My kid loves “fidgety things.” If yours does too, they might enjoy the Omate x Nanoblock smartwatch.
The Nanoblock, which will be unveiled at Mobile World Congress, is a typical kids’ watch-phone; it’s locked to an app on a parent’s phone and can only call them. But there’s the added bonus of a Lego-like watch band to which you can add removable bricks.
The device, sized for kids ages 5 to 10, features two big buttons on the side. It connects to a parent’s smartphone app for two-way, walkie-talkie-like voice chat; parents can also locate the watch using the app. It has a pedometer, alarm, stopwatch, and low-res front camera for selfies and video calls.
Its most unique feature, though, will be the band. It’s studded so it can connect with Nanoblocks, or Lego-like blocks from Japan. The photo Omate sent us showed the watch with several rows of tiny, colored Nanoblocks that could be used to make patterns on the band. They can also be detached, fidgeted with, and returned to the band (or lost), depending on how fidgety or how prone to lose things your kid is.
(Because this is an MWC announcement, here’s a $109.99 Sagrada Familia made of Nanoblocks.)
The watch links to cellular networks using a global virtual network system, Tata Communications’ Move. It has its own embedded SIM card and subscription that isn’t dependent on any mainstream plan. It’s a little unclear what network this works on in the US; Omate and Tata wouldn’t tell us.
Kids’ safety watches have gone on and off the market in the US. for years. Right now, the leading contender here is the LG GizmoGadget, sold by Verizon for $149.99. European regulators have been criticizing the whole class of products for the past few months because of potential privacy and security flaws.
Omate did say data privacy is a big concern. The watch transmits all data over an end-to-end encrypted VPN, Omate CEO Laurent Le Pen told us. “Kid smartwatches have a mission. They are here to protect our child,” he said in an email.
We’re a little concerned about the reliability and support of this watch, though, because it’s made by a vortex of non-consumer brands. Omate, which makes the watch, usually works through local distributors. The software and service come from Tata Communications, which has major infrastructure and backhaul connections but no consumer products in the US. Nanoblock, meanwhile, is well-known in Japan but has no physical US presence.
That means this cute watch will probably work, but as soon as you have a problem with the service, it isn’t clear to us who you’re supposed to contact in the US.
The watch will be available on Amazon in June for $179, with one year of service. Additional years of service cost $99/year. We’ll get more details at MWC later this month.