For some parents, the absolute best phone for kids is no phone at all.
For others, it's the one you're comfortable with them having.
One they can use safely and responsibly while sticking to any rules you laid out for them.
So which to choose?
From simple phones designed specifically for children, to affordable options for teens or young adults...this guide will show you what we think are the best options for 2018!
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for 2018.
Phones with Basic Calling and GPS Tracking
The KISA Phone is one of the most interesting options we found in our search for the best cell phones for kids.
Featuring a stylish yet rugged design, the phone is similar in size to a modern smartphone but ditches the touchscreens and apps for a straightforward, physical button interface. You can choose how many buttons the phone has at the time of order and each is assigned a label and a number.
Placing a call requires a push of the appropriate button. The option to use pictures on buttons provides added simplicity for younger children. Should you need to change the numbers assigned to each button, you contact KISA and they can make the changes for you.
Additional features include GPS tracking, an emergency mode and an optional charging cradle if you worry about small hands and cords.
While the company is based out of Australia, the phone supports GSM networks around the world. Pricing is slightly higher if you’re using your own SIM. However, when you consider the added durability of the phone, we feel the price is competitive as you won’t need to replace it anytime soon.
Nokia 3310 3G
If you’re looking for something a little more like a traditional mobile phone, the Nokia 3310 3G offers similar features in a classic phone format. You can buy it unlocked for around $90 and use it on most carriers including Rogers, Telus and Bell.
The phone offers MP3 playback, a camera, and headphone support -- through both Bluetooth and 3.5mm headphone jack. You can even put a microSD card in to add more storage if you'd like.
It's a modern take on the basic phone. And while it doesn't offer all of the bells and whistles of a smartphone, it still looks cool enough that the kids might not mind carrying it around.
Nokia 3310 3G (Unlocked)
From $47.40 at Amazon
Easy texting without access to advanced features
It seems that while phones get fancier each year, we’re doing less calling on them than ever before. For younger generations, texting and IM is likely more common than actual phone calls.
That said, if you don't want your young teen having a smartphone, the best option is likely a classic flip phone -- such as the Alcatel Go Flip -- or a "dumb" phone like the Nokia 3310 3G recommended above.
If your kids want to text but you don’t want them to have the full features of a smartphone, full-keyboard and slider phones are an excellent choice.
They still get to talk with friends and you don’t have to worry about endless app downloads or a surprise on your monthly bill due to a weekend-long YouTube binge.
Most major carriers still offer at least one feature phone option with a full keyboard.
Just watch the price. Often, they can cost as much as -- and sometimes more than -- an entry-level smartphone.
LG Xpression 2
The LG Xpression 2 offers a small touchscreen for switching between features, MP3 playback, alarms and plenty of storage for contacts. The QWERTY keyboard makes it easy to hammer out texts and emails without relying on the touchscreen.
LG Xpression 2
From $79.99 at Amazon
It also offers both support microSD cards, so loading up all of your kids’ favorite tunes or storing pictures taken with the rear camera shouldn't be a problem.
However, while the 2MP camera used is perfect for quick snapshots or social media don’t expect amazing pictures.
If you're looking for the full keyboard experience without the slider format, the ZTE Z432 available on Amazon is a great GSM option as well. It resembles some of the classic BlackBerry phones of years past.
From $34.99 at Amazon
While the screen is on the smaller side -- only 2.4-inches -- it is a wider screen, so it might work better for reading text or webpages. This model also includes a 2MP camera and microSD card storage expansion.
NOTE: Many basic phones don't support Wi-Fi connections. While this might be great for limiting access to things you don’t want your kids browsing, it is a limitation as they grow older. This also means that they will need to rely on data if you’re planning to let them use email or social media features. While feature phones are often quite light on data, this will result in extra monthly costs.
What about smartphones?
If you don't mind your child having a smartphone (or they won't have it any other way), have a look at our smartphone picks for teens below.
Each of our recommendations are reliable options with relatively affordable prices.
And, if you want to ensure safe and responsible usage, you can add parental controls.
Affordable, full-featured smartphones for accident-prone teens
While the original iPhone and early Android phones forever changed the way the world communicates, smartphones aren’t the revolutionary things they once were.
Today, you can find Android phones for under $100 that would run circles around these earlier devices. Jump into the mid-$100s and you have a full line of options that are more than enough for most teens.
Motorola Moto E (3rd Generation)
With a 5-inch qHD display, quad-core processor and support for microSD cards, the Moto E from Verizon or AT&T (GSM) is a capable, fully-featured smartphone. It costs a fraction of the current flagships and the 1GB of RAM should handle basic daily use and light gaming just fine. There's also a 5MP camera for capturing quick snapshots or sharing images on social media.
