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Cell Spy Review

Cell Spy Review Control Panel Updates

CellSpy has been retired [ACTUALLY, it is "being" retired].  It is no longer still being sold (as I bought and paid for a license), as its new and improved "big brother" version is set to be released within the next month. 

However, I decided to work with this old version, as the developers were kind enough to give me temporary license keys, and this spy app allegedly had very unique features I wanted to play with.  In this review of Cell Spy, you will notice that I find many features that do not work.  According to the developer, the listed features were "beta" and experimental on CellSpy, but fully implemented on the new and improved version.  I am not confident that this statement was accurate — I think the features didn't work because it didn't install correctly.

Original Publish Date:  December 27, 2015

Updated Publish Date:  January 4, 2016

Updated Publish Date:  January 8, 2016

This is the third time and second phone that I installed Cell Spy on for testing.  The first installs were met with failure due to the previous existence of another apy app on the phone (according to Cell Spy developers).  When I had to purchase a new phone unexpectedly, I decided this would be good opportunity to test and Install Cell Spy on a clean phone.

However, even on the brand new phone, CellSpy didn't install correctly, giving errors as it attempted to convert itself into a system app; a similiar problem to the installation in the previous phone.

And even though I manually forced the program to become a system app with a 3rd party application that specializes in converting apps to system apps, CellSpy knew that it wasn't working correctly.  This screen shot is from the control panel and shows that CellSpy is NOT installed as a system app.

no system app conversion

Once installed, I began testing and trying all the features.  To clarify, the developers asked me NOT to review this software; and instead, wait for the new version which addressed many issues caused by upgraded phones and operating systems.  I chose to review anyway, as it is an opportunity to see the development of the software.

Here is my review of CellSpy:

After logging in to the control panel, the first thing you will see is the "dashboard".  On the left side of the page, you will see the number of events that have been uploaded since your last visit.

CellSpy Review Control Panel

 

The rest of the page shows the sections where updates have occurred — such as SMS, GPS and Media.  This is a quick overview to let you know that 1) the phone is still connected and updating, and 2) there are new events for you to review.  A reminder is also provided showing the amount of disk space you have used of your allotted space.  In this example, I have used 1mb of 250mb permitted on my account.

Cell Spy Review Control Panel Updates

 

Update:  Another example of the dashboard notifications after a few more activities:

cell spy updated dashboard

 

Next in the list is the "calls log" — a list of the telephone calls placed and received.  In this example, only one call was received (the calling telephone number is shown, along with the "+" sign for international use, and the country code).

Spy App Review Calls Log

 

Along with the call log, is the list of phone calls that were recorded.  In this section, I noticed that the LENGTH of the recording (in minutes:seconds) is not shown.  Because of this, you are unable to see at-a-glance if your recording settings are working correctly.  It does show you the file size however.  I do NOT like that you must delete one file at a time!  There is no "check box" to select multiple files for deletion.   My mistakes, read the next review to clarify my errors!  

cell spy call recordings made

 

Viber call recording is next.  This feature did not work during testing.

Viber call recordings of audio messages between users

 

The SMS log is next, showing incoming and outgoing SMS messages.  In the upper left of the control panel, notice that "pdf" and "excel" are shown.  All data can be saved in either of these reports, a really handy feature!

SMS incoming and outgoing messages using the Cell Spy

 

The pdf of the SMS log saved to my computer after pressing the PDF button.  The same information can be delivered in an excel spreadsheet as well, allowing you to edit and remove entries, or highlight and make comments on entries.  And of course, after making those changes, you can save the resulting document as a pdf if you wish.

call log pdf saved to my computer

 

This is a "LINEAR" view of the SMS messages, not a real "conversation" view.  But Cell Spy provides the data in both formats, something I have never seen before.  In my example below, only one "speaker" is shown.  Had this been an actual sms "chat", one person's SMS would be shown on the left side of the page, while the replies from the other person would be shown on the right side of the page.

Threaded SMS message view Conversation Mode Cell Spy

 

I didn't test the email log as my daughters rarely use email.  However, I noticed that email was used by AVAST and CellSpy caught and listed this email in the monitoring log.

CellSpy Email Log Monitoring

 

Facebook Chat, Viber Chat, and WeChat monitoring did not work.  Nothing was reported.  According to the developer, this was a "beta" feature on this software, but is a fully tested and working feature on the new software being released soon.  However, I think that is incorrect, based on the existing website for CellSpy.  

