range of features isn’t massive, but it has absolutely everything on there that a parent would want for reassurance about their child’s whereabouts. The watch can make calls to pre-approved numbers set up in the app and receive phone calls from either any number or from the pre-approved numbers. It can receive text messages from either any number or from the same pre-approved list, but replies cannot be sent from the watch. In addition to these basic functions, the watch has a GPS function which allows the parent to check the location of their child at any time from the smartphone app as well as alerting the parent if the wearer of the watch leaves a set GPS ‘Safety Zone’. Finally, it has a schedule function which allows the parent to let alarms and reminders from the smartphone to audibly remind their child about anything from dinnertime to remembering to use their inhaler.
As kids these days would expect, the device is touch screen and is very simple for any child to operate. Because it is not weighed down by lots of functions, the menu is incredibly easy to navigate. The whole thing is controlled with an on/off button and the touch screen. There is also an SOS button at the side.
The top menu is accessed by pressing any button on the watch and swiping to the left. The user is then presented with Message, Phone, Send Location and My Watch and the options within the menu are navigated by tapping and swiping the screen in a very similar way to a smartphone. My kids didn’t need showing how to do this as it was simply intuitive for them.
Making a call is very simple – the phone menu is selected and the child swipes left or right to view the contacts that were set up in the app. When they find the person they wish to call, they tap the screen and the call is placed. We were all very pleased with just how clear the call quality was from the Xplora, both on the recipient’s side and on the sender. I could hear my daughter perfectly well when she called me, and she had no issue hearing me, in-spite of the tiny speaker on the watch!
One feature that I particularly liked was the SOS button. I set the SOS numbers within the app (myself and my girls’ dad) when we initially set up the device. By pressing and holding the SOS button on the side of the watch for three seconds, the phone will call the SOS number in turn until it gets an answer. This is a fabulous feature as it means the child can call a trusted adult without having to see the screen or use the menu and the watch will cycle through the numbers until it gets a response. I find this really reassuring and a great feature.
The GPS feature is also one that I think is really important. From my phone, I can check in on the GPS location of the watch (and therefore my child) whenever I want to. Whilst the manual said this is mostly accurate to within 500m, we found it to be much more accurate than this and when viewed on the map was probably accurate to within 20m or so. The same works in reverse too – the wearer of the watch can send their GPS location to the parent’s smartphone at any time. I found I had to manually allow the notifications to come though for these, but once switched on, the setting remained on. Again, this is a really simple but very reassuring feature.
We had a little less luck with the Safety Zone feature though. In theory, we set a Safety Zone of around 500m from the house. This should have meant that once the wearer of the watch left the zone, the parent would be notified via a push notification to their phone that their child had left the area and what their location was. We tried on several occasions to elicit this response from the watch / app but never did get a notification that the device had left the safety zone. I’m not sure if this was due to a setting on the phone or an issue with the software on the watch as whenever I manually requested the GPS location, it was always pretty accurate.
I have to say that for the most part, we did really like the watch and we thought that although the feature list was pretty limited, it had absolutely everything that we needed. The battery life from a 2hr charge is around 2-3 days, so remembering to charge it is important but we have a routine of popping things on to charge at bedtime anyway, so this isn’t a big deal for us.
With half term coming up, which is followed pretty shortly by the Easter holidays, we will hopefully be taking the kids for some nice days out – the girls particularly love theme parks. Whilst I would in no way let them wander off without me just because they have the watch on, I do think that knowing they have the means to contact me or be contacted will give me massive peace of mind in busy spaces where it could be quite easy to accidentally become separated.
The Xplora works on the O2 network and we have found the reception to be reliable and have had no issues, in-spite of living in a pretty rural location. It is available from Amazon at a price of £179 including 12 months of minutes and data, which is then £4.99 per month thereafter. It can also be bought directly from XPLORA at £149.99 upfront and £4.99/month, with 100 mins and 100 MB included.
I do feel that I have to mention though that as much as we loved the look and features of the device, and for the most part it works well, we do have some concerns about the build quality. The first watch we had didn’t charge properly, and we have also had some issues with the second watch – it does appear to switch itself off somewhat erratically. Fortunately, it switches itself straight back on again, but it seems like any vigorous shake of the wrist will cause it to shut down and be ‘offline’ for a minute or two until it powers back up again. We don’t feel this is likely to cause our daughter to miss any calls as it does switch itself back on again, but for such an expensive device is a bit disappointing.
Overall, we are pleased with the watch. It bridges the age where you feel the kids should be able to have a little more independence, but you need to be able to contact them. With this watch, I am happy for the kids to roam a little further in the park and be out of sight as I know I can call them back even if they wouldn’t be able to hear me calling.
RRP: from £149.99
For more information or to buy visit www.myxplora.co.uk.