My son has finally reached that age where not every school field trip fits into the normal school day. I drop him off a little earlier than the day normally starts, and he's not back until late that night. That last part can be a little stressful, because traffic can cause significant delays and being stuck in a parking lot with other nervous parents isn't fun. I could get him a cheap phone and a refillable SIM card for when I'd like him to be connected, but the folks at Coolpad have an alternative that I think works way better.

It's called the Dyno Smartwatch, and while the other parents were wondering what was taking so long, I was able to calm everyone down with a quick look at how far away the kids all were.

The wrist phone for kids

Coolpad Dyno Smartwatch

Connecting kids to parents, albeit somewhat clumsily.

Coolpad has a reasonably priced watch with some great features for communication and safety, wrapped up in a kid-friendly container anyone can wear.

The Good

  • Great price
  • Battery is better than most
  • Multiple watch bands in the box
  • Safety features are excellent

The Bad

  • Software is a little clumsy
  • Not a ton of personalization options
  • App doesn't sync with anything but itself
  • No keyboard for texting

Coolpad Dyno Smartwatch What I like

In a world of mostly novelty smartwatches for kids, the Coolpad Dyno is a fully functioning phone, complete with SIM card. If my son needs to call me, he can. If I want to send him a text, it's easy. And instead of a phone that could fall out of his pocket or get him in trouble when he decides to show a friend a YouTube video or play Fortnite, this phone lives on his wrist. From this position, there's a couple of basic communications tools and a step tracker. The interface isn't particularly complicated, but every swipe on the screen is deliberate. There's purpose to every menu, including the ability to connect to other Dyno wearers if there happens to be a friend connected to the same system.

There isn't a lot of customization, but what exists my son adores. Being able to swap between the handful of available watch faces is something he enjoys, and coming to me to see how my step count competes with his has quickly become ritual at the end of the day. He's also able to swap between the pink and blue watch bands that come with the watch, and has already started browsing for other color options when we're at the mall.

I have access to the same safety features I would have if he had a phone, without needing to lock down a phone to keep him from using it in class.

As the parent in this, I dig the safety features. I can create geofences for areas I know he's supposed to be, and get notifications when he enters or leaves those zones. When his bus has left school, I know about it. When he takes the dog for a walk when I'm not at home, I see the notification that he's left home and can message him to see what he's up to.

He can choose between a handful of pre-loaded text responses — which I have control over — or he can send me a voice message with whatever he wants to say. I also get notifications when the battery is low on the watch, which has come in handy on more than one occasion when he's forgotten to plug it in overnight.

None of the safety features feel particularly overbearing. This doesn't feel like I'm putting an ankle monitor on my kid. I have access to the same safety features I would have if he had a phone, without needing to lock down a phone to keep him from using it in class. And for most of the day, it's just a fun-looking kid-friendly watch on his wrist. No cameras, no worrying about strangers messaging my kid, and it actually looks like a watch.

Coolpad Dyno Smartwatch What I wish was better

As a safety feature, the only thing this watch syncs with is the Coolpad app. There are no third party watch faces, no way to sync the step tracker to Google Fit, and no way to use any map system outside of the Coolpad app. While guaranteeing the safety of your child's data is a very big deal, it would be nice to have some of these options. My son wants to be able to see how I'm competing with his step tracking throughout the day, and I would love to be able to search for a location on the map to set up a trust zone instead of just dragging my thumb around.

While I'm using a fairly early version of the Coolpad app, the software quality is, to put it politely, a little unpolished. Simple things like setting a profile image required multiple attempts before the app actually held the image in place are a nuisance, and I occasionally found repeat notifications in my tray for some reason.

There are a lot of mediocre kid-friendly accessories out there, but the Dyno Smartwatch stands out as something genuinely enjoyable to use for both the kid and the parent, and that's a big deal.

On the subject of notifications, they don't actually do anything in the app. I have a running list of notifications the watch has given to it, but you can't interact with them in any meaningful way. The app will tell me my son's watch battery is low, but won't tell me where the watch is. I know when he's left a zone I have set up, but tapping on that information just gives me a color flash in the app. Every feature worked exactly as advertised, but it feels like a lot more can be done here to build a coherent experience.

I spent a lot of time talking with my son about his thoughts after having used the watch, and his experiences were largely positive. He liked being able to communicate with me, but wished there were a few extra customization options. He also wanted the ability to type messages to me using a keyboard instead of me choosing messages or having to speak his message out loud. I'm not sure how likely that is to happen, as keyboards on watches are historically terrible, but it's a big feature in his mind so I am compelled to write it down. He is, after all, the one actually using this thing.

Coolpad Dyno Watch Should you buy it?

If you have a child under age 12 and you don't want them to have a phone yet, this is almost certainly your best option. You're unlikely to find a $150 phone that offers as compelling an experience as this watch without a lot of extra software work on your part, and the watch just plain looks like fun. And the cost of sending phone calls and internet to this watch is $10/month, done through a GSM carrier Coolpad has a unique partnership with in the US and Canada. There are a lot of mediocre kid-friendly accessories out there, but the Dyno Smartwatch stands out as something genuinely enjoyable to use for both the kid and the parent, and that's a big deal.

4 out of 5

It's important to highlight there is nothing else quite like this watch out there today. Most "kid-friendly" tech either has no connectivity at all and is essentially a toy os is mostly aimed at being a tracker for the parents. Coolpad has struck an important balance, and it's something more companies should aim for.

$150 at Coolpad