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Review: AT&T Family Map - Locate Wireless Phones

I've been waiting for a location based system that will work on the phones I have on my AT&T plan. Not to spy on anyone, but just for piece of mind. My original thoughts were to use it to find out where my kid is when he's out playing soccer in the neighborhood or finding out where my wife is when she hasn't made it home from a long dinner with friends.

Enter AT&T Family Map. I saw they are now offering this feature for a free 30 day trial, and it sounded just like what I wanted. I signed up online and chose a plan. I went with the $9.99/mo plan that allows you to locate up to 2 phones, and that's all that I needed.

After signup, I proceeded to configure the phones I wanted to locate. You enter in the numbers and assign them a name. Once you've done this, each phone gets a text message stating that they can now be located. In this initial text, it sends them a confirmation code that you have to enter into the config screen online before you can actually locate them. This keeps you from spying on someone without them knowing about it.

Once you've done this, voila', you can now locate your phone.

Locating Phones

I'll give AT&T credit, it's a very easy to use interface for even the non-techies. It looks great and seems to have detailed maps. To use it, Click on locate, and it will attempt to locate a specific phone. If you have a mobile device, they even offer a web interface formatted for that too. Nice!

It will start churning and looking for your selected device.

It will either find the device or tell you that it cannot locate it. For AT&T to find the device, it must be turned on and in a coverage area. Additionally, if this device is indoors, this may make it more imprecise. If A-GPS (assisted GPS) cannot be used, it uses triangulation from the cell towers surrounding it. Most phones today have a-gps, but check yours to be sure. 

Disappointment

I had high hopes for this service. Over the last month I have tried locating my phones and it routinely cannot locate them or it is so far off it's not even useful. If I want to know where my son is in our neighborhood, a message saying he was last seen within 1 mile of this area doesn't help me. He could be anywhere! I would even settle for the street that he is on, not even tied to an address. However, the most accurate it ever was was at least the next neighborhood over. Usually I could get it to within 500 yards.

 

As you can see from this example, this was typical over the 30 days I tried it. My sons phone has A-GPS, and my wifes iPhone doesn't. Ironically, it could locate her iPhone better with triangulation than my sons phone. 

Assignments, Schedules, and History

A nice peace of mind feature is the ability to make the service automatically notify you at a particular time during the day. For example, want to know if your kid made it to practice at 3PM. Family Map can send you a notification.  You can also setup places on the map. You can put in 'Larry's house', or 'Basketball Practice'. and mark those locations.  Want to know where your phone has been the last few times you checked, you can even browse the history.

Unfortunately I didn't even try the places feature or the schedule. I found this service to be so unreliable with the phones on my AT&T plan it was not even worth the trouble.  

Conclusion 

On paper, Family Map is a great service. In my test drive, it was horrible. If you think you are going to get a precise address, think again. For the life of my I can't figure out why it cannot precisely locate the phone. Run AT&T navigator on my phone and it can give you turn by turn directions within a few feet.  

With Apple's MobileMe service, they just announced that you can have the same location services for iPhones only, but it appears to be precise. 

I have high hopes for this service and might try it again in the future. For now, it's not precise enough to meet my needs, or the needs of most parents that want to keep track of their beloved family. If you want to use it to be able to locate your lost or stolen phone, good luck finding it.  

 

AT&T Family Map

30 Day free trial, $9.99/ mo  (2 Phones)