Circle with Disney (@meetcircle) – Initial thoughts

Circle is a hardware device that helps parents filter content and manage screen time. It started life as a failed Kickstarter, but undeterred, Memory, the creator company, continued with their vision and eventually interested global giant Disney who have helped bring it to market.

I’ve bought one because of the abject failure of manufacturers Apple and Google to add effective parental controls to their devices – even after all this time. I’ve also had constant problems with software controls and their flakey and complex VPN set-ups and high subscription costs. Thankfully Circle, though starting life on a subscription model is a one-off payment. No doubt the hardware makes a profit, but somewhere or other they’ll also be sustained by feeding dollars into Uncle Walt’s empire.

I purchased the device from Amazon.com – the only place that I could find that would ship to the UK. Amazon.com added a reasonable shipping rate and automatically calculating import/custom fees – which was welcome to avoid the annoyance of having to pay to the courier. Even with the “brexit” pound, it worked out around the £90 mark – so probably two year’s subscription to a software model.

Unboxing

It’s a beautifully package, with the square (!) Circle device, US power adapter, micro-usb cable and super-short (obviously designed to be close to your router) ethernet cable. Having swapped the US plug for a UK model it was plugged in and powered up.

Setup

All of the steps to setup the device are simply documented here:

http://support.meetcircle.com/13577-general-help/setting-up-circle

It was a case of downloading the iOS app, and using it to pair the Circle to my phone (using an SMS text message access code) and router. It was a very simple process, even recognising the country of residence thus to get the mobile phone text number correctly.

I then setup the management profile using the simple and concise interface, adding which device belonged to the profile and which level of filtering to use. You could assign multiple devices to one profile, so if you have a laptop, phone and tablet for example.

The only caveat with this stage of the setup was the device list. It hadn’t recognised all of the devices in the house but the app noted that it would take time to do this. One way to speed up the process was to either power-cycle all devices or toggle airplane mode if available to disconnect and re-connect them with the household router.

Even after this I had a few generically named devices, ie “Apple Device” or “Liteon Device”. Using the app and device list I noted the MAC address of each and was able to identify which was which. Of course, for a novice user this may be a little daunting.

One useful feature to note on the “device list” was the ability to instantly “pause” the internet on that MAC address. Great if you need to barter with an unruly child (or adult)!

Profiles

So, so far so good.

Its got a default “home” profile that you can assign to a restricted filter. So, my kids are around the same age, and thus I’ve no need really to create a profile for each of them unless I want to receive “insights” – reports that give me a look at their screen and app time. Every unassigned device by default connects to the “Home” profile. If you have a party or your children’s friends come round and ask for the wi-fi password you are safe in the knowledge that they are automatically assigned this default filter and control level.

What I like about the filtering is that you have granular control over apps and content categories as well as forcing YouTube restrictions and Google Safe Search by default. Any other search engines are blocked. The kid filter “filters out Social Media, Explicit Content, Mature Content, Gambling, Dating and Malicious Content by Default”. Excellent.

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Conclusions

I’m really impressed so far. No problems straight out of the box, quick and easy to setup. I’ll keep an eye on internet speeds – though it is connected via ethernet to my router the device only has a 10/100 NIC. Hopefully it won’t slow things down too much.

I’ll start to play around with limiting screen time, app time and applying a bedtime and some of the other things the package has over the next few days.

 

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