Zift Parental-Control App Review: Best for iOS

Zift is a digital-parenting company that acquired Net Nanny in 2016 and rebuilt its app from the ground up over the next 18 months, with Net Nanny's powerful web-filtering technology at its core.

The focus on digital parenting is definitely noticeable in the Zift app: Articles on certain issues from the Zift editorial team appear in the Family Feed, and the App Advisor feature offers guidance on potential concerns with apps.

Zift still uses the same excellent Net Nanny web-filtering tech, making this one of the best options in that category, and it benefits from a recent redesign by having a superior and more current interface than many of its competitors.

Net Nanny is still supported and sold, however, because it has a desktop component Zift lacks, but the company made clear to us that Zift is now the flagship mobile app.

Zift's lack of call- or text-message monitoring could be a deal breaker for some users, however; and the relatively high Premium subscription fee could be an issue for others, but if the existing features cover your needs, Zift is definitely one of the top options to consider.

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Costs and What's Covered

Zift follows the freemium model, with a basic version of the app available at no charge and a single paid tier. Currently, the app supports only Android and iOS, but support for Windows and Mac OS will be added eventually.

The Premium tier unlocks all of Zift's features for an unlimited number of users and devices. It costs $4.99 a month if you pay through the app, but you can also go to the Zift website and pay the full yearly fee ($59.88). If you pay for two years through the website, you get a 25 percent discount, making it $89.99 ($3.75 monthly). Surprisingly, there's no free trial.

The free tier gives you alerts for certain categories; the ability to pause and unpause your child's device; basic screen-time-usage restrictions; and the Family Feed, which provides an overview of your child's device usage as well as basic location tracking.

It's still a good-looking app, and it does offer enough of a taste of the full app so that you can probably determine whether it is the right fit for you before paying for a year or more. But if you are looking for a permanent free option, I would turn to something like Kaspersky Safe Kids, which offers a more robust free tier.

For paying customers, the Premium feature set with Zift is quite compelling. Unsurprisingly for an app that was recently rebuilt from the ground up, it is one of the best-looking apps that I have tested.

By paying, you gain the ability to block internet content rather than to simply receive alerts. You can also block apps; view the full list of apps on your child's device; set usage and curfew times; and review 30 days' worth of location, online search, web history and screen-time usage.

Installation

We installed Zift on a Google Pixel 2 XL running Android 9.0 (Pie), an iPhone 7 Plus and an iPad Air 2. Installation was a smooth process on both platforms. Zift does employ two apps, one for the child device(s) and one for the parental device(s).

One justification for this separation is that children have a tendency to vote down parental-control apps for obvious reasons, so separating them helps the overall rating of the parent's app.

Zift lacks a web portal, so you have to set it up using the app on the parent device. But otherwise, this is perhaps the best-designed app that I have tested (OurPact is the other contender), so setup using the app still went quite quickly, for the most part.

Once you have created your account, you need to start with the child's device. That is where you create the child's profile by simply entering the individual's name, gender and age. I did find it a little odd that you have to enter an age rather than a date of birth — you will clearly need to manually update this in the future.

On iOS, the Zift app uses a certificate installation via the Safari browser and requires that you grant a few permissions. Android similarly requires granting a handful of permissions to allow monitoring and control of the device. On both platforms, the app does an excellent job of guiding you through the installation process and explains each permission before you approve it.

App Management

As is typically the case, the app-management features on Zift are much more effective on Android than they are on iOS, due to Apple's restrictions, but the app does offer a bit more on iOS than some of its competitors.

For children with iOS devices, the full list of their apps will be imported into the app section of the Zift parent app. The parent can tap on an app to see the App Advisor info (covered in Extras below) for that app; if you see a settings-gear icon to the right of the app, that means the app can be blocked on iOS.

An extremely limited subset of apps (approximately 85 in total) is covered, but some popular apps like Fortnite, Netflix, Pokémon Go and Snapchat are included. If you visit the App Settings menu, you can see the full list of apps covered and even preemptively block them from there.

On Android, of course, you can block any app your child has. My only real complaint with this feature for Zift is that it requires two taps to get to the block-or-allow decision from the main apps screen, rather than simply presenting the block-or-allow toggle that exists in the App Settings screen.

Filtering

As you would expect, given its origins, this is a strong point for Zift. The Content Filter section of the app is the one thing that still retains the Net Nanny branding, as that is the back end for the filtering in Zift.

Net Nanny prides itself on its ability to perform a real-time check of the page being visited in order to determine whether it should be blocked, based on the content settings, which saves it from having to rely on a database of sites that should be blocked.

