mobile phones for children
As they get older, most children will probably ask for their own mobile or smartphone, and you’ll want to be able to contact them when they spend more time away from home.
Smartphones offer children the ability to be connected to the internet wherever they are, so you need to carefully consider if and when they’re ready to go mobile and what you’re happy for them to be able to do online.
Five things you should consider when buying a device
Which phone to get
If your child only needs a phone for emergencies then a simple one will do. Any smartphone will have access to the internet so consider how long your child is likely to spend using it and how you manage their online safety. Smartphones are also a target for thieves so it’s wise to consider buying insurance.
Pay-as-you-go (PAYG) or contract?
As you’re likely to be the bill payer for your children, it’s important to know that data for internet browsing often has limits and can cost extra if exceeded. Pay-as-you-go (PAYG) is a pre-pay system and therefore ideal for children. Monthly contracts cost a regular amount, but could incur further charges for going over allowances.
Check for adult content filters
Most networks offer filters to prevent users seeing content aimed at over 18s. With O2 this can be set to under 12. Any filter will be bypassed by connecting a phone to Wi-Fi, so make sure you have parental controls on your home broadband. Encourage your children to use family friendly WiFi in public places.
Choosing a network
Look into the tariffs offered by the different networks – some offer family plans and the ability to make calls to a designated number, even if the phone needs topping up. They can also offer additional safety features such as Vodafone’s Guardian App and TalkTalk’s MobileSafe App.
Apple or Android?
Of the most popular phones, those running on Android tend to be more complicated with more options, while Apple’s usually keep things simpler. Both Apple and Android offer ways to restrict access to the internet and the ability to purchase apps. However, other phones may be more appropriate for younger children and some are reviewed below.
Smartphones and social media
All smartphones have access to the most popular social media services, such as Facebook and Twitter, and this is probably one of the most used features on many children’s phones. See our social networking section to understand the potential implications for your child’s privacy and online reputation.
Phones to consider for your child
Here are some reviews of selected phones that are currently available with pointers on the age they’re appropriate for, their level of functionality and the safety features they offer.
We’ve reviewed the following (in ascending age-appropriate order):
The iPhone SE is one of the best “smaller” smartphones you can buy. It shares similar specs to the iPhone 6S yet it’s a lot more affordable and more compact to hold. It also has an excellent battery life and your child will have plenty of protective cases to choose from.
It costs from £379 with 16GB of storage.
Apple offers a parental control system, known simply as “Restrictions”, which works by restricting controls for apps, internet browsing, camera, Siri voice interaction, microphone, movies, TV shows and more.
You can limit, therefore, what content your child can access. Also, from within the App Store, there is an age-based restriction that can be put in place for app and game downloads.
TFun and friendly, the Pixel is Google’s latest Android smartphone and a good alternative to the iPhone. It’s ideal for a teenager who wants a flashier phone to wave around and powerful enough to watch video content or play games on.
It’s not cheap, however, at £599 for the 5-inch 32GB base model. You can also get it on a contract with EE.
The phone comes with a fingerprint security to ensure nobody but you and your child can access private information. It also has clever battery management, so he or she is unlikely to claim the battery ran out when you want to contact them.
Google also provides plenty of parental controls to prevent any unsuitable applications being accessed and 24/7 tech support, connecting to a safe and vetted Google expert
A decent phone doesn’t need to cost a fortune, and the Moto Z is the best example of a device that offers a wide range of features – from calls and texts to apps, gaming and fast 4G connectivity – without breaking the bank.
Prices start at £499.
Because this is an Android phone, there are some very easy settings you can select to enable your children are restricted to apps and games you want them to play.
You can lock down the Google Play Store app or even limit access to specific apps themselves. It comes with the latest version of Android, so you can rest assured it is futureproof too.
Microsoft’s Windows 10 offers an alternative to Android and Apple’s iOS software, yet still provides apps, games and internet connectivity. The Lumia 550 is a cheap option, with the Cortana voice assistant built in so your child can ask it questions that may help with homework.
It costs around £100.
The phone also access to Microsoft’s My Family parental control system, which can help you manage which apps your child is able to download and use. It is also capable of linking to Xbox Live, so can extend the Xbox 360 or Xbox One gaming experience beyond a console.
Available over the internet or from O2, the OnePlus 3 is a premium smartphone for less than most rivals. It comes with a fingerprint scanner which will help you to feel at ease in terms of knowing your child’s data is safe from prying eyes.
The OnePlus 3 is priced at £329 (on PAYG).
It is an Android handset but some interesting features make it stand out for children. For example, your child can launch the camera by drawing an “O” on the screen in standby, or draw a “V” to switch on the torch/flashlight.
He or she will probably love these gestures, as they’re fun, and they definitely help the phone to standout more than it already does. It also has the same level of parental control as other Android phones.
Smart and safe, specifically designed for children.
Like many other phones this runs on Google’s Android operating system. However, the Kurio’s in-built parental controls, which include internet filter settings, make it an ideal first phone option.
Costs around £99 (on PAYG).
It offers you the ability to choose which apps are installed much like conventional Android competitors, but also enables you to limit the amount of time your child can spend using apps and games or making texts and calls. You simply put a cap on how much time is allowed for given functions and it will tell them when their time is up.
There’s even a geo-location feature, whereby the Kurio will automatically text you if your child ventures beyond a designated area, as defined by you.
Samsung phones are extremely popular so you would probably expect to see one reviewed here. However, they don’t really make a great budget handset suitable for children, and instead focus on the top end of the market and are ideal for those who’re most tech savvy.
You might also be interested in the following external links about this topic:
- Family Lives has some great information to consider when thinking about whether your child needs a mobile phone
- Once you’ve decided to buy a phone, BT cover some important issues
- Thinkuknow highlight some considerations about keeping children safe
- Watch Parent Zone video on ‘getting to grips with premium rate services on mobiles’
- EU Kids Online, October 2014