By Jordan Minor, Neil J. Rubenking
There are plenty of parental control tools available, but services that protect your child from the dangers of the Internet shouldn’t ask you to settle for the subpar.
And even apps that work well on one platform, such as PCs, may not fare so well on others, such as phones and tablets.
Fortunately, Norton Family Parental Control, already a fantastic Web filtering tool, doesn’t sacrifice any of its quality when it comes to protecting kids using Android devices.
It’s our Editors’ Choice for parental control Android apps.
It’s available on Windows as well (but not Mac), and there’s a limited version available for iOS.
Getting StartedAlthough Norton Family Parental Control can function as a strong standalone app, to use it parents must first purchase a subscription for Symantec Norton Family Premier, which costs $49.99 per year.
That might sound expensive, but actually the subscription is very generous, as there is no limit on the number of children or devices supported.
There’s also a free trial lasts for 30 days.
Using the Web interface isn’t necessary to make use of the Android app, but it is an impressive service in its own right. Here you can tweak Norton’s powerful Web filtering options to suit the needs of you and your child.
Some of the 47 content categories (none of which are anime, unfortunately) are already checked for blocking, based on the child’s birth year you set at the start. Hovering with the mouse over any category displays an explanatory tooltip, which is helpful if you decide to select a custom set of sites to block.
Content filtering is browser-independent, of course, and since it handles HTTPS sites your kids can’t evade it using a secure anonymizing proxy, even on Android.
When Norton blocks access to a site, it explains why.
The child can optionally send parents a message requesting access or click a link to report that the site was categorized incorrectly.
By default, you get an email notification when your child ignores a warning or tries to visit a blocked site. You can also view a log of Web visits on the Activity page.
Norton also lets parents manage how children use their devices—if the time allowance is up or the schedule doesn’t allow it, the phone or tablet can’t be used. You set time limits separately for each device the child uses.
Additional options depend on the device type.
Android phones and tablets still operate after the time limit, but Norton blocks use of apps except for the ability to call emergency contacts.
For more details on Norton’s excellent features and settings, most of which apply to children no matter where they choose to browse, read our full review of Symantec Norton Family Premier.
What’s New on AndroidKids these days are much more likely to use a smartphone or tablet than a clunky old computer. Norton recognizes that fact with a number of features that are specific to mobile devices. We tested the app with a Moto X.
To fully activate the app’s control of the phone or tablet, grant it permission to use Accessibility Services under Settings in the Android OS.
On the App tab of the House Rules page, you can see a list of apps the child has installed.
Simply check the box for any app you want to block like, say, WWE.
The page does point out that new apps will always be allowed until you block them.
But a quick look at the App tab on the Activity page will reveal any new installations. Net Nanny and Mobicip offer a similar kind of Android app control, while Qustodio controls program usage on Android, Windows, and Mac OS.
Email is out, texting is in, and Norton both monitors and controls your child’s SMS buddies. Parents can view the child’s mobile friends and approve or block them.
Blocked friends just aren’t allowed to contact the child; approved friends can converse with no logging. Like app control, this feature is Android-only, and it’s a big Android-specific advantage Norton (and, to be fair, Qustodio) has over rivals Net Nanny and Mobicip.
What about new friends who parents haven’t either approved or blocked? In the default Monitored mode, new friends are allowed, but conversations are logged, to help parents decide whether or not to approve the friend.
In the tough Blocked mode, each new attempt at conversation is logged, but the new friend isn’t allowed to communicate with the child.
And in the Not Blocked or Monitored mode, your child can freely converse with anyone who’s not blocked, with no conversation logged. Of course, this feature can’t monitor or manage conversations held using non-SMS messaging apps. Norton also monitor social media usage, although not to the same extent as dedicated app Net Nanny Social.
You’d like to be sure your kids are at school during school hours, and Norton can help you be sure that’s the case. When you enable Location Supervision for an Android device, Norton keeps track of its location.
It uses GPS if available, Wi-Fi triangulation if not. On the Activity page’s location tab, you can view a map with pins for recent locations, and a timeline that identifies when each pin was dropped.
Clicking a pin gets an address and an accuracy estimate.
The accuracy may vary based on the Android phone or tablet you use, but it shouldn’t be too hard to tell the difference between “at school” and “at the racetrack.”
Kids aren’t the only ones going mobile.
Enter a password and you can switch the app from Child Mode to Parent Mode.
In Parent Mode, the Norton Family mobile app gives parents full control over House Rules and a complete view of activity reports.
Setting rules and viewing reports may be a lot more pleasant on the big screen of a PC, but that’s true of a lot of things that people manage to do on smartphones or tablet.
It’s still great that anything you can see or do when logged in to Norton Family on your PC, you can also see or do using the mobile app. Just be sure to switch back to Child Mode before letting a kid use the device.
If you have a poor password, a crafty kid could sneak around the protection, so make sure to use a strong one, and keep track of it with a password manager. Out of the services we’ve tested Norton’s is the only one that in no way requires parents to use the Web interface to access the full power of the mobile app.
All in the FamilySeveral parental control services received Editors’ Choice awards for their full Web versions, including Norton’s.
But Norton Family Parental Control is only one to hold onto that crown for its Android incarnation.
Its powerful Web filtering combined with app management, call and text blocking, location tracking, and fully independent mobile interface make it an easy pick for our Android parental control apps Editors’ Choice.