Qustodio Parental-Control App Review: Pricey But Worth It

Qustodio has been around for several years now, and the app offers a compelling combination of features, although at a relatively high price for even the base premium package. OurPact offers greater overall control for iOS users, and a considerably better website interface, but Qustodio's features hold up well against most of the competition.

Qustodio does get a gold star for broad support. Like Kaspersky Safe Kids, it has Windows and macOS parental controls as well as Amazon and iOS apps, which is a big plus for parents who want to cover their children's full complement of devices.

But Qustodio was the only service we tested that supports Amazon Fire tablets, which makes things easy if you are one of the many parents with a child using an Amazon device. Parents can monitor and manage devices using either the web portal or the mobile apps.

There is more to recommend about Qustodio than just its platform support. It has a competitive feature set with just a few gaps that ultimately may be unimportant, depending on your needs and preferences.

Costs and What's Covered

Qustodio has a very straightforward pricing plan, with a basic free tier that covers a single device with web filtering, time limits and reports.

To receive the premium features, you have your choice of three simple yearly payment options, depending on the number of devices you need to protect. Up to five devices can be covered for $54.95 a year; up 10 devices costs $96.96 per year; up to 15 devices costs $137.95 yearly.

These plans include all of the premium features and support across Android, iOS, Windows, Mac and Fire tablets.

Installation

We tested Qustodio using a 15-inch 2017 Macbook Pro running MacOS 10.13.6 and Windows 10, a Google Pixel 2XL running Android 9.0 (Pie), an iPhone 7 Plus and an iPad Air 2.

As with most of these parental-control services, it is easiest to get started with Qustodio via the web portal. Once you have signed up for your account, you start creating the child profiles. You just need to enter a name, year of birth and a gender for each child, then select from a small collection of avatars.

The web interface does a good job of guiding you through the process of downloading and installing the app on each platform. Like OurPact, Qustodio immediately begins this process after you complete each profile.

I have a slight preference for the services that let me get the settings the way I wanted them before having to download the apps and install them on the child's device(s).

My only other complaint with the initial setup for Qustodio is that most features are disabled by default. I don't expect everything to be set up for me, but most parental-controls apps make a best guess based on the age of your child, and then let you tweak things from there. This absence of default profile settings is more noticeable with Qustodio due to the the web portal's dated user interface and the sheer volume of settings available.

MORE: Best Parental Control Apps

Qustodio has the most aggressive uninstall protections of any app that we tested. As soon as I accessed the accessibility settings page on Android, for example, up popped a message stating "Uninstall Protection Enabled" across the top of the screen.

App Management

Using application controls in Qustodio is a slightly odd experience. When you first go to the tab, it's empty. I toggled it on, expecting it to automatically populate itself with the apps installed on my child's device, but nothing showed up.

It was only after returning to my child's phone to see if I had missed something in the installation process that I noticed the first app I opened on the phone show up in the list on the Qustodio page.

So, unless you go through and launch every app on your child's phone during the setup, you'll need to wait for your child to use a given app before you can decide whether you want your child to use it or not. It makes for a frustrating initial experience.

Everything else about this feature worked great. There's a simple toggle for "Allow application," and then a clock next to that to let you set specific time limits for an individual app.

Filtering of apps on iOS is incredibly limited: There are just shy of 70 apps that can be monitored and blocked by Qustodio. A full list of these apps is available on the Qustodio website, along with additional instructions on blocking and limiting apps.

Filtering

While the user interface in the web portal leaves a lot to be desired, the overall feature set for the web filtering in Qustodio is excellent. Filtering was toggled on by default and pre-emptively blocked sites from the 29 categories available.

As with Kaspersky Safe Kids and Norton Family Premier, Qustodio gives you three options for each category: allow, block or alert.

Alert will let your child access sites within a category, but you will find any visits to these sites listed in the "Questionable activity" tab of their activity summary. For some reason Qustodio made "Uncategorized" a separate toggle that is only a yes or no. It works just fine, but most competitors add that in as another category.

If a specific site is either failing to be caught by the filters or is accidentally caught by the filters, there is a section to flag specific URLs with the allow, block or alert tag.

Safe Search can be toggled on or off in this section. What this does on the desktop is to force Google, Bing or YouTube into their restricted modes to remove content deemed inappropriate, but these determinations are on the part of those sites and not Qustodio. Notably, this removes the comments section from YouTube.

