How many connected devices do your kids use? You had to stop and count up all the laptops, tablets, smartphones, game consoles, and such, didn’t you? Installing parental control software on every one of those devices would be difficult, maybe even impossible.

That’s where Circle with Disney comes in.

This little box can manage every device on your network, filtering out unwanted content and applying a variety of time limits.
It does what it promises, with a few minor rough edges, but its protection applies only when the kids are at home.The device goes for a one-time price of $99, and the iOS app that lets you manage it is free.

That’s a good deal. You’d pay $79.99 each year for a family-pack license of ContentWatch Net Nanny 7, for example.

And Net Nanny manages Windows, Mac OS, and Android, but not iOS, gaming consoles, or any other platform.

Clean Router controls and monitors all devices on your system, by replacing your existing router. OpenDNS Home VIP gets the same effect by taking over handling of your networks Domain Name System connections.

Circle doesn’t force you to replace your router, and it’s extraordinarily easy to set up and manage.

Getting Started With CircleThe Circle device is a small white cube with a micro USB port for charging and a covered Ethernet port on one side. Other than that, it’s pretty much featureless.

To get started, you simply plug it into a power source and wait for the light to start blinking.

As for that Ethernet port, you won’t use it unless instructed to by tech support.

For testing, I installed the app on Apple iPhone 6.

All setup and configuration occurs through Circle’s mobile app which, for now, is iOS-only (Android support is due this summer).
It’s a clean and attractive app; if appearance and simplicity were the only criteria it would be sure to win a place in our list of 100 best iPhone apps. When you launch the app, it walks you through the configuration process step by step.

To start, you open Wi-Fi settings on your iOS device and connect to the Circle device’s hotspot, using the password supplied by the app. Next, you log into your regular Wi-Fi through Circle, and then connect your phone back to your regular Wi-Fi.

That’s it.

Circle is now paired with your network. Note that Circle will only pair to a 2.4GHz connection. Once paired, however, it should be able to manage all network devices—including those connected via 5GHz and Ethernet.

How does it work? The technology is called ARP (Address Resolution Protocol) spoofing.
If you Google it, you’ll come up with a lot of pages about ARP spoofing as a network attack.

Don’t be alarmed; Circle isn’t attacking you. Note, too, that all of its content filtering and other activity happens right on the device. Nothing is sent to the cloud.

Continuing the setup process, you create a Circle account using your email address, and add your mobile phone number.

Entering a passcode sent to the phone completes the verification process.

To complete the setup process, you configure settings for your own Circle profile. You choose one of five filter levels: Pre-K, Kid, Teen, Adult, or None. Of course, you should choose either Adult or None for yourself, and skip the option to limit time on the Internet. Now comes the tough part; identifying your own devices, and determining which devices shouldn’t be managed. 

Device Name DilemmaOn my own home network, Circle initially found two dozen devices.

That number kept rising as more devices connected.

Every connected smart home device, including my connected doorbell and garage door, showed up on the list.

And the majority of them had uninformative names.
Sure, I know which one is the Roku Device, and I have only one Dell computer, so Dell Device is pretty clear.

But there were three titled Cisco Device, and others were similarly unhelpful, including one called simply The Device.

Knowing which is which can be important. You wouldn’t want to accidentally put your connected garage door to sleep at a child’s bedtime!

For actual computers and mobile devices, there’s a handy way to figure out which is which. You browse to a Circle-related website on the device and note the name that Circle gives the device. Now that you’ve identified it, you can change it to something more informative in the Circle app. Of course, if there are multiple devices starting off with the same name, you’ll need to check that Web page again to make sure you got the right one.

Tapping a device in the list gets more information, including the device-specific MAC address.
If for some reason you can’t identify the device using the technique above, you can check its MAC address and flip through the list looking for a match.

During setup, Circle suggested a number of devices that should be left unmanaged.
I took that a bit further, adding every device to the unmanaged list except those whose identity I had verified.

