Review: Circle with Disney

Circle is a lot of things.  It’s a hardware device, an app, and a whole lot of an internet nanny.  I bought this device thinking I would be underwhelmed.  I wasn’t.

Circle allows your family to manage all of your home’s connected devices with ease. Circle pairs wirelessly with your home Wi-Fi and allows you to manage every device on the network—tablet, TV, or laptop. You can assign devices to different profiles in order to customize Internet usage for your family.   Devices can also have time limits assigned as well as bedtimes assigned.  The internet will not work on that device if it’s bedtime.  Set time limits on certain apps and not on others.  An Example would be a 30 minute limit on Minecraft but a 2 hour or longer limit on something educational like a Math or spelling app.  It’s up to you.

Turn off YouTube with a tap. You can even pause the household internet in order to get the kids to the dinner table!

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Through a licensing partnership with the Walt Disney Company, Circle provides families with Disney entertainment.  You will have access to Disney videos, blogs, GIFs, memes, emojis, music, games, characters and lots more all through MyCircle

 

Setup was easy.

Plug into power and for best results plug into Ethernet close to your wireless router but you don’t have to.  It works in a centralized area that offers it good wifi reception. (I recommend Ethernet)

 

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The app helps you through the setup process by directly connecting to circle, then you tell it your wifi SSID  name and password.  This process was very quick and I didn’t have any issues.  The app jumps right into setting up your family starting with yourself.  When you are done setting up family members it asks to indicate what devices on the network you don’t want circle to watch for.  Lights, nest, etc.  I excluded servers, and NAS devices as well.  The app will do it’s best to preselect your home appliances and devices you don’t necessarily want to be filtered.  These all go into the Home profile.   That’s zero filtering or monitoring.  I went ahead and made a different Home Device profile and moved all those devices to it because all new devices that join network go to home profile.

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I like the Home profile to be nice and clean so I’ll be sure to notice anything that pops up on the network.  Several showed up overnight actually.  Like water sensors and other home automation devices you might have on WiFi.  Circle really gives you some insight as to what is going on in your house!

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Now, back to putting devices into profiles.  It will list all devices it sees traffic for.  Then you get to go identify them.  This may be harder for non tech folks to do as the list can get big if you have a lot of devices. Some are simply labeled Device, or Microsoft, or Apple.  If you are as OCD as I am you will go through and match MAC addresses to the device.  This will allow you to know the device on the list actually belongs to that person you are assigning it to.

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This may be a non factor in your household.  I had about 20% of my devices I wanted to relabel.  Microsoft Device to Surface Pro 3, Apple iPad, to the name of the person using that iPad, etc.

This can be difficult with off branded or less known manufacturers.  I had a Foscam camera show up as manufacturer B-Link and a description of IP Camera.  I then had to login to the camera and hunt for the Mac address in order to be sure it was the Foscam.  Luckily, Circle has and easy way to re-label devices once you identify them.

Now find your kid devices and put them in their own profiles with their name.  I made one for each child.  I also created a Kid Guest, Adult Guest, and one for all of my devices.

In each profile you can set the level of filtering you want as well as time limits.  Individual app time limits as well as time online in general. Also, set wake up and bed times.  Bedtime worked great.  I intentionally set it at 6 PM and it cut my kid off from doing school work.  I opened the app and set it to 8PM and he was good to go almost instantly.

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The IMPORTANT part

It won’t shut down an ipad after a certain time limit.  You are still going to need to do the whole parenting thing.  It simply limits internet access.  Apps that need to make calls to the internet will not work.  If they have apps that work independently of the internet then they can still use the iPad to game with, or whatever.

As for internet limiting, It works and it works pretty good. So good in fact it fooled me.  My boys asked me to update their ipads.  I use restrictions on each ipad to attempt to keep them out of trouble.   I removed the restricion on the ipad and the I went to each of their circle profiles and moved their bedtime to later so I could get into the app store and update their stuff.  I kept getting failures and I couldn’t figure out why.  I finally found that their profile had an “app store” setting.  Once I toggled that to ON they were immediately able to update their apps.

