These days it takes more than simply ringing the steel triangle on your deck to round up the kids for supper. Technology has advanced, and the need for a more efficient way to maintain contact with children from afar has only increased, bolstered by their growing thirst for independence and reliance on consumer technology. Despite the fact that cell phones have become the obvious solution for basic communication and contact in lieu of the landline — and to a lesser degree, the steel triangle — they still pose both a financial and safety risk.
Even though a phone is a great way for parents to maintain contact with their children, picking the right one isn’t always easy. Parents must address crucial factors, such as cost and control, while simultaneously appeasing their children with features such as games, apps, photos, and texting, among other things. Here are our top picks for the best smartphones and cell phones for kids, so you can keep in contact with your loved ones at all times (even if they don’t want you to). Consider pairing your chosen phone with one of the best parental control apps or, if you opt for an Android device, take a look at Google’s Family Link for more peace of mind.
Motorola G6 ($250)
The king is dead — long live the king. If you’re looking for a smartphone that doesn’t break the bank and won’t sting too much if it’s lost, but still offers good performance, then Motorola’s G-range is usually where you’d start. This year, the Moto G6 has upped the ante, delivering a glass-and-metal design that your sprog won’t be ashamed to be seen with. A protective case is included in the package, but you might want to pick from our range of the best Moto G6 cases, since glass is prone to breaking.
Performance is good, delivered by the Snapdragon 450, though it might struggle a little bit with multitasking. We found swapping between demanding apps caused the phone to slow down a bit — but it also handled simple games fairly well, and provided solid enough performance most of the time. There are plenty of storage options too, with 32GB available as a base option, and the ability to add a MicroSD card for extra room.
It’s also packing a decent camera, so your kid can share selfies without worrying about the quality. It’s not perfect, and the battery life might not last as long as you’d like — but Motorola’s TurboPower charging means 15 minutes of charging can give six hours of battery life. Sit your kid down to dinner and plug their phone in, and it should be more than ready to see them through to bedtime. All in all, the Moto G6 is an extremely solid phone that should serve your child well.
iPhone 7 ($450+)
Apple’s recent scalping of its range means that recommending the iPhone SE is no longer really possible, but it doesn’t matter so much when there’s a phone as good as the iPhone 7 there to replace it. The iPhone 7 isn’t the pint-sized pocket rocket the iPhone SE was, and it’s a larger phone without the bezel-less looks of more modern phones — but none of that means you should pass it over. It’s powered by Apple’s A10 Bionic processor, delivers smooth and consistent performance, and runs the latest version of iOS.
While a phone this expensive is likely to be used by an older child, it still has the option to use Apple’s parental controls, so you can lock down the internet, or stop certain apps being used. You can also share your iTunes content, or track your kid’s location. The powerful processor will run most modern games, and the great camera suite means your kid will have no problem taking some great snaps or selfies while they’re out and about.
It’s not the cheapest choice around, but if mom and dad are already equipped with iPhones, then the iPhone 7 is definitely a convenient choice. A good case should see it survive some abuse, and it packs IP67 water-resistance, too. You can check out our full iPhone 7 review for more information.
Nokia 6.1 ($270)
It’s unfortunate, but kids are a clumsy lot, and even the best behaved little ones will often knock their precious phone flying across a room. With that in mind, it’s often worth making sure that their phone can take those sorts of knocks and come out without much of an issue. The Nokia 6.1 is a such a phone. It bucks the recent trend for glass with an all-metal build that feels extremely solid. It’s not exactly a rugged phone, but it should be able to take some accidental drops and knocks better than a glass phone.
That comes at something of a price though, and the chunky bezels mean it’s not the most stylish phone — though we do like the bronze edges. Still, it’s powerful, outstripping most other phones under $300, which makes it the perfect companion for a gaming-happy generation. The camera suffers from poor performance in low light, but is otherwise good. It’s also running on Google’s Android One operating system, which means the phone will be updated with the latest security patches and new features quickly and often, helping to keep your kid’s phone secure. It’s a great choice if solid performance and durability are preferred to flashy looks.
Honor Play ($320)
Mobile gaming is huge with kids, and it’s easy to see why. Mobile gaming is accessible from anywhere, often free-to-play, and only requires a device that many kids already have in their pockets. If your kid is glued to Fortnite, why not give them an edge with a phone built around mobile gaming? The Honor Play uses Huawei’s flagship Kirin 970 chip and the game-optimizing GPU Turbo mode to provide some of the smoothest game performance out there.
But it’s not just about gaming performance. That power transfers over into everyday tasks, and the huge 6.3-inch display and 64GB of storage should be more than sufficient for your child. It’s equipped with a decent camera for good selfies, and the Honor Play’s modern bezel-less design and glass build will also make your kid happy. There’s a pretty big 3,750mAh battery backing it up too, so your child should make it home with battery to spare.
The downsides? It’s a tad expensive on the higher side of $300, it won’t work with Verizon or Sprint — and crucially, it’s not technically for sale in the U.S. However, you can pick up the international version on Amazon, so it’s not that big a deal. Check out our full Honor Play review for more details.
Motorola E5 Play ($130)
Your kid’s phone doesn’t have to be expensive — but the trick is finding a phone that’s a good price, durable, and capable of everything your child needs. Motorola’s Moto E5 Play ticks a good number of those boxes, without breaking your bottom line.
At this price you won’t find a top-of-the-line processor jammed into the E5 Play, but the Snapdragon 425/427 provides decent performance, even if your kid might struggle to get most modern games running on it. The 16GB storage is a little bit limited, but modern cloud storage and the MicroSD card expansion should mean your child still has plenty of room. The design is a little basic, and not particular modern — but the plastic is durable, and the 2800mAh battery should last a day at least.
The camera is basic, but serviceable, and your child should have no problem using the software. Unfortunately, it definitely won’t get Android 9.0 Pie — but it’s still a bargain. Do some good shopping around and you’re likely to find it for well below the $130 starting price. A great, cheap phone — check out our full Moto E5 Play review for more details.