Around the holiday season late last year, I decided to give my primary school-going daughter a Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 since her previous kiddy smartwatch was going to be obsolete with the turning off of 3G services in Singapore.
Now, I could have got another MyFirst smartwatch for her, since it catered to kids with limited features and easy parental controls.
However, I changed my mind when I found that I could get a pretty decent deal for a 40mm Samsung Galaxy Watch with LTE built in.
I could possibly make it work as a kid’s smartwatch, I thought. Plus, it would be a reward and an acknowledgement of her growth and promotion to upper primary.
Okay, the second part of that is true – she loved the watch but it was hard work to make the Galaxy Watch 6 into a kid-friendly and most importantly, parent-friendly gadget.
To be sure, the Samsung watch isn’t sold as a kids’ watch in the way I wanted it – that is, a communications device that is easy to carry around and doesn’t come with a distracting big screen.
I still got it to work eventually but not before scratching my head several times along the way. Here’s what you should know if you’re using the Galaxy Watch 6 as a kids’ watch to keep in touch on the go.
1. You need a Google account for a child
As you’d expect of an Android device, you need a new Google account and an Android phone to get started. After all, you don’t want to sync your e-mails and chats on your child’s watch.
The trouble is setting up a child’s Google account on a phone. To do so, you need the phone to not have any other account. In other words, if you’re thinking of adding a child’s Google account on your existing phone, you can’t, unless you remove your own, which could mean resetting everything.
Of course, you can set up an adult’s account but then you can’t control what apps are installed on the watch or have easy parental oversight over this account.
In the end, I used a spare phone – a cheap, temporary Motorola phone I had bought in Japan after I had damaged my old phone – to create my daughter’s account. I set my own Google account to be the supervising, parent account.
2. Sync’ing the phone and watch
You’d think that all I need is to sync the phone and watch now, right? Well, unfortunately you need a SIM card in the phone even if you are connected on Wi-Fi, especially if you want to use a service like WhatsApp.
Initially, I only had a Circles.Life eSIM for the watch so I happily added that to the watch and it went online. It could make calls and send SMSes independently of the phone, which I had inserted a spare StarHub SIM card into as a temporary measure.
Gosh, already so much trouble and why should I be paying for two phone lines here just for one watch? So, I did some research and realised that the Samsung Watch 6 supports what’s called “number share” with some telecom operators in Singapore.
This means the watch shares a number with the main line on a phone for a small additional monthly fee (about S$8 a month for StarHub). The benefit of this was that I got one number for both devices and WhatsApp should work fine here.
Setting this up wasn’t hard. The problem was that somehow WhatsApp (or number share) caused the watch to be so sluggish as to be almost unusable. The touch interface was off.
3. You need the phone to be online for SMSes
So, I thought, why not just use SMS. You know, oldie but goodie and I didn’t have to worry about data usage. The problem, which took me days to resolve, was that SMS on the watch wouldn’t work unless the phone was online, because of some sync’ing issue with your telco.
This meant the phone not only needed to remain charged but also be online. When it went to sleep, the watch couldn’t send or receive SMSes, which was a deal breaker. The reason why it had worked previously for me was because the watch had a different number from the phone.
So, back I went to reset the watch and reinstall WhatsApp, which fortunately didn’t need the phone to be online to work on the watch.
Finally, yesterday, I believed I had resolved the issue and made the Galaxy Watch 6 work independently, yet still under parental control.
The most important job it had to do was keep me in touch with my daughter, for example, if she was late to return from after-school activities or when she was at the playground.
If I wanted, I could turn on the “find my device” feature from Samsung to see where the watch was. I no longer needed this since I believed my daughter could easily just call me if she needed any help.
So, to recap, if you want to get the Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 to work as a kids’ watch, remember the following:
- You should set up a child’s account on Google and have the phone that syncs with thew watch supervised remotely with Google’s Family Link app. Unfortunately, for a child account to run on an Android phone, you need to remove existing accounts or use a reset phone.
- Try to use the same phone number for simplicity if you prefer WhatsApp to SMS. Subscribe to number-share plans that let you tap on the data and call minutes of the phone line so you don’t worry about overshooting the SMS quota each month. Many virtual operators like Circles.Life don’t support this add-on option but Singtel, StarHub and M1 do.
- Make sure you supervise usage and apps installed. By giving your child access to a smartwatch instead of the phone, you also limit the type of apps that can be installed. After all, the whole point of all this trouble is to parent effectively. That is, give a child some of the access he or she desires and still be able to manage their digital interactions.
- And don’t forget the strap that comes with the watch may be a bit too long or large for your child. A Samsung shop I visited recommended a fabric band that can be tightened well even for smaller wrists and it worked for me.
Yes, that’s a lot of work, but then as a parent, you tend to go the distance for your kid anyway.
Why not just buy an Apple Watch SE for kids? That may seem a better solution out of the box but it forces you to get into the limited, closed Apple system, which is a big negative for me.
Plus, you’ll need an iPhone. No, thanks! The Samsung watch can sync with most modern Android phones and be linked to a Google family account that works in other devices in future as well.