This year I started allowing my eldest daughter to ride her bike to and from school alone. There would be days when I would stay behind at school with her younger sisters, but my thoughts were constantly with my daughter, travelling home by herself. I didn't think she was old enough for her own mobile phone, but it was clear she needed a way of getting in contact with me if she was worried or lost.
Then I heard about the Moochies Watch.
A Moochies Watch is actually a mobile phone. It is also a pedometer, a GPS tracker, alarm and an SOS device. It does practically every except make school lunches. Which is a pity because I hate making the lunches.
What does it look like? A Mooches watch looks like a slightly chunky but otherwise normal kids watch. It comes in a range of designs including the pink butterfly version we have, a blue very 'Elsa' design with a snowflake, a black 'graffiti' version for boys as well as a gender-neutral design that would be suitable for the youngest kids.
Aimed at children aged between 3 and 12, the watch would probably be quite clunky on a smaller child's wrist, but on my nine year old daughter, the watch looked and felt fine. The rubber band is soft and flexible and there are only two buttons plus two sensor pads on the watch face.
Unless people know it is a Moochies, no one would suspect it was actually a phone until the child starts talking into their wrist like James Bond. Very cool.
What does it do? Ultimately, this is a mobile phone that has been designed with child safety in mind. The watch is paired to a smartphone (usually mum or dad's) who then programs the watch with up to ten numbers which the Moochies can call. There is no keyboard on the phone, so the child simply scrolls through the menu to find the icon/name of the person they wish to call. They are unable to call other numbers and the parent can set the phone so that only those ten numbers can be received by the phone.
The phone has a number of other features, most of which are controlled through the parent's paired smartphone, such as an alarm (to get kids up in the morning), a GPS tracker so you can see where your child is, and a voice talk function, which allows you to send a brief recorded voice message to the child, and they can send one to you.
Two other features are for today's safety conscious parents: a SOS function, where if the child pushes the button for five or more seconds, it sends an alarm to the parent's phone and also records fifteen seconds of audio so the parent can get an idea of what is happening; and the ability to set up 'safe zones', usually a circular perimeter around a location (such as home or school) which will send a warning to the parent is the child strays outside the zone.
My daughter sees her new watch as a sign of our trust
What doesn't it do? The phone cannot send text messages and if the child doesn't answer the phone when it rings, there is no facility to leave a voice message (however pre-registered numbers who also have the special Moochies app on their phone can leave a 'voice chat' message separately).
It doesn't have games, internet connectivity, maps or a phone. In other words – it is a phone and a watch and has no other distractions.
How easy is it to set up?
The phone set up is quite involved and you need to do things in the right order. For example, you need to activate your SIM first and make sure it has credit, then download the app to your own phone before trying to link the two together. Only then can start setting up the phone numbers and other features.
It is definitely only something an adult can do – you need a sharp point of a knife to open the SIM drawer, and the power button also requires the tip of a ballpoint pen to turn the phone on and off. It's not too challenging, but not something you can rush as you head out the door.
The Moochies watch comes with its own SIM card which is connected to KISS Mobile and uses the Vodafone network. The plan they recommend is a minimum $9.95 spend per month which includes 30 minutes of phone calls per month, plus 50MB of data (used to send the voice chat). Excess fees, should you go over the 30 minutes allocated per month are 15 cents per minute. You can check your usage using the Kiss 'dashboard' online but you cannot check how much credit they have left via the app. However, to make sure your child is always contactable no matter how much they like to use their allocated calls, the plan also allows for automatic top-up whenever the balance drops below $5. It is a great safety-net, but definitely means you need to keep an eye on their usage.
Best things about Moochies?
The quality of the microphone is exceptional, which is necessary since the watch operates only in loudspeaker-mode. Both for the child using the watch and the adult using their smartphone, the sound quality is excellent, even where there is noise in the background.
You have lots of control over all sorts of things such as setting up the curiously named 'care times' which allows you to program the watch to record its GPS position every minute (as opposed to every five or ten minutes) during certain times of the day (ie I have set it up to record this information during the times my daughter would be riding to school).
