It can be a heart-stopping question for parents: "Where is my child?" In parks, at beaches or in any public setting, your kid can wander out of view in an instant. But technology can provide some peace of mind in the form of a lightweight GPS tracker that can last a day or two on a charge, and offers frequent and reliable updates on your child's whereabouts. Some of these trackers are watches, some are meant to blend in with your child's backpack and work in the background, and some even give you the power to detect possible danger in your child's vicinity.
Credit: Jeremy Lips/Tom's Guide
Of the kid-friendly GPS trackers we've tested, we recommend Trax Play, the latest version of Trax's GPS tracker. Like its predecessor, the $99 Trax Play offers valuable features like geofencing and augmented reality tracking via a helpful app. Trax Play also improved signal retrieval and positioning, though the device, like many GPS trackers, struggles with indoor tracking. (Note that there's an additional cost to the Trax Play and any tracker beyond the listed price tag. These devices also charge monthly service fees, which we note in the individual reviews.)
Kid-Friendly Trackers vs Regular Trackers
As part of our testing process, we compared generic GPS trackers to ones geared specifically to kids, concluding that kid-friendly trackers are better for keeping tabs on your child. For one, kid-friendly trackers' compact size let them fit neatly in backpacks or on smaller wrists. And many offer features that put parents' minds at ease, like geofencing capabilities and SOS buttons that can ping multiple contacts. Not every mass-market tracker offers these kinds of kid-focused capabilities, so turning to a device built specifically for kids will be money well spent for moms and dads.
The Spot Gen3 ($150) offers pinpoint accuracy in a durable device, but younger kids would have a hard time knowing which button was which — including an emergency button that sends location data to rescue personnel. Likewise, the Trackimo ($115) has an appealing data plan and a useful geofencing feature, but it's simply too much for a young child to master. (Read our Spot Gen3 and Trackimo reviews if you're interested in a more general purpose GPS tracker.)
Trax Play GPS Tracker: Best GPS Tracker for Kids
An updated version of one of our favorite kid trackers, Trax Play ($99) is a simple, no-frills device that handles the basics of letting you know where your child is. Its strongest feature is a geofencing capability that alerts you when your child wanders outside an area that you designate. You won't be able to communicate with your kid, but Trax Play offers a number of other compelling features that make it an appealing choice, particularly if you're the parent of a child too young to wear a GPS watch or carry a smartphone.
Protected by a flexible sleeve equipped with a belt clip, Trax Play is slightly wider and shorter than a Matchbox car, though not nearly as cool-looking for a kid. It's got an LED that blinks when it’s actively tracking someone and stays solid when charging; the color changes from red to green to alert you when Trax Play needs a recharge.
What the device may lack in flash is more than made up for when you use the companion app. Among other things, the Trax Play app lets you set up geofences, where you can designate specific boundaries. If your child enters or exits the designated area with a Trax Play in tow, you get notifications via the app.
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When I put the Trax Play in my son's backpack, I received a notification when he left the geofenced area that I named "home" as well as when he arrived at the area I named "school." (Yes, you can set up multiple geofences within the Trax app.) There's also an option to set a perimeter around your phone and alert you when the tracker gets too far away from you.
The strength of Trax's tracking capabilities will vary depending on where you use the device. When I was outside, in an area without too many buildings nearby, the tracker worked fine, showing me my child's path, including a detour that my kid (and my husband) took on their way to a nearby deli. Results weren't as good when I tested the device from the Tom's Guide office in Manhattan’s Flatiron District, which is clogged with high-rise buildings.
Several features in the Trax app should appeal to parents who want to keep tabs on their kids. The app offers a History feature, which lets you view where a tracker has been in the past 24 hours. That means you can look back and see travel that you might have missed, like a detour to the candy store on the way home from school.
The Trax app also retains an augmented-reality view to find your child on a map. Point your phone in the direction of your tracker, and its location and distance will show up on your smartphone's screen, making it easier to find your kid in a crowded setting.
To see where your child is on a map, you have three viewing options: a plain Google map, a Google satellite map, or a hybrid of the two. Currently, you can choose to receive location updates every 10, 15, 30 and 60 seconds, but I found that updates every 30 or 60 seconds proved excessive, leading to scribbles all over the map just from going from room to room in my apartment. A coming firmware update will allow for less frequent location updates as well: every 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes or 60 minutes.
That software update could improve Trax Play's battery life, which depends on how frequently you set your location updates. When I set the device to send updates every 10 seconds, the battery lasted less than 7 hours. With updates every 30 seconds, the battery lasted all day. When Trax pushes through its next firmware update, it said it expects a tracker that sends hourly updates to last four to five days.
