Kids smartwatches are a niche in the tech world, and a collaboration between Vodafone and Disney has brought a completely different product to the the table.
The Vodafone Neo was announced back in December, and is designed by San Francisco company Fuseproject. Whilst the hardware and carrier side is operated by Vodafone, Disney has helped design animated ‘sidekicks’ on the watches based on famous characters from the worlds of Star Wars, Marvel, Frozen and more.
Vodafone hasn’t given an age range for the watch, but has advised that if the wearer is under 18 a parent/guardian should have consent from the user for tracking and inform their child how to use the watch safely.
But how does this watch stack up in everyday life? I’ve tested out all the features and analysed the price to see whether it’s worth investing your money.
Design & build
The Neo comes in a choice of two colours: Mint and Ocean Blue. I tested out the former variant and was a fan of the bright and fresh finish. Though the strap is silicone, it is quite thick and doesn’t feel cheap like some other rubber straps do. It’s comfortable to wear and feels light on the wrist, weighing just 40.6g.
The box comes with two straps – one traditional and another which allows the watch to sit at an angle on the wrist for easier viewing.
The strap itself is rather fiddly for a kids device. You have to pull it through the loop and then tighten it to push the clasp through one of the notches – but it is really hard to pull the strap through to secure the watch. I assume it is designed this way to stay securely on when tightened with parental supervision, but I believe that a traditional watch clasp would be a lot easier to use.
The watch face itself is circular, surrounded by a white plastic finish that looks similar to stone. The screen is bright and clear, holding up well under direct sunlight and not picking up fingerprints easily.
To navigate the Neo, users can turn it on via the power button on the bottom, and then just swipe or tap on the screen. There’s another button on the top right-hand side of the watch which has quick access to a built-in 5Mp camera. The camera is located right on the top of the watch – users can rotate their wrist to capture photos whilst they’re out and about.
It does seem odd that a left-hand swipe doesn’t access anything at all. I think that the interface would be a lot easier if something like contacts or settings were put in here for quicker access, rather than having kids swipe to the right multiple times to find what they’re looking for.
Both the built-in speaker and microphone produce clear and legible audio for phone calls, though obviously this can vary dependent on your signal. Your child won’t be able to link up headphones to the watch, so calls are broadcast out loud.
The Neo boasts an IP68 rating, which means that it can withstand fresh water to a depth of 10 metres for up to 30 minutes. Vodafone has however stressed that this isn’t a watch suitable for swimming or diving.
Software & features
You can track your child’s location via the GPS on the Neo. The map of where they’re currently located can be accessed via the companion app and provides a live update as long as the watch it turned on. You can’t however see where they’ve been in the past.
Kids can also use the watch to both message and call their parent/guardian, or a trusted contact which is approved by their caregiver. Contacts are accessed by swiping to the right and calls only last for five minutes to help preserve the battery life of the watch.
Instant messages don’t include a keyboard. Kids can only choose between a list of pre-written messages such as ‘On my way!’, ‘Call me please’, ‘At School’, and more, plus a number of emojis.
Other features on the watch include the weather, a calendar, a calculator, the camera and a photo album of images snapped using the watch. Kids cannot access an open web browser using the Neo.
There are no games currently on the Neo – though this was mentioned in the initial reveal for the watch so they could be released in a firmware update.
The camera doesn’t exactly take the best snapshots, but it’s a neat little feature for kids to play with whilst they’re out and about. It would have been nice to also support video like the VTech Kidizoom watch does.
The most distinctive feature of the watch is the sidekick, which is an animated character that appears on the watch. At the time of writing there are six characters to choose from: Elsa, Minnie Mouse, Buzz Lightyear, Iron Man, Darth Vader and The Child (aka Baby Yoda).
Choosing a character will change the theme of the watch to match that of the sidekick. The sidekick appears on the home screen and has animations for when the user selects various watch functions such as their step counter.
Speaking of the step counter – there appears to be a glitch in which the watch wipes the exercise data stored so far if you turn it off and on again. That means that kids may lose out on reaching their goals for the day if they need to turn the Neo off to preserve battery, or for other reasons such as taking a test in school.
App & performance
All the data that is recorded on the Neo is stored on the Vodafone Smart App, which is designed to be used by a parent or guardian.
Once the watch is paired, caregivers can use their phone to chat with their kids via the watch, see a map of where they are located, add calendar events, check their step count, see images that have been taken and adjust the settings such as changing the child’s name and profile image.
The layout of the app makes it simple and easy to use, but the design does seem to have some wasted space on the page – there’s other smartwatch apps out there that take full advantage by packing in more info.
Admins of the watch can also invite and manage guests to download the app and receive data from the kids watch. For example, if you want to give your partner access to the watch, you can do so. You can also choose what data that person has access to. If you just want the guest to be able to message and call your child, this is an option.
The activity goal for the day in the app is automatically set to 8,000 steps, and this cannot be adjusted by the admin. It would be useful if the watch could track custom goals, as some children may not be able to achieve 8,000 steps per day – or they may want to set more ambitious targets.
As the Neo is a cellular watch, it only lasts on average 24 hours and drains faster when used more heavily – daily charging is necessary.
To help preserve the battery life, you can turn off the sidekick mode and use the basic theme and turn down the brightness levels. On average, the watch takes around two and half hours to charge from flat to full.
Price & availability
The Neo is out now in the UK, and you can buy it from the Vodafone website and from Amazon UK. You can currently only buy the watch in the UK and Europe – no US release date has been confirmed.
To own a Neo, you’ll need to pay £99 upfront and then a monthly subscription to Vodafone. You can choose between £7 monthly subscription for a minimum of 24 months, or a £12 monthly cost for a minimum of 12 months.
There’s no denying that this is a steep cost – but this is a combination of the wearable occupying a niche space in the market, plus having the mighty brand of Disney attached.
There is no non-cellular version of the watch, which means you’ll have to pay the monthly cost. Of course many users will want this device as a way of both staying in touch and keeping track of their kids – so a non-cellular version would be redundant anyway.
In terms of competitors, Sky launched the Spacetalk kids smartwatch in 2019, which also offers GPS tracking and cellular data – but none of the bonus features found on the Neo. However, with no upfront cost attached to its monthly plans, it is a cheaper option.
Fitbit has also launched the Fitbit Ace 3 designed specifically for children. However, this is more of a fitness tracker, and doesn’t include tools to allow parents and guardians to keep in touch. You can see more options for this type of wearable in our roundup of the best Fitbits for kids.
The Vodafone Neo kids smartwatch is quite a unique device on the market right now. It looks good, and the Disney sidekick will be a big draw for kids who love franchises such as Frozen, Star Wars, Toy Story and Marvel.
However, the strap is fiddly to use, the step counter glitch is an annoyance and the app could do with some tweaks. Whilst some of these problems can possibly be addressed in a firmware update, the steep pricing cannot.
Overall, this is quirky solution to keeping in contact with your kids without purchasing a smartphone – but it’s also an expensive one.
Vodafone Neo: Specs
14.8 x 44.5 mm
x2 silicone straps
Disney characters virtual assistant
Built-in Vodafone SIM
Battery life up to 24 hours
Works with Vodafone Smart App