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.
Kids do get a few controls they can manipulate. They can select from ringing or vibrate mode, choose one of seven ring tones, adjust the display contrast and backlight time, change the volume for calls and ring tones, activate a keypad lock, and set the date and time.
The Wherifone comes with full GPS capability to locate your child via Wherify's Web site. After logging on, you're presented with a choice of locating the phone just once or locating it a set number of times every few minutes with the Breadcrumb function. After a location is established--it's worth noting that the phone must be on for you to do so--you get a map showing the phone's purported location (you can see an aerial photos as well). We'd rate the location system as only marginally effective. Out of five tries, two instances put us smack in the middle of San Francisco Bay, a good two miles from our downtown offices. We can't imagine any parent would enjoy imagining their child afloat in the water. Two other attempts put us a couple of blocks away, which was better, while the remaining try had us just outside the front door. All locations took a minute or so to complete.
We tested the triband (GSM 850/1800/1900) Wherify Wherifone in San Francisco using Cingular's service. Currently Wherifone partners with PetroCom, a wireless carrier in the Gulf Coast states to provide service. If you're outside of that area, you'll operate on Cingular's roaming network. Call quality was better than we expected. The volume in particular was quite loud, but the audio in general was clear and static-free. Voices did take on a mechanical quality, and there was a noticeable hiss at higher levels. On their end, callers could hear us plainly, but it was very clear to them we were using a cell phone as well. Audio quality in windy conditions diminished a bit, but for what it is, the Wherifone had effective call quality on the whole.
The Wherifone has a rated battery life of five hours talk time and four days standby time. In our tests, we got about four hours of talk battery life. While's that's not quite the promised time, it's still respectable for such a small phone. Yet we noticed that the Wherifone displayed a low-power notice on the screen when the battery meter still looked to be half full. According to FCC radiation tests, the Wherifone has a digital SAR rating of 0.94 watts per kilogram.