While there are plenty of serious smartwatches out there aiming to track you around the clock, keep you up-to-date with notifications and let you pay from the wrist, they're not all designed for kids.
In fact, very few are, which makes finding a dedicated smartwatch for kids a hard task. And not all smartwatches in this category are created equally, with some more centred on looking fun while others are more focused on packing in safety features.
At MWC 2018, Chinese company Omate is showing off its collaborative effort with Diablock β the Japanese equivalent of Lego β and hoping to marry together both design and safety. We've had a hands-on with the device in order to see just what it has to offer, but stay tuned for a more in-depth review when the smartwatch launches this June in the US and Europe.
Omate x Nanoblock: Get your colour on
Naturally, the first thing that jumps out about the Omate x Nanoblock smartwatch is the band. This is a far cry from the rubber straps that you're probably used to seeing on traditional smartwatches, instead making use of the Diablock collaboration to include a colourful, clasped band featuring the company's Nanoblocks. Detachable black segments make this an easy one to adjust, in case a child's wrist is too small for the set band, while small, colourful blocks are dotted all over the outside. They aren't the easiest to unhinge and re-arrange, but this is a fun way to make things a bit more personal for kids on the outside.
As this is a kids' smartwatch, we unfortunately weren't able to try it on and get a feel for comfort, but we do get the sense that this plastic number wouldn't be the easiest for children to wear all day. And though the customisable blocks do add a sense of fun and colour, they add a layer to the wrist too, making it quite thick to wear β something which is also true of the plastic bezel itself.
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Two large buttons sit on the right side of the device, one shooting you back to the watch face and another helping you cycle through the various on-screen panels, though you rarely need to make use of them. Instead, you can control everything through the screen. And though Omate hasn't revealed any specs for that screen, or indeed the overall size of the watch, it's responsive and doesn't smudge too easily β two things that are paramount when dealing with a device for kids.
All in all, the Omate x Nanoblock isn't providing the slickest or simplest design on the market for kids, but it's one that will certainly draw a lot of attention when compared to its rivals.
Omate x Nanoblock: Safety first
If parents are drawn into the Omate device for its unique design, it's the smarts that will help them stay. And luckily, this watch has plenty.
The most notable of which is the 3G connectivity around the globe, which has been established after partnering with Tata Communications and building in one of the company's SIM cards to the watch. This is used to keep tabs on the wearer's location at all times, triangulating position through GPS, Wi-Fi hotspots and cellular networks. Since this connectivity is always in use, you could even use the companion app to detect the watch's location in other countries.
With regard to the protection of this data, even though the watch's info is being carried through hotspots and cellular connection, Tata Communications tells us that any messaging or video calling is secured by end-to-end encryption through its VPN. And, dealing with a concern we saw in a recent ban on kids' smartwatches in Germany, the Omate x Nanoblock won't allow parents to remotely turn on the microphone on the smartwatch.
So in relation to this issue, it's hard to imagine how Omate could be providing a more secure experience for watch wearers.
However, it's worth pointing out that, as with any device being used outside of the home, you'll need a data plan. The company says that the watch will come with a one-year plan off the bat, though be aware that the SIM card will only handle 100MB of data per month.
If there's one criticism of the Omate experience from our first glance, it's that this isn't really an experience geared towards kids. Features are mainly security based, such as two-way voice chats (which work similarly to sending constant back-and-forth voice messages on WhatsApp) and the dedicated screen for the child to push an SOS alert from the watch.
Sure, there's a selfie camera, and a photo gallery which lets kids view their snaps, but there are no games or any interaction really here for the kids. That is, of course, assuming they don't enjoy feverishly keeping a track of their daily steps, setting alarms or timing things with a stopwatch.
You can pretty much cycle through the entirety of the watch's on-screen efforts in roughly 30 seconds. There's not a lot of depth here, not even within the customisation of the watch face or the menus.
The Omate x Nanoblock, first and foremost, is doing all it can to help ease any safety concerns parents may have about delving into the world of kid tracking. And while the data being carried through a VPN with end-to-end encryption should be enough to alleviate any worries, there's always an element of risk with these devices. Though, as we say, this is perhaps the most secure example of a kids' smartwatch we've seen on paper.
As for the rest of the device, well, it's a basic experience, but there's plenty to like. The design of the strap is unique and colourful, as are the screens on the watch itself. We wish there was more going on here for the actual wearers of the device besides re-arranging the blocks on the strap, though we'll see just how much this lack of interaction puts parents off buying when the Omate x Nanoblock launches later this summer for $179.