So you want to stay in touch with your kid after school and while they’re out playing with friends—but you’d be crazy to hand them a $500+ smartphone at this age, right?
These days, there are plenty of options out there. And to help you find the best kids smartphone alternative for your family, we’re putting these options head-to-head in a series of reviews.
To start, let’s take a look at Relay versus the DokiWatch S:
Relay is a smarter phone for kids. It’s screen-free and has all the essentials to keep you in touch and keep tabs on your little one. And you can add a host of fun, free features that make play even more fun.
The DokiWatch S is a smartwatch for kids that boasts video calling in addition to voice calls and tracking. It also features a pedometer and selfie camera.
Both products come with a free app that parents can use to communicate, monitor GPS, and access parental controls.
The basics — DokiWatch S
The DokiWatch S operates a little differently from what you might expect in a smartwatch or smartphone. It features three buttons: a red SOS button on the left side, a power button on the right side, and a handy “back” button also on the right (where you might expect a volume button to be located) to help kids return to the main menu of the device.
We found that with light use, the battery lasts about a day, but not much longer, and that when the watch enters a power-saving mode (less than 20% battery left), the watch stops functioning. Parents receive a notification via the app when their kids’ battery is running low. Also, the watch’s 1.22 inch touchscreen doesn’t respond to every tap—especially during setup when typing or checking small boxes.
We had a couple of other minor issues with the DokiWatch S. Its 2 megapixel camera is a bit fuzzy. The pedometer seems to be very sensitive, overcounting steps by a wide margin. And after a few weeks of very light use, our DokiWatch’s screen began to detach from the plastic watch band. The touchscreen was still functional, but the watch didn’t seem durable.
The basics — Relay
Relay also works differently from the traditional smartphone/smartwatch model. With no screen, there are no menu mazes to navigate. You simply press the channel button to cycle through the features until you reach the one you want. The Relay announces each channel as it is activated, and a different color light ring appears around the big talk button in its center.
Relay features live voice communication, and you push one button to talk, kind of like an old-school walkie talkie. With light to moderate use, Relay’s battery will last multiple days. On the app, parents receive low-battery notifications, and can view the charge level on their kids’ Relays. As with the DokiWatch, it comes with a magnetic charging cable that’s much easier for kids to use than a USB charger.
If you are attached to the idea of a wearable—or worry that your kid might lose any tech that isn’t literally attached to their body—Relay offers a loop case accessory that lets kids clip Relay to a belt loop, a backpack, or wear it around their neck with a lanyard.
|Battery life||2+ days||1+ days|
Features for safety, features for fun
The DokiWatch S and Relay share a few features in common, like GPS tracking, voice communication, and the ability to connect with a secure network of friends. While neither device calls 911, kids can send parents a special notification on both devices; by holding down he SOS button on DokiWatch, and by holding down the channel and volume buttons on Relay.
The DokiWatch comes with all features enabled by default. Parents can restrict access to all features except GPS and SOS through the app with the “class mode” feature. Relay works a little differently, with fine-tuned parental controls. Parents can choose whether to allow their kids to talk to friends, either through permanent channels or through a temporary chat channel set up by bumping two Relays together. Parents can control all available features and customize their kid’s experience, adding features as they kids get older.
One DokiWatch standout feature is the voice memo messages you can send back and forth to your child. The sound quality is good, and it’s a nice way to communicate non-urgent messages. Relay has a similar feature in the works. Kids can’t text with the DokiWatch, but they can use emojis and cute monster stickers with little messages like “call me” and “I ♥ mom” attached.
Where DokiWatch focuses more on “extra” features that appeal to parents, like a pedometer for fitness and a parent-controlled task list, Relay makes sure there are also features that kids want to use. Why is this important? In addition to keeping kids entertained, fun features ensure that kids actually want to keep their device with them―making it something they’re happy to carry instead of something they’re made to carry by their parent.
Parents can add a playlist of their kids’ favorite tunes in a variety of file formats, so Relay kids can get their jams on the go. Relay can also translate 13 languages, tell new jokes every day, and promises more fun features to come.*in select plans; price varies based on carrier, plan, number of devices on account, etc.
|Features for Parents||Features for kids|
|Relay||DokiWatch S||Relay||DokiWatch S|
|Calls||Yes||Yes*||Talk to friends||Yes||Yes|
|GPS tracking||Yes||Yes||Music playlists||Yes||No|
|Geofencing||Coming soon||Yes||Silly Sounds||Yes||No|
|Parental feature control||Yes||No||Language translation||Yes||No|
|Chore alerts||No||Yes||Joke of the day||Yes||No|
|New feature updates||Yes||No||Fun Colors||Yes, 5 colors||Yes, 3 colors|
And finally, the price
Relay is $49.99 and has a simple prepaid monthly plan for $9.99/month. That’s it, no caveats or small print.
The DokiWatch S costs are a little more complicated. The watch itself is $199. For service, you can either pay $80 for a year of data-only service using their advertised TATA SIM card, or you can add the device to your AT&T (or AT&T reseller) plan for $10-$50+ per month.
If you want the affordable TATA SIM, you can use VoIP calling to communicate, but not the “voice call” option. Workable, but possibly confusing for kids who see the phone icon and tap it thinking they can talk to mom and dad. We didn’t get to test any calling features firsthand, as our watch was unable to make any kind of call using the TATA SIM. As video calling is Doki’s main selling point, that is more than a little disappointing.
So which is the best choice?
That depends on you. Every family has unique needs. While we can offer no one-size-fits-all solution, we hope you find the one that’s best for you. If you have questions about Relay, we’re happy to help! Just click the chat button on our website to talk to our team.
Post edited 02/26/19 to update information