Cell Phone Parental Control Software Review
Why Use Cell Phone Parental Control Software?
The top performers in our review are Mobile Spy, the Gold Award winner; PhoneSheriff, the Silver Award winner; and Mobistealth, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing cell phone parental control software to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 products.
Smartphones are truly amazing pieces of technology, allowing anyone to see anything on the internet or to connect with a variety of people and ideas from around the world. However, sometimes children don't have the best judgment in regards to which sites they ought to visit, or they may not yet know how to stay safe when using apps or talking to people online. Whether your kids have their own cell phones in order to stay connected with you or they just like to use yours to play games, cell phone parental control software can help them develop safe online practices and protect them from coming into contact with inappropriate content.
Pricing & Subscriptions: Only Buy What You Need
The best cell phone monitoring software gives you enough options to find the right mix of functionality and price for your needs. You may only want to lightly monitor your kids for a month or two, just to see where they go or what they use their smartphones for. Alternatively, you may have good reason to be a deeply concerned parent, and you want cell phone spyware that tracks far more than just location and basic usage activity. Whatever your needs are, take the time to find an application that lets you monitor what you deem important for the amount of time you need.
There are plenty of options for you, no matter your budget. For example, you can monitor basic internet usage stats on one device for as low as $10 a year with Net Nanny, or you can observe virtually all activity, even in real time, on five devices for about $550 a year with Mobile Spy. You'll also want to look for software that is compatible with your target device. Everything on our lineup is compatible with Android phones, but not as many are available on iPhones, BlackBerrys or Windows Phones.
If you own a small business and want to keep an eye on any of your employees who use company-provided cell phones, our reviews of cell phone monitoring software can help you find the right program. Like the software on this site, cell phone monitoring software allows you to view usage history and apply restrictions to the target device. To learn more about monitoring your kids' cell phone usage, check out our articles on cell phone parental control software.
Jailbreaking & Rooting: Too Risky to Recommend
Lots of cell phone parental control software only works on rooted Android phones or for jailbroken iPhones, which puts a lot of unnecessary risk on you. Rooting or jailbreaking your phone automatically voids its warranty and prevents future over-the-air software updates. Additionally, it can pave the way for malware to end up on your device, or it can result in bricking your phone, rendering it unusable.
Rooting an Android device gives you super user permissions and lets you modify its source code. Jailbreaking is a similar process, but it doesn't give you as in-depth access because Apple devices aren't open-source, though it gives you enough access to install software that Apple hasn't authorized. Apps downloaded from the Apple iTunes Store or Google Play Store are approved by teams whose sole job is to comb through apps making sure they aren't malicious. Apple's approval process is more intensive than Google's is.
Jailbreaking an iPhone to install parental controls just so you can download an app not found in iTunes may mean encountering malicious apps, since they weren't approved. Additionally, gaining root access to your phone makes it easier for malicious apps to get the same access, meaning their developers can potentially see any data on the device or even steal it. Since cell phone carriers don't advise you to root or jailbreak your device, they most likely won't help you recover stolen data or get a replacement device in such an instance.
Because rooting a phone grants deep access and is such a technical process, it can be easy to mess up. If the software is out of date or you do just one thing wrong in the process, you'll be left with a bricked device. A bricked phone will no longer boot or perform any actions, becoming nothing more than what the name implies – a brick.
Though it is possible to reverse the process of jailbreaking or rooting a phone, the process is far from perfect. Many phones have built-in protocols that prevent you from removing all evidence of the phone being rooted, which may still prohibit the phone from receiving minor or major updates and keep the warranty voided. Because of the many inherent risks that come with rooting or jailbreaking your device, we do not advocate doing this to your device and, as such, did not test any software that required us to root our test phones.
When Is Monitoring Cell Phones Legal?
Cell phone parental control software is typically legal to use on your kid’s phone only if you are the one who is legally responsible for the device. You may or may not be required to tell your kids if you are monitoring their device, depending on where you live. Additionally, privacy laws vary depending on your state or country, so check with an attorney or legal counsel before using the software on your kids' phones.
Cell Phone Parental Control Software: What We Evaluated, What We Found
As we tested the software, we checked to see what specifically you can track when it comes to spying on target cell phones. We also looked at how easy it is to install and use, even remotely. We checked to see what limitations you can place and what kinds of alerts you can receive, along with how easy the reporting functions are to use.
