Verizon GizmoWatch Disney Edition review | CNN Underscored
(CNN) Earlier this year, my kindergartener wanted to start riding the bus. Wed tried a couple of times in the past, once in pre-K and once at the beginning of this school year. The first time, the bus didnt show up two days in a row, and the second time we tried, it was almost two hours late dropping off my child. I was a nervous wreck, unable to get in touch with anyone at the bus company or the school, and it was one of the most deeply helpless feelings Ive ever had. A bus would make our lives easier, but it hardly seemed worth it.
But she really wanted to try it, and when I had the opportunity to try out a Verizon GizmoWatch Disney Edition, I decided to give it one more shot. The $200 GizmoWatch is a GPS-enabled, cellular smartwatch with a very basic set of communication tools and some nice parental control via the associated GizmoHub app. I was mostly interested in the GPS part, and though the bus was blessedly (mostly) on time this go-around, the watch was crucial on frigid Midwestern days, saving me from standing out in below-zero-wind-chill weather on icy days when the bus is most likely to be late.
But as with a lot of tech these days, especially stuff ironically targeted at concerned parents like me, theres a big privacy cost that many will be unwilling to pay, and the trade-off isnt obvious its not like theres a bullet point on Verizons product page saying, We can see everything you do. Were all used to making similar trade-offs for the convenience offered by the gadgets that enrich our lives, but in the case of the GizmoWatch (and really, just about any other kid-targeted smartwatch). More on that later, though for now, lets talk about what works about Verizons smartwatch for kids.
The Verizon GizmoWatch Disney Edition is a great smartwatch for most kids if you want a highly controllable GPS watch that doesnt try to distract your child while in school. Although a fine choice for younger kids who you may not want to buy a more complicated device for, it does come with an aggressive data collection policy that may have some parents wary.
The GizmoWatch watch face is probably most similar to the Apple Watchs Portraits face, showing the time superimposed over an image, except the picture is of a character from one of Disneys many properties, which does a fun little animation before settling in a static pose. If theres a new message, a little bubble peeks down from the top, encouraging them to swipe down to see what youve sent them. They can also use that gesture to check in with you, which sends their current location, via a GizmoHub notification, to your phone.
Moving through the GizmoWatchs options is easy and intuitive. Swiping left reveals the watchs menu system a few screens with four large, gridded icons each offering basic features like a calculator, messaging, calling (voice and video), a camera, theme selection and a to-do list, and theres even a controller-shaped icon, though I wouldnt call what it presents games. Its really just a grid of character icons that, when you select them, make noises. Elsa makes frosty sounds, Darth Vaders lightsaber fizzles to life and buzzes idly, Grogu makes I dont know, vaguely windy noises? I wont lie to you; its awful and tinny the way all battery-powered childrens toys are, and may inspire you to turn off the sound entirely.
Through the GizmoHub app you can communicate with your kid using video calls, phone calls and text messages. Theres no way to type out responses on the GizmoWatch itself, but your kid can reply to your texts with audio recordings, preset messages and emoji, including, of course, the poop emoji. Mine has sent me so many poops.
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These options were enough to hold my daughters attention for a little while, but none seem designed to draw her attention back to the watch over and over again. And thats a good thing, especially for younger children. Thats not to say they wont find themselves preoccupied with it I definitely pored intensely over a Richard Scarry books chaotic representation of a dog driving a sports car through a busy street scene as a kid but theres nothing to activate the addictive part of our brains that respond to so many mobile games that are essentially just legalized gambling for children.
On the parent side, you get a lot of control over the GizmoWatch with the GizmoHub smartphone app. To me, the most key feature outside of GPS tracking is school mode, which limits your child to checking the time, sending you their location and checking their to-do list. They can still get in touch in an emergency by holding down the flush SOS button for five seconds, though I thought that was a touch unintuitive and requires practicing it with your kid often, especially if theyre very young, to be sure they know how to use it.
When your kid calls or texts you, youll see all of that in the GizmoHub app. I was impressed with video calls, which I expected to be borderline unusable apart from my kids difficulty hearing me on a loud school bus, it was a very functional way to look up her nose when she called me repeatedly as soon as she got on the bus to go to school or come home.
