How to Choose the Best GPS Tracker for Your Special Needs Child
If you have a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), you already know there is a high risk that he/she might try to elope, or wander off without permission. For such parents, a GPS tracker is not a luxury—it’s a necessity. There are a large number of products on the market to help protect children who tend to wander. Since every product is a little different, we have reviewed three of the more popular ones currently on the market to help families find a good match.
The box comes with a tracker, a pouch, some magnetic snaps, a tool to detach the snaps, and a charger. The setup instructions are pretty easy to follow. They also have excellent customer service, with live chat from 8-5ET.
Price: The tracker costs $150, and the monthly service plan is $45, which is definitely steep. They offer sales on their website, so if you are planning to get this one, be sure to look for savings.
Device: The device is approximately 3” in length and can easily fit in your child’s pocket. The tracker sits inside a pouch that can be fastened with the snaps onto your child’s clothing. Alternatively, you can buy a belt accessory if having it on the clothing is uncomfortable.
The SOS and call button provide two-way communication—a great feature to have. However, the fabric pouch makes these buttons literally inaccessible, especially for an autistic child who is in a state of panic. I would highly recommend having some kind of a transparent silicone window in the pouch for better visibility of the device. It’s also difficult to see the charging LED through the black pouch.
The battery life is short; however, the AngelSense app sends you a reminder to charge the device, which is certainly helpful.
App: The app has a very helpful guided tour. There are several features you can control through this app, like adding a guardian and first responders. I like the fact that multiple people can have full access to the app, which is important when you want your spouse and maybe an elder sibling to be on top of it as well. The app also shows the status of the device—its battery power, its GPS signal strength, and the mobile carrier signal. The app sends notifications via email or text (SMS). I would have loved to see an in-app notification as well. A text notification might get costly over time for someone with a limited text plan with his/her cell phone carrier. There are several other options under the menu, and in my opinion, it could have been optimized better to look a little less overwhelming.
The most important part of the app is tracking, and that works very well. You get a pretty accurate location of your child all the time. It has both the map and satellite view. The app also provides you with the entire history of your child’s whereabouts, which is helpful. The tracking screen gets a big thumbs-up from me.
The listen-in feature is an added bonus if you want to hear what’s going on where your child is. However, I would be very careful about using this feature in school for privacy reasons. AngelSense does have a school dashboard that needs to be requested separately at no charge. This gives teachers the ability to disable listen-in during school hours.
The app also has a boundary feature. However, the boundary can only be drawn as a circle, which restricts the flexibility of how we want to define our boundary. Regardless, it’s a nice to have this feature.
The app is rich in features, but it still needs some improvement. It froze on me several times, and I had to restart to make it work.
Verdict: Overall, a pretty good tracker. The app needs some improvement and the battery should be made to last longer. It’s definitely expensive, with a $45 monthly plan.
The box comes with a GPS device, a charging cable, and two silicone cases, one with a clip on it. The User Information booklet contained care and maintenance information, but no instructions. The customer support is based out of Sweden, so there is at least a 12-hour turnaround time if assistance is needed. And there wasn’t the live chat feature that you would want with a life-saving device like this.
Price: The device costs $99. You can choose from three different prepaid plans for 6, 12, or 24 months, with your monthly cost falling somewhere between $4-$9 depending upon which plan you choose.
Device: Trax Play looks like a no fuss device, and that’s what I like about it. It is very handy at 2” X 1”. I am a little worried, however, about how securely the silicone clip will keep the device in place, though. There are no buttons on the device itself, so clearly two-way communication is not possible. This is a major letdown. However, for little kids and nonverbal children, this might not be a show-stopper. Unfortunately, the device has a short battery life. Since the silicone case does not have an opening for the charging port, you need to take the device out every time you charge it, and this is definitely inconvenient.
App: Again, the Trax app impresses with its simple design. You can track multiple trackers from a single app, add additional phones that can track the device, change the updates frequency, add alerts for different speeds that the device might be travelling in, and get alerts for different battery levels. There are two ways to ensure that your child does not wander far away from you—the geofence and the proximity fence. I really liked both of those features. Since the geofence can be drawn using a rectangle, a polygon, or a freehand tool, it gives you a lot of flexibility with defining an electronic boundary. The proximity fence is another very useful feature. With the click of a button, it allows you to define a boundary around you as you move. It’s like that invisible leash that always ensures that your child is not far away from where you are. I am in love with this feature. Another plus: all the notifications from Trax are in-app, so it doesn’t hog your text limit.
