Xplora 3S impressions: A kids smartwatch for calls and location tracking

The Xplora 3S smartwatch keeps you connected to your kids and alerts of trouble

The kids smartwatch scene has taken off in the last few years with a host of companies clamoring to get in on the action. Some of these smartwatches are designed to entertain, while some are billed as a way to stay in touch and track your children. The Xplora 3S falls into the second camp. Xplora is suggesting the 3S might serve as your child’s first smartphone, because it can accommodate a SIM card to make and take calls. It’s also waterproof, tracks steps, has a camera, and supports location tracking with a geo-fence feature.

At 100 British Pounds (around $125), the Xplora 3S is quite expensive and you have to pay for cell service on top of that. On the other hand, it’s significantly cheaper than all of our suggested phones for kids and it’s harder to lose, since it’s strapped to your little angel’s wrist. I tried out the Xplora 3S with my seven year-old daughter Amy to see how well it works.

Durable design

It’s no Apple Watch, but the Xplora 3S is a well-built smartwatch that feels durable. Like a lot of kid’s tech, it comes in an unimaginative choice of blue or pink. It’s fairly light at 50 grams, and it’s comfortable to wear, according to Amy, though it inevitably looks big on a child’s wrist. Xplora suggests the 3S can be used by kids from age 3 to 12 years.

The Xplora 3S comes unlocked and so you can insert any nano SIM card to get started.

The whole wearable is finished in a soft touch plastic, and there are flaps on the back that open to reveal a Micro USB port for charging and a SIM card slot. With the flaps properly closed, the Xplora 3S has an IP67 rating, which means it can be submerged in water up to 1.5 meters deep for up to half an hour without sustaining any damage. That means your kids can wear it in the bath or shower and don’t have to worry about rain or spills. Amy was really excited to test this out and the Xplora 3S has successfully survived several baths.

The Xplora 3S sports a 1.33-inch IPS LCD screen that has an adequate 240 x 240-pixel resolution. It’s not the brightest, so it can be difficult to read outdoors and totally indecipherable in direct sunlight. There’s also a VGA camera above the screen.

The app and calls

The Xplora 3S comes unlocked and so you can insert any nano SIM card to get started. You also have the option to buy it with 12 months of cell service for 180 British pounds (around $225). It connects to the 2G network and works with most major carriers across Europe. Xplora is a Norwegian company and while previous releases have been available in the U.S., the Xplora 3S is only sold in Europe at the moment.

To set it up you’ll need to download the iOS or Android app. I tested it with the Android app on a Pixel 3. It was quick to get up and running, but the app is not very well designed. The disclaimer screen creates a messy first impression and the way you add your phone number is less than intuitive — you have to tap a blank box at the top to select the right country code before you put the rest of your number in or it won’t work.

Your child can only call or message contacts that you add through the app. They can also only receive calls from approved contacts, which is important. If an unapproved number calls then they’re put straight through to voicemail and messages are blocked. You should also get an update through the app telling you a number attempted to call and was blocked.

While it’s nice to be able to call or message your child and check in, you may tire of random calls. Amy called me roughly six hundred times in the first day, and I have received countless strings of emojis — the novelty soon wore off. The signal and audio quality seems reasonable. I live in an area with patchy service, but calls to and from the Xplora 3S have worked well so far. The watch does also support voice and picture messages.

The Xplora app is simple. You can check the location on a map and you can call or message the smartwatch. If you dip into the settings, you can check on step counter progress, which has a daily goal of 10,000 steps, you can add contacts as well as set alarms. There’s also a remote shutdown option and a school mode that enables you to turn off most of the Xplora 3S’s functionality during school hours or on another schedule that you choose. You can add a Wi-Fi connection through the app, too.

Tracking your child

Xplora said the 3S uses a blend of GPS, GSM, and Wi-Fi to provide accurate location tracking. I found accuracy varied a fair bit. When Amy is at home, the Xplora 3S suggests she is in one of our neighbor’s houses. Out and about, it seems to vary by up to a few hundred meters, so it would serve fine for getting you in the right ballpark, but if your child is in a busy area or a shopping mall, it can take a while to track them down.

I found the Xplora 3S goes two days between charges.

Something that does work well is the geo-fencing feature, which allows you to set a safe radius around your home, school, or any other location you choose. It goes from 300 meters up to 1,000 meters, and will alert you on your phone whenever your child passes in or out of the zone you’ve set. It’s potentially quite handy, though the fact it’s a simple circular radius around a central point means it’s not versatile — it would be nice if you could draw your own borders.

One final feature worth mentioning before we move on is the SOS alert: If your child holds down the power button for five seconds, then you get a loud alarm on your phone alongside a location update and the Xplora 3S automatically captures and sends a photo. This is supposed to be a safety feature and it could prove useful in an emergency, but you can expect some accidental false alarms, and possibly some deliberate ones if your child is feeling mischievous.

Battery life, camera, and storage

There’s a 520mAh battery in the Xplora 3S and the company claims 5 days of stand-by or 7 to 8 hours of continuous calls. Realistically, you won’t get anything like that. On average, I found the Xplora 3S goes two days between charges, but you’ll want to charge daily to avoid any worries. You do get an alert through the app when the battery is running low. Unfortunately, the fact that you have to open the flap on the back and insert a Micro USB cable means that the Xplora 3S is not very kiddie-friendly for recharging, so you’ll want to get into the habit of doing it yourself.

The camera on the Xplora 3S gives it a spy gadget feel that kids will love. Just get ready for a lot of unflattering and unexpected photos looking up your nose, pictures of toys, and random shots of things that often prove impossible to identify. It’s a VGA camera, so the quality is only really good enough to view on the tiny smartwatch screen.

The Xplora 3S has 160MB of storage which is enough for around 1,000 photos. You can plug it into a PC if you ever want to review them or back them up, but the quality is truly terrible.

Amy’s verdict

“It’s epic, I love it.”

The camera, the step counter, and the waterproofing were all big hits, and she loved being able to call me and her mother whenever the notion took her. The only other functionality the Xplora 3S offers that we haven’t mentioned so far is a simple stopwatch. Having previously tried the Kurio Watch, Amy was definitely disappointed by the lack of games with the Xplora 3S, but I can understand why the makers avoided those kinds of extras and their potential drain on battery life.

Is it worth buying?

If you want to be able to track your child and check in with them easily, but you’re not sure they’re ready for a phone yet, then the Xplora 3S could be ideal. It’s a reasonably cheap alternative to a budget phone. However, the location tracking isn’t pinpoint accurate and a phone is a much more versatile device. Even a similarly-priced phone will have a better camera and access to apps and games. While the Xplora 3S largely achieves what it sets out to do, there’s room for improvement.

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