On our most recent IoT Podcast episode, Pete called in with a great question to our voicemail hotline. Pete’s family uses Google Fi on Android devices. He has a child that he doesn’t feel is quite old enough to have a phone yet. However, Pete would like an LTE smartwatch that works on Fi so he can call, as well as track the location of, his child.
It sounds like it should be easy. After all, LTE smartwatches have been around for several years. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy, given the constraints of Google Fi. And frankly, most Android Wear watches are mediocre at best, based on my testing a bunch of them. Pete is considering some low-cost smartwatches designed for kids but I wouldn’t recommend that route. They’re typically so bulky and blocky that most kids wouldn’t want to wear them in the first place. And secondly, most of these use very old hardware inside, so they’re not a great value.
One of those is the Gizmo smartwatch from Verizon for $99, which doesn’t include the monthly service fee. Stacey also found the $150 Xplora watch which lets you put a SIM card of your choice for service. Potentially, that could work with Google Fi, but there’s no guarantee as Fi doesn’t officially support smartwatches.
Instead, I’d recommend an LTE-enabled Apple Watch SE for $329. However, it won’t work with Google Fi nor with the Android phones in Pete’s household. You can’t even put a Fi SIM in the Apple Watch because the hardware uses an eSIM.
We do have another good option for Pete to consider though. It’s called the Relay Go and is from Republic Wireless. Hear me out, Pete!
This device is very simple, akin to a walkie-talkie. There’s no display, nor any mobile apps. It looks like a small wireless speaker that you can put in your pocket or attach to a backpack. It costs $49.99 and you’ll pay $9.99 a month for service. Your kids can only call pre-approved phone numbers from it, although parents can call it, either from an app or a web browser. And it includes a GPS radio so you can track your child’s location or set up geofencing areas.
PCMag reviewed this product in 2018, giving it high marks all around. At the time there were two cons: No 9-1-1 service, nor any geofencing. Those features have since been added.
Note that the $10 monthly fee is for an annual plan: You pay $100 for service so you’re getting 12 months for the price of 10. I think this is more cost-effective than trying to shoehorn Google Fi service into another device because Fi is $20 monthly for talk and text service, with data being shared across the entire plan at $10 per gigabyte.
For younger kids who aren’t ready for a smartphone, this may be the best option out there, provided you’re OK with the unique form factor.
To hear Pete’s question in full, as well as our discussion on the topic, tune in to the IoT Podcast below: