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A Mobile Phone for 4-Year-Olds. Seriously.

Dan Tynan

Nobody in his right mind would buy a cellphone for a child who’s still learning how to tie his shoes. But you might buy him a FiLIP.

A Mobile Phone for 4-Year-Olds. Seriously.

The $200 FiLIP is a clever way for parents to keep a closer eye on their wee ones without having to buy them mobile phones or GPS tracking devices that they will inevitably lose, break, or cover in peanut butter.

Calling all kids
If you’re old enough to remember Dick Tracy’s Two-Way Wrist Radio, you know nearly everything you need to know about the FiLIP. It’s a watch that doubles as an extremely basic phone, made from colorful high-impact rubber and designed to fit the wrists of kids from 4 to 8. It’s water resistant and sturdy enough to take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’.

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There are just two buttons: a big red one to make calls, and a smaller green one to cycle through the child’s list of contacts. Using a smartphone app, you can add up to five contacts that your nubbin can call via the FiLIP; these are also the only numbers that can call it. To make a call, your child selects a contact and speaks into a small mic below the watch face. Using the app, you can also send a text message of up to 24 characters to your child, which displays on the screen. There’s no way for him to send a text back, however.

FiLIP uses GPS, cell towers, and open WiFi hotspots to locate your child on a map; you can view up to the last 48 hours of his locations on your phone. You can create up to five SafeZones and get alerts when your child enters or leaves one.

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The phone’s big red button also doubles as a panic button. Hold it down for three seconds, and it connects to an automated operator, who then proceeds to call each contact on the list until it reaches someone, and then connects that person via voice to the child’s watch. It does not connect your child to 911 services.

And, oh yeah—it also tells time.

Not in Kansas anymore
Which is not to say that the FiLIP is an absolutely flawless mobile companion for your pre-tween. In my limited testing, location accuracy was spotty, sometimes two or three blocks from the device’s actual spot.

Due to a glitch in the Android interface, the FiLIP app kept creating SafeZones in the middle of Kansas—not a place I visit very often. It took a few calls to tech support to straighten that one out. (The company says it will be updating the interface to fix that.)

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To use FiLIP, you’ll have to pony up $10 a month to AT&T for its wireless service. For reasons that remain unclear, I had difficulty activating the watch with my Android phone (which is on a different AT&T plan). Your mileage may vary.

Finally, the FiLIP wristband is small and not at all adjustable. It will fit most small children just fine; a hefty 8- or 9-year-old, probably not. FiLIP Technologies CEO Jonathan Peachey says the company is exploring new designs that will fit larger wrists but has no timetable for when these might arrive.

On the right track
Putting a location tracking device on a small child may seem excessive, but you don’t have to be a helicopter parent to appreciate the peace of mind FiLIP can bring.

The company was created, in fact, after founder Sten Kirkbak lost his then-3-year-old son inside a mall. He found him 30 minutes later, at which point Kirkbak decided to invent a device that would ensure that that kind of wild parental panic never had to happen to him or anyone else, ever again.

His son’s name? Filip, of course. 

Questions, complaints, kudos? Email Dan Tynan at ModFamily1@yahoo.com