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Best GPS tracker for kids in 2021

best gps tracker for kids

With kids heading back to school in the fall, the best GPS trackers become even more appealing to parents looking for peace of mind. Trackers are easy to carry, clipping on to a backpack or slipping easily onto a wrist, and they let you know your kids' location. In some cases, the device can even send alerts to you and other care-givers if there's trouble. 

All of that information can come in handy whether your kids walk by themselves to school, shuttle between after-school activities, or are just playing around the neighborhood. And other features found on the best GPS trackers for kids can also come in handy, whether it's SOS alarms that send out alerts or two-way calling for staying in touch.

We consider all these factors to find the best GPS trackers. (And if it's an aging relative and not a youngster you want to keep track of, these devices — or variations aimed at older users — will work just as well.) Here's what we found in our search for the best GPS tracker for kids.

What is the best GPS tracker for kids?

Jiobit has been the best GPS tracker for kids, thanks to a kid-proof design that can withstand the elements, though the company has started taken orders on a new version. The original Jiobit worked seamlessly with the smartphones you or a caregiver might carry around, so you not only knew the location of your child but who they're with — a valuable feature if you rely on a nanny or babysitter and want to check in on how everyone is doing.

If you prefer a watch to a clip-on tracker, Lil Tracker is not only comfortable for kids to wear, it's also affordable, though its app is pretty confusing. While not a traditional kid tracker, the Apple Watch SE is an intriguing option thanks to Apple's Family Setup feature for tracking the location of someone wearing an LTE-enabled model of the smartwatch. Given the Apple Watch's cost, though, we'd only recommend it for older kids or aging parents.

You may be thinking about trying out other options like a standard GPS tracker instead of one designed specifically for kids, but we'd caution against that. The best GPS trackers for kids are designed specifically to be worn and sometimes operated by children. Dedicated GPS trackers, like the very accurate the Spot Gen3 can be overwhelming for youngsters to use. 

Likewise, we'd steer you away from using Apple's new AirTag to track anything other than objects. That tracker's use of Ultra Wideband may make it tempting to use with kids or pets, but the range isn't as good as a dedicated people tracker; what's more, Apple discourages that kind of use case.

The best GPS trackers for kids you can buy today

best gps tracker for kids: Jiobit

(Image credit: Jiobit)

1. Jiobit

Best GPS tracker for kids

Specifications
Monthly service cost: $9/month with two-year commitment, $13/month without contract
Weight: 18 grams (0.63 ounce)
Battery life: Up to one week
Call/text support: No
App support: iOS/Android
Network: GPRS/EDGE/HSxPA 850/900/1850/1900/2100 transceivers
Reasons to buy
+Bluetooth connection to caregiver's phone, so you can see who your child is with+Shockproof, waterproof design
Reasons to avoid
-Device lacks SOS button-App doesn't include helpful features

Our pick for the best GPS tracker for keeping tabs on kids, pets and older adults has been the Jiobit, which is small and light (2 x 1.5 x 0.5 inches, 0.6 ounces). A loop lets you attach the tracker to a backpack, shoe, belt loop, keychain or necklace, and we found we only had to charge it every five days or so.

The makers of Jiobit have rolled out a new version, the $129 Jiobit Next. It promises better battery life and more accurate tracking, thanks to a new antenna design. Support for low-power wide area networks should help the Jiobit Next perform better in areas without great cellular coverage. We plan on testing the device shortly, so come back to see where it lands in our rankings.

As for the original Jiobit, with no screen, microphone or speaker, it feels very durable. It's shock-resistant and waterproof with an IPX8 rating — I doubt my 6-year-old could destroy it without a dedicated, sustained effort. We threw it on the ground, stepped on it and left it on the driveway during a rain shower, and it kept working just fine.

best gps tracker for kids: Jiobit

The best part for parents is how the Jiobit app for iOS and Android lets you know not only where your child is but also who she's with. If your child has multiple caregivers and they all use the Jiobit app, the tracker and the caregiver's phone will connect with Bluetooth whenever they're in range. That way, you can see in the app that your son left school at 3 p.m., accompanied by his dad, or his stepmom, or his babysitter, or whoever was supposed to pick him up.

Even better, you aren't notified when your child arrives at or leaves a trusted place with you. After all, you don't need a push notification to tell you that you just picked up your kid from school. But you do want a notification if she leaves school alone or with someone else. Trusted Places are easy to set up in the app, and you can choose to be notified when the tracker enters, leaves or both.

