Pros: Effectively hidden from the child / phone user; Accurately reports SMS message activity and location
Cons: Complicated setup; Doesn't track Web activity from third-party browsers; Doesn't track email or IMs; No way to block restricted activity; Reports only appear via email, not available via Web UI
Verdict: Spectorsoft's eBlaster Mobile for Android lets you know where your child's phone is and what he's doing with it, but doesn't offer good enough protection.
It's 10 pm. Do you know where your children are? If they have a smartphone, then you might. eBlaster Mobile for Android offers administrators (aka moms and dads) peace of mind by sending regular email alerts with the SMS message activity, Web surfing and location of their kids or staff. Unfortunately, this $69 app has too little functionality to monitor the most critical activities accurately and lacks any ability to block them.
Because it's not available in the Google Play Market, we had to download the Android install file of eBlaster Mobile for Android directly from Spectorsoft and sideload it onto our phone. For the uninitiated, that means we had to go into our phone's settings and enable installation of nonmarket applications, then we had to use a file manager to locate the APK file on the phone's storage and tap it to install.
Once installed, the app itself fades into the background, not leaving even an icon in the apps menu or an uninstall listing in the settings menu. This makes eBlaster impossible to detect if installed without the user's knowledge, which leaves it open to abuse by unscrupulous individuals. That being said, SpectorSoft's license agreement requires those installing the software to inform anyone being monitored.
After the app is loaded, you must navigate the phone's Web browser to http://www.ultraaccess.net , enter an access code, agree to a user agreement, enter a serial number, and then set up an administrator username and password.
The Web-based control panel on eBlaster Mobile allows the administrator to choose which activities they want reported. These include voice calls, Web history, SMS text messages and MMS multimedia messages, along with the phone's location as reported by its GPS radio. Administrators can configure how often they receive a comprehensive activity report, from once every 30 minutes to once every 24 hours. They can also arrange to have SMS messages and photos shot with the phone's camera sent to them in real-time.
A Geofencing feature lets you designate certain geographic zones as fences and get alerts when the phone enters or leaves those zones. We were able to create small zones around our home and office and then set the system to alert us when the phone entered or left those areas.
If you want to make changes to the administrator settings, you'll need to click a settings link in one of the email alerts you receive to go back to the eBlaster control panel where you may be prompted for your password. Though you can and probably should bookmark this URL, it's annoying that you can't just go to a memorable URL and enter your login credentials. Instead, the control panel is unique to each administrator and sports an address such as https://my.spectorsoft.com/eblaster/android/en/9220NG43092275521/9932327173623/. If you attempt to navigate to just my.spectorsoft.com, you are given a message telling you to click a link in your email.
Annoyingly, the only way to view activity reports with eBlaster Mobile is via email; the website only lets you control the settings, not see the alerts. After we configured our test phone to send our email account activity reports every 30 minutes and SMS / camera alerts in real-time, we watched as an ongoing stream of messages arrived at a regular basis.
Every time we sent or received an SMS message or two on the phone, we'd get an email alert a couple of minutes later with the past couple of minutes of back-and-forth chat. When we took photos with the phone's camera, each one was emailed a few minutes later as an attachment to the administrator's account.
In addition to the real-time alerts, we got a complete report every 30 minutes that showed our location a list of voice calls, SMS messages, and websites we visited during that half hour window. Unfortunately, if you delete or misplace these emails, you are out of luck because the activity logs are not available via the Web interface. Other than combing through dozens or hundreds of emails in your inbox, there's also no way to search through past activity reports.
Accuracy of Reports
When it came to voice calls and texts, the eBlaster Mobile for Android activity reports were comprehensive and accurate. However, it only includes sites we visited using the stock Android browser. When we surfed the Web with third-party browsers Opera Mobile and Firefox, those sites were not reported at all. An eBlaster rep confirmed that the software is currently unable to track third-party browsers, but may add such functionality in a future update.
As long as we had GPS enabled on the phone, the locations eBlaster reported were as accurate as the GPS itself. Unfortunately, in Manhattan, that often meant reporting the address of a building down the street rather than the exact one we were in. Of course, we've had the same problems when simply using Google Maps, so we can't fault eBlaster. When leaving or entering one of the Geofence zones we set up, eBlaster correctly sent an alert.
While eBlaster Mobile for Android provides accurate reports of the activities it monitors, it can't track some of the most important tasks users perform on their phones. There's no email reporting (the BlackBerry version does track email) but a rep told us that the company will add this functionality to the Android version.
SMS messages are logged, but eBlaster can't track other instant messaging services. So, if your child is talking to a predator over Google Talk, you'd never know. The app also can't track VoIP calls users make with services such Skype or Google Voice.
Finally, the app does not keep track of what apps your child or employee has installed or used on the phone. So, there's no way to find out if your daughter was doing her homework or playing "Angry Birds" all afternoon.
Perhaps the biggest problem with eBlaster Mobile is that it doesn't block inappropriate activity. While they're more limited in scope, a Web filter such as Net Nanny can prevent the user from visiting sites with illicit content, and Kyte Phone creates a child-friendly UI that only grants access to contacts the parent chooses.
eBlaster Mobile for Android costs $69.99 for each year of service on just one device. SpectorSoft offers a multilicense discount that allows you to monitor two phones for $59.96 per year each or 10 phones for $49.95 per year.
Spectorsoft's eBlaster Mobile for Android is intended to allay the concerns of parents and employers, but ultimately for what it costs, we feel it doesn't go far enough in providing the kind of services either target audience requires. If parents want to protect their children from illicit content or online predators, eBlaster Mobile is of limited use because it can't block sites, apps or contacts. Managers who want to keep tabs on their employees have little use for an app whose monitoring functions can be defeated by anyone who uses email, a third-party browser, a VOIP app, an instant messenger or the GPS off button.
Even people who are satisfied with eBlaster's very limited monitoring capabilities will be frustrated by its unwieldy e-mail-only interface. An in-box full of reports makes it tough to keep track of just one person, let alone several. That fact alone makes it more likely that a critical piece of information may slip through the cracks.