It also filtered me once when I was trying to look up hotels in Las Vegas.  There is a gambling filter and it was turned and blocking a couple of Las Vegas hotels I was looking for info on.  A quick jump into the Circle app and I was back to booking hotels.

The YouTube filter will block the YouTube kids app.  Just FYI.  Weather Radar app is not working as well on the kids filter.   I turned filters on and off until I got frustrated.  It doesn’t work on the kid or teen profile, only on adult.  There is probably an answer to this but I couldn’t find it.  You may find this on a few apps.

Ports and Extra

It has a built in battery.  If your kids pull the power plug and think they are going to surf freely think again! I said it once before but it has Ethernet.  On the back of the device you can see the USB port for power, the power indicator and right under that is an Ethernet port. Lift the flap and it’s there.  Above all that is a power button but you have to hold it down for 10 seconds to get it to shut off.

Notifications

Circle will notify you when a member has gone over their time limit.  More importantly it will notify you when a new device has joined the network, or an admin app has been added, it has gone offline, or has been reset.  Your Enterprising children will not be able to mess with Circle without you knowing about it!

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MyCircle

The MyCircle page allows family members to view their time online and the Time Limits that have been set for them so they can easily track their progress. MyCircle also provides exclusive age appropriate content.

Mobile Phones

What about kids with mobile phones?  When the wifi is paused they can simply jump on their phone right?  Circle has a solution for that but it’s slated for release in 2016.  It’s called Circle Go.

Circle Go™ allows you to enable Circle’s features anywhere, for any network your kid’s devices join. Even 4G. At home or on the go, Circle settings remain in effect no matter where your family travels. Same Circle awesomeness, now outside your home network.

It’s iOS only right now. Circle has plans to release an Android app early in 2016.

Speed

For the most part the speed on and off the Circle have been comparable.  Enthusiasts may be able to tell on some sites but enthusiasts often don’t want to be monitored.  It’s easy to exclude your devices.  Family and kids used my Circle over a 4 day holiday and not once complained.  Most didn’t know they were on a service as such.  When they came into the house their devices all hopped on to my wifi as they have been here before.  I moved kids to the kids group and adults to an unfiltered group.

Again, it’s nice to know what is on your network.  A neighbor ipad popped up on my screen one night.  The kids like to Minecraft together so it has my SSID saved.  Somehow it jumped on my SSID while in their own house.  I wonder how much it jumps on my network!!! I’ve assigned it to a kids guest filter.

Getting Nit-Picky

It does need some improvement.  Luckily it is driven by an app that can be updated and a device that can also take a firmware update.

I would like to know what was filtered!  The kids get blocked from time to time and I would like that report on the circle app.  It does inform me when a time limit has been reached howerver.

I see no way to cover a guest network SSID unless you purchase an additional Circle for your guest SSID.  Do you need one now though?

Local apps not monitored or have ability to pause.

I need to monitor via Android.

More platforms needed. Apps are platforms.  Circle has included popular online platforms that help make filtering the right content easy. Platforms are available to toggle based on your Filter Level setting.

Meerkat, Snapchat, facebook, etc.  It will classify that traffic under a nice looking app icon in your reports.  There are not enough of them though.  Other traffic you will have to sift through and figure out where it is going and what it is.  You will need to be in tune with your child’s device and apps to know what is passing through your network.  You still need to be involved.

Platforms included:

Facebook Instagram Netflix Pinterest Snapchat Tumblr YouTube Minecraft Nickelodeon Cartoon Network Netflix Kids Club Penguin Disney PBS Kids Periscope Meerkat Reddit HBO GO Twitter Amazon

Again, those are the apps that show up in the Circle app however it will report traffic for evertying and categorize it as well.  Email and game traffic are separated in their own category and you are shown the URL that was used by the device whether it was an app like outlook or a website like mail.yahoo.com

There is a lot to like about this little box if you need to get control of Internet usage in your house.  It’s low price point and helpful app make this a no brainer to try in your house.  Especially if you have kids or teens you would like to corral.

Their site has a lot of videos showing you all the details.  I’ve set up an easy page for you to remember and share with others.

homeservershow.com/circle

Visit that link, discover more, buy, enjoy.

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