Back-to-school season is the perfect time to consider the best GPS trackers for kids. When your kids head back to class, you can make sure they’re getting to and from school safely. And with some devices, they’re even able to send you an SOS if they run into problems.
The best GPS trackers for kids come in handy throughout the year, though — not just at school time. Should your child get lost in a crowd, you’re able to pinpoint their location just by glancing at your phone. Trackers also give your children the freedom to roam freely, while giving parents a way to check on their whereabouts for that extra peace of mind.
Equipping your children with a tracker is as easily as clipping it onto their backpack or fastening it to their wrist. (Many of the best GPS trackers for kids that we’ve tested double as wristwatches.) No matter what design you choose, a top GPS tracker should be easy to operate, with some devices capable of letting your kids send out alerts to you and other care-givers if there’s trouble.
When we look for the best GPS trackers, we consider how easy a device is to use, how comfortable it is to wear and what kind of information it provides parents. We also look at the ongoing cost of kid trackers —besides what you pay for the tracker itself, you generally need to also pay a monthly fee for network connectivity.
While our search looks at the best GPS trackers for kids, many of these devices work just as well if you’re hoping to monitoring aging parents. (You may have to turn to a variation on the tracker to get a more age-appropriate design.) Here’s what we’ve found in our search for good tracking tools.
What is the best GPS tracker for kids?
Jiobit has been the best GPS tracker for kids, thanks to a kid-proof design that can withstand the elements, though the company has started taken orders on a new version. The original Jiobit worked seamlessly with the smartphones you or a caregiver might carry around, so you not only knew the location of your child but who they’re with — a valuable feature if you rely on a nanny or babysitter and want to check in on how everyone is doing.
If you prefer a watch to a clip-on tracker, Lil Tracker is not only comfortable for kids to wear, it’s also affordable, though its app is pretty confusing. While not a traditional kid tracker, the Apple Watch SE is an intriguing option thanks to Apple’s Family Setup feature for tracking the location of someone wearing an LTE-enabled model of the smartwatch. Given the Apple Watch’s cost, though, we’d only recommend it for older kids or aging parents unless you can find it on sale through one of the best Apple Watch deals.
You may be thinking about trying out other options like a standard GPS tracker instead of one designed specifically for kids, but we’d caution against that. The best GPS trackers for kids are designed specifically to be worn and sometimes operated by children. Dedicated GPS trackers, such as the very accurate Spot Gen3 (opens in new tab), can be overwhelming for youngsters to use.
Likewise, we’d steer you away from using Apple’s AirTag to track anything other than objects. That tracker’s use of Ultra Wideband may make it tempting to use with kids or pets, but the range isn’t as good as a dedicated people tracker; what’s more, Apple discourages that kind of use case.
The best GPS trackers for kids you can buy today
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Our pick for the best GPS tracker for keeping tabs on kids, pets and older adults has been the Jiobit (opens in new tab), which is small and light (2 x 1.5 x 0.5 inches, 0.6 ounces). A loop lets you attach the tracker to a backpack, shoe, belt loop, keychain or necklace, and we found we only had to charge it every five days or so.
The makers of Jiobit have rolled out a new version, the $129 Jiobit Next that promises better battery life and more accurate tracking, thanks to a new antenna design. Support for low-power wide area networks should help the Jiobit Next perform better in areas without great cellular coverage. We plan on testing the device.
As for the original Jiobit, with no screen, microphone or speaker, it feels very durable. It’s shock-resistant and waterproof with an IPX8 rating — I doubt my 6-year-old could destroy it without a dedicated, sustained effort. We threw it on the ground, stepped on it and left it on the driveway during a rain shower, and it kept working just fine.
The best part for parents is how the Jiobit app for iOS (opens in new tab) and Android (opens in new tab) lets you know not only where your child is but also who she’s with. If your child has multiple caregivers and they all use the Jiobit app, the tracker and the caregiver’s phone will connect with Bluetooth whenever they’re in range. That way, you can see in the app that your son left school at 3 p.m., accompanied by his dad, or his stepmom, or his babysitter, or whoever was supposed to pick him up.
