These days, it takes more than simply ringing the steel triangle on your deck to round up the kids for supper. As generations have plodded along, the need for a more efficient way to maintain contact with our children from afar has only increased, bolstered by their growing thirst for independence and reliance on consumer technology. However, although cell phones have become the obvious solution for basic communication and contact in lieu of the landline — and to a lesser degree, the triangle — they still pose both a financial and safety risk.
Updated on 11-13-15 by Rachel Grozanick: Added information on parental control apps and services, updated phone models and prices, and swapped out three previous options for new ones.
It’s clear parents like to know where their children are, keep them safe from inappropriate websites or apps, and stop the wrong people from contacting them. Service plans like Kajeet allow parents to control the functions of their kids’ smartphones, limiting access to websites and contacts, controlling when the phone can and can’t be used, and apportioning the bill between parents and kids, if preferred.
However, adding a phone to your family can be enough change, without adding a new service, too. Thankfully, child-friendly cell phone alternatives are now abundant, as more companies address parents’ needs. Even though a phone is a great way for parents to maintain contact with their children, picking the right one isn’t easy. Parents must address crucial factors such as cost and control, while simultaneously appeasing their children with features like custom ringtones, games, photos, and texting, among other notable features.
Moreover, the right cell phone allows parents to track their children via GPS, manage tasks, set call and game limitations, and even program speed dialing that’s accessible directly from front of the device. None of these phones boast the sheer power of the Samsung Galaxy S6 or Apple’s iPhone 6S, but let’s be honest, kids don’t need it all. And pre-paid, no-contract devices offer more peace of mind than most things in life.
Here are our top picks for the best smartphones and cell phones for kids, so you keep in contact with your loved ones at all times (even if they don’t want you to).
Kurio Phone ($130)
Kurio no longer produces its smartphone offering for kids, but it’s still available from many different retailers and packs the biggest punch of all kid-geared phones — for parents and kids. The phone allows parents to keep track of their kids via a GPS monitoring system, and even allows them to set up “safe” and “danger” zones within the phone’s map. Kurio includes its unique kid-safe Web-surfing feature so parents won’t ever have to worry about their children stumbling across the wrong sites. Parents also have the ability to monitor any of the phone’s contacts, phone calls, text messages, or applications to their specific liking.
Aside from the bevy of parental controls, the Kurio Phone grants supreme flexibility due to the fact it’s a fully unlocked Android smartphone. Parents pick the cell phone provider, the type of plan they wish to use, and have the option of avoiding constricting contracts. Kids get a cool phone with 25 pre-installed apps and without a the childish trappings that some kids — and most teens — dislike. Safe enough to allow parents to rest easy but powerful enough to give kids a taste of modern day smartphones, the Kurio Phone impresses across the board.
FiLIP 2 ($150)
There’s a total glut of smartwatch options for kids, but AT&T users definitely have the best option. The the FiLIP 2 is a wearable device which functions both as a locator and phone. The device syncs with a parent’s cell phone through a downloadable app for iOS and Android, granting parents direct control over the watch’s interface and the ability to set safe zones for cell phone usage. Additionally, the device boasts built-in location services, four color options (green, red, blue, and orange), and different-sized spacers so the watch can grow with kids.
Parents can program the device to handle inbound and outbound calls for up to five numbers and even send their children short text messages that appear directly on the watch’s main display. Don’t have AT&T? Don’t worry — Verizon offers the GizmoPal VC100 and Swedish startup Tinitell has an unlocked watch that will work with any 2G GSM SIM card. Because really, who doesn’t like a watch that moonlights as a cell phone?
Kisa phone ($135)
Kisa, an Australian company, has created simple phones for the elderly, the vision-impaired, and kids. These phones allow children to call up to 10 pre-set phone numbers and to receive calls from anyone. With a large bright display that parents or children can customize by choosing from multiple options when they order, the Kisa phone is strictly rudimentary without a clunky or boring design. The back of the phone features an SOS button and can include allergy or contact information. The phone is light enough that kids could wear it on a lanyard to prevent it from getting lost on the playground.
While the ordering and setting up process may be a little involved for non-Aussie parents (U.S. buyers must first purchase and activate a SIM card, then send it to Kisa in order for the phone to work) after the initial set up, changing the pre-programmed contacts is as easy as sending Kisa an email and using your own SIM card means you can choose the cheapest compatible carrier.
Moto E 2 ($120-150)
Taking the plunge and buying your kid a real, honest-to-goodness smartphone can be a bit scary, but it can also be worth the investment. Luckily, there are several great options that don’t break the bank — so you won’t be too upset if your kid’s trial run ends in a lost phone — but which still have many of the bells and whistles that merit springing for a smartphone in the first place.
If your kid wants a phone that can grant her or him access to the Internet, let her or him download apps and stream video, isn’t super slow, and has a decent camera, the Motorola Moto E 2 is a great choice. Since the phone is Android operated, parents can use the app Kytephone to have full parental control without the hassle of servicing the phone through a separate provider. Best of all, you don’t have to sign up for a contract to get the phone at a reasonable price.
Nokia Lumia 530 ($60)
There are many perks to buying a Windows phone for your kid. Microsoft Office and OneDrive give your child the ability to access and complete homework on his or her smartphone. If your kid is really good at negotiating, that’s probably the angle he’ll use to convince you to buy him a smartphone but don’t be duped — he really wants a Windows phone because they’re uniquely designed to have special features for Xbox Live. We recommend the Nokia Lumia 530 because it has expandable memory — up to 128 GB — meaning your kid can take a bunch of photos, have a large music collection, and download lots of apps with no problem.
Like the Moto E, the phone is unlocked, so you can purchase it for a very reasonable $60 and add a line to your pre-existing plan. Microsoft’s My Family can help you control which apps your child is able to download, but is definitely not as comprehensive a parental control plan as Kurio’s or the Kytephone app.