You add other caregivers to your Care Team by phone number. They'll receive a link over SMS (text) to download the Jiobit app, and when they set up an account, they enter their own phone number. Care Team members can choose to be notified when the Jiobit enters and leaves the trusted places you've set up, and they can see the Jiobit on the map and which caregiver is in range. They just can't set up additional trusted places or change any of the Jiobit's settings.

With a combination of Bluetooth, GPS/GLONASS and Wi-Fi, the Jiobit got a good signal indoors and outdoors — the app always found it within a second or two of launching. Tapping the top of the smartphone screen lets you enter tracking mode, where the location updates on the map as the tracker moves, leaving a track between points. Live tracking for long periods will wear down the Jiobit's battery, so the app asks you after 2 minutes if you want to keep tracking or go back to the map, which still refreshes every few seconds if the tracker is moving, just without creating a trail.

 

best gps tracker for kids: jiobit

Even though Jiobit's app looks great, it could have a few more features. There's no History to show where the tracker has been during the day. The original Jiobit lacked an SOS button that your child could press if there's trouble, but the new version of Jiobit rectifies that omission.

If you're trying to locate the Jiobit, there's no augmented-reality view to guide you to its exact spot. But when you're paired by Bluetooth, you'll notice a little bar in the app that connects your photo, representing your phone, to your child's photo, representing the Jiobit. That bar grows longer or shorter based on how close you are, which can help you home in on the device. Then, you can tap the little bell icon, and the Jiobit will make a noise and flash its LED, in case you've lost it under the bed, for example.

The original Jiobit costs $149, with a service contract available for $14 a month. Sign up for two years of service and you lower the cost to $9 a month. (In either case, your first 30 days are free.) Additional Jiobit trackers can be added to either plan for $6 a month, with the same pricing for the device. The tracker uses AT&T's and T-Mobile's networks to send the GPS data.

The original Jiobit was the best GPS tracker for kids, with a long battery life and an easy-to-use app that make this device easy to recommend. We hope that the sequel lives up to the high standard this edition set. Check back for our updated review.

best gps tracker for kids: Lil Tracker

(Image credit: Lil Tracker)

2. Lil Tracker 2G Kids' GPS Tracker Watch

Best GPS watch for kids

Specifications
Monthly service cost: Bring your own SIM card, around $10/month depending on the carrier
Weight: 1.5 ounces
Battery life: 12 hours
Call/text support: Yes
App support: iOS/Android
Network: GSM/GPRS quad-band
Reasons to buy
+Two-way calling+One-way listening in+Low price, and bring-your-own-SIM plan adds flexibility
Reasons to avoid
-App is cluttered and hard to use-Needs to be recharged nightly

The Lil Tracker is a full-featured GPS watch aimed at kids, but it may be a little too full-featured once you get a look at the app. You have to provide your own SIM card (more on that in a bit), but that enables GPS tracking, as well as two-way voice calls, texts and one-way calls in which you can just listen to what's going on at your child's location.

Weighing only 1.5 ounces, the watch is light, with a comfortable silicone band and a metal buckle. It has a 1.2-inch color touch screen with a friendly animated monkey that accompanies the time display. It's rugged and splash-proof, and there's also a completely waterproof version for $20 more. Battery life depends on how much you use the device, of course, but the Lil Tracker is designed to last 12 hours; I had to recharge it every night.

best gps tracker for kids: Lil Tracker

The Lil Tracker stands out from other trackers with its two- and one-way calling. For two-way calls, you call the watch from the app on your smartphone; the watch accepts calls only from numbers you've authorized in the app. Kids can call those approved contacts too, by swiping and tapping the touch screen. Holding down the SOS button on the side of the watch will call up to three preprogrammed numbers, in order, until someone answers. (We reviewed the classic version of the Lil Tracker, but there's a waterproof version available for $20 more. As for seniors, there's a $99 version of the watch available in more mature colors.)

Calls between the watch and the app connected quickly in my tests. The sound quality was only so-so, but it was good enough for a quick check-in. My 6-year-old son could understand me just fine over the watch's speaker, but I sometimes had a hard time telling what he was saying when he was outdoors. When he was indoors and speaking right into the watch, the call sounded a lot better.