Motorola Moto E (3nd Gen)
From $119.95 at Amazon
One downside is that there's only 8GB of internal storage so taking advantage of the microSD expansion card slot is recommended.
Motorola Moto G5
Upgrading to the Moto G5, the screen size stays the same but sees a boost to 1080p. So you'll get better quality when playing games or streaming video.
There's also a faster octo-core processor to keep things running snappy. The 13MP camera will take images rivaling most entry level point-and-shoot cameras.
Motorola Moto G5
From $157.02 on Amazon
Support for microSD cards ensures plenty of room of music, apps and other media as well. While it costs a little more than the Moto E (3rd Generation), the difference in performance and features is noticeable.
If you’re looking for a full-featured mobile for a responsible teen, we think the Motorola Moto G5 is a superb option. However, if you have any concerns about misuse or you’re looking for a younger child, sticking with the Moto E (3rd Generation) will provide most of the functionality at a lower price.
What about an iPhone?
It seems everywhere you look these days, there's a kid with an iPhone. There's a good chance your kids have asked you for one as well.
However, the latest iPhone doesn't come cheap. This makes us hesitant to recommend a new iPhone for kids or teens. Even with phone insurance , you'll likely pay more for a replacement if it's broken than our previous teen-friendly recommendations.
However, if you're willing to buy used or refurbished, iPhones from the past generation or two are still very capable mobile devices. For example, depending on your carrier and internal storage preferences, Gazelle offers the iPhone SE and iPhone 6 models with prices ranging between $129 and $219.
Just remember, iPhones don't support microSD cards. So choose a model with plenty of storage.
Any other options for me?
Yep. Blu also makes a variety of Android phones with budget-friendly prices . Options start at around $40 with high-end phones topping out around $200. All options are unlocked from the factory and many are quad-band phones. This means you can use them on nearly any GSM carrier network--including popular prepaid options.
The top end phones--such as the VIVO XL2 , LIFE ONE X2 and Vivo XL2 --offer many of the features of flagship phones at a price that is easier to stomach. Better still, if the phone is dropped in the pool or left at the mall, you’re not out $500+.
Blu constantly releases new phone models, so we won’t get in-depth with details. However, in our opinion these are some good ranges depending on your needs.
- Basic: 4-inch+ display, at least 1GB of RAM, dual-core processor at 1Ghz or higher
- Media Playback: 5-inch+ display, at least 2GB of RAM, 8GB of internal storage + microSD card, dual-core or quad-core processor at 1Ghz or higher
- Gaming: 5-inch+ display, at least 2GB of RAM. 16+GB of internal storage, quad-core or octo-core processor at least 1.2Ghz or higher
Anything else to keep in mind?
Yep. Glad you asked.
If your kids play a lot of games or have a large collection of downloaded videos or music, choosing a phone with microSD card support will ensure they can fit their favorites on their phone. For internal storage, we recommend starting with a minimum of 8GB, though 16GB is preferable.
The apps added by the manufacturer or carrier and the operating system all take up room on the phone. In most cases, you can count on these default apps taking up at least 1GB of storage space.
What We Looked for In Our Picks
While the exact features you might need will differ based on the age of your child and what you want them to do (or not be able to do) with their phone, we felt these considerations offered benefits to any age group.
Affordability: Even as adults, accidents happen. Handing a kid a $600 phone sounds like a recipe for disaster to us.
Kid-Centric Features: While a kid can use most any device out there--sometimes better than us--we wanted to find options that offered specific benefits to a range of ages and skill levels.
Good Battery Life: If the phone only lasts an hour before it dies, it’s not going to do much to keep the kids from coming after your phone to play games. If you’re using it for emergency calling or to keep tabs on their location, extended battery life also adds peace of mind.
Durability: While the rugged options out there are probably out of the price range of most kids phone budgets, we wanted to find options that will stand up to the occasional tumble and deal with being tossed in bag or sat on from time to time.
Keeping Your Kid's Phone Safe
Regardless of which phone you choose, have options to help encourage healthy phone habits and discourage your kids from using their phone in ways you wouldn't approve.
Parental control apps and services let you track what your child does with their mobile device or place restrictions on features.
Options for Basic Phones
Most major carriers offer a form of parental controls or allow you to limit the number of minutes, messages, or data your child or teen can use.
These carrier services are basic at best, but can be effective in teaching healthy habits or keeping the kids from blowing through all of the data on your plan.
Options for Smartphones
The parental controls available increase greatly if your child has a smartphone.
In addition to the features offered by your carrier, there's also a range of apps available.
These apps help you restrict everything from the sites your child browses and apps they download to when and how they can use their phones.
