Is This the Answer to Screen Addiction?

Category: Gadgets

Parents concerned about child predators, sexting, and the dangers of “screen addiction” may be well served by a forthcoming product from Republic Wireless. Let's take a look at Relay, how it works, and who else might find it useful...

Coming Soon: Relay From Republic Wireless

Republic Wireless, one of the earliest pioneers in low-cost hybrid WiFi/cellular phone networks, has introduced Relay -- a simple, screenless, one-button walkie-talkie-like device that uses 4G LTE cellular service and WiFi to connect kids to their families and friends with voice calls only.

Of course, that’s too boring; no kid would use it, and it would soon be forgotten at home or lost. So Relay does quite a bit more. And it might be useful for others as well.

Relay incorporates Google Assistant to help kids answer the many questions they have about the world, such as “Where can I find a bus to take me to the mall and back?” or “What time do I need to be home, again?” They can even play games with Google Assistant to while away the bus ride, and there may be some education sneaked into the verbal games.

Republic Wireless Relay

Relay can also stream music to kids, virtually ensuring that they will not leave home without it or let it out of their possession. The device is small enough to be no burden when clipped to a belt or backpack loop, and rugged enough to survive.

Parents can have their own Relay devices or use a Relay app on their Android smartphones to stay in touch with their kids. The GPS feature of the Relay device can answer the spoken question, “Where is Susie?” without humiliating Susie with a parental interruption in front of her friends.

Unlike traditional walkie-talkies, Relay is not limited in range. The product’s specs don’t say whether it switches between T-mobile and Sprint, as Republic Network does to find the strongest signal, but that would seem to be a reasonable assumption.

Striking a Balance

Republic Wireless is best known for their low-cost hybrid phone service. Hybrid phones use WiFi whenever possible, and seamlessly switch to cellular networks when needed. See my article [BYOP] Republic Wireless Just Got Better for more information on Republic Wireless phone service.

Three years of product development, with the active participation of customers for which Republic is noted, have gone into Relay. It seems to be a good balance between parental control, age-appropriate restrictions on Internet access, and a child’s needs to explore the world independently while remaining safe.

Friends can be added to a child’s Relay contacts, but it’s not clear how that is done or what supervision parents can exercise. Relay’s specs mention “NFC contact sharing.” NFC (Near Field Communications) allows compatible devices to exchange data only when they are within about five inches of each other, so it should not be practical for a bad actor to latch onto a child who’s not already in the bad actor’s clutches.

Relay does not record and preserve kid's voice conversations, which would have raised a privacy nightmare. But kids are capable of getting into much trouble by simply talking to each other without texting or chatting. I'd like to see more info on parents' monitoring capabilities.

Relay’s form factor looks nothing like a smartphone, so it might well escape the attention of a kidnapper. It could prove to be a lifeline in that worst-case scenario. The rugged and water-resistant design should protect it from drops and other oopsies. The device can be clipped to a backpack, tossed in a pocket, or strapped to the user's arm.

One Relay device will cost $99, according to Republic. Two devices will cost $149. A three-pack will cost $199. Monthly service will cost only $6.99 per Relay user (Relay device or app), which is pretty reasonable for the capabilities and peace of mind provided.

Not Just For Kids?

Relay also has applications for elderly or disabled persons who want simple, no-nonsense voice communication and Google Assistant services. An Alzheimer patient could quickly be located if he/she wanders off, or just ask Google Assistant how to get home. The famous infomercial line, “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” would reach family and friends, not strangers in a call center, for much less monthly cost.

I really can't see this product appealing to kids over the age of 13. By that age, most have a smartphone, and good luck trying to pry it from their fingers. Smartphones and the apps kids use are extremely addictive, and (for better or worse) they become an integral part of the child's social life. Parental attempts to limit screen time often result in hysterical behavior. But I digress.

However, the Relay also has some other interesting markets. Hikers, bikers and other outdoor enthusiasts may find it useful to stay in touch, and the multi-day battery life will outlast any smartphone. Business teams could use it to converse and touch base with the whole group. Heck, I might like one of these, just to help me find my wife in a grocery or department store. :-)

Republic has announced Relay in advance of its release in “early 2018,” presumably to invite additional parental input as well as to generate buzz. You can sign up for email notifications about new developments and the hard launch date.

What do you think of Relay? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Is This the Answer to Screen Addiction?"

Posted by:

Rick Hamrick
18 Dec 2017

Bob, there are times when an ad on your site is simply too funny to ignore. It's not that the ad is funny, it is the placement of it.

Today, below the title of this piece, "Is This the Answer to Screen Addiction?" is a perfectly sized ad for a bidet attachment for one's toilet. The fact that the title and the ad are exactly the same width, and the gap between the two is quite small, it made me laugh.

No need to post this, Bob. Just wanted to bring it to your attention so you can laugh, too!

Posted by:

18 Dec 2017

I see a problem when the child has to say out loud the numbers he wants to dial, or other information that a predator could hear further than 5 inches away and use. Plus, the unusual looking gadget itself provides a potential "in" for bad actors.

As for hysterical behavior when removing a smart phone, you are the parent and probably paying for that phone anyway. Act like it. Smart phones are a privilege not a right.

Posted by:

Anita Cooper
18 Dec 2017

This could be very useful for the Elderly and possibly give some peace of mind for family and carers. Thanks for all your informative articles during 2017 and I would wish you and your family all the best for Christmas and 2018.

Posted by:

18 Dec 2017

Although I am not there yet, getting lost near home may not be many years away. I hope by then this product will be available in Canada.
Thanks for the heads up.


Posted by:

27 Dec 2017

Ideal for companies who rent equipment out, especially extreme sports, boats etc. Also for folks wandering around hills and countryside. Might save time search and rescue wise.

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