For many parents of children with Android devices, ESET Parental Control for Android might fit the bill. The Android-only program allows parents to locate their children, set a time limit for how long kids use their mobile devices, block apps and filter web content.
It doesn't quite match the more extensive capabilities of Norton Family Premier Android or PhoneSheriff, and if you want to monitor your child’s calling, texting or social media activity, look elsewhere. Still, with support for an unlimited number of Android devices as part of your $30 annual fee, this is an affordable way to impose some level of control over your child’s device.
ESET is simple to download and install. Enter your child's age, and you'll get automatically configured usage and content settings for your kid's device, which are easy to revise at any time.
Automatic configuration includes age-based web filters based on 35 different categories such as technology, fashion, hobbies and health. You can easily adjust which categories are OK via the app's parent portal. Just click on the thumbs-up or thumbs-down icon — it’s one of the easiest content-block features I’ve used.
Filters worked well in my tests, though a savvy kid could get around them just as easily as any web filter. (Images on Google search can be more graphic than anything on Playboy.com, for example.) That said, ESET’s filters worked as well as any I’ve tested.
You can also quickly set time limits on your child's Android phone for both school days and weekends. (The time-management features for apps are available in a free version of ESET.) In addition to an overall time limit, you can set limits on select apps, but first you have to designate them as Fun & Games apps.
I found that a little limiting: Is the Chrome browser “fun and games?” Is the Kindle app? If you decide yes, you must mark the app as Fun & Games, and set a universal time limit that applies to all apps with that label.
I would have preferred more precise control over individual apps. That said, it’s a snap to set an overall time limit, so ESET will clearly appeal to parents who don't want to spend a lot of time fiddling with individual settings.
If your child wants to ask for additional time, he or she can send an email request, which could be useful for parent-child discussions. Your kids can also email you if they want to access a website that's blocked — which they may do a lot, since the method of adding approved sites isn't that intuitive.
ESET's content filters worked as well as any I've tested.
Like other parental-control apps, ESET offers location tracking. The feature worked well in my tests, though it often required a refresh of the parent portal before it could track a device. Be aware that ESET's location tracking was often off by about 50 feet. You can figure out your child's general location, though not a specific address.
ESET doesn't keep a log of location history, meaning you can't look up where your kids were last Saturday or during their school lunch period — only where they are right now. Also, if your child turns off the phone, location tracking won't work.
ESET lets you quickly review which apps your child has installed on his or her Android device in an intuitively visual way. With a click, you can see the app's Play Store description — helpful if you've never heard of the app in question — and then either allow an app, block it or mark it as Fun & Games to put time limits on the app.
I especially liked ESET’s app-usage report, which lets you quickly review which apps your child has used, and for how long during the past day, week or month. A heat map that tells you when your kids were using their device turned out to be less valuable, because it can't tell you where your kids were or what specific app they were using.
The ESET service offers a series of preconfigured email alerts that can tell you which new apps your child has downloaded, as well as which apps and website categories have been accessed. (It won't list specific sites, though.) There’s even a clever feature that essentially locks the child’s device until he or she reads any text messages you’ve sent.
The alerts aren't very granular. You can’t be emailed if the child uses the device at a certain location, for instance. It would also be nice if parents could set these alerts to be texted to them, not just emailed. I read my texts right away, while emails can sit for hours in my inbox.
Overall, I found ESET pretty useful, particularly if your main goal is to place some limits on when your children can use an Android phone and what they can do with it. But I still found some notable limitations, particularly when compared to Norton Family Premier, our top choice for parental-control products aimed at Android users.
For parents who want to monitor their child’s messaging and calling activity, particularly for teens, ESET is of little value.
Norton's web-filtering features are a little more refined than those that ESET has to offer, particularly when it comes to manually adding approved websites.
ESET offers limited social media monitoring. You can outright block apps such as Facebook and Twitter (and block browsers from accessing those services via the web), but there's little else you can do. ESET can’t tell you who your child is connected with on Facebook or Snapchat, for example, nor let you know what your child is sharing, be it photos or other personal information.
For parents who want to monitor their child’s messaging and calling activity, particularly for teens, ESET is of little value. You can’t use the service to block phone numbers or contacts. You can’t find out when or from where a child may have called, texted or received a communication. That means ESET isn't necessarily the right choice if you're worried about cyberbullying.
If you want an app with basic filtering and time-limit features, ESET is a solid choice for $30. (The company offers more expensive annual licenses if you want to also extend those controls to PCs and Macs.) You won't have to spend much time setting it up, and the reports give a helpful overview of your child's online activity. Both Norton and PhoneSheriff offer more extensive controls for Android users if you want a more comprehensive monitoring tool, but ESET offers enough features to satisfy parents who want a measure of control over their children’s devices.