Not all parental control software is the same. Many apps lack the fine control you want, or simply don’t work properly – allowing kids to use their device when you don’t want them to, or failing to let them use when you’ve said they can.
Either that, or they have access to more than one device and screen limiting apps are rendered somewhat ineffective if they can’t control all devices and provide an overall limit.
Qustodio certainly isn’t perfect, but it does allow you to create an overall time limit across multiple devices with support for Android, iOS, Amazon Fire tablets, Windows and macOS.
Although there is a free version it will be too limiting for most families. Ultimately Qustodio is going to cost you, but there is a three-day trial so you can test if it will work for you or not.
There are three Premium plans on offer and they differ only by the number of devices they allow to be managed. Premium 5 costs £3.33 / $4.58 per month (£39.95 / $54.95 per year).
The medium plan supports 10 devices, but is only better value if you actually have 10 to manage.
What does Qustodio do?
We focused mainly on the Android and Amazon apps for this review because that’s what kids mainly use in our experience. If your child has an iPhone, then there are fewer features available because of the restrictions Apple puts in place. Also, Qustodio uses a VPN to monitor activity on iOS and this can cause problems.
In terms of feature differences, only on Android will you get location tracking, phone call and SMS monitoring plus the new panic button, which allows them to phone up to four trusted contacts in an emergency (even if they’ve used up their screen time for the day).
Screen time limits
What you’ll likely care most about is the ability to control which apps each child can use on a particular device as well as how long they can use it for, and when they’re allowed to use the device.
This is where Qustodio shines. A grid allows you to allow or block use of the device for any given hour during the week. That means you can be quite specific about when they’re allowed screen time, and that can be different each day of the week. If you want to be able to set more precise time periods, which most people won’t, then you’re out of luck.
You can also set an overall screen time limit, which can be different each day. So while you may have allowed use of their devices from 7am to 9pm, they can only use them for a total of, say, two hours. And if you install Qustodio on everything they use – for example their phone, tablet and the family laptop – then the time limit apples across all three. So they can’t just move to a different device when time is up.
There’s a choice of what happens when the limit is reached: block internet access, lock the device and send you an alert. These aren’t exclusive: you can enable or disable any of them.
Unlike other parental control apps, there’s no way for kids to request any extra time, nor a built-in chat function. If they want extra time with an app or to use their device for longer, they’ll have to talk to their parent face to face, or call them. Similarly, if a website is blocked, there’s no way for you to quickly review this and allow it if you deem it acceptable.
Block apps and games
Finer control is available as you can go into the Games & Apps setting and set time limits for specific apps, or block them entirely. Again, you can choose different time limits for different days. The only frustration is that apps and games only appear in the list after they are launched on the phone, so you’d have to use each app or wait for your child to do so before you can set rules for it.
On iPhones and iPad, Qustodio can only block and manage certain apps. You can find a current list of what’s supported and which ones aren’t on Qustodio’s website. At the time of writing, popular apps such as Magic Piano, Bitmoji, Minecraft and all EA games cannot be blocked.
YouTube is singled out on Android and you can block access via a web browser as well as the YouTube app. Qustodio can show you what they’ve searched for and which videos they’ve watched.
By default, web filtering is enabled for certain categories such as alcohol, drugs, violence and pornography, but allowed for entertainment, news, sports, education, games, religion, technology and others. No filtering system is perfect, but Qustodio’s worked well.
There are two other main features: calls & SMS monitoring, plus Facebook monitoring. None of these are amazingly useful because kids these days don’t use SMS or Facebook. They use Snapchat, Instagram and Whatsapp among others. And they tend to video or voice call friends in these apps rather than using actual phone calls.
Currently, you’ll only find Facebook under the Social Monitoring category, so we hope Qustodio can add some of the other platforms to this list.
When you select a child in the app, you’ll see a map with their last recorded location and a timeline of their activity. At the top you can see how much screen time they’ve had, plus a bar chart of their activity throughout the day. Swipe left and you can see the breakdown of which apps they’ve used the most, any ‘questionable’ activity and their YouTube watch history (on Android).
You can also see the average use over 7, 15 and 30 days, as well as receiving a daily and / or weekly usage report for each child via email.
See where your kids are
Family locator is a feature for mobile devices which allows you to keep tabs on where a child is and – thanks to the latest update – get notifications when they arrive at certain places.
You could, for example, set Home and School locations and know when they’ve arrived safely to school and then back home again.
It updates the device’s location every few minutes but we found it wasn’t completely reliable in our testing, sometimes ceasing to report the location for no apparent reason.
It needs a GPS signal, mobile data and battery power. So if you expect to see your child’s location at school, say, but find the last update was somewhere en route, it could because their battery ran out… or because Family locator just decided to stop working.
And that brings us another of Qustodio’s missing features that can be found in certain rival apps. It doesn’t show you the battery level of managed devices. And for kids who take themselves to school or are otherwise allowed out and about on their own, that is a frustration.
Qustodio is the best parental control software we’ve used, but it isn’t perfect. We had problems on both Amazon and Android devices where blocking was overzealous and our kids were refused access to their devices when they should have been allowed to.
They learned the best way to get around this was to restart their devices, or to ask a parent to reset the time limit for the day.
The app did, however, always enforce time limits correctly.
We also experienced an issue where the app thought that the device administrator privileges had been tampered with on an Android phone and then got stuck in an endless loop which rendered the phone in question unusable.
Fortunately, the latter problem was resolved in the subsequent update in the Google Play Store and we’re assured the former is being fixed for the next update to the Amazon version of the app.
Support via email isn’t the speediest, so if you do have an issue you may be waiting several days for a reply, which isn’t really acceptable.
Qustodio is undoubtedly best on Android devices, so if that’s what your kids use, it’s one to try out. It’s much harder to recommend for iPhone and iPad.
Note: We may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site, at no extra cost to you. This doesn’t affect our editorial independence. Learn more.