App blocking works differently on iOS. You can block access to system apps such as Safari, Camera, and Siri, if you wish. You can also disable the iTunes Store and App Store and ban in-app purchases. Some parental control apps can ever remove app icons completely from the home screen, so there's no chance your kid can access them. One thing you won't be able to do with most parental control apps is monitor calls or SMS, MMS, and encrypted messages. You can block secure messaging apps , but Boomerang and Qustodio are the only options we tested that allow you to monitor SMS messages and call data.
This capability is only for Android devices and is not built-in to the app versions on the Google Play store; instead, you have to sideload a custom version of the app.
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Time restrictions are another major feature of parental control apps. Some services, like Norton Family Premier and FamilyTime, let you specify how many total hours or minutes a day your child can spend on any given device as well as a schedule for when they can use it. Qustodio lets you set up schedules for specific apps and device usage, as well as specifying a total time allotment for your child that applies across every piece of hardware they use to access the internet.
A mobile parental control app should at the very least be able to keep track of a child's current location and some historical location data, too. It's also important for them to offer some level of control over notifications and the frequency of location reporting, to avoid bombarding the parent with useless data. Both Qustodio and Norton Family offer these features. Some services, including Locategy, Boomerang, and FamilyTime, go one step further, letting you construct geofences around a location. For the uninitiated, geofences are digital boundaries around a physical location that help parents keep track of when a child arrives at or leaves a given location.
Kaspersky Safe Kids even lets you add a dimension of time to a geofence, so you can easily make sure a child stays where they are supposed to be throughout the day. Boomerang offers a unique feature that lets you draw custom geofences on a map; other apps just create a circular radius around a point you define. Android and iOS themselves also let you track your kid's location. Although the range of features that parental control software supports is impressive, no system is perfect. If your children want to get around the limitations you impose, they will likely be able to do so either by using unmonitored devices or finding ways to wipe their devices clean of the controlling apps.
Thus, it's worthwhile to take the time to talk with your child about why you have installed monitoring software in the first place. After all, digital safety and security are worthwhile topics for everyone. It's better to approach these conversations honestly, rather than have them find out on their own and stop trusting you. Especially for older children, it's also important to listen to your child's specific privacy concerns, rather than just setting rules and restrictions that may otherwise be seen as arbitrary.
His "User to User" column supplied readers with tips and solutions on using DOS and Windows, his technical columns clarified fine points in programming and operating systems, and his utility articles over forty of them provided both useful programs and examples of programming in Pascal, Visual Basic, and Delphi.
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In his current position as a PC Magazine Lead Analyst he evaluates and reports on security solutions such as firewalls, anti-virus, anti-spyware, ransomware protection, and full security suites. Rubenking is an Advisory Board member for the Anti-Malware Testing Standards Organization, an international non-profit group dedicated to coordinating and improving testing of anti-malware solutions.
He has previously written for Laptop Mag, Neowin. PCMag editors select and review products independently.
If you buy through affiliate links, we may earn commissions, which help support our testing. Learn more. Updated January 15, Copy Link. Our 8 Top Picks.
A free application with many features
Best for All-Around Protection. Parental control app Qustodio is a highly configurable, easy-to-manage tool for keeping track of your child's activity on Windows, macOS, Chromebook, iOS, and Android devices, though it comes at a premium price. Pros Well-designed web interface. Cons Expensive. Best for Large Families. Kaspersky Safe Kids is a full-featured, affordable parental monitoring system for desktop and mobile platforms that doesn't impose limits on the number of devices you can monitor.
Pros Affordable. Cons Several iOS limitations. Best for Easy Setup. Norton Family's wealth of features and easy setup make it easy for parents to track and manage their children's activity across many devices, though it doesn't work on Macs. Cons Does not work on Macs. Best for Custom Geofences. Boomerang is a solid parental control app for Android and iOS that helps parents track their children's web, app, and mobile activity.
It's mobile-only, though, so you can't use it to monitor Macs or PCs. Pros Good app and device usage controls. Cons Only monitors mobile devices. Best for Seamless Home Setups.
The best monitoring solution
Parental control device Circle Home Plus delivers good tools for keeping an eye on your home network and protecting your children's phones and tablets, but it is susceptible to workarounds and its reporting features aren't as robust as competitors'. Pros Easy setup. Detects and implements restrictions for devices on the network quickly. Best for Cross-Platform Monitoring. Mobicip gives you the basic tools you need to monitor your children's web and app activity, but the lack of sophisticated time- and location-tracking features hold it back.
Pros Well-designed mobile apps. Cons Kids can bypass desktop browsing restrictions. Best for Location Tracking. Locategy's parental control app for Android and iOS keeps track of your kid's activities and location, but some design elements could use a refresh and the web filtering capabilities only work with a few browsers. Pros Excellent iOS app design. Cons No support for Macs and PCs. Best for Custom Web Filters. Net Nanny boasts customizable web filters along with solid screen time and app blocking features, but it's a bit pricey and its geofencing features are not yet competitive.
Pros Simple setup. Evernote can be used to store just about any type of information, but it's also integrated with health sensor devices see below.
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Like many other popular diet and exercise apps, they also offer other ways to track your information, such as nutrition barcode scanning and linkage with activity-tracking devices. Particularly, people following a restrictive diet might want to track their nutritional intake to ensure they remain healthy. Cronometer is an example of an app that analyzes your daily meals and calculates if you are getting a sufficient amount of minerals, vitamins, proteins, and other nutrients based on your activity levels.
The sensors built into your phone can automatically capture selected types of health information when they are linked to suitable apps. Thus, the apps take advantage of the phone's stock hardware to deliver specialized health-related functions. A popular example is tracking physical activity. Numerous apps e. A handful of apps e. Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock uses the accelerometer, with the phone placed under your mattress, to monitor the depth of your sleep.
The manufacturer claims that the app wakes you up within a minute window of a light sleep phase. However, the quality and depth of sleep do not always correlate with movement, especially for people with sleep disorders. The camera is another useful sensor. Azumio's Instant Heart Rate app measures your heart rate when you place your fingertip over the camera lens. It works by sensing slight changes in the color of your fingertip which occur with each heartbeat.
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A few apps use the camera lens to estimate the oxygen saturation concentration in your blood, but they tend to be poorly rated in app stores, with users noting that the readings aren't accurate when compared to dedicated oxygen saturation sensors. As mentioned above, many nutrition apps use the camera to scan food labels and import the calories and nutrient content into your food log. While the smartphone itself is a wonder of modern technology, its greatest potential for health tracking may lie in the ability to connect to separate sensors.
Here are a few devices you can connect with your phone to track health information:.
Comprehensive platforms like Apple's Health app make it easy to tie all this information together. Much of your health information may be stored in electronic health records EHRs maintained by your healthcare providers. Many EHRs now allow patients to access information stored in EHRs, such as vital signs, medications, test results, appointments, and visit summaries.
You can access these through a patient portal on your phone or download it with the Blue Button function.