At some point in the last couple of years, a group of people sat around and decided that preteen kids were the next target market for cell phones. But instead of pushing fancy handsets with high-end features on the tykes, the group appealed directly to parents with the promise of tiny, simple phones that only made calls while ditching pricey extras such as cameras and outgoing text messaging. The result was phones including the Firefly for Cingular and the LG Migo VX1000 for Verizon. Not only are these handsets decidedly basic, they also feature parental controls for restricting the phone's use. Now enter the long-promised Wherifone G560 from Wherify Wireless. Like its counterparts, the Wherifone is tiny and minimally designed and does only what a cell phone should do. It also comes with parental restrictions, and like with the Migo, parents can also track and locate the phone on an online map. Overall it's a solid effort, but we still have to give our props to the cuter and higher-functioning Migo. And we wouldn't recommend it for a kid above age 12. The Wherifone is $99.95 but then you must buy blocks of prepaid airtime. The plans range from $19.95 for 60 units--each good for either a minute of calling time or one inbound text message--to $26.95 for 100 units.
We can say off the bat we weren't in love with the Wherifone's design. While the previous kid-friendly phones we reviewed had curvy designs with few angles, the rectangular Wherifone has a lot of straight lines and sharp corners. Our review phone came in a dull grey color, but you can get the handset in black, pink, blue, or light purple. At 2.5 by 1.5 by 0.6 inches and 2.4 ounces, the handset is exceptionally tiny--even smaller than the Firefly. Though that means it will fit in kid-size pockets and hands, it's also so small that it could be lost easily. Also, while Wherifone is marketing the handset to seniors as well, it's ridiculously minuscule for adult use (think Ben Stiller's petite phone in Zoolander). It's worth noting that the external antenna is almost a third as big as the phone itself. Yet on the upside, the handset doesn't feel flimsy.
The phone's rectangular display is also tiny, but Wherify did what it could with the phone's size. The monochrome screen manages to pack in a lot of information including the date, time, battery life, and signal strength. Yet we were puzzled there's no caller ID. The icon-based menu interface is simple and relatively easy to use, despite the fact that some of the icons didn't make sense at first. There's no missed calls list or voicemail, so if the phone is off, you get a recorded message to call again later.
Like the Firefly and the Migo, the Wherifone has a nontraditional navigation array and keypad. Just below the display is a long, thin Menu/OK button that accesses the main menu and selects individual options inside the menu. The Wherifone has only five buttons for dialing numbers, and here again each button dials just one phone number automatically. So if you set the 1 button to dial your work number, your child has to press the corresponding button, then confirm the choice with the OK key. While three buttons are labeled 1 through 3, the other two are labeled with a phone-book icon and a red circle with the letters SOS. The former acts as a mini phone book that you can program with up to 20 numbers, while the latter is meant for dialing an emergency number such as 911 (but you don't have to use that). The End button, which also acts as a Back key, sits in the middle of the keypad buttons. Overall the buttons are tactile, but their hard, plastic covering made them a bit slippery. Also, they're small for adult-size fingers. Completing the outside of the phone are a volume rocker on the left spine and a power button on the right spine. The volume rocker was particularly difficult to manipulate.
The Wherifone's parental controls are on a par with those of other kid-friendly phones. Parents can set the five keypad buttons to dial whichever phone numbers they choose. Fortunately, all input is via Wherify's Web site, which, provided you have full-time Internet access, makes it easy and hassle-free. Parents can also use the site to send their kids a text message, but their offspring cannot send a message in return. The Wherifone can, however, receive calls from numbers not recorded in the online book. While Wherify says the unlisted callers will have to go through an 800 number to place a call, we were able to place a call directly from a strange number. Also, keep in mind the Wherifone doesn't have caller ID.