My theory is that these features would be working IF CellSpy had installed itself as a System App as it should have.  There has been no explanation as to why the install did not go correctly, or why the particular NEW error message was displayed on a BRAND NEW SAMSUNG PHONE.

Monitoring Facebook hack

08 chat -- viber chat

09 chat -- wechat

 

The next feature is one of my favorites — ambient noise recording or more commonly called, "room bug".  The ambient record feature of Cell Spy is different from any that I have used before.  In the first screen shot, you can see that I used the feature four times to record noises around the phone.  On the right side of the page, you will notice the commands to play or download the recording.  The command to "play" directly from this page did not work for me.  However, when I clicked "download", the audio file opened in VLC and did play (although I was not able to use the VLC slider to advance or repeat part of the audio file).

Cell Spy Ambient Surrounding Noise Recording Room Bug

 

The screenshot below is from the "remote commands" section of the control panel, and is how you activate the recording feature.  What is different are the two "variables" you must enter.  "INTERVAL" and "DURATION".  In other words, "duaration" specifies HOW MANY MINUTES do you want to record; and the "interval" is "how many minutes to wait before recording again after the last recording finishes".  This allegedly continues until you send a stop recording command. 

This is really interesting as you do not need to have a hands on approach to activating the feature over-and-over.  I can send the command to turn it on when I go to bed, and have it record for the next few hours, rather than stay awake and manually activate the feature each time it finishes recording.

CellSpy Ambient Surrounding Noise Recording Room Bug

 

Next in the media section are the "photos" on the target phone.  Allegedly, this where photos remotely taken would appear.  I never did understand the way this section works.  There were over 1000 pictures on the phone, but 80 82 were uploaded over 2 days. 

I attempted repeatedly to use the "remote camera activation" and take pictures using the phone's cameras.  This is a feature I am dying to have so that I can see my ex using my daughter's phone to send me messages!  But remote activation of the camera to take pictures did not work, there were never any photos taken and added to this section.

Plus, I can't understand which photos are being uploaded.  I'm sure there is some criteria, but I can't figure it out.  Why would so few pics be uploaded to the control panel, when the phone is connected to high-speed internet (I know that it is connected because the phone is at my house, being cherished by my daughter, on the couch next to me!)

Monitoring photos uploaded to cellspy control panel

 

(Updated 1/8/16) After I wrote this post, I realized that I did not mention the "remote video recording" feature in detail.  In my testing, I was able to remotely activate the video camera on the phone, but was not able to obtain more than 1 second of video each instance!  The video (of 1 second!) was very clear however, and if it worked correctly would be an outstanding surveillance feature.

 

remote activation video recording

 

Even though CellSpy didn't take any remote pictures, it allegedly stores the pictures taken in the standard "Photos" section — along with all the images of the target phone.  Video is the same, stored in the same "videos" section along with the videos stored on the target phone.

In my opinion, this is a mistake.  Remotely taken photos and video should be located in their own "categories" or control panel location.  They should not be "mixed" with the images and videos from the phone.  

 

The next two screen shots are from the "LOCATION" section and are entitled gps coordinates and gps listing.  "GPS Coordinates" actually shows gps locations on a map, while "GPS listing" provides the listing of all received data from the phone, including date and time.  When you press the "location" icon on any entry, the location will be opened in a new window, on an updated Google Map.  

Even though the GPS section works very well, I was disappointed that when you view "GPS coordinates" on the map, you are NOT ABLE TO SELECT DATES that you want to view.  I have not determined how many data points (or "locations") it selects to show you, but it is not configurable.

Listings of GPS location tracking on Google Maps

GPS location tracking on Google Maps

 

Next in the Location section is the "GPS LEASH" setting.  This allows you to set a circle around any location (ie: your kid's house) and receive a notification when they exit that circle.  Some companies refer to this as a "geo-fence".  I also use it on company vehicles to let me know when employees in one city have taken their vehicle outside of the "acceptable" range.

There is a setting called "GPS Leash Type" and allows the setting of INSIDE or OUTSIDE.  However, there is no "help balloon" near the setting.  And I don't know how it works after searching on the internet.  

