OurPact Parental-Control App Review: Gets Kids Involved

OurPact is a relatively recent entrant into the parental-control-app market. It launched in 2015 and has always had a significant focus on the iPad.

When I originally tested the app in the late summer of 2018, it notably offered virtual feature parity between the iOS and Android versions of the app. Unfortunately, due to recent changes in App Store policy enforcement, the iOS app's functionality has since been reduced. And even before that, OurPact didn't offer call or text monitoring on either platform, although it does let you block messaging apps entirely on both

The fully featured version of OurPact, which is the one most people will want, is definitely pricey at $6.99 per month. But that covers up to 20 devices, so it's not the most expensive option by device; that honor would go to Qustodio.

OurPact offers Android users a solid feature set and better overall design than you'd typically get on that platform; iOS users will find that OurPact still offers a couple of unique features despite its recently added limitations.

Costs and What's Covered

Unlike most other parental-control apps, OurPact breaks its features into three pricing tiers. Free users can control a single child device with up to five manual blocks per month and a single automated block schedule. Upgrading to OurPact Plus for $1.99 a month bumps you up to 10 child devices, unlimited manual blocks and unlimited automated block schedules.

Finally, OurPact Premium, at $6.99 a month, delivers everything the service has to offer for up to 20 child devices, including unlimited manual blocks, unlimited automated block schedules and the rest of the features that will be covered later in the article.

Unless you want to only limit the window of time during which your child can use his or her device, the Premium tier is the only option that really matters. Unfortunately, recent changes in App Store policy enforcement by Apple have rendered many of the features in OurPact's Premium Tier unusable on iOS.

There's no discount for paying for an entire year; you'll be paying the full $23.88 or $83.88 regardless.

Apple Fall 2018 App Store Policy Enforcement

In the fall of 2018, Apple began to enforce previously neglected policies surrounding the usage of Mobile Device Management (MDM) by consumer-facing apps. A number of parental-control apps, including OurPact, use MDM to grant parents a lot of control over their children's iPhones.

(MDM is a level of software control, often provided by third-party apps or utilities, that's supposed to be used only by enterprise IT departments when managing company-owned iPhones.)  

Apple's change in policy enforcement disabled several features found in the OurPact Premium tier, including location tracking, geofencing, app organizing and usage allowance. The OurPact Jr. app intended for children's iPhones was removed from the App Store.

Parents still have control of a child's iPhone using the parental OurPact app, but the child is no longer able to view anything related to the restrictions the parent imposes, including remaining usage-allowance time.

Existing or previous OurPact users can still install the OurPact Jr. app via their OurPact parent app, but new subscribers will be unable to do so. At the time of publication, there was no timeline for a return of these features to OurPact on iOS.

Installation

We installed OurPact on a Google Pixel 2XL running Android 9.0 (Pie), an iPhone 7 Plus and an iPad Air 2. We used a 15-inch 2017 Macbook Pro running MacOS 10.13.6 to access the OurPact web portal.

As with most parental-control apps, the first step toward using OurPact is to create an account on the website, in this case OurPact.com. You next add your child(ren) to the account, and OurPact immediately asks which type of device (Android or iOS) your child uses and guides you through the installation of the software on that device. With other services, this is typically the final step.

It's a fairly minor complaint about OurPact, but the other method of setting up the account and rules first, and then installing the apps on the child's device as the final step, simply feels like a better interaction.

OurPact is also unique in that the process for setting up the child's iOS device, for those interested in the Premium tier, is considerably more involved than it is for setting up a child's  Android device.

In Android, you just download the app from Google Play and agree to its requests for permissions. On the child's device, you install OurPact Jr. (which is no longer available for iOS), and you put OurPact on the parent device. Parents and children can use different platforms.

But on iOS, the OurPact Premium tier requires you to download a separate installer utility to a Mac or Windows computer. You then plug the child's iOS device into your computer, turn off "Find My iPhone," back up the device and finally restore the device.

With the iPhone 7 Plus that I used for testing, the restore process alone took approximately 45 minutes, making the initial setup about an hour in total.

Next, you would have needed to install the OurPact Jr. app on the child's device, but that's not currently available. Then you sign into your OurPact account from Safari on the child's iOS device.

All of these are steps to install a Mobile Device Management (MDM) profile on the child's device, which is the only way to achieve a relatively feature-complete parental-control app on iOS.

At that point you are finally done and can create the profile for your child, a quick and easy process that identifies the child's name, date of birth and, optionally, gender.