Android phones (with Android 7.0 or newer) can download Google's Family Link. It has an easy-to-use set of controls and integrates directly into the phone's software.
To use the service you install two apps. One on your child's phone to add protection and the other, a parental version, on your phone to control features.
Apple offers a similar feature on all iPhones and iPads running iOS 12 or newer called Screen Time.
It allows you to set what content can be viewed based on ratings, control purchases, track usage, and more.
It's also built into the phone's software, so there's no need to install anything extra -- and the kids can't uninstall the app either.
You can configure settings directly on your child's device or using your own iPhone or iPad. For a full list of features and instructions, consult Apple's Screen Time support page.
There are also a range of third-party options available including:
- Screentime (not to be confused with Apple's Screen Time settings)
- Kapersky Kids Safe
- Net Nanny
Each of these works a little differently and costs vary. However, most offer free trials or feature-limited versions so you can try before you buy to see which is best for you and your kids.
Alternative Options to Cell Phones
Depending on your kids’ wants and needs, they might not need a full-time phone of their own. We’ve found a few options that might work for extremely light use or situations where calling or mobile data service isn’t required.
Own an iPod Touch or Tablet? You can use apps to simulate many features from a smartphone. With regular access to Wi-Fi, you might get away without any monthly cost at all!
How do I do that?
There’s a good chance your kids already have Google or Facebook accounts. If so, both Messenger and Google Hangouts allow voice calling over Wi-Fi. If you’d prefer to keep your kids off social media, Viber and WhatsApp offer voice calling features as well--though their friends will need to have the app too.
And what if I want a more phone-like experience?
As long as the tablet has a microphone, you can use magicApp to add a phone number to it for a small yearly subscription fee. This number can send and receive text messages and place calls to other mobiles or landlines. Currently, the plan includes unlimited calling and texting in the U.S. & Canada so you don’t need to worry about bill shock if the kids talk all afternoon.
2. Kids' Smartwatches and Trackers
Although the GizmoWatch looks like a kids’ smartwatch , the GizmoWatch is more like a tiny phone. It has built-in GPS tracking and support for both GSM and Wi-Fi connectivity. You can program up to 10 contacts into the GizmoWatch that allow it to receive or place calls and messages without worry of who they’re talking to.
You can set safe zones within the companion app that send you alerts when the watch enters and leaves specific areas -- great for monitoring the walk home from school or trips around the city.
There's also basic fitness features -- including a pedometer and activity reminders.
For kids that like to customize, the watch is compatible with any 20mm watch strap.
Lastly, the design rated IPX7 for waterproofing -- offering protection for submersion in up to 1 meter (3.28 feet) of water for up to 30 minutes.
The only downside to this device for us is that it’s currently a Verizon exclusive. However, with its limited data usage and affordable price, it shouldn’t impact your monthly bill too much.
If you're looking for an option that will work with other carriers, the Doki Watch S is an interesting option.
It includes similar fitness features, GPS monitoring, and security alerts of the Gizmo Watch.
For those worried about the watch distracting little minds at school, there is a class mode you can activate to essentially turn the device into a digital watch between certain hours.
There's also a basic to-do list and wallpaper customization options to provide a more smartwatch-like experience for tiny hands.
The watch itself, however, doesn't offer interchangeable bands or other customization. You have a few colors to choose from at checkout though.
The watch also works over VoIP, so costs to keep it on your plan should be quite low.
3. Upcycle an Old Phone
The old phone collecting dust in your office drawer might be a great fit for your teen. You've already bought it, so you don't have to worry about costs should they break it. Most carriers will also unlock phones for a fee should you need to use the phone with a new carrier.
Related Guide: 9 Great Uses For Your Old Smartphone or Tablet
For even more savings, you can use the method listed above for tablets and iPod touches to use VoIP instead. However, if your teen is on the go, they might have trouble using features unless Wi-Fi access is nearby.
Although the number of younger kids with cell phones is increasing -- and they might tell you all their friends have one -- there was a time when we all made it through our day without one.
Just because they want it, doesn't mean they need it.
Concerns about privacy, online harassment and exposure to content you don't want children seeing are very real.
Phones can also become addictive distractions for some children.
And once you open the floodgate, it can be hard to wrangle back control of their usage.
If these concerns or any other has you holding out and feeling that the best phone for your kids is none at all, you won't be alone.
There's nothing wrong with no phone at all.
Ultimately, it is up to you to know what features are best for your child and what you’re comfortable with. We hope this guide helped to highlight the best options out there and answer any questions you might have.
If you’re one of the many parents out there that think cell phones and kids shouldn’t mix, let us know why in the comments! On the other side, if this guide helped you find the perfect phone for your kid or we missed a question you might have, we’d love to hear from you too!