The only thing I found similar was:

[It can send you an email or sms message] whenever a predefined area has been entered by someone. It can send you the same kind of message when that zone has been exited. 

MY GOAL would be to set the fence so that I would receive notification when they have EXITED the zone.  I will try INSIDE setting and see what happens.  I thought about it a few more minutes, and decided to try OUTSIDE — since I want to know when they go OUTSIDE the circle. :)  

To use the leash or "geo-fence" section, you must manually enter the latitude and longitude of the starting point (ie: "home"), then tell how large of a circle you want to allow  (you can get the coordinates from the GPS listing, as it will show you the locations and their coordinates!).  As long as they stay in the circle, no alerts will be triggered.  Once set, you will see your monitored area on a street-level map, detailing clearly what areas are "ok" for your kids to go.

Cell Spy Geo Fence or "GPS LEASH"

 

A NOTE ABOUT GEO-FENCING:  If you are also using WIFI or Cell Tower ID for tracking, you should consider that these locations can be off as much as 2.5km (or 1.5 miles)!  Keep that in mind when you choose the "leash" or geo-fence circle, otherwise you could receive many alerts when your kids didn't really leave the area.  Cell-Towers can be 1-2 miles apart (and further, depending on many factors).  

In testing, CELLSPY sent an email as soon as the target phone was detected outside the geo-fence.  And it KEEPS sending emails until you turn OFF geo-fencing in the control panel!  

gps leash email doesn't stop

 


While testing, I noticed a strange anomaly in GPS (something that is NOT unusual for Asia).  GPS points were listed up until the time we drove to the local mall; and began listing again after we returned home.  You will see the gap in times in the screenshot below.  Even if my daughter's internet was off, the app should have stored the information on the phone and uploaded when connected to the internet.  However it did not – and this 4-hour section is "missing".

GPS Reporting Error and no saved data

 

 

Two other features I was looking forward to testing did not work.  "Cell Info" and "WIFI Access Points" monitoring did not work.  Cell Info is supposed to provide information about which tower the phone is connected to; and WIFI access monitoring is supposed to report the WIFI currently connected and a list of WIFI points that the phone previously connected to.

Cell Spy Cell Info Tower Location Information

17 location -- wifi access points

 

 

Cell Spy also reports the list of contacts and telephone numbers saved in the phone.  But it goes one step further and stores almost all of the details in the contact file including email address, additional phone numbers, etc.  Since my daughter doesn't store all of this extra info, I didn't remember to add all of this data to a contact and test it, but if it works, it is a welcome addition.

Monitoring Contact Information telephone numbers and email addresses Cell Spy

Monitoring Contact Information telephone numbers and email addresses CellSpy

 

 

The phone has two browsers installed: the standard Android stock browser and Google Chrome.  I used both of them to visit a site and both reported the activity.

Cell Spy monitoring browser use

 

 

There are two sections of application settings,  The first allows you to choose which programs to monitor.  For example, you can choose to upload media (pictures, video) by WIFI only or WIFI and Cellular.  If you choose WIFI only, any pictures or video you take REMOTELY will not be uploaded until your child is back on WIFI!

As I said before, what is missing is the ability to specify WHICH telephone numbers I want to record calls to and from. 

Cell Spy Settings Remotely Configurable

CellSpy Settings Remotely Configurable

 

 

In a different section of the settings, you can change control panel password, set the time zone, and export data.  Setting the time zone is an important feature that many apps do not provide.  Other apps have been test in which the time of the event was reported at the developer's time zone, which for those of us 12+ hours from the US, makes monitoring difficult. 

You can also export data from the control panel in bulk to your local computer.  Export function is only available once every 24 hours.

Changing Time Zone in Cell Spy

Changing Password in Cell Spy

Export Settings in Cell Spy App

 

 

The final section in the control panel is the "remote commands" section.  This is how the control panel communicates with the phone to track, turn on/off video recording; activate/deactivate ambient noise recording, or take pictures with the phone camera.

Once the command is sent, you must continue to reload the page to make sure the command clears itself from the queue (indicating that the command was sent).

