There's a certain mindset implied by the features offered by traditional parental control applications. The kids might accidentally or deliberately visit inappropriate websites, so we'll block access to those. They might get on the Internet for too long, or at the wrong time, so we'll set limits. But in the background, there's the idea that the kids will be using a PC. Tokyo-based FamilyTime recognizes that many modern kids stick strictly to mobile devices, and FamilyTime Premium (for Android) focuses on monitoring and protecting the modern mobile kid. It's got a lot of potential, but there's definitely some work to do.
FamilyTime pricing plans are based on the number of devices covered. A one-device license goes for $27 per year, while $35 per year gets you a two-device license. Or you could go all out and spend $69 per year for a five-device license. You can apply your licenses either to the Android edition, reviewed here, or to FamilyTime Premium (for iPhone). Note that the feature set is very different on the two platforms. If you're planning to use FamilyTime on iOS devices too, be sure to read that review.
Compared with some of its competitors, this product is a bit pricey. Qustodio Parental Control has a similar five-device limit, but its yearly subscription is just $44.95. For $89.99 per year, ContentWatch Net Nanny 7 lets you define up to 10 child profiles and protect an unlimited number of PC, Mac, iOS, and Android devices. And a $49.99 subscription to Norton Family Parental Control (for Android) doesn't impose any limits at all. Note, too, that FamilyTime assumes each child has exactly one device. Most of the competing products let you define a child profile and associate it with multiple devices.
Getting Started With FamilyTime
You can install the FamilyTime Dashboard parental app on any number of Android or iOS devices. For this review, I naturally used the Android version, installed on a Nexus 9. You can also log in to the dashboard from any browser; the experience is almost exactly the same regardless of the platform.
Mobicip (for Android) also has an app for parents. With ESET Parental Control (for Android) and Norton, the same app serves parent and child, depending on who logs in.
When you launch the app, you're prompted to sign in or sign up. After you sign up, you get a verification code in your email. Enter that and you're good to go. Well, almost. Keep your eye out for a second email that includes your temporary password. You'll probably want to change that right away.
Next, you'll add a profile for each child you want to monitor, up to the number of licenses you purchased. You enter the child's name, date of birth, relationship (son or daughter), and time zone. That's it; there's no other configuration at this time.
The parental app links to some very clear instructions for installing the child app on your child's devices and connecting them to your account. For an Android device, you download and install the APK file directly from FamilyTime. I installed it on a Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 for testing.
If you maintain good security practices, you'll find that you can't install the app at first, because it comes from an unknown source. FamilyTime offers an easy link to change that setting. Naturally you'll want to change it back after installation. Like most Android parental control apps, FamilyTime requires Device Administrator permission for some of its features. If the child disables this setting, the product won't be fully functional, but that's par for the course.
To make the final connection between the child app and your account, you go back to the parental dashboard and find the activation code for the child profile. Enter that in the child app and you're good to go.
As noted, FamilyTime focuses on safety issues for the modern child. The two big features found in the child app are Pick Me and SOS. In the iOS version, Pick Me is called PickMeUp.
Did you forget to pick up little Sally after Tae Kwon Do practice? She can remind you easily with a simple tap to the Pick Me button. You receive an alert in the parental dashboard, including the child's location. You can tap one of two buttons, OK, Coming or Sorry, I Can't. The notification itself doesn't include the precise location, but when you open it in the parental app you can see it on a map.
Tapping SOS likewise sends the parent a notification. On the child's device, the app advises staying calm and staying put. The only response here is "Got it, on my way!" This is similar to Qustodio's panic button feature, which emails a notification to as many as four trusted contacts.
There's one more option, Family Talk, but it's not ready yet. And the child probably won't have much interest in viewing profile information. That's it for the child app.
Places and Geofencing
In the old-school parental control mode, the child's location went without saying—sitting in front of the family computer. FamilyTime uses Wi-Fi geolocation and GPS to keep close track of just where your child goes. Familoop also offers geofencing, Norton and Qustodio track location without geofencing, and Net Nanny and Mobicip eschew location-tracking entirely.
If you wish, you can define any number of geofences, and get notification when the child enters or leaves one of these areas. Familoop lets you define a place for geofencing by tapping in the center of the area and dragging until the circle is big enough. FamilyTime's way is a bit different. Rather than tapping to define the center, you move the map until the stationary pointer is in the right place. And rather than freely defining the circle size, you choose 150M, 300M, 500M, or 1KM. But the end result is much the same. Interestingly, the iOS version does let you tap to define the center of a geofenced area.
