Most kids these days use phones 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 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. Despite some design inconsistencies across platforms, Boomerang could still be a solid choice if you only intend to monitor mobile devices. However, if you need a single parental control app that covers all your devices via a single subscription, consider Qustodio, our Editors’ Choice, or Kaspersky Safe Kids.
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. For a single device license, Boomerang charges $15.99 per year. That price has increased from the $12 annual fee from the last time we reviewed the service. For only a single device license, this is on the expensive side. Boomerang also offers a more palatable Family Plan for 10 device licenses at a cost of $30.99 per year. The Family plan is a better value, but 10 device licenses may be overkill for parents who only have two or three children.
Kaspersky Safe Kids is $14.99 per year for unlimited child profiles and devices, and it covers PCs and Macs. Qustodio charges $54.95 per year for five devices and works on all the major desktop and mobile platforms. Anyone can get a free 14-day trial of Boomerang.
I tested Boomerang on a Nexus 5X and a Google Pixel, both running Android 8.1, but upgraded to Android 9 Pie towards the end. I also installed Boomerang on an iPhone 8 running iOS 11. Although not many other services play nicely with Amazon Fire tablets, support for Amazon’s cheap and kid-friendly device lineup would be a welcome addition. Competitor Qustodio is available via the Amazon 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 looks 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 mobile apps look much nicer.
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 several 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
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.
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.
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. On the web dashboard, Boomerang enables parents to configure three action types here: 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. On mobile, parents get a few more options for app permissions, including the Encouraged category. Neither the use of Encouraged nor Always Allowed apps use
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 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 a set period. Strangely, you can’t do the same from the website, which is a limitation. As previously mentioned, The Time-Out mode blocks all apps, with the exception of calls to 911 or family members added to the Always Allowed list. Boomerang’s Family Messenger, which I discuss later, also remains available during this period.
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.
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. This capability worked as expected during testing on my Android test device.
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 Premier and Qustodio also offer the ability to monitor and block calls. In testing, Boomerang successfully blocked incoming calls from unknown numbers and logged calls and their duration. Although it split some calls up into multiple segments and failed to identify some known numbers, Boomerang works fine for getting an overview of your child’s phone conversations.
Extras, Events, and Emergency Mode
Boomerang’s secure Family Messenger component 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 chat application is pretty basic and only supports text communications, so you can’t send attachments.
The events tab lists major device activity, such as geofence violations and changes to device apps. 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.
The child app also includes an Emergency mode. When a child activates this beacon, Boomerang sends an alert to the parent’s phone as well as via email. In testing, these notifications arrive quickly, but both were initially unable to provide the device location. I had to refresh the location tracking before the correct information appeared.
Boomerang on Android
Boomerang recently overhauled its Android application, and I gave it try. During the app setup, you designate a device as either a child or parent device. The former requires you to enable several device permissions, including device admin access. Both account types require you to login into your group email account, that is, the one the parent used to sign up for the service. I had no issues logging into my account.
Boomerang’s parent mode looks modern with a card-like organization and feels snappy. Upon launching, Boomerang shows the Child Devices dashboard, which shows all of the children linked to your account. From here, parents can view status information or launch a family messenger chat. Simply tap on a child profile to dive into settings.
Boomerang shows a map with the child’s location at the top of the page and conveniently overlays two buttons: one for refreshing the location and another for generating directions to that location. The app organizes specific restriction categories below the map: Device Screen Time, Manage Apps, Text Messaging, Phone, and Device Reports. Note that the Web Browsing and most of the YouTube restrictions categories are only accessible from the web dashboard. Advanced device settings include the ability prevent date and time changes, require a password for uninstalling, and block the YouTube app settings.
The child mode still looks outdated, however. Here, Boomerang only shows two icons in the upper left corner of the screen by default: Emergency and Family Messenger. The rest of the interface is simply wasted space, though any apps you designate as Always Allowed or Encouraged show up in this launcher. From the menu in the upper right, kids can update their status or visit the About page. Parents can submit a query to Boomerang’s support team or sign in to adjust profile Settings.
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, movies, 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.
Apple will be launching Screen Time features as part of its iOS 12
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. Furthermore, although its dedicated SPIN Browser works well, we wish web filtering worked for other browsers. If you can overlook these flaws and only plan to monitor a few mobile devices, Boomerang might be a worthwhile choice. Otherwise, consider Qustodio, our Editors’ Choice, or Kaspersky Safe Kids.
For monitoring your child’s activity on the desktop, check out our roundup of the best parental control software.