Having a rather complicated home network, I’ve struggled to find an Internet filtering product that lets me work like I need to AND doesn’t need to be ‘installed’ on the devices that my kids use. I was excited to hear about the KoalaSafe kickstarter campaign then, that promised a safe WiFi network of its own.
Remember, this works by providing a filtered Wi-Fi network, so if your teens have smartphones or tablets with SIM cards, they will still have unrestricted Internet access via the mobile network. It is great for kids using Wi-Fi only devices or if mum & dad have turned off mobile data (and they aren’t old enough to figure out how to turn it back on again).
The box itself is CUTE and measures only 5.5cm (2.5 inches) square. Though my parcel had sustained some damage, the dense foam inside meant my unit was completely protected, at least from this corner impact. It comes with a Cat6 networking cable (that’s flat – which is a nice little design touch) and a power cable. The instructions in the box are an extremely basic one page diagram, showing you how to plug it into your network and telling you to install an app (Android and iOS).
The app is key to everything. It connects to your device, sets up time schedules and allows or blocks websites & apps. Once your KoalaSafe is plugged in and the app is installed, you pair the device with your app, set up a WiFi password and start configuring the profiles.
You can set up profiles for people individually, add which devices are theirs and also set a profile that applies to ‘Everybody else’.
Create a new profile then set schedules for when the Internet will be on or off each day. More than one time schedule per day is allowed. If you want to extend the Internet ‘ON’ time during a scheduled time, the app allows you to have the internet on for another 5, 10, 30 mins, 1, 2, 4 hours, the rest of today or forever. You can also turn the internet off during a normal ‘on’ time schedule, so if the kids normally have an hour now, you can override that and only give them 30 more minutes from now, for example.
Then take a look at App and Site Blocking. The list of categories lets you drill down into specifics (eg Minecraft, Facebook, YouTube with SafeSearch etc) and you can manually add a website to allow or to block.
Grab the device you want to filter and connect it to the KoalaSafe WiFi network. You’ll need to make sure you ‘forget’ any other other WiFi networks they’d previously connected to at home. It’s also a good idea to change those WiFi passwords so the kids don’t try and reconnect to them manually.
Once the device is connected, you can go into the profile you created and add the device to it. There’s no authentication via profile names – KoalaSafe just matches the device’s MAC address to the profile it has been added to.
All restrictions on a connected device can be overridden by using the app to put that profile\device into ‘Parent Mode’ for 5, 10, 30 mins, 1, 2, 4 hours, the rest of today or forever. This is really handy when you share an iPad with your kids, but you’ll need your iOS or Android device handy to toggle it.
Support is mainly via an online forum, which the KoalaSafe team are quick to respond to. The app has a diagnostics test and communicates with the KoalaSafe server, so the support team aren’t flying blind if you do have a hiccup. They’re also keen to hear your suggestions for improvements including other sites to add to the category lists.
If I had to be picky, there are only 3 things I’d improve:
– Error messages: Because behind the scenes there’s DNS redirection happening, a failure to connect to a website looks like just that – a ‘page cannot be displayed’ error. There’d no redirect to a branded error page telling you KoalaSafe is blocking it. This isn’t a show stopper though.
– Different blocking rules per time schedule: Ideally I’d like to be able to allow Google SafeSearch and homework type websites during ‘homework hours’ and not allow social media. Then another time schedule (say after 5pm on weekends) would allow the fun stuff too. This might get pretty complicated to display & configure though, given the limitations of an app interface.
–Access to local network resources: The DNS redirection applies to ALL traffic. This means that when a device is connected to KoalaSafe, it can’t connect to anything on your local network (eg other computers at home, your printer and in our case, my local Minecraft server). This is currently being discussed in the support forms.
Usage reporting is coming soon, showing you a graph of usage by time throughout the week (eek) and how that was broken down into each of the categories (by percentage). Fortunately I won’t be connecting my work computer so my husband won’t see just how much of my day is spent on social media.
Overall, after a little bit of setup, the KoalaSafe works well for keeping my kids from unexpectedly seeing things on the Internet that they shouldn’t see and from creating Facebook accounts without me knowing (well, at home anyway). I like knowing that their devices aren’t running the extra overhead of filtering software and the KoalaSafe is a one-off purchase price, not an annual subscription.
You can purchase a KoalaSafe at http://koalasafe.com/ for USD$90
NB:This review was independent and NOT sponsored. But hey, if you’re reading this and ever want to send me some stuff for free to review, go right ahead! I promise I’ll disclose it. 🙂