You can choose to allow (or not) 'stranger calls' from numbers not registered to the phone, and whether the phone reports its last position should it be powered off or the battery dies.
You can also change the settings so that the watch automatically answers every call (probably best for the youngest children), alternatively, for older kids, you can set the phone up so that the only function it has during school hours is the watch function – and kids can't make or receive phone calls.
The app can be downloaded by up to five adults (including the main admin) so they are able to send 'voice talk' messages and observe the child's location. It is simply a matter of downloading the free app from an app store, and 'binding' the watch to the smartphone using a unique QR code provided in the instruction booklet. When you leave a voice chat message for the child, a little icon appears on the screen and they need to scroll through the menu to find the screen which allows them to access it.
Another great function is that you can have more than one Moochie watch on the same app, so if you have two or more kids each with their own watch, you can monitor them all from the same place.
What are some gaps in the functionality?
We found the watch to be quite sensitive and as we were learning to use it, accidentally kept sending empty 'voice chats'. This is because there are two ways to find the phone numbers the Moochies watch calls most regularly, by using small arrow icons either side of the watch face. Scroll one way and you have access to the full menu, scroll the other and you access the most popular numbers. If you're not sure what you are doing (or for younger kids) it is very easy to make phone calls and voice chats without meaning to.
The phone is also quite loud and has no volume switch, and when turning on and off it sings a loud tune, which wouldn't be great if you were in a movie theatre (or class). That being said, it's almost impossible for a child to turn the watch off, as you actually need the fine tip of a ball point pen to press the button, so you can't 'accidentally' turn it off.
Only adults with the Wherecom K2 app can send and receive the voice chats, brief recorded messages that are the equivalent of text messages – that can only be accessed via the app (not via your normal text messaging screen). This means if the child is in school and has the phone set to 'watch only' mode, a person without the app couldn't send a message letting the child know plans for pick-up after school had changed. They can make and receive phone calls, but if the child doesn't (or can't) answer, there is no way of leaving a message.
I found the GPS a little random, and even when we were at home, when I looked at the phone's history it looked like she had been somewhere when she hadn't, which I suspect is nothing more than something to do with mobile phone towers or satellite positioning. That being said, it records the position when the watch makes a phone call, and this was very accurate.
The final issue we had was the battery. My daughter left the phone in her room overnight and the battery ran down, meaning the next morning when she wanted to ride to the shops on her own, the phone wouldn't work. You need to remember to charge it every single night, like you would any mobile phone. It comes with a cord that fits into any standard USB port so you can charge it from a lap top or from a wall plug (not provided).
Who would I recommend a Moochies watch for?
I think a Moochies watch is a great option for children aged between 6 and 12. I believe the youngest children would struggle with the menu and trying to find the correct number to call. Older kids will think the design is too childish and will want more bells and whistles.
You are able to allocate a generic picture icon to each number in the phone as well as a name, but if you want to include a number for both grandmas, unless a child can read the difference between 'Nanna' and 'Grandma' (for example) they can't really distinguish between the numbers.
Some people are concerned about the over-protective and Orwellian nature of items that use GPS to track children's every move, and to those people I simply say, don't get one. Our primary motivation is to have the capacity for my daughter to call people (and receive calls) when she is gradually increasing her new-found freedom. Unlike a phone, a watch is less likely to get lost, left behind or stolen. She sees the watch as a symbol of us trusting her, not as us checking up on her.
Personally I think the watch is a perfect compromise for families not ready to arm their kids with full-blown mobile phones. There are no games to distract, no ability for them to spend all night texting their friends (although other friends with Moochies get unlimited free calls watch to watch, a parent simply needs to approve the 'pairing').
For the parent, it is peace of mind. Just remember to keep the phone charged.
How much does a Moochies watch cost?
The watches cost $139.99 including a SIM card. You can buy the watches online a www.moochiesforkids.com.au/. Delivery will cost $9.95 anywhere in Australia, $19.95 if you want it express.
Remember this is a mobile phone so there will also be ongoing monthly costs associated with any plan you choose.
Due to their popularity, Moochies have sold out across Australia and will be available again by the end of January 2017.
For the purpose of this review Shannon Meyerkort received a sample Moochies watch.