Monitored Data: What Can Be Tracked & Reported
Many different activities can be accessed and enjoyed on a smartphone, but not all of them are appropriate for young kids or even teenagers. Cell phone parental controls typically lets you track and view most, if not all, communication from the target device. You can easily view incoming and outgoing phone calls, text messages and, with some software, even emails. However, most of these software options require you to root your Android in order to view Gmail and any chat clients, such as Hangouts, Viber, Skype and WhatsApp.
You can view anything your child searches for or views on the internet, along with pages they've bookmarked. Furthermore, some let you track anything they viewed in an incognito window or that has been deleted. You can also view the device's current location through GPS, and a few software options let you track the device's location over a period of time so you can see where your child has been. This increases your child's safety and gives you peace of mind that they are at school or their friend's house just like they said they would be.
Limits & Alerts: Set Restrictions & Get Notified
Many products on this lineup allow you to block certain applications, websites or anything pertaining to a particular keyword. Depending on the software, you can flag or block content according to its URL or general content category – such as alcohol or pornography. A few products, such as Witigo, even reroute your child to the software's own browser when they search on third-party browsers like Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox. Additionally, you can choose software that sends you text or email alerts any time your child uses or searches for inappropriate words or content.
If you're worried about the amount of time your child spends on their smartphone, or it is sidetracking them from paying attention in school or going to sleep at night, you can limit how much time they can use their phone for. Some software options let you create a window for a certain quantity of hours per day, or you can set up a more detailed schedule that prohibits use of the phone outside of emergency calls and other allowed actions during certain hours.
Geofencing technology is also a helpful addition to tracking software. This virtual barrier allows you to see not just where your child is, but also to receive alerts if they leave a predetermined area, such as a radius from home, school or work. You can also opt to receive alerts if someone tries to remove the software or the device's SIM card.
Functionality: Keep It Simple
Depending on your needs, you can choose software that runs invisibly and is virtually undetectable on your child's smartphone, or you can opt for one that is visible to device users. Though tracking, reporting, and setting up limits and alerts can be done remotely for the most part, you must have physical access to the target device and it must have an active internet connection in order for you to install it. In case you are wondering how to put parental controls on an iPhone or Android device, it only takes a few minutes and requires a simple download. Depending on the software, you can select what to monitor or what reports to receive directly from the device.
Because of the nature of the software, in that it grants the monitor in-depth access to most features of the device, you have to allow access to unknown apps on the Android device. And while all the programs on our lineup are functional on non-rooted Android devices, many of them do require you to jailbreak your iPhone in order to use them. Aside from this, the software is easy to install. Some are available for download through the Google Play Store, and others simply require you to type a URL into the device's browser to start the product download.
Overall, this kind of software is easy to use. The apps are generally quite effective, and you can start surveillance soon after installation. Reporting is available any time on the monitor login pages, and some software options let you schedule reports to be sent weekly via email.
A few premium software options let you view the target device's screen live or with a small delay. Some have the capacity to tap the device's microphone or camera so you can listen in on whatever it can hear or snap photos of whatever it can see, for added surveillance. You have added control with some options, as they let you remotely lock or wipe the device.
Help & Support: Get Questions Answered
All of the products we tested had easily accessible installation guides with pictures on the manufacturer websites that walk you through how to download them. Installation and reporting can be tricky or complicated for this kind of software, and good software developers provide a variety of direct and indirect help options for you as a resource, should you need them. You can contact manufacturers directly via phone, email or live chat. Alternatively, if you don't want to talk to anyone in person, you can check out tutorials, FAQs or knowledgebase articles on the manufacturer websites.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. We obtained the software in our comparison through retail purchase. The manufacturers had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. The results of our evaluations were not provided to software manufacturers in advance of publication.
Cell Phone Parental Control Software: Our Verdict and Recommendations
Three cell phone parental control software applications – Mobile Spy, PhoneSheriff and Mobistealth – rose above the rest in our comparison, mostly because of their extensive remote functions, the quantity and quality of data they can monitor, and the limits and alerts that you can set as needed. These are the factors we weighed as the most important in our rankings. Mobile Spy is by far the most extensive in its surveillance and reporting capacity. PhoneSheriff is also a powerful unit of software that gives you great control over setting limits and alerts. Mobistealth is visually appealing and easy to use, with terrific reporting capacity.
Whether you just want to track if your kids made it to school safely or you want to monitor their texts, videos and internet use, cell phone parental control software can help you keep an eye on your children and help them develop safe cell phone habits.