Even better, you aren’t notified when your child arrives at or leaves a trusted place with you. After all, you don’t need a push notification to tell you that you just picked up your kid from school. But you do want a notification if she leaves school alone or with someone else. Trusted Places are easy to set up in the app, and you can choose to be notified when the tracker enters, leaves or both.
You add other caregivers to your Care Team by phone number. They’ll receive a link over SMS (text) to download the Jiobit app, and when they set up an account, they enter their own phone number. Care Team members can choose to be notified when the Jiobit enters and leaves the trusted places you’ve set up, and they can see the Jiobit on the map and which caregiver is in range. They just can’t set up additional trusted places or change any of the Jiobit’s settings.
With a combination of Bluetooth, GPS/GLONASS and Wi-Fi, the Jiobit got a good signal indoors and outdoors — the app always found it within a second or two of launching. Tapping the top of the smartphone screen lets you enter tracking mode, where the location updates on the map as the tracker moves, leaving a track between points. Live tracking for long periods will wear down the Jiobit’s battery, so the app asks you after 2 minutes if you want to keep tracking or go back to the map, which still refreshes every few seconds if the tracker is moving, just without creating a trail.
Even though Jiobit’s app looks great, it could have a few more features. There’s no History to show where the tracker has been during the day. The original Jiobit lacked an SOS button that your child could press if there’s trouble, but the new version of Jiobit rectifies that omission.
If you’re trying to locate the Jiobit, there’s no augmented-reality view to guide you to its exact spot. But when you’re paired by Bluetooth, you’ll notice a little bar in the app that connects your photo, representing your phone, to your child’s photo, representing the Jiobit. That bar grows longer or shorter based on how close you are, which can help you home in on the device. Then, you can tap the little bell icon, and the Jiobit will make a noise and flash its LED, in case you’ve lost it under the bed, for example.
The original Jiobit costs $149, with a service contract available for $14 a month. Sign up for two years of service and you lower the cost to $9 a month. (In either case, your first 30 days are free.) Additional Jiobit trackers can be added to either plan for $6 a month, with the same pricing for the device. The tracker uses AT&T’s and T-Mobile’s networks to send the GPS data.
The original Jiobit was the best GPS tracker for kids, with a long battery life and an easy-to-use app that make this device easy to recommend. We hope that the sequel lives up to the high standard this edition set. Check back for our updated review.
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Before we delve into the Lil Tracker’s merits as one of the best GPS tracker for kids, let’s talk availability. The Lil Tracker can be hard to find on online retailer sites like Amazon, but you can always buy directly from Lil Tracker itself if you decide that this is the GPS tracker for you. We reviewed the 2G version of the Lil Tracker, but there’s now a 4G version available for $129.
No matter the version, the Lil Tracker is a full-featured GPS watch aimed at kids, but it may be a little too full-featured once you get a look at the app. You have to provide your own SIM card (more on that in a bit), but that enables GPS tracking, as well as two-way voice calls, texts and one-way calls in which you can just listen to what’s going on at your child’s location.
Weighing only 1.5 ounces, the watch is light, with a comfortable silicone band and a metal buckle. It has a 1.2-inch color touch screen with a friendly animated monkey that accompanies the time display. It’s rugged and splash-proof, and there’s also a completely waterproof version for $20 more. Battery life depends on how much you use the device, of course, but the Lil Tracker is designed to last 12 hours; I had to recharge it every night.
The Lil Tracker stands out from other trackers with its two- and one-way calling. For two-way calls, you call the watch from the app on your smartphone; the watch accepts calls only from numbers you’ve authorized in the app. Kids can call those approved contacts too, by swiping and tapping the touch screen. Holding down the SOS button on the side of the watch will call up to three preprogrammed numbers, in order, until someone answers. (We reviewed the classic version of the Lil Tracker, but there’s a waterproof version available for $20 more. As for seniors, there’s a $99 version of the watch available in more mature colors.)
