Good app and device usage controls. Useful web filters. Supports geofencing. Call and SMS supervision on Android.
Expensive. Mobile-only. Some limitations on iOS. Must configure each device separately. Requires proprietary browser. No social media tracking.
- Bottom Line
Boomerang is a solid parental control solution for Android and iOS that helps parents track their children's web, app, and mobile activity. However, since it is mobile-only, you cannot use it to monitor Macs or PCs.
Most kids these days use phones and/or tablets, so you need parental control software that can monitor your child's web browsing history, device usage, and location. Boomerang provides all of that functionality and more, but since it is a mobile-only solution, you need to look elsewhere to protect your Macs and PCs. Apart from the basics, Boomerang also lets you construct geofences, monitor YouTube app activity, and set up always-allowed actions for emergencies. Although the web interface is dated and it doesn't track social media activity, it could still be a solid choice if you only intend to monitor mobile devices. However, if you need a single parental control software that covers all your varied devices via a single subscription, consider our Editors' Choice picks Qustodio or Norton Family instead.
Pricing and Platform
As mentioned, Boomerang offers apps for both Android and iOS devices, though, like most other parental control apps, Apple's policies limit some of its capabilities. That said, Boomerang is currently free for any iOS device, which should help users overlook those limitations. Android users, on the other hand, get more, but have to pay $12 per year for each device protected. That's expensive. Kaspersky Safe Kids is $14.99 per year for unlimited child profiles and devices, and it covers PCs and Macs. Qustodio costs less per device at $54.95 per year for 5 devices and covers all the major desktop and mobile platforms. If you want to test Boomerang before you buy it, it offers a 14-day trial.
I did most of my testing of Boomerang on a Nexus 5X and a Google Pixel, both initially running Android 8.0. I updated to Android 8.1 during the course of my review, but this didn't break any functionality. I also tested Boomerang on an iPhone 8 running iOS 11.0. Although not many other services offer support for Amazon Fire tablets, device support for Amazon's cheap and kid-friendly device lineup would be a welcome addition. Competitor Qustodio is available via the Amazon's Appstore.
Setting up Boomerang is dead simple. Just download the app and select whether you want to designate it as a child or parent device. As with other parental control services, you need to give the app a whole host of permissions as well as administrator access for it to work properly. Toward the end of the installation process, it also prompts you to install Boomerang's SPIN browser (get it?), which you need for the web filtering to work properly.
You can set up restrictions and device rules from either the web interface or from the mobile app itself. A few rules can be set on the web, but not in the mobile app, and vice versa. That's a bit annoying, but you can control the major features from either one. You just need to make sure to install Boomerang on every device you want to monitor. It's also good to disable the Android's standard guest account since Boomerang's policies do not apply to that profile.
Boomerang's web interface is dated and cluttered, with wasted space up near the header section and a lot of padding around each element. The color scheme isn't cohesive, either; some elements use bright hues of purple, pink, and light blue, while others rely on dull shades of gray, green, and dark blue.
The middle console is divided into four different tabs, Account, Devices, Dictionaries, and Geofences. The left-rail menu changes with each tab and adds management functionality. The Devices tab breaks down into 11 different subcategories, including Applications, Browsing, Calls, Events, and Screen Time (more detail on these later). There's no particular order to the listings, but this is where you control nearly every setting for your device. A left-hand menu lists all of the devices linked to the account.
Each listing includes an icon for the device type and its sync status. Unfortunately, you can't organize or group devices together in any way to make them easier to manage. In other words, Boomerang is one of the few parental control services that does not let you organize devices under a top-level child profile. There's no easy way to apply policies across a child's entire collection of devices. You can export and then import the same profile repeatedly, but that's a hassle, especially if you need to make any changes. Clicking the tools icon lets you rename or delete the selected device, locate it, send it a message, or reset the device password.
The Geofences tab lets you set up location boundaries for your child and the Dictionaries section is where you create a database of words that your child is not permitted to use. This lists all the words in plain language, so if your child happens to glance over your shoulder while you are making edits, their vocabulary could become quite colorful. In any case, regardless of how thorough a list you create, I think it underestimates a child's ability to come up with inventive workarounds. The last tab, Account, allows you to set the frequency of reports and manage the devices in your family.
You can also access the FAQ section from the header. There's no search bar, so you may have to dig into this section to find everything you want. That said, I like its straightforward explanations, use of screenshots, and single-page layout.