You can access this setting within each child's profile so that you can individualize the content blocks or alerts. There are 14 categories — weapons, drugs, provocative content, mature content and so on — that you can choose to Allow, Alert or Block.

These all worked reliably across a number of browsers on both platforms. While you may want to restrict the number of browsers available to your child to avoid potential problems, in our experience, any popular option (Safari, Chrome, Firefox, Opera Mini) will be served equally well by the Zift web filter.

In the event that your child runs into a site that is inappropriately blocked (or allowed), you can go into the Website Settings page found immediately below the Content Filter and manually add sites that you would like to always block or always allow. The child has to come to you to make this request; the child does not have the option of requesting access from his or her device when blocked.

Time Management

Zift offers an abundance of time-management features, including options to set overall usage limits, daily schedules to pause the device or simply pause internet access, and an allowance system. The setup process is my one quibble, as it is slightly more time-consuming than is necessary.

The usage-limits feature is a minor example of this annoyance. It is easy enough to pick the limits for any day: You simply tap on the day in the Screentime management menu in Zift and then select the amount of time you would like the child to have for that day. This takes all of a minute to do, but it could easily be streamlined so that the limit could be applied across multiple days (as I'm sure most users would like to do).

What I do really like here is Zift's option to give a temporary time boost or retraction on the current day without your having to tweak the time allotment for that day in the future. I still prefer the actual task-based allowance system seen in the Screen Time parental-control app, but this is a close second.

The setup for scheduling was a bigger headache. Fortunately, this section does  allow you to apply the same schedule across multiple days, but the actual time selection was frustrating at first.

You tap whether you want to create a new interval that will completely pause the device or simply block the Internet, and then the app pops up an interval, and you set a start and end time.

The problem is that it tried to be intelligent about this and simply prevented me from setting the times as I wished.

What I ultimately realized is that once an interval exists, you can move it wherever you like by long-pressing and then dragging and dropping it as you wish. This is absolutely the best way to handle time management, and frankly, I think Zift would be wise to move to that as the primary means of control — it is faster and more intuitive.

Once you have the schedule set up, it provides a view of the full week, which I really liked. Again, once I'd learned the new method of dealing with the schedule, it was simple to make changes as needed.

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For children with multiple devices, Zift allows you to set rules that apply across all devices, avoiding the need to repeat the setup process or try to split up the total time on each device yourself.

Texting Management

Zift doesn't offer any texting- or calling-related features. On Android, you can block texting apps and related apps, but there is no monitoring available on either platform. If this is a primary concern for you, then consider either Norton Family Premier or Qustodio.

Location Tracking

Zift lacks any kind of geofencing features, but it does manage to tick most of the location-tracking boxes and even includes a basic version of the feature in the free app.

Free users can view the child's current location (or last known location in the case of devices that lack a constant internet connection) at the top of the Family Feed overview screen. This kind of functionality is natively built into both Android and iOS, but it is convenient to have it in the parental-control app as well.

Premium subscribers gain access to the location tab within the Zift app, which additionally can show you the location history of child devices for up to the past 30 days.

Family Feed

Zift uses a fairly novel approach as the main focus of the mobile app. It's called the Family Feed, and it basically gives you an inbox with all of the most recent activity across all registered child devices.

You'll see any online searches, app installs, app usage and flagged web content, and it will also offer advice from Zift experts on how to tackle certain subjects with your kids. App-usage reports offer the option to block currently installed apps directly from the Family Feed, along with the App Advisor breakdown on each one.

Swiping down from the top of this feed gives you a convenient overview screen with the current location, remaining screen time and current rules that are applied to each device. It's not meant to be your primary monitoring method, but it's fantastic as a quick, glanceable view of everyone's status.

App Advisor

This is a useful reference tool for parents who can't keep track of every single app that their children have or want to install on their devices. The App Advisor gives you a breakdown of some of the important details regarding an app, such as whether it has in-app purchases, live streaming, chat, location tracking or photo sharing.

To read the full lowdown on any app, you need to go to the Zift website. But when you look at your child's installed apps in the Zift app, it will give you an abbreviated version of the same content with a link to the full article.

Bottom Line

Zift is another strong option in the parental-control-app market. The thoughtful design of the app and helpful touches like Family Feed and App Advisor set Zift apart from some of the competition. I think parents with multiple children and/or devices to monitor will find the Family Feed particularly compelling.

As long as text monitoring isn't a serious concern for you (in which case you should look at Norton Family Premier), Zift is one of the best parental-control options available today.

Credit: Tom's Guide