Kids and DevicesNow it’s time to configure Circle for each of your family members and their devices. You also create a profile called Home that applies to all devices that are neither assigned to a family member nor listed as unmanaged. When a new device connects to the network, it’s covered by the Home profile by default.

Assuming you’ve figured out which device is which in Circle’s list, you associate each with the family member who owns it. Yes, you’ll want to include devices belonging to adults as well, setting them to Adult or None as the filter level.

That way they won’t be affected by the Home profile. Your settings for each family member apply to all of the devices associated with that profile.

Note that Circle assumes every device is used by only one child, even desktops and laptops.

That could be awkward if the device is shared by kids and adults, or kids of wildly different ages. Mobicip and Net Nanny, among others, can associate child profiles with specific user accounts. Qustodio Parental Control 2015 swings either way, meaning you can associate the entire device or just one user account with the child’s profile.

This is a very visually oriented product, so you’ll almost certainly want to add a photo for each child. You can take one directly from within the program or use a photo from your camera roll, and you can move the photo around to get the face positioned correctly.

Blocking PlatformsChoosing the filter level for a child preconfigures which platforms and categories will be blocked. Platforms refers to a list of popular Internet-aware apps.

At the Teen level, HBO, Meerkat, Periscope, Reddit, Snapchat, and Tumbler are blocked; there’s no platform blocking at the Adult level.

At the Kid level, you see a different set of platforms, with only Club Penguin, Disney, Minecraft, and PBS permitted. Parents can choose to enable a handful of others, among them Cartoon Network, Netflix, and Nickelodeon.

At the Pre-K level, things are even more limited.

Content Filtering CategoriesCircle identifies 30 content categories that parents can choose to allow or block.

Even at the Adult filtering level, five of these are blocked: Dating, Explicit Content, Gambling, Mature, and VPN & Proxies.
If you’ve selected the Teen level, those same five are always blocked; there’s no option to unblock them.

Choosing Kid-level filtering adds Social Media to the always-blocked list.

And at the Pre-K level, the only sites permitted are those in the Kids category.

In testing, I found the settings very responsive.

Changes took effect immediately.

And I couldn’t find any sites that should have been blocked but weren’t.
Since Circle blocks proxies by default, the trick of using a secure anonymizing proxy to evade monitoring and control didn’t work.

Being device-independent, Circle is naturally also browser-independent.

Privacy and SafetyIn addition to limiting your child’s access to specific platforms and content categories, Circle offers a handful of privacy and safety settings.

For Teen users, it forces Safe Search in Google.

At the Kid level, it also enables YouTube restrictions.
Shifting down to Pre-K removes your ability to change these restrictions; they’re always on.

You can also turn on ad blocking, if you wish.

This feature seemed to work fine, removing ads without wrecking page layouts. Of course, if everyone blocked ads then websites that rely on advertising for revenue might have to start charging for access.

Time Limits, Bedtime, and PauseCircle doesn’t let you create a weekly hour-by-hour Internet schedule the way Mobicip, Symantec Norton Family Premier, Net Nanny, and many other competitors do, but it does have some useful time-control features.

For starters, you can set a daily maximum for Internet access that applies across all of the child’s devices.

You can also set a time limit on any of the platforms and content categories.
Sure, your child can watch Netflix, but only two hours a day—no binge-watching Orange is the New Black! Social media? Fine, but limited to one hour.

And so on.

Time limits are off by default.

Circle can’t make your kids go to bed when they should, but it can remove the distraction of online activities.
If you enable the bedtime feature for a child, Internet access on all of that child’s devices will cut off at the specified time, and resume at the specified wakeup time. Of course, this doesn’t affect use of the device for games and activities that don’t require Internet access.

Here’s a feature Circle’s website touts proudly—you can pause the Internet! Tap the big pause button on the app’s home screen to pause access for all managed devices. You can also pause just one child’s devices, or just one specific device.

Anyone trying to connect will just see a screen proclaiming that access is paused.