Youre in full control of the contacts on the watch, which is nice you can set up a handful of people that can be called or texted, up to nine additional people besides you though I wish you could designate more than one emergency contact.
Then theres the GPS tracking. Its surprisingly well implemented, letting you check the watchs location throughout the day by tapping the little location pin icon on the main screen, while an icon below that repeatedly pings the watch so you can watch it move in semi-real time. Its only accurate within a block or two most of the time, but thats close enough for blues, and you can set up location-based notifications that notify you when your child enters or leaves a circle you draw on the map in the GizmoHub app.
If you lose the watch, you can ping it like an Apple Watch and itll play whatever the currently selected ringtone is until you find it and press the button on the side. The so-called Find Gizmo button is in a weird spot in the app, which is a shame. You know the watch is going to get lost, and you wont realize it until that desperate five to 10 minutes before its time to leave for school and youre also looking for a missing left shoe or the folder with the field trip permission slip thats due today. Its not the best time to be fiddling with an app, trying to remember where the heck that option is.
Finally, there are nice touches like the ability to remotely turn off the watch, adjust its volume and even set it to auto-answer calls so you can check out whats happening around them if they arent answering.
Sturdy design and decent battery life
Being intended to be worn by a child, the GizmoWatch had better be able to take a beating, and so far, it seems to have held up well against my daughter (though admittedly, shes a gentle soul, whose wrath is reserved primarily for breaking crayons in two). Thats good for me, because the AMOLED display lives beneath a glass screen, which is the most obviously fragile part of the construction the rest of the housing is plastic.
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Unfortunately, or maybe not, the screen scratches incredibly easily, so Verizon may have used a softer glass composition, which should help it hold up to abuse a little better (conventional wisdom says screens that rate higher on the Mohs hardness scale tend to shatter more easily). But glass is still glass, so contingencies like a good screen protector case arent a bad idea. I havent used any, but this one on Amazon seems like a solid bet.
The soft TPU watch band is more than long enough for most kids wrists it even fits my own wrist though it might be a little too long for particularly small ones. Thankfully, its also replaceable and doesnt use a proprietary clasp, so its easy enough to find more appropriate alternatives.
Battery life also impressed me, though your mileage may vary. Frequently checking GPS or using the real-time tracking feature will drain its life quickly, and if your child uses the camera a lot, thatll definitely have an impact. Verizon promises about a day and a half of actual usage and three days of standby time, and Id say thats a little ambitious, but not by a huge amount. We usually ended a day with about 50% of battery left, but sometimes as much as 90% if it stayed in her backpack all day and I only checked the GPS when she was about to leave school.
This is where things arent surprising: The Verizon GizmoWatch Disney Edition is buggy at times. At least once a week, GPS simply wont work and I cant check its location. I also found that location-based notifications are just plain busted. They might work, they might not, but theres no consistency that Ive noticed, so Ive come to view them as a nice little treat from time to time.
The scheduled school mode option can be unreliable too. I suspect the action is initiated by the app, and my daughters school is ancient, with thick, brick walls, so it may just be that it only tries to initiate the change a handful of times before it gives up. I quickly got in the habit of verifying school mode was on after she got to school as a result, and toggling it on if it wasnt.
Like the Apple Watch, the GizmoWatch uses a magnetic charging puck rather than a plug-in connector, but its not wireless, and this introduces some problems. First, the magnet is just weak, and its far too easy to nudge the watch off the puck. Second, it seems to have problems maintaining its connection even without being bumped, so it will periodically issue a chime when it stops charging and another when it begins again, though there are times when it just doesnt begin again, even if its apparently well seated. I like the convenience of just slapping the GizmoWatch on its charger, but if given the choice between its current implementation and a USB-C port, Id definitely take the latter.
