Getaway Gear: Relay Devices are a Great Alternative to Cell Phones

Keep tabs on your adventurous kids with this fun, helpful—and most importantly—screenless smart phone.

Relay walkie talkie
The small, portable Relay device is a fun, affordable alternative to costly international cell phone service when you’re on vacation.Relay

It wasn’t until I recently started shopping for a new phone plan that I realized carriers have made international service—or at least service in Mexico and Canada—a part of many unlimited data plans. This might not be a new revelation to many people, but it has been years since I’ve had to shop for and price new service, so it was a pleasant surprise to know that we can now enjoy perks like free Netflix or Amazon Prime and especially unlimited in-flight WiFi without having to pay $10 an hour for mediocre airline connectivity.

For people who travel often—let’s estimate this at four to eight times a year—cell plans like this are quite advantageous. However, for families that plan one or two big vacations each year this is an extra cost of up to several hundred dollars, which could obviously be put toward the vacation itself. But for families with kids who are old enough to break off from the clan and explore resorts and beaches on their own, being able to keep in touch for updated plans or reminders of reservations, curfews and bedtimes is crucial.

That's where Relay comes in handy. Literally. This small device fits in your pocket or a small backpack pouch and was designed by parents who kept their kids in mind the whole way. And as the father of a rambunctious and curious toddler who moves like a clumsy ninja through the aquarium halls at Atlantis Paradise Island, I'm constantly thinking about how I'll keep track of this kid when he's old enough to run off with new friends and shout, "See you at dinner!"

By then, of course, we might have brain chip implants that grant us all telepathy, but until then, parents who are currently shouting their kids’ names across crowded resort pools have a friend in Relay.

How Does it Work?

First and foremost, the device costs $49.99 and requires a $9.99 monthly service fee; however, there's no contract, so you can simply activate the device prior to any trip and not worry about spending extra money on "premium" cell plans for international service that you won't use for 11 months out of the year.

The Relay was designed to be simple enough for a five-year-old to use, and it’s as simple as pushing a button, my three-year-old had the basic idea after a few minutes of playing with it. Since it’s going to spend a lot of time in a child’s possession, it was also constructed with durability in mind, but because battery life is also essential, the software was designed to optimize “battery-hungry functions,” meaning the device can last all day without the need of a portable charger (unlike most phones and tablets).

The creators of Relay also recruited experts from Motorola to help ensure that these small devices could provide a “seamless walkie-talkie experience over almost any network” and the “broadest coverage possible.” It’s not quite a walkie-talkie in the traditional sense, though, as I originally thought it would have the Nextel vibe. Instead, the messages are recorded and sent, which is great because you don’t have to worry about range.

The result is an impressive device that allows people to communicate seamlessly through private channels, in addition to enjoying some extra perks.

How Well Does It Work?

To test the Relay devices, I brought them on a recent family weekend getaway, and we left our phones in our hotel room and set out with one device for mommy and one for daddy. This was great because it allows for one parent to get a little free time, if desired, and escape to the casino, bar, spa, fitness center, or just back to the room for a nap. We tested our Relays by sending messages back and forth from across two pools, and we were quite pleased with the results and clarity of the messages.

What I especially enjoyed about using the Relay is that I could send a message and go about my fun without clinging to the device for a reply. Obviously, we need our hands free for lazy rivers, waterslides and hammocks where delicious frozen cocktails are enjoyed.

A Clever Design Bonus

One key reason why this is such a great alternative to a smartphone is that it reduces screen time to zero. That was actually the plan for the design team, to create a device that could provide fun for kids, while not stealing their attention with screens. What makes this so clever is that Relay has its own app store and has added and will add more fun options, including games and the ability to store music.

You Mentioned "Extra Perks"?

While most kids will like the Echo channel that allows them to speak into the device and then have their words played back in funny voices, my personal favorite is the daily joke feature. As a dad joke superstar, having a digital cheat sheet is always great for those moments when someone needs to make everyone at the dinner table groan.