On Android, this feature is a little less powerful, as Google doesn't allow the Qustodio app to interfere with search results in the Google app or Search Bar Widget. Instead, it automatically launches a web browser window to the Google search page when the Google app or Search Bar Widget are tapped, which then allows Qustodio to force safe search.     

On iOS, there's no direct Safe Search feature. But web filtering is available on either Chrome or Safari, which will functionally create a safe search.

Time Management

The user interface for time management isn't my favorite, but the options and the functionality are mostly excellent. This is the only app I tested that lets you indicate whether you want time limits to apply across all devices or on a per-device basis.

The two primary components to this section are the usage schedule and the time allowance, and you can use both of these features together.

Usage schedule is a weekly view with 24 blocks per day. Red blocks are restricted hours and gray blocks are allowed — you click on a block to change its color and status. One thing missing here is the ability to create multiple schedules, as OurPact offers.

Time allowance lets you set a total amount of time that the child can use his or her devices each day. It can be set in 15-minute increments from zero hours all the way up to 24. At the time of this review, this feature was in beta testing on iOS.

Finally, you need to determine what exactly happens when your child reaches the end of his or her allotted time. There are three options here, with a simple Yes/No toggle for each one.

The first is "Lock Navigation," and it does different things depending on the platform. On Windows and Mac, it disables internet access on all browsers, but everything else remains available.

For Android or Fire users, Lock Navigation blocks all apps other than the home screen, notification bar, recent app list and incoming calls. On iOS, it stops the child from browsing with Safari, Chrome or any other browser, and the lock screen will display a message that navigation is locked. (We can confirm that this worked with Opera Mini, Firefox and Microsoft Edge.)

Next is "Lock Device," and again the behavior differs by platform. For Windows and Mac users, this locks up the computer completely. For Android users, this blocks everything except the ability to make calls to emergency numbers or to trusted contacts identified in the Panic Button feature that we will cover later.

On iOS, Lock Device locks down web navigation and stops access to any app with an age rating beyond 4+ in the App Store. There is a message in the lock screen to remind the child that the device is locked.

MORE: How to Enable Parental Controls on a Mac

The final toggle is pretty straightforward: it just determines whether you will to be notified when your child runs out of time for the day.

Texting Management

Qustodio has one of the most complete offerings in this category, with options for monitoring calls and texts, reporting the content of each text message, and finally, settings to block calls or specific contacts. This feature is strictly for Android users.

The primary settings are simple "Yes/No" toggles for whether you want to monitor calls and texts and a separate option for a report with the full content of each text message. Then you have blocking rules, which can block all incoming calls, all outgoing calls and allow or block individual numbers.

The app successfully registered all calls and text messages to and from my Pixel 2 XL and could register the text of any SMS messages that I sent.

Location Tracking

Qustodio offers location tracking that lets you view the last known location of your child's device. On iOS, this refreshes automatically when the location changes; on Android you can set it to poll for a new location as often as every 5 minutes.

There is no geofencing option, unfortunately, but you can view your child's location history via the Activity timeline.

Extras

Panic Button

Another Android-only feature is the Panic Button, which appears in the Qustodio app when toggled and lets a child send out an emergency message that contains their current location to trusted contacts set up within the app. Once triggered, the app will continue to share the current location of the device with the trusted contacts until it is turned off.

Qustodio goes out of its way both in the parental interface and the child interface to point out that this feature does not notify emergency services and is strictly notifying trusted contacts by email or SMS.

Social Monitoring

Social monitoring is limited to Facebook activity, which makes its usefulness fairly limited. To activate this feature, the child must log in to Facebook on a Mac or PC that is being monitored by Qustodio, which adds a tracking plug-in. After this, all Facebook activity will be reported regardless of the device being used.

Assuming Facebook monitoring is important to you, Qustodio's solution did work the best out of all services tested, with the most details pulled in for review on your child's dashboard.

Bottom Line

Qustodio has managed to put together an amazing set of features and a number of unique touches such as the timeline view. If its developers could just make some improvements to the interface and the iOS app, Qustodio would be among the best overall options on the market.

As long as you can stay under the five-device limit for the cheapest Premier Plan, it is worth considering whether Qustodio is a fit for your family. But beyond that, I would look to cheaper services such as Norton Family Premier or Kaspersky Safe Kids, as the cost of Qustodio will seem prohibitive for what you are getting.

Credit: Tom's Guide