Remote Commands of Cell Spy

Spy App Monitoring Commands

 

 

Another feature I liked is the "connection" reporting on the dashboard.  Cell Spy reports the "last connection time" of the phone in two ways, by exact hour and minute of connection; and as "connected xx minutes ago".  I like this dual reporting format.

dashboard connection reporting

 

IN SUMMARY … I wanted to test this older software because it lists features that are innovative and unique to spy and monitoring apps.  The developer is obviously in tune with monitoring because of some of the features listed (although some did not work in this version, I am assured that the new program will have all of these listed features working correctly!).

There are a few things I don't like, although mostly aesthetic.  I don't like the layout of the control panel controls.  Many of the items are located under a "header" requiring you to press the header to "expand" the items, then choose the item you want.  I think this is a wasted click.  I prefer the way TheTruthSpy lists ALL of the features in one line.  I understand that this developer likely wanted to keep it "neat" and on one screen, but I would prefer to scroll and choose the item I want.

Here is TheTruthSpy's list of features, in one line with one-click access.

Facebook Parental Control

I also find some of the headers to be confusing.  "Browser" monitoring is located under the "OFFICE" (?) tab. Of course, after you use it a while, you get used to it and knowing where everything is located. 

Overall, I am excited about this test!  I hope the replacement version of this software provides the features (especially the ones that didn't work for me!) shown in this old version.

 

UPDATE:  1-4-16

I used the app for the 24-hour free trial.  Let me be the first to say that 24-hours does not let you get much of a trial period out of any software – but it is better than nothing.  48-72 hours would be a better opportunity, as it would potentially give parents time to work with the software *AND* get response from support for problems they encounter.

There is another weakness I discovered inadvertently.  When your trial period expires, all data logging stops! 

I am unable to understand why the software would do this — the goal should be to convert a trial user to a paid user.  And there will always be a period of time (a few days to a few weeks) where a user is unable to make payment or, in my case, to get a payment to be accepted.  I tried two times and could not get accepted.  I called my bank who assured me that they were NOT rejecting the charge — and the problem was on the merchant's side.

cellspy credit card payment refused

After setting up a new account and going through a few hoops, I was able to get a payment sent for a 3 month subscription ($80.87USD or 1250 African Rand).

credit card charge to buy cell spy

So, back to my complaint: "When your trial period expires, all data logging stops!"  So now that I have paid, I received a reply from support telling me my account was active.

… As for the software on the device, it is unlikely that the software 
is active and therefore no new data is likely to be captured until a license 
is activated. …

To make this clear, ALL ACTIVITY THAT HAPPENED BETWEEN THE LAST DAY OF MY TRIAL AND TODAY (WHEN I PAID) IS LOST!  Does that make sense to anyone reading this — because it doesn't make sense to me.  The software should have continued to STORE (I didn't say upload or make available to me) — and LOG the data for 2 weeks or more.  That way when the customer (ME!) pays for the subscription, he doesn't lose data.

In the below screen shot, you will see that all data between 12-28-2015 (when the free trial ended) and 1-4-2016 (when I was able to make payment) IS GONE and not recoverable. You might also notice this happened over the holidays … a time when CellSpy was closed for weeks.

data is missing cellspy

 

I guess the reason I am so mad about this data loss, is because something happened between the time that the trial expired and the time I could get the payment processed and the account activated.  Something happened that would have been documented in CellSpy had it continued to record data.  

In order to perform this test "fairly", I listened to the developers and did not install Cerberus AntiTheft on this phone so that there would be no way to blame any other software if the install didn't go correctly.

So without Cerberus installed  (which would have provided the needed evidence I needed because it would have stored the info on the phone) and with CellSpy not recording data after the trial expiration, I am unable to understand what really happend with the "incident" with my daughter — and that really infuriates me.  

I understand CellSpy wouldn't provide the data to me (for free) during the time when my license was not paid — but the very least they could have done is continue to save the data on the phone for a reasonable period of time — so that it could be uploaded once I made payment.

 






2 Comments to Cell Spy Review

  1. a parent says:

    I like that you are giving real reviews, and I like the pictures that show what you found, but do you think you could include a chart, listing the features, what worked or didn't work, and maybe short comments on each feature?  Props to you for the amount of details and explanations you give; but sometimes it is too much, and having a chart would help me to understand the good and bad much more quickly. 

    • admin says:

      Hi, thanks for the comment about the chart.  Yes, I have been told many times that I write too much and it makes things confusing.  I hope to go back to the main reviews and add a “what-worked” and “what-didn’t-work” chart.  Thanks for following the site.

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