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Tech Savvy: Keeping tabs

Hey there, Tech Savvy fans! This week we get a chance to take a look at another wearable piece of gear courtesy of our friends over at Verizon Wireless. It's a new year and there are some great wearables that are available already. This device wa...

Hey there, Tech Savvy fans! This week we get a chance to take a look at another wearable piece of gear courtesy of our friends over at Verizon Wireless. It's a new year and there are some great wearables that are available already. This device was one I got a chance to check out at the Tech Luncheon last month and it was high on my priority list to try out-it's the Gizmo Pal 2 by LG.

LG, as you may recall, has been forging ahead over the past couple of years releasing improved devices and products that are bringing a new level of quality to the Android side of the table. Their LG Urbane was a fantastic smart watch that I was able to demo and review, and their GPad and LG G-series phones have been dark horse contenders that are slowly gaining market share.

The Gizmo Pal 2, as you can imagine, is a rework of a prior device, and what they've done is not just repackaged the device with a shinier coat of paint, they adjusted the design and function to provide a service to a unique customer-kids.

I will freely admit, when I first saw this my initial reactions was, "Why would my kids need a smartwatch?" Fortunately, the way LG designed it, they made this more about function than about entertainment. My concern as a parent is often that while I see the incredible opportunity in tech for education, there is also a fine line between learning and enabling them to overindulge in screen time that prevents them from doing other things like playing outside, or with friends, or helping me rake the yard-all important things. I'm grateful that LG also understands this, too.

The Gizmo Pal 2 is first and foremost a communication device. On multiple levels. It looks like other smartwatches-large square face, rubberized wristband and a couple buttons complete the ensemble. This is incredibly appealing to the kids that use them-their device looks just like the grown up version, which not only makes them feel cool-but it also helps emphasize that this is a real device, not just a toy.

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There are two buttons on the Pal 2-a call button and a play button, nice and simple. They do exactly what you would expect, make or take calls and playback. Depending on what function you are trying to do they function as select and OK buttons as well, which increases the capabilities of the device. For example, to make a call you press the call button, since you can store multiple numbers but there is no keypad, you are prompted to press the play button to cycle through to the next call option.

What's great about this is that even with no instruction, my kids could figure it out, and while the Pal 2 is designed for kids ages 8-12, my 5 year old and 3 year old were also able to figure things out pretty easily, even on their own.

Everything is initially set up by the parents who download a companion app for their smartphone. The app allows you to set up the phone numbers that are available for the child to dial, and set up other parameters like geo alerts and call options. The app was easy to use, although I will say it was a little slow at times. This is probably due to the fact that it is syncing with the device itself which takes time and resource to do. It was not slow to the point of frustration, just a little sluggish when changing major preferences.

You can store up to 10 different phone numbers in the device, which gives plenty of options on who your child can call-mom or dad, grandparents, school, daycare-and still have some leftover for whomever you need.

Calling is easy, and the quality of the call was very good despite the phone being attached to a wrist. Often with remote devices the call quality suffers because there is so much background noise, but LG did a good job with the mic set up and calls came through clear as a bell. One really neat feature of the device is that there is an auto-answer option where if you dial your child, if they don't answer the call after a few seconds, it will automatically answer. This can be great peace of mind knowing that if they are somehow incapacitated, you can still get through to them.

One challenge some folks may have is that when you enter the numbers you select the relationship of the number to the child-mom, dad, etc. But you can't differentiate between two sets of grandparents, you just have two Grandpa and Grandma entries but can't add names. It's not a huge deal, but it can make things difficult to remember who was first in the queue.

Another great feature of the Pal 2 is the geo capabilities that are built in. The Pal 2 does what other smart devices do and tracks the location of the device regularly. This gives you some really great options as parents if you are using the Pal 2 as something of a watchdog.

Through the app you can set some different geo settings that will alert you if things are not quite right. The generic use is that if the Pal 2 is on you can geolocate the device and see where it (and the wearer) is. Obviously this is great if you want to know where your child is-did they make it to school, are they at the park when they said they would be, etc. But it can also aid you if they take it off at the park and forget it- you can find it pretty quickly.

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This also allows you to set up location checks at different times of the day. For example, at 8:30 a.m. you can set up a check to see if they made it to school. Or at 4 p.m. you can check to make sure they made it to their after school program. This can give you a lot of peace of mind if you worry about younger children, or if they walk home from school.

I asked a couple friends of mine to test the device out as well, they have kids that are around the same age as ours and they reported huge success with the device as well. They actually brought up another use for it as well-senior care. Just like the Jitterbug phone which was a transitional cellphone for seniors years ago, this device is appealing for those that are maybe looking for a solution for elderly parents or family members who are possibly at risk or need to have readily available communication.

The same features that make this appealing for kids, can also give you peace of mind when looking at caring for the elderly and the device is easy enough to use that if they are "non-techy" they will still be able to figure out how to use it.

With nine days of standby time and up to 2.5 hours of talk time the rechargeable battery is more than adequate, and it weighs in at just over 1.5 ounces, so it's easy to wear all day. The housing is durable and the design and function worked as well as, or better than, advertised.

If you are looking for a transitional device for your kids, not quite ready to get them their own cellphone, this may be a great solution to give them a way to stay in contact, without all the concerns and pitfalls of getting them a smartphone or tablet.

All in all it's a cool device and is worth a look for many different situations. Check out www.VerizonWireless.com for the full specs.

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