The Neo smartwatch for kids packs as much magic into a small space as Mary Poppins’ carpet bag. Sure, it’s bulky compared with Fitbit and Garmin’s offerings, but it can’t be compared directly, because it does so much more than count steps, squeezing a 5MP camera and built-in Vodafone Smart SIM card into the attractive case, as well as a stonking colour screen.
While parents will appreciate the ability to keep in touch with their kids using calls and chat, children will love interacting with characters from Disney, Pixar, Star Wars and Marvel. There’s something for everyone, but The Child from The Mandalorian is particularly captivating and cute.
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What did our Mini Reviewer think? Read on to find out…
Vodafone Neo Smart Kids Watch review: Design
This watch has a bit of a design pedigree. Its case was designed by Vodafone in collaboration with a renowned design studio, while Disney influenced the user interface, which may explain why the watch is intuitive and a lot of fun to use. Within a minute of giving the device to our mini tester, (age 3) she was able to use the camera (badly) and find everything she wanted.
Of course, one of the big focuses of the design is the interactive Disney characters, which look incredibly crisp and clear on the big bright, colour screen. The animation is brilliant, with the characters’ expressions and movements matching those you see in films. But, a good picture (and a tonne of features) does come at a cost, because the watch face is 1.5cm in height, which means it sticks out a lot. This makes the watch a bit too cumbersome and heavy for our mini tester, but then it is intended for older children. The Neo wouldn’t look out of place on an adult’s wrist either.
While the watch’s size may be a positive or negative depending on the wearer, the build quality is excellent and it feels like a luxurious bit of kit. The Neo comes with two rubber straps to swap in and out, but the fastening makes it quite hard to take the watch on and off. Once again, while this may be annoying for some, it might be a handy feature if you have a child prone to escaping from, or losing gadgets.
Overall, for all its advantages and flaws, this watch has something that no other kids’ tracker or smartwatch has: the wow factor. It really is eye-catching, new and exciting. The grownups tested the Neo for T3 were as excited and curious about it as our mini reviewer.
Vodafone Neo Smart Kids Watch review: Display
The Neo’s crisp and bright screen is one of the standout features of this smartwatch. The round screen is capable of showing the details on characters’ clothing, as well as a whole host of facial expressions and movements.
The watch is 4.5cm wide, and the screen just under 4cm. That’s great for reading texts and using the little buttons, but it is big on little wrists, and even on a suave supermodel like David Gandy, who is advertising the kids’ smartwatch it looks chunky! This could be problematic if your child is quite small, but although this watch has no official age guide, the device is geared towards older kids and teenagers.
Vodafone Neo Smart Kids Watch review: Functions
This watch packs a serious punch when it comes to features and can’t be compared to many other children’s’ trackers. It’s more like an Apple Watch for kids.
Starting with the Disney features, children can personalise the Neo’s face with a Disney sidekick of their choice, with new characters to be added over time to the current selection of Minnie Mouse, Else, Buzz Lightyear, Darth Vader, the Armoured Avenger and the Child. The characters spring to life at a tap of the screen and by choosing the game mode, you can access sound effects light a lightsaber noises, by mimicking a character’s actions. What’s so impressive about the characters is that they look like they belong in films, rather than resembling drawings. Even the way they are meant to move has been faithfully recreated.
One rare feature among kids’ fitness trackers and smartwatches is the Neo’s connectivity. Because it contains a SIM card, parents can stay in touch with their kids with calls, chat and fun emoji. It’s easy to add up to nine contacts using mum or dad’s phone, meaning kids can’t just call anyone or browse random stuff on the web, which might otherwise be a worry. It’s even possible to make a call to a chosen contact simply by holding down the blue button, which could prove really effective in the event of an emergency, and when we tried this feature it worked really well. The only drawback is that connectivity comes at a price: a subscription fee that starts at £7/month, which adds considerably to the cost of the gadget, but might give peace of mind if you have a child asserting their independence.
Interestingly, the watch doesn’t allow parents to track the wearer’s every move. In fact, the map in the Vodafone Smart App will only show the location of the watch at a specific point in time, and parents can request a location update rather than continuously snooping.
Like every other kids’ fitness tracker, the Neo counts steps and offers a one-hour activity goal for each day. However, it doesn’t track sleep like the Fitbit Ace 2, for example. The smartwatch does make up for it with tonnes of other features, including a 5MP camera, which is really easy to use. Kids can make photos and follow their adventures in the app, or simply look at them on a screen. Sure, they’re tiny and not the best quality, but they are a lot of fun.
Parents can create events and set reminders in a calendar, while kids can check the weather and even crack out a calculator, which would be handy at school. Reassuringly for parents, all the fun features can be turned off by selecting Quiet Mode remotely.
While the number of Neo’s tricks might sound overwhelming or difficult to navigate, the user experience lets little users juggle functions easily. As you might expect from Disney, it all just feels like good fun.
Vodafone Neo Smart Kids Watch review: Battery Life
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a phone that has a dazzling colour screen and allows calls, the battery life of the Neo isn’t as good as some other watches or fitness trackers. Vodafone says the watch can be on stand-by for 48 hours. Our mini tester was pretty hands on – particularly cycling through the different characters - which meant the battery ran down faster and we found the battery lasted for one day with pretty heavy use.
If charging is a bugbear, the battery in Garmin’s vivofit jr. 3 tracker is said to last for around one year, while Fitbit’s Ace 2 only needs charging every five days due to its greyscale screen. That said, Neo users would probably get used to charging their device every evening without a problem.
Vodafone Neo Smart Kids Watch review: Verdict
For Disney connoisseurs and Star Wars fans who love the Child, a must-have this watch is. The functions packed into this watch are not only fun, but impressive. The Neo manages to do just about everything you could want from a smartwatch, while putting Disney characters and safety features at its core.
However, the smartwatch is considerably more expensive than its less feature-packed rivals, costing £99 upfront and requiring a subscription of £7+ every month. The Neo may also lose some of its magic for those that like their gadgets slim and sleek, as well as efficient when it comes to battery life, but children are almost guaranteed to be wowed by the incredible clarity of the screen and fun features such as the animated characters.
It’s rare that a device comes along that’s so captivating for children and adults, but the Neo manages it. Disney fans will be wishing upon a star that they can get their hands on this watch.
The Neo Smart Kids Watch is now available at Vodafone, priced at £99 and a £7+ subscription.