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I dont know what the sales numbers of the GizmoWatch are like, but its definitely nowhere near the ubiquity of wearables from the biggest tech companies. That means theres really no third-party market for screen repair, and Verizon itself doesnt offer that service, so if your watch breaks and you didnt buy the unpleasantly steep $14-per-month Verizon Mobile Protect plan (with an additional $29 charge for covered repairs). In other words, if you own the watch for just over a year, youll have paid the entire replacement cost for the watch, so its just a raw deal either way. So, yeah, buy a case for it.
Since the GizmoWatch Disney Edition is a Verizon product, it shouldnt come as a surprise that it only works on the companys own network. Thats a shame if you like it but live in a poorly covered area or you just dont like the companys service, because its legitimately a nice product.
Beyond that, its good to fully understand the data privacy aspect of the GizmoWatch. Admittedly, if youre buying a GPS tracker for your kid, youve already made peace with some amount of privacy sacrifice, but Verizon records details about nearly everything you do with the watch, at least temporarily. I dont just mean the long list of emoji your kid sent you. The company sucks up any info you enter about your childs name, age, photo and even their relationship with you. Text messages, video calls, audio recordings, pictures and any contact information you add all of that is sent to the company, and some unspecified amount of that personal information is shared with its vendors. At the very least, Verizon says it doesnt sell this information to advertisers or otherwise use it for marketing purposes, which is far from a guarantee with this sort of product or service.
Still, thats a lot of data collection, and your consent, which you can revoke by emailing the company, is required to use the GizmoHub app, meaning youll lose most of the benefits the watch otherwise confers if you dont give it. Curious, I contacted Verizon to ask more about why the data is needed, and was told its stored on the companys servers for a limited time for retrieval with the GizmoHub app, which sounds reasonable.
Id be more comfortable if the data was sent directly to, and stored exclusively on, my smartphone, but according to the company, thats not feasible. Verizon says the reason it stores data on its servers is to ensure that all parents and caregivers GizmoHub apps are fully synchronized, and that sending directly to a smartphone would not work if a paired phone isnt near the watch. In a perfect world, the data would bypass servers and send the data directly to a parents paired phone, but it seems the company felt storing the data on its servers was a necessary compromise.
I also asked about how the data is handled in transit according to a Verizon representative, the data is indeed encrypted in the GizmoWatch, at the server and in the app, and the company performs periodic penetration testing to ensure its inaccessible.
Taken on its own, its understandable if youre leery about all of that. However, I should note that Verizon appears to take in only the information you provide, and theres nothing stopping you from ommitting a picture of your kid, their real name or any other identifying information, and you can also disable video calling.
For more info, Verizons Gizmo policy is available on its own, separate from any other privacy statements.
|Dimensions||1.81 x 1.65 x 0.59 inches|
|Battery life||Up to 3 days (standby)
Up to 1.5 days (usage)
|Cellular provider||All major US providers supported|
|Connectivity||LTE, WiFi, Bluetooth|
|Dimensions||– 1.57 x 1.34 x 0.42 inches (40mm watch)
– 1.73 x 1.50 x 0.42 inches (44mm watch)
|Battery life||Up to 18 hours, 245mAh battery|
|Cellular provider||Gabb Wireless|
|Battery life||Not given, 500mAh battery|
|Dimensions||1.81 x 1.65 x .58 inches|
|Battery life||Up to 3.6 days, 510mAh battery|
The Verizon GizmoWatch Disney Edition is, despite its most obvious flaws, a great smartwatch for most kids if you want a highly controllable GPS watch that doesnt try to distract your child while in school. Its an aging watch at this point, with Verizon having recently released the $50 cheaper GizmoWatch 3, but with all its fun Disney themes and simplistic approach, its still a fine choice for younger kids who you may not want to buy a more complicated device for.
That said, it comes with an aggressive data collection policy that could give even the most modestly privacy-conscious parents pause, especially where small children are concerned (its policy states collection includes data for kids under 13). While there are easy ways to control how much crucial identifiable information you give up about your child, it demands a certain level of awareness to take those steps. I dont consider that a deal breaker so much as something to be conscious of. At the very least, Verizon seems to have taken care to give parents those options, and says it doesnt sell the info to third parties and those are commendable things! I just wish it were more upfront about it.