One-way calls, called "Sound Guardian" in the app's menu, are kind of like the Drop In feature on Amazon Echo devices. Parents use the app to call the watch, and they can hear what's going on around it, but the watch doesn't ring or make any indication that someone is listening in. This worked well:  My son's watch called me right away, and I could tell he was at school — but he didn't know I was calling, so he didn't say anything to me. The sound quality was only so-so and varied based on ambient noise.

best gps tracker for kids: Lil Tracker

The app (which, weirdly, is called SeTracker2, not Lil Tracker, on iOS and Android) has a lot of other features, too. Some are a lot more important than others. Useful features include the ability to set multiple geofences, track route histories and remove detection alerts (though mine went off when my son took off the watch because his wrist was getting sweaty). The watch can track steps taken and distance, estimate calories burned and count how many times your child turns over in her sleep. (But the watch is pretty bulky to keep on at night, and you need to charge it overnight.) You can send text chats to the watch, including emoji if your child isn't a reader yet. They can't text you back, though.

Unfortunately, the app is riddled with spelling errors and messages that make no sense. (An item called Make Friends brings up a message that reads: "Note: app delete function only for friends to pay a single friend devices; devices can cross multiple friends need to device the end delete." Huh?) Time zone selection is confusing, as you have to calculate how far away you are from Greenwich Mean Time. And the app's main screen has a decorative banner above the map that flips through five images that don't add anything to the app — they're just distracting. Worse, though, is that the app often displays an actual full-screen ad upon launching, even if you're launching it by tapping a push notification.

The watch runs on the 2G network, which means it's using GPRS in the U.S. because 2G networks are being shut down. (The company told us it plans to release a 3G version of the watch.) For a SIM card, any GSM/GPRS network should work. Cheap SIM cards from US Mobile, Ting, or SpeedTalk are a good bet, but Lil Tracker leaves the research and purchase entirely up to you; the company doesn't offer a package that includes a SIM card or service. (However, our review unit came with a SIM installed and pre-activated.)

The bring-your-own-SIM model means you can shop around for cheap service. Your carrier may be able to add a SIM for this to your family plan, so check with them first. And keep in mind that Ting offers SIM cards where you pay only for the data you use each month, with plans as low as $9.  

The Lil Tracker watch is passable — and affordable — but the app is disappointing and hampers the experience. It's too bad, because with an all-new app, the Lil Tracker would be a contender for the best GPS tracker for kids. The one-way calling, which lets you listen in on what's happening around your child, is a compelling feature for parents who want to know more than the kid's location.

The Lil Tracker can be hard to find on online retailer sites like Amazon, but you can always buy directly from Lil Tracker itself if you decide that this is the GPS tracker for you. We reviewed the 2G version of the Lil Tracker, but there's now a 4G version available for $129.

Best GPS tracker: Apple Watch SE

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

3. Apple Watch SE

Best GPS tracker for older kids

Specifications
Monthly service cost: Varies by wireless carrier
Weight: 30.5 grams (1.1 ounces) to 36.3 grams (1.3 ounces)
Battery life: 18 hours
Call/text support: Yes
App support: iOS
Network: LTE, UTMS, Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n 2.4GHz), Bluetooth 5.0
Reasons to buy
+Smartwatch is more fully featured+Tracking via Apple's Family Setup+Emergency SOS calling
Reasons to avoid
-More expensive than most kid trackers-Battery life is mediocre

Getting an Apple Watch to serve as a GPS tracker for a kid may seem like overkill, and we certainly wouldn't recommend it for keeping tabs on younger kids. However, two developments from last fall have made this a more appeal option for older tweens and teens. First, Apple added a Family Setup feature to set up and manage the watch for another person, like a child or older parent. Second, Apple released the Apple Watch SE, a less expensive version of its top-end Apple Watch 6 smartwatch.

The Apple Watch SE features an aluminum case with silver, gold and space gray finishes, and it comes in 40mm and 44mm sizes. Like the Apple Watch Series 6, the SE version has an accelerometer, gyroscope, and the always-on altimeter. Unlike the even cheaper Apple Watch 3, you get fall detection, noise monitoring, international emergency calling and emergency SOS. That latter feature will be particularly appealing to parents who see the Apple Watch SE as a potential tracking device.

best gps tracker Apple Watch Family Setup

(Image credit: Apple)

To get the location tracking abilities for the Apple Watch, you'll need to buy the LTE version, which costs $329 for the 40mm model and $359 for 44mm model (as well as the additional monthly fee from your phone carrier). With Family Setup enabled, you're able to track the location of someone wearing an LTE-connected Apple Watch SE. You can also set fitness goals, send allowance money and limit features during school hours via Family Setup.