The GPS tracking works well, so no complaints there. You can view the map in three modes—map, satellite, and hybrid—which is pretty helpful in locating your child. The tracking history screen does not impress much and has very little information. However, the augmented reality mode to locate the tracker is a welcome feature. It makes it easier to locate your child in a crowd when you can actually see the real images of the world around you.
Verdict: If you don’t need to listen to your child and tracking is all that you require, this seems like a good and cheap option. The app is well-designed and the device is very portable.
Weenect is a French company that recently launched its kid’s GPS tracker in the US. The box comes with a GPS device, a carrying pouch, and a charging cable. The carrying pouch is waterproof and impact proof, and it can be either hooked onto the child or attached through the belt.
Customer service does have a live chat option; however, the representatives are from sales and not technical support. Emails generally have a 12-hour turnaround time.
Price: The tracker is reasonably priced at around $100, but if you catch a promotion, you can get it for around $70. They have monthly plans ranging from approximately $4 to $7. Since the prices on their website are in Euros, the actual price in USD will depend upon the conversion rate of that day.
Device: The tracker is pretty handy at approximately 2” and weighs 2oz. There are four LED signals on the right side of the device that indicate different information: power, notifications, GPS, and GPRS (2G coverage). It can take a while to understand what these mean, but you don’t really have to watch them that often unless something is not working. There is a power port on the left, and there are three buttons. These buttons can be configured through the app to send different notifications when pressed. The top button serves the dual purpose of a power button and a notification button. These buttons are a pretty smart idea, since they provide a quick way to send a notification when in an emergency, even for a nonverbal child. There is also a big red SOS button right at the center of the device for two-way communication. However, there is a monthly time limit on the length of calls—typically just 10 minutes/month. The battery life of the tracker is really good. For me, it lasted well over four days before I had to charge it.
App: Weenect provides both an app (Android and iOS) and a regular website to track the device. The website provides the same capabilities as the app does. The app is simple to use and very intuitive. I like the fact that when you click on the device’s location on the map, you get an option to route you to its current location using the phone’s navigation app. This integration with the phone’s navigation is a very convenient feature, and I wonder why other tracking companies did not think of this.
The app holds only 24 hours’ worth of history, which might not be enough for many parents. Besides, using the history tool is not very convenient. You do have a geofence feature, but it is not very flexible. You can assign an electronic fence as a circle, and the radius can only be changed in increments of 50m.
The notifications feature gives you the flexibility of choosing email, in-app, or SMS modes, and you can choose to have none or multiple options for each kind of notification. There is an augmented reality mode that helps you find the tracker using your phone’s camera. I like the fact that in this mode, besides showing me the camera view, the app also tells me how far in meters the tracker is from where I am. Apart from these features, there is not much to the app, but honestly, I don’t feel the need for crowding it with superfluous features. I find the simplicity of the app appealing.
Verdict: Weenect seems like a pretty good tracker to me. The two basic needs from a tracker—location tracking and two-way communication—are satisfied by this device. The pricing is also very reasonable.
There was no one device I can claim to be a clear winner for me. Here is a quick overview of the pros and cons of the three trackers reviewed.
While Weenect had almost all of the features you would look for in a tracker, AngelSense was designed with special needs in mind and meets the important safety requirements. I totally love the proximity feature of Trax Play, but I believe Trax has a little catching up to do in terms of its missing SOS feature.
Do keep in mind that the GPS signal can get lost, be flaky, or be really weak sometimes, and this is a problem that almost all of the trackers are going to face. In the two trackers (Trax and Weenect) that did have augmented reality, it wasn’t always very accurate in pointing in the right direction.
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Which device will work for you will depend a lot upon what your requirements are and what your child is like. Even if you have a tracker on your child, your eyes and ears are going to be the best tracker of all, so do remember to keep those on high alert even when you think your child is covered.
Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this post are unbiased and my own. I’ve not been paid by any company to promote their product.
Tulika Prasad and her husband are parents to a seven-year-old named Vedant who was diagnosed with autism when he was three years old. An absolute delight and an exhausting bundle of joy is how they like to describe their son, who teaches them new lessons every step of the way on their long journey into the puzzle that is autism. In this post, Tulika talks about her experiments with finding happiness in a home living under the shadow of autism.
This article was featured in Issue 63 – Keeping Our Kids Safe