Calls between the watch and the app connected quickly in my tests. The sound quality was only so-so, but it was good enough for a quick check-in. My 6-year-old son could understand me just fine over the watch’s speaker, but I sometimes had a hard time telling what he was saying when he was outdoors. When he was indoors and speaking right into the watch, the call sounded a lot better.
One-way calls, called “Sound Guardian” in the app’s menu, are kind of like the Drop In feature on Amazon Echo devices. Parents use the app to call the watch, and they can hear what’s going on around it, but the watch doesn’t ring or make any indication that someone is listening in. This worked well: My son’s watch called me right away, and I could tell he was at school — but he didn’t know I was calling, so he didn’t say anything to me. The sound quality was only so-so and varied based on ambient noise.
The app (which, weirdly, is called SeTracker2, not Lil Tracker, on iOS (opens in new tab) and Android (opens in new tab)) has a lot of other features, too. Some are a lot more important than others. Useful features include the ability to set multiple geofences, track route histories and remove detection alerts (though mine went off when my son took off the watch because his wrist was getting sweaty). The watch can track steps taken and distance, estimate calories burned and count how many times your child turns over in her sleep. (But the watch is pretty bulky to keep on at night, and you need to charge it overnight.) You can send text chats to the watch, including emoji if your child isn’t a reader yet. They can’t text you back, though.
Unfortunately, the app is riddled with spelling errors and messages that make no sense. (An item called Make Friends brings up a message that reads: “Note: app delete function only for friends to pay a single friend devices; devices can cross multiple friends need to device the end delete.” Huh?) Time zone selection is confusing, as you have to calculate how far away you are from Greenwich Mean Time. And the app’s main screen has a decorative banner above the map that flips through five images that don’t add anything to the app — they’re just distracting. Worse, though, is that the app often displays an actual full-screen ad upon launching, even if you’re launching it by tapping a push notification.
When we reviewed Lil Tracker, the company didn’t offer a package that included a SIM card or service for customers. That means you shop around for cheap service or turn to your carrier to add a connected device to your current wireless plan. That provides flexibility, but it also places the burden on you.
The Lil Tracker watch is passable — and affordable — but the app is disappointing and hampers the experience. It’s too bad, because with an all-new app, the Lil Tracker would be a contender for the best GPS tracker for kids. The one-way calling, which lets you listen in on what’s happening around your child, is a compelling feature for parents who want to know more than the kid’s location.
Apple continues to update its Apple Watch lineup — the latest model is the Apple Watch 7 and an Apple Watch 8 is likely coming next month. But parents of older kids who want a device that keeps everyone connected should consider the Apple Watch SE, even if the lower-cost option in Apple’s lineup hasn’t seen an update lately. (That, too, could change in the fall with the arrival of the Apple Watch SE 2.)
The Apple Watch is a good option as a GPS tracker because Apple’s Family Setup feature lets you manage one of the company’s watches for another person — a child, say, or even older parent. And rather than being overkill, should you grab a cheaper option like the Apple Watch SE, you can monitor locations from afar. It’s a great solution if you’re already comfortable with using Apple’s products.
The Apple Watch SE features an aluminum case with silver, gold and space gray finishes, and it comes in 40mm and 44mm sizes. Like the Apple Watch Series 6, the SE version has an accelerometer, gyroscope, and the always-on altimeter. Unlike the even cheaper Apple Watch 3, you get fall detection, noise monitoring, international emergency calling and emergency SOS. That latter feature will be particularly appealing to parents who see the Apple Watch SE as a potential tracking device. (Another reason to skip the Apple Watch 3 — it’s not compatible with watchOS 9, the new version of Apple’s smartwatch software arriving later this year.)
To get the location tracking abilities for the Apple Watch, you’ll need to buy the LTE version, which costs $329 for the 40mm model and $359 for 44mm model (as well as the additional monthly fee from your phone carrier). With Family Setup enabled, you’re able to track the location of someone wearing an LTE-connected Apple Watch SE. You can also set fitness goals, send allowance money and limit features during school hours via Family Setup.
