If you’ve been debating whether or not to give your child a cell phone, and are reluctant because of the cost or worries about screen time, a little communication device called Relay is worth considering. At $49.99 plus $10/month for the data plan, it’s a more affordable option than a smartphone.
As a parent, I’ve struggled with the decision of whether or not to give my 10-year-old daughter a cell phone. I want us to be able to reach each other when necessary, but I know she’d be glued to the phone all the time if I cave and get her one. Hooray for parenting dilemmas.
I randomly came across Relay via an email as I was looking for Prime Day deals (heads up, it will be 50% off for a week starting 7/12). It looked exactly like the type of device I’ve been wanting to get my daughter, so I reached out to them and got two test units to play around with.
How the Relay Works
It’s quite simple, actually. There’s one button to push to deliver a message, just like a walkie talkie. You press and hold while you talk and then let go when you’re done. The Relay app for smartphones work the same way. If you’re talking Relay to Relay or smartphone to Relay, the person on the other end will receive the message right away as you begin talking, so it’s not like a voice message. You hear the audio in real time, minus a second or two delay. If you’re communicating Relay to smartphone, it’s more like a voicemail and a push notification lets you know you have a new message.
Unlike on a phone call, you can’t accidentally talk over each other. Only one device can be used at a time. This comes in handy when you have multiple devices connected to the same channel. You can also toggle between devices using the power button, and have one-on-one conversations.
My daughter can contact her mom or me individually, or the three of us can have a family conversation. Messages are also automatically stored if you’re not actively using the Relay when someone tries to reach you. Simply press the power button to listen to them. There’s not much more to it; it’s definitely built for simplicity.
Since Relay has both 4G LTE and Wi-Fi, I can reach her practically anywhere. I also don’t have to worry about being ignored because she’s watching YouTube videos. Thanks to the built-in GPS tracker, I can also see where she is at all times. When she’s home by herself I can easily check in on her, and when she went to a friend’s house I got a hold of her directly without calling her friend’s parents all the time. It was pretty convenient and way better than using our Google Home to communicate.
Where It Shines
The Relay is very good at what it was primarily built for, which is to be a communication device for kids and parents. There are very few bells and whistles, which I actually like. It’s simple enough for a non tech-savvy parent or grandparent to use, but also fun enough for kids to enjoy. The GPS tracker is also a useful feature, although it doesn’t have geofencing built into the app yet. That’s not a deal breaker for me, but it might be for some.
The Relay is definitely best when used with other Relays, but the app works well enough. Based on old reviews I read, it seems like it keeps improving with every app update. I get a push notification almost instantly after receiving a message, and I can go in and listen to them right away, or save them for later.
The build is also solid. It can easily survive a drop without being damaged. You don’t have to worry about scratches or a cracked screen. It was built for kids after all. After a few weeks of testing, it still looks new. If you knew my kids, that says a lot about its durability.
The speaker volume is definitely loud enough if you turn it up all the way. You can put it in a purse or backpack and still hear incoming messages. The sound quality isn’t amazing, but I don’t expect it to be. It’s similar to an Echo Dot or Google Home Mini, which is plenty for what you use it for. You can also plug in headphones if you don’t want everyone around you listening in on your conversations.
Where It Could Be Improved
The battery life is not bad, but it’s also not great. You can easily get a couple of days use out of it. However, considering there’s no screen draining battery life or a bunch of apps running in the background, I expected it to last longer. If you don’t use it for a few days, the battery will likely be dead or close to it. The charger is also unique to this product, so you can’t use one of the million mini USB chargers you probably have laying around the house in case you misplace the original.
The Relay to app communication only works for one main account holder. This means your child won’t be able to use the Relay to talk to their friends who have phones. Technically, you can log in with the same account on multiple devices, so both parents could take advantage of this at least. But it’s not recommended you share it outside the family.
I also wish there was a lock function for the main button. There were many times I accidentally pushed it while the Relay was in my pocket, which triggered multiple push notifications and messages to the app and our other Relay. The same thing happened to my daughter when she took it to school and tossed it her backpack. I got a barrage of messages and thought something was wrong, only to find a bunch of static noise in my notifications. Hopefully a future software update could solve this small pain point.
Should You Buy the Relay?
If you have kids between the age of 7 and 12, and don’t want them to have their own smartphone yet, definitely consider the Relay. At $49.99, it’s worth it. It’s the same price as an Amazon Echo Dot, but more useful. There’s an additional $10 a month for the data plan, which is probably cheaper than opening a new line of service with most carriers.
Some kids are very responsible (mine aren’t) and can handle taking care of a cell phone without being glued to it all day. Others act like Gollum, and treat phones like their “precious.” That’s where the Relay can be a great compromise. I’m definitely going to keep using the Relay until my daughter reacher her teens and want something “cooler.” For now, though, it’s the perfect solution for us.