The Apple Watch SE can't match other dedicated GPS trackers for kids in terms of battery life, as Apple only promises 18 hours of use. That means you'll have to charge the Apple Watch SE every night. But the Apple Watch also offers more features than the typical kid tracker, including activity tracking, a dedicated Fitness app and a hand-washing guide. 

best gps tracker apple watch se

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The Apple Watch SE certainly isn't the ideal solution for everyone who just wants basic tracking features. But for older kids who balk at some of the less sophisticated looks of dedicated trackers or for older parents who need to be monitored, the Apple Watch SE delivers a nice blend of fashion and functionality.

Just be aware that Apple is likely to announce a new batch of Apple Watches in September. While the upcoming Apple Watch 7 may be overkill for tracking a kid, we could see updates to the SE models or price cuts on some other Apple Watch offerings.

How to choose the best GPS tracker for kids

Here are the criteria we consider when determining the best GPS tracker for kids. 

Features: In addition to tracking location, many GPS devices offer a multitude of features, including one- and two-way calling and the ability to set up geofenced zones that alert you when your child has left a designated area. We look at which devices went beyond the basics and how those features were implemented.

Performance: You want a GPS tracker that accurately displays a person's location, with frequent updates when he or she is on the move. We took note of how accurately each device pinpointed our location. We've found that generally trackers work better in wide-open locations, with less accurate signals when we tested in dense downtown areas.

Design: We considered the size of the GPS tracker and whether it was something a child could easily carry around. We also looked at durability: Could the device withstand rough-and-tumble trips to the playground? 

Ease of use: We wanted to find devices that were easy enough for a small child to use, certainly, but also ones that wouldn't give mom or dad fits during the setup and activation process. Here's one universal tip: Make sure to activate your GPS tracker in as wide of an open space as possible — not from inside a building. Trackers hate being enclosed, especially at the beginning.

Price: In addition to paying up front for a GPS tracker, there are monthly service fees. We considered what each GPS tracker will cost you on a monthly basis and whether you're required to sign a service contract. We also note when GPS trackers include the cost of service in the initial price tag, such as offering the first year of service for free.

Security: Check what security protocols your GPS tracker follows. And when setting up the device, make sure to change any default passwords or user names.

How we test GPS trackers for kids

In the past few years, we've tested a half-dozen kid-friendly GPS trackers; initially we also tested alongside a trio of generic GPS trackers. (Some of the kid trackers we initially tested are no longer available, as they relied on AT&T's since-discontinued 2G network; we've removed reviews of those products from this guide for the best GPS tracker for kids.) We conducted tests in both New York and the San Francisco Bay Area, using trackers to follow young children both from afar and to find them in a crowd.

To see what each tracker offers, we enable all push notifications and test all voice features, except for ones that would trigger 911 emergency calls. We also keep an eye on how the batteries in each device held up as we traveled from spot to spot.

We go through the companion apps for each tracker, taking note of the features that are available and testing them with the GPS tracker itself. We also research the monthly service cost for each tracker we review.

Do these GPS trackers for kids also work for seniors and pets?

Kids aren't the only members of your family that you may want to keep tabs on. Trackers can also help you be aware of where seniors and pets are. And as you might imagine, the companies that make the best GPS trackers for kids also have devices better suited for older members of the family or pets that might run off.

In the case of Jiobit's tracker — both the original version and the Jiobit Next — it looks neutral enough so that either kids or grandparents can wear it without standing out, and so Jiobit sells the same device at the same price for people of all ages. For pets, Jiobit includes a fabric pouch attachment that can fasten onto a pet collar, but the tracker and service plan cost the same.

As noted above, Lil Tracker's watch for seniors comes in a more conservative black color and costs a little more than the version for children, at least for the 2G version of the tracker. 4G Lil Tracker watches costs $129 for seniors and children alike. The company has a version of its tracker for pets, but it's listed as sold out as of this writing.

The Apple Watch SE has a stylish design that appeals to seniors, and the LTE version of that smartwatch costs the same no matter who's wearing it.

If you're interested in reviews of dedicated products for pets, our sister site PetsRadar looks at the best pet trackers for cats and dogs.

Philip Michaels
Philip Michaels is a senior editor at Tom's Guide. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics and old movies. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.
  • PhilipMichaels
    Archived comments are found here: http://www.tomsguide.com/forum/id-2697379/gps-trackers-kids-2015.html
    Reply
  • lordcharlesii
    What about safety? How do I know someone else can't pair with these devices and track my child or worse, hack them from a distance and use them to find my child? For the nature of the device that's being strapped to our babies I think the security of the device is pretty crucial.
    Reply