Review: The new watch for kids that's scarily smart

My almost-six-year-old has rung me several times this week, usually from a few feet away.

"Can you hear me mum?" she bellows excitedly, holding her wrist centimetres from her mouth. She's shouting into a gigantic pink watch, and can't quite believe her luck.

For the past few days, we've been trialling a kids' all-in-one watch, smartphone, GPS and fitness tracker, which has just been brought to New Zealand by Spark. 

Its Australian manufacturers, Spacetalk, claim it's aimed at five to 12-year-olds who are too young for an actual phone.

"[It has] all the functions parents love in a smartphone, without the price or dangers associated with social media, open internet and apps," said Spacetalk's chief executive, Mark Fortunatow.

But parents will need to download an app to make it work properly and I was more than a little worried about all the data that it would be collecting on my child. There have also been horror stories of kids' smartwatches being hacked.

There are several prompts to check out its safety and security info with lots of details on how the data is encrypted, stored (in Australia) and used. They also utilise two-factor authentication in the device pairing process.

Reassured enough to at least turn it on, my daughter and I put it to the test. It's certainly got all the bells and whistles.

Here's a quick rundown of how it works:

  • GPS locator: Via the smartphone app I could see where my daughter was in real time. 
  • Keeping in touch: She could call and voice message me, or anybody else in her specially designated contacts list, and send texts. The texts are pre-programmed and can be changed or added by the parent, via the app. We added in some useful ones. There are lots of fun emojis too - not sure about including all of them though.  She's already randomly sent me an eggplant. I do not need someone explaining that to her!
  • No unneccessary stuff: No apps, social media or open internet access and calls from unknown numbers could also be blocked. This is incredibly important.
  • Safe Zones: It's possible to set geo-safe zones and get alerts if the child moves in and out of this area.
  • SOS button: On the side of the watch is an SOS button which can be pushed if the child is in danger. By holding and pressing it lets off an alarm and then starts automatically dialling everyone in the emergency contacts list. If the first person doesn't answer, it moves onto the next. It's worth warning people that they're actually on the emergency list. It gave her grandparents a bit of a fright to get a text asking them to check on her safety, when they didn't know the watch existed.
Parents use an app to control the watch's settings and find out where their child is in real time.
Parents use an app to control the watch's settings and find out where their child is in real time. Photo credit: Newshub
  • Other useful features: The watch has few other features your child will like. There's an integrated fitness tracker which tells you out loud how many steps have been taken, stopwatch with lap timer and a torch. 
  • Ruggedness: The watch is pretty tough - it's water, dust and splash resistant with a respectable IP54 rating. It's a shame that it's not properly waterproof, but then most smartwatches aren't either. It's also rather large - far too big for a little person. It was supposed to be designed for five to 12-year-olds, so I don't know what the designers were thinking. It fits my wrist perfectly.
  • Turning it off: The bit I liked the most was the ability to disable features in times when they need to not be distracted, such as when they're at school. 
The watch has lots of different functions from GPS tracker through to stopwatch.
The watch has lots of different functions from GPS tracker through to stopwatch. Photo credit: Newshub

Spark believes the real benefit of this watch is not so much to stay in touch with your kids, but more to keep an eye on their safety.

"Seventy-five percent of Kiwi parents are concerned about their child's safety on a day-to-day basis, and over half of them agree that technology can be used to keep their child safe," said Spark's Digital Services Lead, Michael Stribling.

Verdict: For parents who like to know what their child is up to at all times, this is an impressive piece of kit and my daughter was certainly smitten. During testing I was called and sent texts regularly... almost too regularly!

While I'm fairly sure that most people would not need it for five to seven-year-olds - as one would hope that most of the time they'll be within reach or in a safe place such as school - it could be very useful for older kids who are more independent.

I'm also not entirely comfortable about all that data being kept about my child, as secure as it might be - but as so much data is collected on us nowadays anyway, this probably won't bother most parents.

The watch comes in pink, teal and grey and costs $399 with a 24-month interest-free payment option. You'll also need a monthly plan from Spark and a monthly subscription to the app. That's at least another $15 a month.