Hands On with CircleI set up the Circle device on my home network and assigned devices to a couple of imaginary children.

Then I started experimenting.

I realized right away that I’d be happier controlling Circle from my iPad than my iPhone. Making that happen was a snap.
I simply installed the app on the iPad and launched it.

The app sent a four-digit code to my phone. Once I entered the code, boom! I had control of Circle from the iPad.

The Circle app’s big main window shows all of your family members’ pictures, each inside a circle. When you launch the app, they spin into place, arranged evenly around a central circle that represents the home.

Tapping a picture goes to that family member’s settings.

Tapping the central circle lets you configure default settings for devices in your home.

A simple menu lets you add more family members, track and configure devices, and make some simple configuration settings.

As noted, I couldn’t find any sites that should have been blocked but weren’t.

A child who tries to visit a blocked site gets redirected to a page that simply says, “Looks like you’ve been filtered.” There’s no detail about precisely why, nor any option to ask a parent for permission to visit the site, like you get with Norton, Microsoft Family Safety for Windows 10, and others.
I prefer these approaches to Circle’s laconic block message, but at least it does the job. 

This page displays a breakdown of the child’s time online, with a chart showing the most-visited categories.
It also displays any time limits, including how much time is left, in 5-minute increments.

The rest of the page is an endlessly scrolling collection of Disney-related content.
Images, icons, tweets, animated GIFs, links, quizzes…you name it! When Circle blocks access to a site, it makes sure your child has alternatives, specifically Disney alternatives.

Tapping Insight on a child’s profile page in the app gets you a very simple report.

Circle doesn’t list the sites or categories that it filters out; it doesn’t even report the number.
It does tell you how many minutes the child spent on each platform or category.

Tapping a category opens a list of matching sites. You can set Circle to report activity for the current or previous day, week, or month.

Some Rough EdgesThis product is slick and professional, but I did encounter some rough edges.

A child who tries to access the Internet after bedtime just sees a message saying, “Looks like it’s past your bedtime.” However, trying to access Google at that time instead got a big, confusing error message stating that “Attackers might be trying to steal your information.”

Even during time when the Internet was supposed to be available, I got a similar result trying to make a Yahoo search.

The Yahoo page appeared just fine, but instead of the results page I got that same scary error message.

That error also occurred when I tried to visit a secure anonymizing proxy.

Eventually I realized that every time Circle tried to swap in its own message on a secure (HTTPS) site, it triggered that error.
Since ARP spoofing is used in actual network attacks, this isn’t entirely unreasonable, but I wish Circle’s FAQ included an explanation.

During this evaluation, I went to the product’s FAQ page online for details frequently. Quite a few times I got the message, “This website is under heavy load (queue full).”  That’s not something you often see.
I hope they’ll work on adding server capacity.

Home Is Where the Control IsPausing the Internet sounds pretty cool…but it’s limited.

To escape all control by Circle, a child with a smartphone need only switch from Wi-Fi to cellular data. Mooching a neighbor’s Wi-Fi is another possibility.

And of course if the child isn’t in your home, but rather using Wi-Fi at school, or at a friend’s house, Circle is powerless.

According to the company’s press release, that’s going to change soon.

A mobile parental control app called Circle Go will extend coverage to all iOS devices even when they’re outside the home.

There’s no word as yet about a version for Android, or for Mac or Windows laptops.

An Interesting VariationCircle with Disney is an interesting variation on typical software-based parental control systems.
It effortlessly manages every single device on your home network, including new ones that join.

And it proved effective at blocking access to specific content categories in testing. However, its capabilities end the moment your child leaves the house.

If you opt to buy this device, consider backing up its protection with a more traditional parental control product, at least on your children’s most-used devices.

A family license for ContentWatch Net Nanny 7 handles up to 10 children on any number of devices. Qustodio Parental Control 2015 manages five children and five devices.

And Symantec Norton Family Premier doesn’t apply any limits at all.

All three are Editors’ Choice products for parental control.