The Apple Watch SE can’t match other dedicated GPS trackers for kids in terms of battery life, as Apple only promises 18 hours of use. That means you’ll have to charge the Apple Watch SE every night. But the Apple Watch also offers more features than the typical kid tracker, including activity tracking, a dedicated Fitness app and a hand-washing guide.
The Apple Watch SE certainly isn’t the ideal solution for everyone who just wants basic tracking features. But for older kids who balk at some of the less sophisticated looks of dedicated trackers or for older parents who need to be monitored, the Apple Watch SE delivers a nice blend of fashion and functionality.
Just be aware that Apple is rumored to be working on a new Apple Watch SE for 2022. The Apple Watch SE 2 isn’t likely to appear before the fall.
How to choose the best GPS tracker for kids
Here are the criteria we consider when determining the best GPS tracker for kids.
Features: In addition to tracking location, many GPS devices offer a multitude of features, including one- and two-way calling and the ability to set up geofenced zones that alert you when your child has left a designated area. We look at which devices went beyond the basics and how those features were implemented.
Performance: You want a GPS tracker that accurately displays a person’s location, with frequent updates when he or she is on the move. We took note of how accurately each device pinpointed our location. We’ve found that generally trackers work better in wide-open locations, with less accurate signals when we tested in dense downtown areas.
Design: We considered the size of the GPS tracker and whether it was something a child could easily carry around. We also looked at durability: Could the device withstand rough-and-tumble trips to the playground?
Ease of use: We wanted to find devices that were easy enough for a small child to use, certainly, but also ones that wouldn’t give mom or dad fits during the setup and activation process. Here’s one universal tip: Make sure to activate your GPS tracker in as wide of an open space as possible — not from inside a building. Trackers hate being enclosed, especially at the beginning.
Price: In addition to paying up front for a GPS tracker, there are monthly service fees. We considered what each GPS tracker will cost you on a monthly basis and whether you’re required to sign a service contract. We also note when GPS trackers include the cost of service in the initial price tag, such as offering the first year of service for free.
Security: Check what security protocols your GPS tracker follows. And when setting up the device, make sure to change any default passwords or user names.
How we test GPS trackers for kids
In the past few years, we’ve tested a half-dozen kid-friendly GPS trackers; initially we also tested alongside a trio of generic GPS trackers. (Some of the kid trackers we initially tested are no longer available, as they relied on AT&T’s since-discontinued 2G network; we’ve removed reviews of those products from this guide for the best GPS tracker for kids.) We conducted tests in both New York and the San Francisco Bay Area, using trackers to follow young children both from afar and to find them in a crowd.
To see what each tracker offers, we enable all push notifications and test all voice features, except for ones that would trigger 911 emergency calls. We also keep an eye on how the batteries in each device held up as we traveled from spot to spot.
We go through the companion apps for each tracker, taking note of the features that are available and testing them with the GPS tracker itself. We also research the monthly service cost for each tracker we review.
Do these GPS trackers for kids also work for seniors and pets?
Kids aren’t the only members of your family that you may want to keep tabs on. Trackers can also help you be aware of where seniors and pets are. And as you might imagine, the companies that make the best GPS trackers for kids also have devices better suited for older members of the family or pets that might run off.
In the case of Jiobit’s tracker — both the original version and the Jiobit Next — it looks neutral enough so that either kids or grandparents can wear it without standing out, and so Jiobit sells the same device at the same price for people of all ages. For pets, Jiobit includes a fabric pouch attachment that can fasten onto a pet collar, but the tracker and service plan cost the same.
As noted above, Lil Tracker’s watch for seniors comes in a more conservative black color and costs a little more than the version for children, at least for the 2G version of the tracker. 4G Lil Tracker watches costs $129 for seniors and children alike. The company has a version of its tracker for pets, but it’s listed as sold out as of this writing.
The Apple Watch SE has a stylish design that appeals to seniors, and the LTE version of that smartwatch costs the same no matter who’s wearing it.
If you’re interested in reviews of dedicated products for pets, our sister site PetsRadar looks at the best pet trackers (opens in new tab) for cats and dogs.