Ever since cell phones became widely available and affordable, parents have had to struggle with whether, and at what age, to give one to their children. Smartphones make it even harder to decide whether the peace of mind of being able to stay connected, especially in an emergency, is worth the risk of giving a young child an expensive device with full access to the Internet, texting, and other capabilities.
Enter FiLIP, a kid-friendly smartwatch that went on sale last month. It’s really more of a dumbwatch, actually: to the child, it’s a watch that can call up to five preset numbers and receive (but not send) short text messages. That’s it. No apps, no games, no music, no texting, no email, and no calling anyone the parents haven’t authorized.
For the parents, though, FiLIP provides an easy way to stay in contact with their child, track their location (Utilizing a blend of assisted GPS, GSM cell tower and Wi- Fi hotspot triangulation), and know that the kid can reach trusted friends and family members when they need to. It’s all managed through a smartphone app, which lets parents assign numbers the child can call from the watch, and set safe zones so the watch can notify them when their child arrives at or leaves a place like home or school. Anyone with the FiLIP’s number can call it, but the watch never reveals its own number to the child, so parents can control who has access.
The watch also has an emergency mode a child can activate by holding down a big red button on the side. This immediately pushes the watch’s current location to the parents, starts calling the preset numbers in order until someone picks up, and begins recording ambient audio.
FiLIP is intended to make parents feel comfortable giving their children more autonomy to wander, explore, and make limited amounts of mischief without constant supervision. To that end, FiLIP’s design is rugged, water-resistant and kid-friendly. The strap is made of brightly colored flexible plastic, and the screen can be popped out to swap strap colors.
A lot of parents have expressed concern over the strap itself, which slides on and off the wrist instead of buckling or locking in place. Some commenters on FiLIP’s Facebook page worry that it will be too easy to lose, or for a predator to remove it. But the designers say kids are more comfortable with a watch they can easily take off for short periods, and that they’ll be more likely to enjoy wearing and using FiLIP if they feel a sense of ownership and empowerment via the device.
Parents should also note that the watch uses a speakerphone, so calls may not be as private as with normal phones — though the designers say it’s a quiet speaker that must be held close to the ear.
FiLIP is currently available in the U.S. through AT&T with a no-contract, $10/month plan (it doesn’t matter which provider you use for your own cell phone). Check out the video below to see if FiLIP might be a good fit for a kid in your life.