MORE: Best Parental Control Apps

Users of the Free or Plus OurPact tiers on iOS have a considerably easier installation process. They simply have to navigate to the pair.ourpact.com site on the child's Safari browser and login. You create a new child profile and tap "pair," then follow the installation instructions to grant the necessary permissions on the child's device.

App Management

The app-management screen in OurPact is simple to understand and operate. By default, every app is set to adhere to the schedule or manual blocks that you input elsewhere in the app.

However, you can go through on an app-by-app basis and set each  to "Always Blocked" or "Always Allowed." Toggling "Always Blocked" will make the app seem to disappear from the child's device; "Always Allowed" will leave the app available even during scheduled or manual blocks.

At the moment, OurPact is the only service among those we tested that offers full app-management functionality on iOS as well as Android — even after the MDM policy change.

Filtering

Web filtering is pretty rudimentary in OurPact. If you tap on the icon in the lower left corner of the child's avatar in the parental app, you get the option to "Block Adult Content" on your child's device. This is simply an on/off toggle with no other options.

The feature works across the major browsers on Android and iOS. Thanks to the App Management features referenced above, you have control over whether the child can use an unsupported browser.

Time Management

Although it isn't the most robust time-management system we tested, OurPact does a solid job of giving you what you need without being overwhelming. Two separate sections pertain to time management in OurPact: Schedule and Allowance.

Schedule lets you set up as many blocks of time as you like during which your child will not able to use his or her device. By default, a "Bedtime" schedule from Sunday to Thursday is set up, but you can tweak that and also add as many other schedules as you like.

These scheduled blocks are easy to toggle on and off, which is great as you may have a recurring schedule that isn't always relevant, and you won't have to re-create a block each time you re-enable it.

The other piece to this section is the Allowance (not available on iOS), which is simply the total amount of time each day that your child is allowed to use the device. There's a simple drop-down menu for each day, with options to set zero minutes to 3 hours in 30-minute increments, 4 hours to 8 hours in hourly increments, and finally one for all day.

The only problem with how OurPact handles timing is that it requires your child to go into the OurPact Jr. app to toggle the allowance clock off and on. Other apps stop the clock when a device is put in standby mode. (OurPact representatives said their tests indicated manual allowance toggling was more accurate.)

It would be easy to see how older children who may just check an app quickly and then jump back out might forget to turn the allowance clock off and lose all their time for the day. This happened to my own kids several times. However, a child can't just leave the countdown clock turned off, as all apps would be blocked except the OurPact Jr. app.

I did discover one loophole in the time management system: Content, such as a movie or a music service, playing in a picture-in-picture window on the child's device when the time allowance runs out can keep playing indefinitely.

Texting Management

OurPact doesn't offer any specific SMS text-message management, so if you want to monitor the content of your child's text messages or block specific contacts, then OurPact isn't for you.

But OurPact can block messaging apps, whether or not they handle SMS, completely. It claims to be the only parental-control app that can block iMessage on iOS, and sure enough, it was the only app I tested that could.

So while OurPact lacks granular control over or monitoring of text messages, you can at least limit the windows of time or the apps that your child can use for messaging.

MORE: The One Google App Every Parent Needs

Location Tracking

OurPact ticks almost all the desirable boxes with its location tracking on Android, but because of Apple's recent changes, this feature is no longer available on iOS. The location pane allows you to quickly view a child's current location, but the geofencing available through the Places functionality is a more interesting aspect.

Places lets you specify a location (school, home, park, etc.) and then opt to receive a notification whenever the child's device either enters or leaves that location. You simply enter an address for the location, then click-and-drag or pinch-and-zoom on the map to create the boundary that will trigger your notification.

Obviously, this feature is most useful for devices with cellular-data connections, but it also works with Wi-Fi-only tablets when they connect to a Wi-Fi network.

Grant/Block

There's nothing complicated about this feature, but front and center on the primary management page are two tabs marked "Grant" and "Block." In two clicks, you can either grant your child additional time for the day or block the device for a specified amount of time. It's a quick solution that doesn't mess with any of the rest of your settings.

Bottom Line

OurPact is not without its problems. The lack of texting management and the quirks regarding the timer might both be  significant issues, depending on your needs. And, of course, the new limitations imposed on the iOS app will leave users looking for a comprehensive iOS solution wanting more.

However, OurPact is one of the easiest apps to navigate and control that I tested, and is also one of the best-looking. It should be on the short list for Android users.

On the iOS side, if you are looking for a relatively inexpensive option and don't care about the Premium features, it's still a great-looking app with the unmatched ability to block even native iOS apps. But if you are looking for a more full-featured iOS solution, then you should take a look at Zift.

Credit: Tom's Guide

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