MyFirst Fone R1s: Is it for parents? Or is this for kids?

It's clever and meticulously designed but parents need to be involved to make the most out of it.

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What’s interesting about the MyFirst Fone R1s is that it’s a device designed to be useful to both children and adults – quite a tough ask.

At first glance, the 4G-enabled Fone R1s looks like a peach of a tool for parents. Singapore might well be one of the safest places on this planet for a child to live in, but I suspect even that’s not enough for many a caregiver.

But because I have no kids of my own – not even of the furry variety – I had to call on well-adjusted friends – who live far more normal lives – for help. I unashamedly badgered one unfortunate soul and his progeny into testing this out: Barron and his son Terry. Names have been changed to protect the innocent, of course. And this is what we’ve observed so far.

Novelty for kids, peace of mind for parents

Despite its fairly large dimensions and our initial worries, the Fone R1s will fit small wrists. The screen is large enough to facilitate the watch’s features and we had the feeling that if it were any larger it might have made the watch unwearable. For a young child of six, the watch was surprisingly wearable.

From Terry’s perspective, the R1s comes across as a GPS watch or a watch that’s function-driven, much like a Garmin Forerunner. It’s not immediately intuitive like a smartwatch, since it doesn’t quite behave like one. The child often will not have a frame of reference since it will be unlike what his parents have. We think it’s safe to say that, if a child had to unbox and figure the device out independently on his own, the device would not be optimally utilised. There’s quite a lot of features and settings to go through, and parents will have to peruse the safety features as well.

Unsurprisingly, Terry was initially excited to wear something that was both a watch and a smart device. Barron observed that Terry would check the display frequently throughout the first two to three days, basking in the thrill of owning a smart device like his parents and enjoying the independence of sharing information such as heart rate and even location.

However, the novelty factor wore off not long after, and the Fone R1s became more like a walkie talkie so that the providers – re: the parents – could reach him via a call or message.

So two days in and we’re reminded of the biggest potential deal-breaker. Ever tried buying a fancy cat condo and your ‘boss’ simply refused to take up residence? And you find him or her chilling in the packing box instead? It’s an extreme example, but you get the idea: if the child isn’t interested, it’s simply a glorified electronic tag. Jokes aside, the reality is that these devices were designed primarily for parents who are concerned about their children’s safety.

If we’re honest, it’s safe to say that the Fone R1s is more attractive to parents than children. From a parent’s point of view, the features seem attractive enough that they’ll encourage their child to use it, especially if outdoors, at the park or trekking or perhaps if we ever go on a holiday. It’s a bit like an affordable insurance policy.

On a side note – though Terry had no issues with his school, Primary Schools with stricter rules might not allow the child to wear such watches, so it’s always good practice to check with the relevant school administration before buying a watch with smart features.

Features

After using the device for some time, it seems like the GPS is also less accurate than the ones found on our smartwatches and smartphones. Given the price, it’s understandable. In terms of purpose, it’s fine as a backup as the first instinct is to call the child.

And that brought us to an interesting situation (though to be fair, not everyone will have the same problem): Terry wasn’t always keen on taking calls with the R1s. That image of Dick Tracy talking into his watch being the coolest thing ever? – turns out it’s our boomer fantasy and not something that will blow our kids’ minds. It wasn’t attractive to him and the best we could do was to eke out a ‘maybe’ after trying to explain how it worked. Needless to say, Terry’d probably only answer calls from the parents and nothing more.

Not all parents might deem it necessary to constantly be monitoring their child’s vitals but a heart rate monitor is a feature that’s ’nice to have.’ Explaining to a child why this information is important is another story altogether. For a seven-year-old, learning the intricacies of our cardiovascular system and maintaining a healthy rate seems like a bit much; this feels more useful for pre-teens aged 10 to 12 years of age, but then again, by this time a budget smartphone and a fitness band might be more appropriate. It’s certainly something that caters to parents more than kids.

But there’s certainly no doubt that the safety features are the Fone R1s’ strongest point. If you adopt a parent’s point of view, the features are very well thought out indeed. It was easy to get started and the general experience was high quality. It’s worth taking the time to do a thorough setup, as you wouldn’t have to tweak the settings thereafter, lest you want to experiment.

Important considerations

Something that needs to be emphasised – to maximise the effectiveness of these safety features, you need to spend time on it. For example, getting the parent to approve the addition of people onto the child’s contact list is a very good idea but at the same time, we suspect that many parents will also perceive this to be rather troublesome if the child is a social butterfly.

It also dawned on us that there’s a good to fair chance that a child can get bored of the R1s and might not want to wear the device or look after it responsibly, i.e. keeping the battery charged, or being careful when playing ‘rough’ at the playground.

While the feature set of the R1s is pretty spot on and perfect for a device that professes to be someone’s first smart device, what’s not immediately apparent is the need for parental involvement, and the need to get the child invested in the features that they might not necessarily find interesting.

In that sense, it’s a delicate tightrope of balancing the parents’ needs and the child’s wants. It’s highly unlikely you’ll get 100 per cent utilisation out of the watch if the child is left to its own devices.

It also highlights how difficult it is to design something purely for kids. For younger children who often emulate the behaviour of their parents, perhaps a simpler, smartwatch-like device with simpler functions and a quick access UI might have been better, while older children would want something closer to what adults use and will be self-conscious if they feel like they’re using ‘kiddy’ devices. But this is also where the “why not just get a budget smartphone” argument comes into play.

Barron noted that the Fone R1s doesn’t replace Terry’s hankering for a smartphone, but the experience with the watch has helped them understand what and how he might use a smart device in the future.

All things considered, the Fone R1s does do a decent job – so long as you bear in mind that it’s just a plugin for ParentingLife.app.

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