We’re seeing a wave of new smartwatches designed for kids hitting the market, but the DokiPal claims superiority as the first to support 4G LTE and an integrated voice assistant. The sound idea behind the rise of kids smartwatches is that they act as a basic phone for youngsters who aren’t ready for a proper phone yet. Parents can track their child’s location and call or message them and because the watch is strapped to their wrist, meaning there’s less risk it’s going to be lost. The DokiPal also offers basic fitness tracking, geofencing, a camera and photo editor, and IP68 water resistance.

The DokiPal is one of the most expensive kids smartwatches out there at $179 and, if you want to use the data-only 4G LTE Doki SIM, you’re looking at paying $10 per month on top. Hong Kong-based Doki Technologies recommends the DokiPal for kids aged five years and up. I tested it with my 10-year-old son Malcolm to see how well it works.

Solid design

The DokiPal comes in the usual unimaginative choice of blue or pink, though the green or purple notches on the strap add a little visual flair. It’s a chunky plastic smartwatch and it inevitably looks quite big on a child’s wrist. It’s not too heavy at around 50 grams and Malcolm said he found it “medium” comfortable to wear.

The body of the DokiPal is slick plastic and there’s Gorilla Glass over the 1.4-inch color TFT touchscreen. The strap has a grippy, soft-touch feel to it and is attached with traditional pins, so you could switch it out if you had to — a lot of kids smartwatches are molded together so the strap is often impossible or, at least, very difficult to replace.

DokiPal review
Simon Hill/Digital Trends

The SIM tray slides out of the left side and on the right side there’s a power button and an SOS button below, which also doubles as a back button for navigation. Pleasingly, the DokiPal has an IP68 rating, so rain, showers, and even baths are nothing to worry about. Our review unit has been through the shower and emerged unscathed.

While the screen is fairly sharp and bright, the glass is quite reflective and it can be hard to read in direct sunlight. There’s a big bezel around the screen and a 2-megapixel camera above it.

Using the app and calls

The DokiPal is unlocked so you can insert any nano-SIM card and use it for calls and messaging. It will work with AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Cricket Wireless in the U.S., and you also can use the Doki SIM, which is a data-only SIM that supports LTE in 50 countries through a partnership with Telefónica. It will cost you $10 per month for unlimited data, though I’m sure there will be a “fair use” limit on that beyond which you’ll be throttled. I tested with the Doki SIM.

To set the DokiPal smartwatch up you need to install the Doki app for Android or iOS. The watch itself displays a QR code which you can scan from the app on your phone, but you’ll also have to activate the SIM and create an account using your phone number. There’s really no sugar-coating this — the app is a mess. I tested with a Pixel 3 and, even with instructions, it took far longer than it should have to get the watch and phone connected and the SIM activated. You also have the option of connecting the DokiPal to Wi-Fi networks.

Upon first setup, nothing worked for us. Calls wouldn’t go through, messages didn’t work, the watch lagged terribly, got very hot, and drained the battery so fast that I could see the percentage ticking down. I tried rebooting a few times to no avail, then went in search of factory reset instructions, but couldn’t find any. I turned the DokiPal off and let it charge up fully before trying again and this time it worked — sometimes.

The confusingly-designed app opens to show the DokiPal’s location on a map — I’ll get to that soon. Along the bottom, you have the Add Watch tab, which allows you to scan the QR code and add a watch — there’s support for multiple watches here. Then there’s Contacts, which will have your child listed after you add the app. To call or message them, you need to tap Contacts, then tap on their name, and you’ll get the messaging app where you can send text messages, emojis, and GIFs. If you want to make a call, you need to tap the phone icon at the top and select video call, phone call, or VoIP call. This path and the same options are mirrored on the DokiPal watch for your child.

I tried to start a call from my phone and from the DokiPal watch, but kept getting a call blocked message. Turns out this is because the SIM is data-only, so we had to make it a VoIP call. The fact that the call option still appears, and that the error message it triggers doesn’t really explain what the problem is, highlights the lack of user-friendliness in the software.

I also tested video calls, VoIP calls, and sent a few text messages back and forth. Over a week of testing, it became clear that nothing works particularly well. Every option is accompanied by a delay long enough to make you think it has crashed. There were a few occasions when the VoIP call worked reasonably well and we could hear each other, we also had one video call that worked, albeit with a lot of lag, but the majority of attempts either failed before connecting or were so laggy that any conversation was impossible.