Even without the firmware update, though, Trax Play is a compelling option for parents who want to keep tabs on younger kids, provided they're willing to live with the limitations of the device (such as the lack of two-way communication features). Features built into the app, such as the AR viewer and geofencing capabilities, make the Trax Play a good choice if you want to check in on the location of young children.
The original version of Trax was more expensive, but that price tag included free service. With Trax Play costing $99, you now pay for service separately, though the price drops the more service you preorder. Six months of service costs $9 per month, for example, while preordering 24 months of service drops the cost to $4 a month.
What Owners Say: Trax Play's average rating on Amazon is around 3 out of 5 stars, with half of the ratings either 4 stars or better. Owners who like the Trax Play praise the device's geofencing features and its compact size. One reviewer who upgraded from the original Trax felt that the new device had better battery life. The chief complaint among dissatisfied owners centers on Trax Play's accuracy, particularly with its subpar performance indoors.—Althea Chang
Amber Alert GPS Child Tracker: Runner-Up
The Amber Alert GPS Child Tracker can help you keep your child away from sex offenders and offers a handy SOS button for calling loved ones. (The device sells for $135 at the Amber Alert GPS website, with monthly plans costing $15 to $18, depending on the number of text messages you want to send.) Unfortunately, the activation process for this device proved frustrating, requiring a trip to a nearby AT&T store to sort things out. (A glance at the Amber Alert GPS reviews on Amazon suggests I'm not the first person to have trouble getting this device up and running.)
Amber Alert GPS' best feature is something no other GPS tracker that we tested can do: tap into the Megan's Law National Sex Offender Database so that when your child comes within 500 feet of a registered address, you get an email or push notification. It's a very powerful tool for parents not accustomed to always looking up who's in the neighborhood.
Amber Alert’s app and site lets you designate 10 users who will be called in case of an emergency. You can also enable speed alerts when the device detects it's traveling anywhere from 35 to 90 mph, and create zones with radii from 1,000 to 10,000 feet. Amber Alert's geofencing feature was reliable and fast, taking roughly a minute to push to my phone. The Amber Alert tracker will trigger a battery alert when your juice falls below 15 percent. Our tests showed about a day and a half of reliable power with medium, consistent usage, in line with Amber Alert's battery-life claims.
Credit: Jeremy Lips/Tom's Guide
What Owners Say: Amber Alert GPS has only a smattering of reviews on Amazon, with an average rating of 2.5 out of 5 stars. Owners generally like the device's accuracy and praise its SOS feature; others had difficulty activating the device and complain about erratic performance.—Erik Malinowski
FiLIP 2 GPS Watch
The FiLIP 2 doesn't have the full functionality of a smartwatch, but it’s a fun and feature-filled GPS watch that will appeal to a lot of parents — if they can get their hands on one. (The company's website says it's no longer available from any retail partners in the U.S., though you can still find it on Amazon through resellers. Expect to pay $10 per month for service through AT&T.) At 2 ounces, the FiLIP is light enough for even the smallest kid to wear, though you need to dip into the band extenders that come with your FiLIP 2 for the watch to fit growing wrists.
Activation of FiLIP via AT&T’s website is relatively straightforward. The FiLIP app lets you set up your home zone and add extra SafeZones, but unless you have an actual street address for the school, park, or other area you’re zoning for, the process can be cumbersome. And the long lag — about 10 minutes for me — between when the unit enters or exits one of these zones and when you get a push notification alerting you to this was frustrating. At least the GPS was fairly accurate, usually down to just a few feet.
Two buttons on the watch allow two-way calling with multiple preprogrammed numbers. When pressed for 4 seconds, a red emergency button will initiate auto-calls to your contacts until someone answers, as well as send notifications to your phone. This easy initiation of two-way calling and SMS messages is one of the FiLIP's biggest strengths. Your kid is probably going to grow out of this device quickly enough that the $150 cost will start to feel a little prohibitive. Throw in the lag time with SafeZone notification, and it becomes easier to look elsewhere.Credit: Jeremy Lips/Tom's Guide
What Owners Say: The FiLIP 2 has the lowest average rating on Amazon of any kid-friendly GPS tracker I tested. Some owners were disappointed by the audio quality on calls and complained about unresponsive customer service. Fans of the FiLIP praised its ease of use and the two-way calling features.—Erik Malinowski
How We Tested GPS Trackers for Kids
In the past year-and-a-half, we've tested a half-dozen kid-friendly GPS trackers along with 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.) We conducted tests in both New York and the San Francisco Peninsula, using trackers to follow young children both from afar and to find them in a crowd.
To see what each tracker offered, we enabled all push notifications and tested all voice features, except for ones that would trigger 911 emergency calls. We also kept an eye on how the batteries in each device held up as we traveled from spot to spot.
Here are the criteria we consider when determining which kid-friendly GPS tracker was the best.
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.
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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.
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