When do you buy your kids a mobile phone? Age 15, 12, eight? With such hectic lives, perhaps separate lives, being able to keep in touch with your kids on the way home, when at a friend’s house, or your ex-partners house, is becoming more the norm.
Buying a fully-fledged smartphone and the multitude of questions that brings can be a lot, especially for children under 12. The Gator Watch is an alternative idea: a smartwatch for kids and designed to let you phone the wearer or have them phone you without all the baggage that comes with a traditional mobile phone.
We’ve tested it on two of the Pocket-lint kids to find out whether it works, whether they are happy to wear it, or whether it’s a flash in the pan device.
Gator Watch review: Design
Coming in blue, black, or pink, the Gator Watch is a fairly chunky device that is simple in its design. The rubber strap and rubber body is easily cleanable. It’s surprisingly hefty and large for a kids watch though.
The sides are adorned with a series of sealed buttons, but the main focus is on the basic colour LCD screen that delivers the time, plus other pertinent information. The watch face can display in either a digital or analogue style.
There is a small dedicated charger socket on the back of the watch that lets you charge from a USB socket. A magnet ensures it stays in place when connected.
Setup and management of the watch is achieved via the accompanying iPhone or Android app. Which is a good thing.
Gator Watch review: More than just telling the time
Where the Gator Watch becomes more than just a watch is the inclusion of a GPS tracker and mobile phone SIM card that roams between EE, O2, and Vodafone for the best signal.
The watch can be programmed, via the app, to be able to call up to 10 numbers and receive calls from 10 numbers. Only numbers on the safe “whitelist” are allowed – and in most cases you’ll probably only allow your kids to dial you or your partner.
To make a call you just have to long press on the volume controls, rather than having to worry about typing in any numbers, and that’s incredibly handy given your child doesn’t have to remember any long string of numbers.
In the £9/$13.5-a-month subscription you get 60 minutes of calls from the watch, and unlimited calls to it. There is no text/SMS support.
Receiving a call is easy: you press a button, and just like the Apple Watch are expected to talk to your wrist, Dick Tracey style.
The speaker and microphone are surprisingly good, and the kids will love it. Okay, so it’s unlikely to work in a busy bar, but your kids aren’t going to be in a busy bar are they? Well, hopefully not.
Gator Watch review: Tracking your kids
Aside from being able to make and receive calls, the Gator watch also features a GPS tracker. With the aid of the app, you are able to track your kids or be alerted when they walk a certain distance away from you.
The app captures the data live and then plots it on a map for you to look at either in real-time or historically. It’s fascinating to see where your kids have been, whether that’s at school, or a friend’s house, and as long as the device has battery and a signal it will continue to ping you updates of the watches whereabouts… whether on a wrist or not.
In our tests we were able to see our kids had gone to school, where they went with a friend at a play date, even what route they took to get home.
Whether you tell your child is your decision, there is no way to tell from the watch that this information is being recorded and shared with the parent.
Gator Watch review: Battery and boredom
The battery will need recharging every four days, or sooner if you make lots of calls or travel a lot (the GPS sucks battery like nobody’s business).
At first that’s all your kids will want to do: call you. It’s new, it’s exciting, and initially quite fun.
“Dad, I’m upstairs,” “Mum, I’ve made it to the other side of the park,” “Dad I’m sneakily phoning you from the playground during first quarter,” will be the first barrage of calls you’ll receive.
But once you’ve told them that it’s really only for emergencies or for when there is a problem, the novelty quickly wears off. Then they’ll forget to charge it one night, and then they’ll start forgetting to wear it, until it is getting dusty in their bedroom along with the remote control car and the solar powered robot you spent one Christmas building together.
That’s not to say that’s going to be the case for everyone, but this is a gadget that will soon lose its excitement once the initial play is over. Partly because there’s not exactly much play on offer: there are no games to be found here.
The Gator watch suffers the same fate of most smartwatches: when it’s not telling the time it doesn’t do anything to entertain the user. That’s fine when you aren’t having to remember to charge it twice a week, but for this watch to be the success it has the potential to be, you have to remember to charge it, and for your kids to actually wear it.
From a parent’s perspective, the Gator Watch is great. It lets you keep in touch with your kids while they are wearing it, saves you having to invest in a mobile phone – a tricky situation for kids under 12 we feel – and then track them so you know they are safe.
For kids, however, the experience isn’t so exciting after the first couple of days. The seemingly constant need to charge it can be a drag, too, especially alongside all the other things they have to remember for school.
For the Gator Watch to work you need to build it into your routine, that’s for sure. But having used it with the kids we can certainly see its potential.