Review

On test: Gator children’s phone watch, our hands-on review

Dick Tracy had a phone watch in 1946. The rest of us are still waiting for a decent one to arrive, but it looks like our children will get there first with the Gator, a new phone-in-a-watch that lets children to make and receive emergency calls to chosen numbers.

Gator looks like a chunky digital watch, in aqua blue, plain black or a somewhat garish pink. It would fit ages four to adult, which is fine because younger children would struggle to use the small buttons anyway.

From the child's perspective it's a cute watch that displays time (digital or analogue) on the colour screen and with buttons that let them call two numbers instantly – a handy hotline to parents.

If they're savvy enough to be able to pull up a menu on screen, they can access a further eight phone numbers by name. This is great for modern blended families, ringing other family members and even calling their besties, but note that calls from the Gator are more costly than your average mobile phone.

There's also an emergency button which rings three contact phone numbers in turn, again and again until it gets through to one of them. It sends an emergency alert to your app at the same time.

The Gator costs a very reasonable £99, with calling plans costing a further £11 a month or £9 if you sign up for a year. This includes 60 minutes of outbound calls, after which they're billed at 25p a minute. So if your child wants to chat, ring them back to save money.

The reason calls are pricey is because it uses an all-network, Europe-wide SIM card from Jersey. The advantages of this are twofold. First, it can work with any 2G phone network (that's every UK network apart from Three) so if you're in a Vodafone black spot it simply uses an O2 or EE phone mast and vice versa. Coverage can thus be superior in some instances to regular UK mobile phones. Your child is very unlikely to ever be stranded with no signal. The second advantage is that Gator offers free roaming within Europe.

From the parent or guardian's perspective, you can ring your child and much, much more. In fact, the child can receive calls from a long whitelist of numbers that you control via an app. Calls cost nothing to receive, it just uses battery life. although with an impressive standby life of four days this isn't a major concern.

Voicemails are also possible in both directions, but they're nothing like as good as calling. Voice messages to your child are limited because the child can only play them twice before they disappear (and since when did a child listen to something you've said only twice?) and there's no way to be sure that they have been received and listened to. That said, voice messages cost nothing because they're sent via data and so they're handy for non-urgent messages.

Gator keeps tabs on your child's location via GPS too, so you can supervise their budding independence via app. You can locate them at any time (provided the watch is switched on) and see their movements for the last 24 hours on a map. You can even set safe zones – pick a spot and give a radius of anything from 200m to 2km. If the child leaves the zone you get an app alert.

We found this feature somewhat annoying because although you can set multiple safe zones to create a corridor for your child's movements, you can't turn zones on or off. We'd have liked to tick a box for the school zone one day, a home zone another day and granny's house on another. Instead, you have to delete unwanted zones and add others every time.

Another big brother (big mother?) style feature is that you can listen in: the app can secretly have the Gator call you, with the child blissfully unaware. It's easy to see how this could be useful in an emergency, but it feels a lot like spying. If you're the kind of parent who likes reading your child's diary, though, you may love the idea.

Minor features include an alarm (which you set via app, the child can't set it themselves) and a pedometer. Again, you see the results, the child doesn't. This seems like a shame as pedometers are great for encouraging active children. The Gator is also water resistant.

Battery charging works pretty well. In an ideal world this would be with a wireless charger that's child's play, but instead it's wired. That said, it attaches to the back of the Gator magnetically and is hard to get wrong.

It took around 15 minutes to set the Gator up. You need to buy a calling plan online and pair it with your SIM card, then set up the free app. You link the app to the watch either by entering the IMEI number or pointing your smartphone camera at the QR code on the back of the watch. Then you use the app to select which phone numbers the watch can call and be called by.

Everything can be set up via app, taking all controls away from the children. Your only quandary is whether to allow the children to turn the watch off or not. This could be handy for conserving battery life overnight, but it runs the risk that they could turn it off by day accidentally - or deliberately.

In all, we were impressed with the Gator. It represents good value for money as a device and the calling plans are priced fairly too. It's a good gadget if your child is old enough to start getting around independently, but you don't want to get them a fully fledged mobile phone for fear of it getting lost or stolen, or just because you know they'll spend all their time playing games.

Of course, there's only so much you can fit into a small, affordable device like this. We'd dearly love it to be capable of calling more numbers, making more calls for free, displaying their pedometer steps on screen, have a walkie talkie mode and charge wirelessly, but most of these things would eat up battery life or take up space. We think the Gator's designers have made some sound choices and produced a good product for 21st-century parents.

RRP £99, techsixtyfour.com

Alternatives

Moochies, £99.99

A similar offering to the Gator but with a smaller screen and without the all-network SIM card or European roaming. moochiesforkids.co.uk

hereO, $199

A small, simple, colourful watch that tracks your child's location. You can send it messages but it doesn't make or receive voice calls. hereofamily.com

WatchOvers Liberty, £99

A chunky watch for kids with similar features to the Gator, including the Euro SIM, but calls are a bit pricier. watchovers.com

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