When the child crosses into or out of one of your defined places, you get a notification. You can also just check the location history from time to time. Do note that notifications only occur at the moment your child crosses a boundary. If the child's device is Wi-Fi only, you won't necessarily get a notification. Familoop doesn't have this limitation; in testing, logging in from a Wi-Fi connection within a geofenced zone did trigger a Familoop notification.
When I tapped Access Control, I didn't immediately know what to do. It asked me to set a device passcode, with an unusual set of controls. Sure, the expected numeric keypad was present, but it also showed a second group of controls with six punctuation marks, Pause, Wait, and an oversized capital N. Tech support explained that these additional buttons aren't really supposed to be there, and that they only show up on the large screen of a tablet. I hope the company fixes this quickly.
I entered a simple passcode just so I could get past that screen. Here I learned that access control really means control of time periods during which the child gets no Internet access. By default it includes Bedtime, Dinner time, and Homework. You can adjust the start and end times for these, define which days of the week they're active, and optionally add your own no-Internet times. Note that the iOS edition doesn't have these time scheduling features, though they're planned for a future edition.
On a more ad hoc basis, you can go back to the parental app's main page and simply click Lock Phone for any profile associated with an Android device. FamilyTime's lockscreen takes over, advising the child to do something else for a while. SOS and Pick Me Up are still available, never fear. But unlocking the device requires that passcode that you defined, not the child's regular one. You can also unlock the phone remotely through the dashboard. Circle With Disney has a similar feature, the option to pause the Internet for one child, or for the whole household.
Like Norton, Qustodio, and most competing products, FamilyTime can block the use of apps you consider inappropriate. However, using this feature is pretty awkward.
To get started, you tap App Blocker in settings, then click the + button to add blocked apps. This brings up a ridiculously long list of apps, way more than I could believe were installed on the Galaxy Tab. A handful are listed as Important, things like the Play Store, Phone, and Chrome. Settings and Bluetooth are identified as System, suggesting you shouldn't mess around.
All the rest of the apps appear in a super-long list. It's not in alpha order, and there's no way to search for a specific app. Scrolling carefully, I counted more than 200 apps in the list. Worse, in testing the list repeatedly became unresponsive, triggering a warning message from Android. My contact said the company is aware of the problem and is working on a database of apps that shouldn't show up in this list.
When I did manage to add some blacklisted apps, the feature worked as promised. It notified the child that house rules don't permit use of the app, and it send a notification to the parental app.
Some parental control systems take detailed control over your children's communications. Norton Family Parental Control (for Android), for example, can block some contacts, allow others, and monitor unkonwns. Alas, Norton's iOS edition lacks that feature.
FamilyTime doesn't attempt to block contacts, or to capture conversations. The contact list is a watchlist, not a blacklist. If your child does call or text a contact on the watchlist, you should receive a notification. Email contact isn't tracked, so I couldn't see this feature in action on my Android tablet. FamilyTime's iOS edition doesn't log calls, but it captures the child's entire Contacts list.
Log and Notifications
In the parental app, you can define rules for just how this child's activity should be tracked. There are six tracking toggles, all enabled by default: Call History, Contacts, Location History, Bookmarks, Web History, and Installed Apps. Only Contacts and Geo Location appear in settings for a child's iOS device. Note that while FamilyTime tracks Web activity, at present it does not make any attempt to filter undesirable sites. The company does plan to add content filtering.
You definitely don't want to disable notifications for the SOS and Pick Me Up notifications mentioned above. But you can choose whether or not you want three other types of notification. FamilyTime tracks your child's location history, so you might not necessarily want geofencing notifications. You can also choose whether or not to receive notification when the child tries to launch a blacklisted app, or calls a watchlisted contact.
Tapping Reports on a child's profile gets you a somewhat confusing welter of choices. Initially, it just shows the history of where your child has been. Places History is a separate list of geofencing events, times when your child entered or left a defined geofence area.
To get at the other reports, you tap the hamburger menu at top left. In addition to Places History and Location History, you can view Call History and Web History. All of the Android devices I have for testing are tablets, not phones, so I couldn't see call history. And, strangely, the Web History page only showed pages visited last November.
Other items on the menu aren't precisely reports. Rather, they duplicate choices from Settings. Tapping Contacts gets you the same list you'd see if you were aiming to edit the contact watchlist, and you can edit it here too. Looking closely, you can see that watched contacts have a blue icon, unwatched contacts, a grey one. Tapping the icon changes its status.