Boomerang recently overhauled its iOS app, but the Android version is still stuck on the old design at the time of this review. However, Boomerang did send us some screenshots of the upcoming Android app, which adopts a card-style interface and a more compact dashboard. I will update this review when the new design rolls out.
Currently, you can manage restrictions such as app usage and screen time or you can view reports for each monitored device. One minor complaint is that the web and YouTube history sections don't show functional links. The app offers almost everything you can find on the web console, with the exception of the geofencing options. On the other hand, you need to install the mobile app before you can receive app access requests or use the full capabilities of the Family Messaging feature. Hopefully, Boomerang standardizes the feature set and design across all the mobile and web interfaces.
One of the primary reasons to use a parental control app is to prevent your child from visiting inappropriate websites. Boomerang requires that you install its Mozilla-based SPIN browser to do so. To fully enable this functionality, you need to select the Manage Browsing option in this section and select the Block Browsers option in the Applications area. The browser works well, opening web pages moderately quickly and supporting favorites and tabs. Still, I wish the tracking feature was browser independent, since some users may prefer other browsers. For comparison, ESET, Qustodio, and Google Family are all browser independent on Android.
From the web or mobile app, you can view up to a month of your child's browsing history and even export that data to a spreadsheet. By default, Boomerang blocks 21 categories of sites, such as Gambling, Illegal, Pornography, and Violence. There are an additional 23 categories that you can add to the filter list, including Cult and Occult, Dating, Personal Storage, and Social Networking. These are not listed alphabetically, so it can be annoying to find a specific category. Of course, you can also maintain your own list of domains to block or allow.
I confirmed that I could not open any other browsers on my device nor access one via another app. Each time, it redirected me to open the SPIN browser. The Anonymizer category successfully prevented me from accessing Proxy sites, while content filtering worked as advertised with HTTPS web pages. If you don't check the Anonymizer category, your child can in fact access blocked sites and categories at will through a web proxy.
When you try to access a blocked site, a pop-up shows why a page was blocked, but there's no option for a child to send a website access request to a parent. The web browsing history also appeared accurately, though blocked websites appear in a separate timeline. I wish it had better organization options instead of just compiling everything into a long list.
Boomerang, like other parental control apps for Android, can manage or block application usage. The web console in Kaspersky Safe Kids only shows ones that have been launched, while with Mobicip, you can only manage this application access from the device itself. There are two sections in the Applications section, Management and Usage. Under application management, Boomerang populates a list of both installed and system applications.
You can choose to set up a usage schedule for the app either by allowing or prohibiting its use during a certain range of time or on a specific day of the week. Both ESET and Kaspersky offer similar functionality. I wish it had an option to set up the schedules on individual days, as parents would presumably allow more time for games or social apps on the weekend. Alternatively, you can just block the app altogether by hitting the red X icon.
To the right, Boomerang lists the top blocked apps across a few different categories, including Messaging, Social Media, and Other. This is confusing, since there may be apps on these default lists that are not even installed on the child's device. A much better way to organize this would be to split the installed applications list into these categories. There's also an option to quarantine any new apps until you have specifically approved them. ESET and Google Family can also block new apps by default, though Net Nanny and Mobicip take it one step further by letting you block access to the Google Play Store entirely.
The Application Usage section makes it easy to view which apps your child uses and for how much time. Boomerang can also keep track of the videos your child watches on the YouTube app. Adding the ability to block certain channels or content categories would be a useful addition, here. The service does not record social media activity. Instead, it just tracks how much time your kids spend using the apps.
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The Always Allowed tab lets you specify certain actions and apps that do not count towards a child's allotted screen time and are not affected by screen-time limits. There are three action types here that can be configured: Make a Call, Open URL, and Run Application. I like that these allow a child to stay connected with their parent in case of an emergency. While many of the competitors allow making calls even when time is up, this app gives parents more freedom to set what's allowed.
The Screen Time tab lets you set a total time allocation for each day of the week and a usage schedule for each day. All you need to do is click and drag across the timetable to select a block of time. The lack of child profiles is a problem here, as well. Let's say, for example, that your child has three devices and you want to limit screen usage time to a total of one hour. You would need to set each one to have a limit of 20 minutes so that your child cannot take advantage of duplicate time allotments. Further, let's say your child breaks one of those devices. Then, you have to go back in and set each one to 30 minutes and reapply the profile to the other device. It's needlessly complicated. We much prefer the way Qustodio and works, in that usage limits can apply across all of a child's devices.