DokiPal review
Simon Hill/Digital Trends

Even sending GIFs in the messaging app often took an unreasonably long time. Service can be patchy where we live, so your mileage will vary depending on your local area, but I tested another kid’s smartwatch on 3G recently and it worked just fine for calls. I also tested the DokiPal with Wi-Fi turned on to see if it would perform any better, and it didn’t seem to make a difference.

The Doki app also has a Discover tab which didn’t display anything at all the first 10 times I tapped it. I eventually got it to load, but it turns out I wasn’t missing much as it just includes links to Doki’s website. The final option is a profile where you can enter a few personal details. You’ll want to change your name to Dad, or whatever you want to display on your kid’s watch in here, otherwise it will list you by your full name. A few of the other options, like SIM Management, either wouldn’t load or always displayed error messages for me. I also found the app made my phone vibrate sometimes but for no obvious reason.

The voice assistant

Doki also boasts that the DokiPal has an integrated voice assistant which is powered by the COPPA-compliant (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule) service Kidsense. You tap and hold on the microphone to pose a query. We tested it several times and it mostly either hung indefinitely on “Processing” or said, “I didn’t get that.” I managed to get it to tell me what the weather was like one time, but it told me about the weather in Kingston which is nowhere near where we live.

To rub salt into the wound of our disastrous experience, the fitness tracking feature didn’t work properly either. It’s supposed to track steps, calories burned, and distance traveled, but the most it managed to detect in any given day was 15 steps, which was obviously wrong. When I tried to access fitness data in the app it just hung on loading.

DokiPal review
Simon Hill/Digital Trends

One cool feature in the app that’s a smart idea is the scheduler. You can create reminders for regular events, so your child will get an alarm to wake them up, remind them they have a club or tell them it’s time to read a book. You can set up reminders for anything you want. You can also set up one-off events. The first time I tested this, the event triggered a ringtone on Malcolm’s watch at the right time with a pop-up message on the screen. The problem is that nothing he did stopped the ringtone from playing; he tapped, opened the info, tapped okay, swiped, all to no avail — we had to turn the watch off to stop it. When we tested again, a simple tap was enough to dismiss the alert.

The DokiPal has Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 2100 chipset inside, so the hardware should be capable of better. Teething trouble with new devices is common, but a glance at the reviews in the Play Store and App Store shows that my experience is fairly typical. The software needs a lot more work.

Tracking your kids

The DokiPal uses GPS and Wi-Fi to track your child’s location. Most of the time it will be relying on cell towers and GPS. I found it to be reasonably accurate, but it wasn’t uncommon for it to be up to a hundred meters off. It routinely displayed Malcolm as being in one of our neighbor’s homes, but this is par for the course with tracking and tallies with other devices I’ve tested.

You can set up a geofence area in a circle from 50 meters up to 500 meters around a specific location and there’s the option to schedule it for different times of day, so you could, for example, set it to alert you if your child leaves school grounds during school hours. We tested this out and it worked as expected.

There’s also an SOS button which will trigger an alert if held down, send you a location update, and record 60 seconds of sound. It worked when we tested it, though I could not get the recording to load on my phone.

Battery life and camera

The DokiPal has an 800mAh battery, which Doki suggests will get you up to 48 hours of normal use. Our DokiPal never made it through a day without running out of power, even when Malcolm was barely using it. The charging cable is standard USB-A at one end and a magnetic cradle at the other which easily fits onto the pins on the back of the DokiPal. This is one of the few good elements, as it’s easy enough for young children to connect and much better than a Micro USB port.

The 2-megapixel camera is another highlight since most kids smartwatches have a VGA camera. The quality is reasonable, though it’s obviously miles behind even a budget phone. Malcolm also enjoyed the photo editing, which enabled him to give me small glasses and a silly mustache through stickers.

Malcolm’s verdict

“To be honest, I don’t think it’s great.”

Although these smartwatches are typically described as suitable for 5 to 12 year-olds, I think, at 10 years-old, the DokiPal is already a bit young for him. He liked the camera and photo editing and he thought the video call was cool when it worked, but it rarely did. He also liked the idea of the voice assistant and fitness tracking, but neither worked properly.

Is it worth buying?

No. In its current state, it is impossible to recommend the DokiPal and it doesn’t work well enough to provide any peace of mind. I recently tested the Xplora 3S and it has most of the same features, costs a lot less at around $125, and works reasonably well. You could also pick up a phone like the Moto G7 Play for $200 and it would be a much better buy for older kids. If I had paid $179 for the DokiPal I would be demanding a refund.