As our kids getting older they seem to acquire more and more connected devices these days. As parents, we are constantly trying to find a balance of allowing our children access to all they great things the internet has to offer while still shielding them from the more nefarious side of the web. Disney has recently entered this realm of internet security and monitoring with The Circle. They were kind enough to lend us a demo unit and let’s dive into what this cube named The Circle can do.
For all intents and purposes, The Circle is a tool to help parents manage their kid’s online life. It allows for you to set bed times, viewing guidelines, and stop adult traffic from ever making it to designated devices. With their Android and iOS apps, you can manage and filter internet access to your connected devices to your family’s liking.
The physical Circle is pretty simple and utilitarian. Surprisingly though, is that The Circle is a small white cubed device. Most of the device is constructed from functionless smooth plastic with the one exception being the back. Here you will find a microUSB port for power and a hidden Ethernet port. The Ethernet port can offer a more consistent connection to your router, but the majority of interactions will be over WiFi.
Speaking of WiFi….all the setup for The Circle will be done via the mobile apps over wireless. First, you will connect to The Circle itself via a private one-time hotspot channel. Anyone who has set up a Chromecast or similar device will find the steps for The Circle pretty straight forward. You connect to The Circle and then tell it the rest of your personal network settings and you should be good to go.
From here, you set up a Circle profile for the admin users (the parents) as well as profiles for each younger member of the house. You are presented with 5 pre-built filter levels for those in the home: Pre-K, Kid, Teen, Adult, or None. Most will want to set their profiles as managers to Adult, or None, to get no limitations on how they can handle the rest of the accounts.
Device Name Rabbit Hole
Continuing the setup is where I find the biggest drawback of The Circle. It’s really hard to decipher your device names. I had a hard time narrowing devices into the wanted categories of filtering due to no real identification. You essentially have to tap on each device to see the MAC hardware address and then match it to the connected gadgets in your home.
This presents an inherent problem for what The Circle is trying to be for me. It’s presenting itself as an easier way to manipulate your internal web traffic at home without having to get super nerdy and playing around with advanced router settings. Unfortunately, having to know the individual MAC addresses of each unit connected to the router is pretty much the same information I would need to set things like time-limits and filtering on my Asus router. Simply put, it defeats the purpose of many of the selling points of The Circle.
The good thing is, that once you’ve setup your devices, you then can start to really dig into what your kids are capable of using on the web. One of the better options is each preconfigured filter levels allows for a certain level of apps to be available for use. I like this added feature set that’s just above simple website blocking. For instance, The Circle has to be set to Adult before HBO Go or Snapchat are downloadable.
Basic web filtering is pretty much as you’d expect. Blocking specific apps drops the user into a warning splash screen instead of allowing them access to the blocked site. For anything less than Adult forces the Safe Search version of Google, and the Teen level only allows limited YouTube. Each one of these seems to be more or less strict depending on the preset you’ve chosen for users.
Time limits are self-explanatory. You set a bed time or earned times during the day that the children can use the wonderful web and it coordinates their restrictions accordingly. If you want all devices in your child’s profile to go dark after 9 pm they can easily be set to do so. Another cool thing is the Pause feature. If you know they need to be reading a book for an assignment, and you want to limit their distractions by cutting off the internet, you can pause their access with a click of a button. Once they’ve completed the task, you can click the same button to allow them to resume web use.
The Circle itself is a one-time purchase of $99. This is pretty in line with other filtering software that can be purchased for Windows and Mac computers. And The Circle doesn’t require a “server” to initiate the filtering. It works as a standalone option to manage the rest of the network. However, it’s an at home kind of management. You have to stay on your WiFi to get the benefit of the free plan.
If you do want parental controls while out and about town, Circle Go is available for users who want the added protection. But this get’s pricey with a $9.99 per month price tag. This makes it a heftier cost than many other options from the likes of Verizon and ATT which offer the same functionality (more or less) to users as a monthly add-on to their bills.
I like The Circle in many ways. Added security and filtering of the darker side of the internet from our youngsters is never a bad idea. The simple presets that even limits mobile apps access is a nice touch that most families could appreciate. My biggest reservation is that it doesn’t offer a big enough differentiation over built in router filtering. Once you have to start chasing down hardware MAC addresses, you’ve lost most of your argument for me of not using the hardware already in my home that offers similar features if you know where to dig for them.Get The Circle with Disney