Although I don’t yet have kids of my own, I was recently introduced to the world of children through my niece. As any good tech blogger would, I tested numerous Android games on her, and came up with a list of five awesome games she really enjoyed playing. Mobile games are great for kids, but can be somewhat nerve racking for the phone owners, who never know what the child might end up doing with the phone besides playing games.
There are many games that lock your phone so the child can do nothing else but play, but wouldn’t it be great to give kids the choice to play multiple games, and only games? That way, you don’t have to worry about them making inadvertent calls to your boss or simply getting frustrated when the game keeps exiting by mistake. I’ve recently found an awesome app that lets you do just that – it’s called Play Safe.
What Is Play Safe?
Play Safe is a free app which creates a sort of “kids market” on your device. You can use Play Safe to choose just the apps you want your kids to have access to, and exclude them from touching anything else on your phone. When the phone is locked using Play Safe, kids can choose which game they want to play, but are limited to just those apps you granted them access to.
As any cunning adult (or child) would, I tried tricking the app in various ways to gain access to the rest of the phone. In the end I succeeded, but this bypass is easily avoided. I will soon show you how I managed to trick the app, but all in all, this is a great app for younger children who tend to exit games by mistake and really just want to enjoy the game, not find a way to make prank calls.
Choosing Apps & Locking Your Phone
The app is very easy to use by both children and adults, and comes with a simple, people-friendly interface. This is the app’s main screen:
If this is your first time, tap on “Select Apps” to choose which apps your kids can have access to. The app will load a list of the apps you have installed on your phone, and all you have to do is scroll through them and tap the ones you want to add.
Once you’re done selecting, hit the back button to return to the main screen (there isn’t a “done” button or anything like that). Now you can lock your phone, but there’s still one more step to go through. When you first lock your phone, you’ll have to choose to complete the action using Play Safe.
Don’t forget to tick the “Use by default” box so you don’t have to do this every single time. If you’ve used child-lock games before, you’re already familiar with this process.
That’s it, your phone is now childproof and you can hand it over to the nearest child for testing. Now it’s time to see how I managed to break through the locks, and how you can prevent your own child from doing so.
Using Locked Phone & How To Keep It Locked
When you hand over the locked phone to a child, this is what they’ll see:
This is the list of apps I added to my Play Safe list. The child can tap any game, and when done, the home button or back button will redirect back to this screen. So far so good.
I then tried using the recent apps option on my device (note that my device runs Android 2.2, not ICS, so I could not test this with the latest version of Android) to see if this will let me choose restricted apps. Luckily, it doesn’t. When I long-pressed the home button, the list of recent apps included only the games I already played, and the Play Safe app itself.
So no luck here. My break came when I was using an app that does not hide the notification bar, such as this harmless timer app, Ovo.
When the notification bar is visible, a cunning or unsuspecting child can accidently pull it down, at which point they can gain access to your entire device. It does require some know-how, but it can happen by mistake with some apps. To its defense, even when the notification bar is down, pressing the back or home buttons will bring the child back to Play Safe, not the actual home screen, but this is still quite a loophole. So what can you do?
Most games on Android are full-screen, so the kids will not get access to the notification bar. You might want to check your games first to find out which ones don’t run in full-screen, and exclude them from the list. This way, you can rest assured the child will only use the right apps and won’t be able to do anything else with the device.
Play Safe is great for younger children, but might be a bit easy to bypass for older ones. The app unlocks by pressing the app logo for 3 seconds. which is definitely something an older child can figure out. It would be nice to have a password protection option, but as long as my niece is young, I definitely plan to use Play Safe.
What do you do for peace of mind when a child is using your phone? Know of any brilliant solutions? Tell us in the comments!