Boomerang includes a Time-Out option for both Android and iOS devices that lets you instantly block device access for an indefinite amount of time. Strangely, you can't do the same from the website, which is a limitation.
Position and Geofencing
For the uninitiated, a geofence is a digital boundary around a physical location. In the context of parental control, it can help you keep tabs on your child's location. For example, if you know that your child should be in school from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., and suddenly they leave the school boundaries an hour early, you may want to check in to their whereabouts. Boomerang makes this easy.
To set up a geofence, simply give it a name, type an address, and draw a boundary around the location on the map. This implementation is intuitive and offers greater levels of control over the process than most competitors. From the Position section under the Devices section, you can set how frequently you want it to collect location information. If your child is in violation of the geofence boundaries, you get a notification. Otherwise, it just keeps a running history of the device's reported location for the last 30 days. At any time, you can view your child's current location on the map as well, just by clicking the Update button on the right-hand side of the screen.
Locategy offers similar location tracking features, including geofencing. It goes one step further by mapping out every movement on an interactive timeline. Note, though, that Locategy does not allow you to define free-form boundaries. Instead, it creates a 150-meter region around any chosen location.
I tested Boomerang's geofencing feature by setting up a boundary around my office. When I left for home, it reported that I was outside its range, and continued to do so every 30 minutes until I arrived back at work the next day. This can quickly generate a ton of unwanted notifications, so make sure to set your notification preferences carefully.
Monitoring Calls and Texts
Boomerang lets you monitor call and SMS history on Android phones. You can collect SMS content for up to the last 30 days, data you can export to a CSV. The app can also send out a notification when an unknown number or blacklisted contact texts your child, or if your child uses a forbidden word. Note that Boomerang does not record the content of MMS messages, but it does log the activity.
The Call Tracking section works in much the same way, logging every incoming and outgoing call to a similar list. Further, Boomerang lets you restrict all calls to existing contacts, block individual numbers, or allow calls to only a few specified numbers. Norton Family Parental Control and Qustodio also offer the ability to monitor and block calls.
Extras, Events, and Settings
Boomerang's secure family messaging lets family members communicate with each other within the app. As previously mentioned, you can send out general messages via the web, but conversations are only possible between mobile devices.
The events tab lists major device activity, such as geofence violations and changes to the app on the device. In the settings, you can opt out of daily email reports, set it to require a password for uninstallation (something every parent should do) or even prevent your child from making changes to the device's date and time or system settings on Android.
Boomerang on iPhone
As mentioned earlier, Apple's iOS is more locked down than Android, so not all of Boomerang's features are available on the platform. Most of the app's major capabilities are supported, however, including safe web browsing, location tracking, and the Family Messenger. Other abilities are only partially functional. For example, you can't allocate a total screen time for the device or always allow specific apps, but you can lock a child's phone from the parental device. Similarly, per-app scheduling and blocking do not work, but you can block apps, moves, and books based on age ratings. Boomerang also lets you prohibit in-app purchases and hide the App and/or iTunes Store during setup. If you head over to the web dashboard, you can block access to Safari, the camera app, and Facetime, or prohibit multiplayer GameCenter features.
Other features do not work at all, including call logging and blocking, as well as text logging. It also does not let you block access to the device settings and does not show app usage data in reports. All those limitations aside, I had no issues signing in to Boomerang on my test device. Keep in mind that setup does require you to download and install the Boomerang Parental Control Device Profile for some features to work.
Most kids live by their mobile devices, and Boomerang provides some ways to keep an eye on their behavior. Its top features include effective app blocking, location tracking, and scheduling capabilities. However, the per-device subscription model and lack of support for PCs and Macs are significant shortcomings. Further, it does not monitor social media activity and its web content filtering is not browser-independent. If you can overlook these flaws and only plan to monitor a few mobile devices, Boomerang might be a worthwhile choice. Otherwise, consider Editors' Choice picks Qustodio or Norton Family Parental Control instead.
For monitoring your child's activity on the desktop, check out our roundup of the best parental control software.
About the Author
Ben Moore is a Junior Analyst for PCMag?s software team. He has previously written for Laptop Mag, Neowin.net, and Tom?s Guide on everything from hardware to business acquisitions across the tech industry. Ben holds a degree in New Media and Digital Design from Fordham University at Lincoln Center, where he served as the Editor-in-Chief of The Obse… See Full Bio
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