Kids are using cell phones now at younger ages, and the options for parent-approved, kid-safe phones are growing, which is why it’s not surprising that Sprint is jumping into the ring with their new WeGo cell phone for kids. While there’s a lot of buzz about this new cell phone from the tech point of view, as a parent I wanted to take a closer look at the actual features and the feasibility of a phone that’s aimed at kids as young as five.
Here’s my take on what I think is sure to be the first of many cell phones aimed at kids, directly from service providers.
The WeGo is geared for kids ages 5-12 and focuses more on safety and functionality than the flashy apps or colors of traditional smartphones. And that’s just what a lot of parents are looking for in a first cell phone for their kids. Also, it’s really meant as an add-on phone to your existing Sprint contract. So if you’re not a current Sprint user, this phone would have to be really really awesome to make you reconsider switching over.
As a starter phone, the WeGo certainly features all of the parental controls that I’d want. You can designate which numbers the phone can call, even letting kids use the phone’s One Button feature to instantly connect to Mom, Dad, a grandparent and other caregivers. There are also prewritten text messages like, I’m home, I don’t feel well and call me that are meant for novice texters and really young users.
Another great feature is the emergency tether attached to the phone which can be pulled as a kind of panic button if your kid needs to reach you immediately; you’ll get an alert popping up on your phone indicating an emergency.
The WeGo offers embedded GPS services so that you can see where your kids are at all times, so long as they have their phone. Parents can track their kids’ locations by looking it up on the web dashboard to see exactly if the child is where he is supposed to be, which can be reassuring if you’re sending a young kid out alone for the first time somewhere new. You can set the phone to send you text alerts when the child enters or leaves a designated area, and if you’re really into tracking, can even get updates on your child’s location every two minutes. (Though knowing that feature exists might create its own self-induced anxiety in more than a few parents.)
Now I’m not quite sure why a child in the WeGo’s 5-12 age bracket would necessarily need all these features. I can see the benefit for city kids who might be riding the subway alone to school, or for younger tweens who spend a few hours alone after school before their parents get home from work. But still, the options are there if you need them.
The WeGo is pretty affordable considering you’re willing to add that extra phone line anyway. The phone itself is $120 and then the extra line on your existing Sprint account runs $9.99 a month. But the fact that the GPS tracking is included in the phone’s pricing makes it a far more competitive than other similarly-featured devices, like Kajeet cell phones for kids which charge an additional fee for monitoring.
However, a smartphone is about the same price with competing service providers, especially if it’s rolled into a family plan; compare with the iPhone 5c which starts at $99. So if your child is young, this may be all you need. But if your child is on the cusp of moving into full-fledge smartphone usage complete with apps and texting and Instagram (eep), it might be a big investment for short-term using. You’ll want to consider how easy it will be for you to trade-in or upgrade out of the WeGo when your kids are ready for more smartphone functionality.
The Bottom Line
As a parent, I really appreciate companies like Sprint recognizing the role technology is playing in families’ lives and offering products and services to support that. But at the same time, I have to wonder whether we are integrating loads of technology just because we can–whether they’re needed or not. I’ve seen a ton of reviews online raving about the GPS services, but if you think about it, is it necessary?
If the WeGo is actually targeted at kids as young as five, in my opinion, that’s too young for a cell phone except for some very special circumstances. I mean, most five-year olds can’t read fluently, so I’m not sure how they’d benefit from prewritten texts, or scrolling through a 20-person contact list. Then, a feature like the WeGo’s speed-protection alert is a genius feature for teens and early drivers, but not for a first-grader.
As for older kids in the target range, they will want definitely functionality beyond what the WeGO offers. Judging from my own tween niece and nephew, iPhones and smartphones are all the rage and the WeGo simply would be more of a toy for them. (I mean, no Minecraft app? Duh, Aunt Jeanna.)
And as we parents know, the difference between a five-year old (heck, even a seven-year old) and a 12-year old is pretty huge, so it’s not surprising that in casting such a wide user net, Sprint developed a phone with features either too young or too old for any one of them. I wonder if it would be better to just focus on the 5-8 set, or the tween set and really do the best by the needs of kids that age.
However, I can see the WeGo being a really nice starter phone for kids who are round 9 or 10. That’s the age they may be beginning to roam the neighborhood by themselves and be more independent, but you might not want to give them all the bells and whistles of a smartphone.
From what I can tell, the WeGo seems to be a bit more appealing to the parents who will get excited by the idea of all the safety and functionality features, and maybe less appealing to today’s savvy kids who have a pretty good idea of what they already want–or need–in a cell phone. But it’s a great start, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.