My son wants a cell phone. He wants a portable, digital device through which he can chat with his friends, play video games and watch other people play video games.
Of course, we’re not getting an eight-year-old a cell phone.
Enter the Xplora X5 Play Smartwatch. The brainchild of Xplora CEO Sten Kirkbak, the X5 Play is a wearable phone for kids that’s now available in the United States. It not only allows kids to explore and play uninterrupted, but it also has a GPS function, allowing you to see where your child is at all times (as long as he’s wearing it).
When my son was given the opportunity to test out this wearable tech, he nearly jumped out of his skin.
About the Xplora X5 Play
Designed to be gateway tech, the wearable promises to provide younger children (aged 4-11) with safe, digital onboarding. What separates the X5 Play from other wearables on the market is that it’s the only smartwatch for kids with gamification and a step tracker to help drive more physical activity.
(Who knows — if my Fitbit had an online shopping incentive, I might have walked halfway across the globe by now.)
Children can use the X5 Play to make and receive calls from up to 50 approved contacts. So far, I’ve approved immediate family only. And, I have to say, the GPS feature has come in handy. It leverages GSM and WiFi data location, so I not only know where he is, but I get an alert if he’s outside of the pre-determined “safe zone.” Of course, at eight years old, he’s not checking out the local nightlife, but it helps to know which friend he’s visiting on our street, and he can also record his adventures with a 2MP camera that can hold up to a thousand pictures on the device.
It might seem counterintuitive to use a smartwatch for the purpose of reducing screen time and encouraging physical activity, but that’s just what the X5 Play does. By tracking steps and earning prizes through the Xplora GoPlay platform, the X5 Play gamifies exercise and incentivizes rewards outside of the basic merits of physical activity.
“Kids can measure themselves, they can see themselves on a leaderboard, and they win some prizes,” Kirkbak tells Parentology. “By default, kids love to compete, they like this whole community feeling to compete with friends. The simplicity of 1000 steps to one coin really resonated and then suddenly the activity level increased from 4000 or 5000 steps to more than 10,000.”
Xplora X5 Play Smartwatch Review
The watch came with a pre-installed SIM card and a pre-assigned phone number, and we were able to set up an account online in minutes – thank you tech support!
My son was ecstatic. I could tell he was looking forward to showing off how he could call or text his mother any time of day. Within minutes, he had called me no less than 15 times – from across the room. It was time to put some ground rules in place.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t really take advantage of the online challenges due to a strict “No Devices” policy at his school, but he was happy enough to run around the house wearing his watch to gain coins.
My other concern, of course, was durability. We had been given a pretty expensive piece of tech to test out, and despite a tough, TFT (thin-film transistor) display, it has a sizable width to it. I couldn’t bear the thought of him running around with his friends, clanging it against the monkey bars or scraping it along the pavement. However, during the time of his use the smartwatch remained unscathed.
In 2018, companies Gator and Tinitell were found to be in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by the FTC. As a parent who has written previously about data mining in children’s toys, I couldn’t help but be wary about the Xplora platform, and who might ultimately have access to my son’s information. I’d watched enough of The Social Dilemma to know that someone always stands to gain in a data economy.
Kirkbak assured me that the X5 Play complies with strict security and transparency standards, including GDPR, CPRA and CE/FCC. That’s good to know, considering there was a backdoor discovery on the X4 model which, in the wrong hands, could have led to a data breach. Xplora has since developed a patch to address this potential flaw.
“First of all, we have to document every single service that is part of our ecosystem. And that has been a big issue with, for example, buying a kid’s smartwatch on eBay or Amazon,” says Kirkbak. “A lot of the time, it’s reskinned or rebranded, where you use a Chinese or foreign developed app, and there is control between the communication. You don’t know the SMS gateways, the location data that is used, etcetera. You don’t know where that data is being stored, or even which parties are involved in that ecosystem.”
He continues, “With all the data I store on [Amazon Web Services] in Europe, in Germany, all partners are documented and defined. In the US, we have to document every single data point collected that is considered a relevant service. After 72 hours, all data is deleted; every single customer can contact our support center to request immediate deletion, even before the 72-hour time span.“
There’s no doubt that the X5 Play can shorten the generational technology gap, allowing parents to catch up to their tech-savvy kids by starting important conversations early on in their development. “One of the big issues for a lot of parents today is that a smartphone is a super sophisticated supercomputer. And more often than not, the child is more competent with using that piece of equipment than the parent,” says Kirkbak. “But suddenly, they have this supercomputer, which is what a smartphone really is, and I think that the X5 Play provides parents with that opportunity to onboard a child with a more child-focused product at an earlier age.”
For my kids, using gateway tech to teach them about the digital universe is akin to shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. At five and eight, both boys are already digital natives; they learned to swipe an iPad screen before they could walk.
Where the Xplora X5 Play Smartwatch succeeds, however, is twofold. First, counting steps and incentivizing the activity process definitely made my son more physically active. Second, this test forced a conversation with my son about data, privacy, online behavior, and the responsibility of owning technology. These might seem like sophisticated conversations to have with an eight-year-old, but he’s the one who knows how to use the Apple TV remote.
Wearable.com – Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act violation