“Kids Safe” Smartphones have now been popping up more and more. As I mentioned previously, I’ve been down this road a couple of times with various companies that never panned out and ended up out of business. I keep saying they were just ahead of their time.
We have finally entered the time where these devices are exactly what parents need now. I have already compared all 4 of the major players in the space in my breakdown of Gabb vs Troomi vs Pinwheel vs Bark post. So this post is just going to focus on the Bark Phone specifically.
Let’s start with the basics. The Bark Phone has 3 subscription tiers. The first level is the $49/month plan. This includes unlimited talk and text but no data. If you sign up for this plan, you would only be able to use internet enabled apps on a wifi network. The next, and likely most popular, level is $59/month and includes unlimited Talk and Text and 4 GB/month of data. Finally, the 3rd tier includes the same unlimited talk and text but increases the data plan to 8 GB/month.
The phone comes with a protective case, but since the device is a standard Samsung A13, you could purchase your own cases from Amazon that are a little more personalized. Speaking of the hardware, one thing that sets the Bark Phone apart from the other devices in this space is that the hardware is included in your subscription. You do not have to purchase the phone and then sign up for the subscription, so the initial out of pocket cost will be much less for the Bark Phone.
The downside to this is that you don’t own the hardware, so if you cancel the subscription, you do have to send the phone back. Also, if you damage the phone you will have to pay for repairs or a replacement (unless you have had the subscription for more than 2.5 years).
The other huge plus to the subscription is that it includes a premium family Bark subscription. This means that if you have older kids with a regular phone, or if your children have tablets or other devices that can be used with Bark, you can install Bark and use it on all of those devices as well. Since the Bark subscription itself is almost $100 a year, that will save you some money there.
The biggest benefit to the Bark Phone is the fact that you can make it either as locked down or as open as you want it to be. While other devices limit you to specific apps, the Bark Phone allows you to open up the entire Google Play Store to the phone. You can always remove the store at any point, but you can also leave it open and available, with approval to install apps still turned on, so they can’t install an app or even remove an app without your approval.
You can also disable the web browser, so they are unable to browse the internet. However, if you do allow it the searches will be monitored from Bark, and you’ll get alerted if they are searching for anything that is concerning. You can also enforce safe search on the browser, so search results will be a bit more filtered, and you can turn off or on any of the filtering categories so they can have a safer browsing experience.
The Bark Phone can also have contact approval enabled or disabled. With it turned on, if someone tries to text the phone that is not already on the approved list, the Bark Phone will get a notification that someone is trying to contact them, and will ask if they would like to send the number to the parent for approval. If the parent approves the contact, they will now be able to message or call the person. They will not get the original text message, so that will have to be re-sent.
Speaking of text messages, one of the big benefits to the Bark Phone is the fact that text messages cannot be deleted. So, if you are alerted through the Bark admin app that there is a concerning conversation, you can sit down with your child and go through the messages to get context from the phone and from your child.
In case of the other way around (if the phone tries to text or call someone not on the approved list), the same thing will happen. The Bark Phone will let them know the contact is not approved yet and will prompt them to request the approval. Once approved, they can text or call with the contact.
A few of the other benefits are that you can disable the settings. With this disabled, your child cannot add additional accounts, change the time on the device, and so many more things they could do to try and circumvent any parental controls. You can also pause the device at any time, so if your child needs to do their homework, or you want them to come eat dinner with the family, or even if they get grounded, you can just pause the device and all the other apps will be disabled except for the phone app so they can still make emergency calls. The phone also gives you the ability to remotely set an alarm on the phone, which I LOVE.
The last thing I want to talk about is the different “modes” that you can customize on the device. You can change what is available and what is locked during these modes. So you can allow some educational apps during the “school” time while everything but a music app is blocked during the “bedtime”. The last mode is “free time” which you can have things a little more open, but you can pick the timeframes these modes are in affect. If there is a timeframe that doesn’t have a set mode, it will go to what is available by default. You can override the schedule at any time by switching the mode on the fly.
There are a few things that could be considered downsides, depending on what your needs are. The first one is that if your child already has a Google account that is supervised by Google Family Link, you are unable to add that account to this phone. If your child has a Chromebook, tablet, or other device, you want to keep their account managed by Google Family Link, so you would have to create a different Google account to use with this phone.
Another problem is technically also a benefit, depending on your family. The problem is that the entire Google Play Store is available. You would need to do your own research if your child is requesting a specific app to install. With the other devices, they have done the legwork for you and have vetted the apps they allow to make sure they would be considered safe for your kids. If there are workarounds through the app, they let you know what those are. With the Bark Phone, you do not have this option, so you have to figure out what your child is able to do within the app in order to decide if you want to allow it.
The admin app is a little bit clunky to use. It has this great interface that helps you get to the settings you want, but it’s hard to get back to that screen once you tap into it. Finding the rest of the settings can be difficult as well, since it might be hard to understand which “mode” you are adjusting at any given time. Basically, the user interface could use a bit more work.
Finally, the last “con” is that you are unable to see the entirety of the conversation remotely. You can only see the snippet of the conversation that was flagged for concerning content within Bark. You can always grab the phone and see the rest of the conversation though, as mentioned above.
The Bark Phone is a really great option for parents, especially if your child is ready to dip their toes into social media, since the other kids safe phone options do not give you that ability. However, even if they aren’t ready for social media, you could still get this device and make it as locked down as you want. Get your Bark Phone by clicking here.