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I have a 5-year-old son who loves to play games on his Amazon Fire tablet. If left to his own devices, he would play from the moment he wakes up until the moment he goes to sleep. The problem is that his favorite game has little educational value, and well, his mom and I just love expanding his horizons and doing other things with him. This is where good parental control settings come in handy.
The Circle Home Plus (2nd generation) parental controls help you limit how long your child spends in front of a screen and make sure they aren't visiting sites they shouldn't be. I liked that it worked exactly as advertised and had an array of extra features, including a device locator. Read on to learn more about my experiences with this impressive tool.
The Circle Home Plus comes with an ethernet cable for connecting directly to your router, a power cord for plugging into your wall outlet or USB port, and the device itself, which is a compact white cube approximately three inches to a side.
The base unit costs $129.99 and is bundled with a one-year subscription to the Circle app. And for $299.99, you get a lifetime subscription. Currently, the monthly subscription rate after the first year is $9.99 to use the premium features.
With premium, you can set internet time limits, pause specific users or the entire internet in your home, set off times, set bedtimes, offer extra time as a reward, and use location tracking.
The Circle Home Plus allows you to control the internet usage of any smart TV, gaming console, tablet, computer, or phone on your Wi-Fi network. Additionally, you can control any iOS or Android device with the Circle app installed if it is paired with your Circle app — a process that the app clearly explains.
To set up the Circle Home Plus you must first install the app on your device. The app then gives you step-by-step instructions on how to install the physical unit. At this point, you can start creating profiles for your family members and setting the filter levels (Kid, Teen, Adult, or None), time limits, and more.
You may also want to install the app on any device you want to be able to monitor outside of your home, such as your youngster's smartphone.
Overall, the setup process took about 45 minutes. A big chunk of that was trying to figure out which device listed on the Wi-Fi network corresponded with the real-life device I wanted to control. Fortunately, since I first installed the Home Plus, Circle has updated the app to make it easier to identify devices. So, this shouldn't be an issue for you.
What makes it stand out
The Circle team has seemingly thought of everything. I've used a variety of parental controls — typically ones that come with wireless routers — and none of them have been as feature-packed and worked as well as the Circle Home Plus. Additionally, when you use the parental controls built into a router, you can't track your child's internet usage away from home.
When you install the Circle app on your kid's devices, you can manage their screen time and locate where their phone or tablet is. I tried both of these features out and found they worked as advertised. The location tracker comes in handy if your child goes missing or if they simply leave their phone somewhere. It has about the same level of precision you'd expect from GPS. In other words, you'll be able to tell which house the device is in, but you won't be able to tell which room.
There are a few sites that I am okay with my 5-year-old visiting as much as he wants. These include ABCMouse and Adventure Academy. Both have demonstrated that they help him learn. Fortunately, you can set whatever sites you want to "unmanaged." This means that they don't count toward my son's time limit for the day, and he can spend as much time as he wants on them. He usually turns to ABCMouse when his Roblox time runs out.
When your child uses up their internet time for the day, you have the option of rewarding them with more. I found this worked great for motivating my son to clean his room or to complete other chores around the house. He enjoyed his little chore "missions" that we sent him on.
My 16-year-old likes to be connected online 24/7. This is a problem when his phone is going off and interrupting his precious sleep. To combat this, we set bedtime limits that turn off his internet access from midnight to 8 in the morning. Now, he can sleep knowing that even if he were awake, he couldn't check his Snapchat.
Kids aren't the only ones who can benefit from limited screen time. If you find yourself mindlessly scrolling on your phone or just want to be more productive, you can use the Circle Home Plus to limit the time you spend on your devices and to block specific sites that tend to be time-drains for you. Facebook is now off-limits on my phone, which allows me to be more present around friends and family.
Cons to consider
Right now, the Circle app is only available on iOS and Android devices. So while we can monitor my son's Amazon Fire tablet and Acer Chromebook in the house via our Wi-Fi network, we're unable to download the app onto his devices and can't track his screen time away from home. Fortunately, he rarely uses these devices outside of our house, and when he does, he doesn't have internet access.
It can also be a bit cumbersome if you share a device with your child. My wife and I like to use our son's Chromebook to stream video on our projector. This causes a little bit of a hassle since the Chromebook's internet is disabled once his screen time runs out. To fix this, I add "reward" time, but it does delay and sometimes disrupt our viewing.
The bottom line
If you find you're losing your family to screens all too often, the Circle Home Plus is an effective tool for bringing them back to reality. I find the time limits are a reasonable way to get our 5-year-old to be more conscientious of how much time he spends online and of what he's doing. When his time runs out, he comes to me for entertainment, and we have some good father-son time.
I recommend buying the Home Plus with a one-year subscription before committing to the lifetime subscription so you can see if it's effective in your home and ensure that you'll use it. With its time limits, age-appropriate filters, location service, and an array of other premium features, I think it will facilitate a positive transformation in how your family interacts with the internet.
Pros: Let's you filter age-appropriate content, view usage history, set usage time limits, restrict when the internet can be used, pause the internet, custom filters, locate mobile devices, reward kids with extra time
Cons: App is only available on iOS and Android devices, hard to adjust limits and filters when different family members are using the same device