March 4, 2024

DIY: Use the Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 as a kids watch

Around the Christmas season late last year, I decided to gift my primary school-going daughter a Samsung Galaxy Watch 6, as her previous children’s smartwatch was going to be obsolete with the deactivation of 3G services in Singapore.

Now, I could have bought another MyFirst smartwatch as it was aimed at kids with limited features and easy parental controls.

However, I changed my mind when I found out I could get a pretty decent deal on a 40mm Samsung Galaxy Watch with built-in LTE.

I thought I could possibly make it work as a kids smartwatch. Furthermore, it would be a reward and recognition of their growth and promotion to upper primary school.

Well, the second part is true: She loved the watch, but it was a lot of hard work turning the Galaxy Watch 6 into a kid-friendly and, most importantly, parent-friendly device.

To be sure, the Samsung watch isn’t sold as a kids’ watch in the way I wanted it to be: that is, a communication device that’s easy to carry and doesn’t come with a large, distracting screen.

I eventually got it to work, but not before scratching my head several times along the way. Here’s what you need to know if you use the Galaxy Watch 6 as a kid’s watch to stay in touch while you travel.

1. You need a Google account for a child

As you’d expect from an Android device, you need a new Google account and an Android phone to get started. After all, you don’t want to sync your emails and chats on your child’s watch.

The problem is setting up a child’s Google account on a phone. To do this, it is necessary that the phone does not have any other account. In other words, if you’re thinking about adding a child’s Google account to your current phone, you can’t do it unless you delete your own, which might mean resetting everything.

Of course, you can set up an adult account, but you can’t control which apps are installed on the watch or have easy parental supervision over this account.

In the end, I used a spare phone (a cheap, temporary Motorola phone I had bought in Japan after damaging my old phone) to create my daughter’s account. I set up my own Google account to be the primary monitoring account.

2. Sync your phone and watch

You’d think all I need is to sync the phone and watch now, right? Well, unfortunately you need a SIM card in the phone even if you are connected to Wi-Fi, especially if you want to use a service like WhatsApp.

Initially I only had a Circles.Life eSIM for the watch, so I happily added it to the watch and it connected. I could make calls and send SMS independently of the phone, into which I had inserted a spare StarHub SIM card as a temporary measure.

God, there are already so many problems and why should I pay for two phone lines here just for one watch? So, I did some research and realized that the Samsung Watch 6 supports what is called “number sharing” with some telecom operators in Singapore.

This means the watch shares a number with a phone’s main line for a small additional monthly fee (around S$8 a month for StarHub). The benefit of this was that I got one number for both devices and WhatsApp should work fine here.

Setting this up wasn’t difficult. The problem was that somehow WhatsApp (or the shared number) made the clock so slow that it was almost unusable. The touch interface was off.

3. You need the phone to be online to send SMS

So I thought, why not just use SMS? You know, oldie but goodie and I didn’t have to worry about data usage. The problem, which took me days to resolve, was that SMS on the watch didn’t work unless the phone was online, due to some syncing issue with your telco.

This meant that the phone not only needed to stay charged but also stay online. When going to sleep, the watch couldn’t send or receive SMS, which was a deal breaker. The reason it had worked for me previously was because the watch had a different number than the phone.

So, I restarted the watch and reinstalled WhatsApp, which luckily didn’t need the phone to be online to work on the watch.

Finally, yesterday I thought I had solved the problem and got the Galaxy Watch 6 working independently, but still under parental control.

The most important job I had to do was keep in touch with my daughter, for example if she was late from after-school activities or when she was at the playground.

The fabric strap with Velcro closure is ideal for children with smaller wrists. PHOTO: Samsung

If you wanted, you could activate Samsung’s “find my device” feature to see where the watch is. I no longer needed this because I believed my daughter could easily call me if she needed help.

So, in summary, if you want the Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 to work as a kids watch, remember the following:

  • You must set up a child’s Google account and have the phone that syncs with the watch monitored remotely with Google’s Family Link app. Unfortunately, to get a child account to run on an Android phone, you need to delete existing accounts or use a reset phone.
  • Try using the same phone number for simplicity if you prefer WhatsApp to SMS. Subscribe to shared number plans that allow you to take advantage of the phone line’s data and calling minutes so you don’t worry about exceeding your SMS quota each month. Many virtual operators like Circles.Life do not support this add-on option, but Singtel, StarHub and M1 do.
  • Be sure to monitor usage and installed apps. By giving your child access to a smartwatch instead of the phone, you also limit the type of apps that can be installed. After all, the point of all this trouble is to parent effectively. That is, giving the child some of the access she wants and still being able to manage her digital interactions.
  • And don’t forget that the strap that comes with the watch may be too long or big for your child. A Samsung store I visited recommended a fabric strap that can be tightened well even for smaller wrists and it worked for me.

Yes, that’s a lot of work, but as a parent, you tend to do everything you can for your child anyway.

Why not buy an Apple Watch SE for kids? It may seem like a better out-of-the-box solution, but it forces you into Apple’s closed and limited system, which is a big negative for me.

Additionally, you will need an iPhone. No, thanks! The Samsung watch can sync with most modern Android phones and link to a family Google account that will also work on other devices in the future.

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