Smartphones for children

Buying tips for parents

As they get older, most children will probably ask for their own mobile or smartphone, and you’ll want to be able to stay in touch with them when they start secondary school or 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.

Expert parent tips For buying a device

Here are the things to consider before investing in a smartphone for your child.

How will it benefit you and your child?

Before getting into the different makes, models, and contracts it’s important you have a clear understanding of how your child will use the phone and how it will benefit your family. This is often primarily about staying in touch when they travel to school. But, of course, smartphones offer other benefits too, from researching homework, accessing favourite programmes, taking pictures and videos, playing games as well as keeping up with friends and other social networks.

Talking about this with your child is an essential way to understand both the benefits and dangers. It also gives you a chance to agree with them on how they will use the phone responsibly, both in terms of online interactions and appropriate content. There are some helpful guides to helps you shape these conversations, like our family agreement.

Pay-as-you-go 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 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.

Along with the costs, it’s also worth considering that modern smartphones often assume an internet connection of some sort to work when out and about. If you want to send or receive pictures or use messaging apps, then including data in the contract is important.

Where you do include data in the contract of your child’s phone it’s important to understand that this will be outside any monitoring or restrictions you set up as part of your home Wifi internet access.

The majority of phone networks provide controls to limit the data children can access and avoid seeing adult content. Also, there are some specific networks like ID Mobile that provide content restrictions specifically to protect children from viewing inappropriate content online via a related app.

Setting up social and gaming apps

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. It’s also worth considering that many of these phones are now powerful enough to run complex video games with online interactions.

Games like Roblox and Fortnite, running on smartphones, are a common way for children to interact with people they don’t know online. Understanding this enables you to set-up appropriate restrictions and limits in the phone itself and specific video games.

Expert advice from Andy Robertson, read his book, Taming Gaming book for tips on specific games.

Which phone to get?

If your child only needs a phone for emergencies then a simple one will do. The benefit of more basic (non-smart) phones is that their battery lasts much longer so they don’t need charging every night.

If you want your child to access more features, then a smartphone is a better option. These are more expensive than a basic phone but provide much wider functionality as a child’s phone. They are essentially mini-computers your child can carry around with them. Along with the cost, it’s worth bearing in mind that more complex phones require more time and consideration setting them up.

Finally, as the costs of smartphones increase you should consider the implications of them being damaged or stolen. A protective phone case is essential for youngsters, and insurance can be a good idea in case the phone is misplaced.

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.

Finding a balance between cost, features, and simplicity is the key for the right phone for your child. Avoid getting them a phone because that’s the one other children have got. Although peer pressure can play a part here it’s important that you get the appropriate device on the basis of how it functions. You know your child best and are in a position to choose the right technology that works for them and you. Our Transition guide for back to school expands on this topic.

Phones to consider for your child

See 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.

Samsung Galaxy J3 2017

The Samsung Galaxy J4 is a good option for children because of its robust design and strong features. It is dust resistant and water repellant and comes in a choice of colours.

As a slightly older handset, it’s available at £115.80, which gets you a lot of feature for your money. Like a front and rear-facing the camera and plenty of storage.

Best of all with any Samsung Galaxy phone is the Kids Mode app. Once you download and set this up it offers a super simple way for your child to use the phone safely. This can be a good way to get a child used to a phone at a younger age and then graduate to fuller use as they get older.

The Kids Mode app protects your child from accessing potentially harmful content by setting up a PIN to prevent your child from exiting Kids Mode. A parental control feature allows you to both set limits to your child’s usage and customises the content you make available.

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Monqi Kids Smartphone

The Monqi phone is specifically designed for young children while looking and feeling like the Android and iOS handsets their parents own.

This offers good controls, along with very simple ways to apply them. This enables parents and children to agree and regulate everything on the phone.

It is available for £109 on a Tesco Mobile pay-as-you-go contract or from £12 monthly contract with the phone coming free.

The Monqi phone links to an app for an iPhone or Android device, which acts as the remote control over everything available on the child’s handset. Even caller contacts are restricted to approved names and people decided upon by a parent.

Apps can be installed, and play and look like their Android counterparts, but will only install after an adult approves through a notification on their own phone. And the Monqi’s location can be tracked remotely through the parent’s app in case of emergencies.

It’s an ideal way of giving a pre-teen aged six and above their first smartphone without the worries attached to them.

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Huawei Y6 2017

A good combination of price and features is the Huawei Y6 2017. It comes with a 5-inch Display and high-quality camera. It also has an improved loudspeaker that’s good for calls but also for listening to music, something that children will often do on their smartphones.

It’s available for £109, which represents excellent value.

It also has a larger 3,000mAh battery than some similarly priced phones which ensures your child can get in touch even if they haven’t recently charged the phone. There are a choice of four different colours.

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Nokia 6

These days, Nokia phones are made by a company called HMD Global and come with Android as the operating system. They are also well priced for reasonably specified handsets, with the Nokia 6 costing £199 for a 5.5-inch handset with plenty of the mod-cons we’ve come to expect in a modern smartphone. There are more expensive versions of the phone that offer additional storage but this isn’t a necessity.

The 16-megapixel rear camera and 8-megapixel front snapper are great for selfies and social photos alike.

Like many other phones on the market, the Nokia 6 has a fingerprint scanner to keep the handset locked and secure. It is on the front on this particular device.

Parental controls are Android-based and there are plenty of third-party applications to help restrict the amount of phone usage and screen time. They can be easily found in the Google Play app store. If £200 is still a little out of your price range, you could also consider the Nokia 3 for around £120, which sacrifices some of the hardware performance for cheaper thrills.

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Nokia 3310

If you are of a certain age you will remember the original Nokia 3310. For many, it was the first proper mobile phone they owned and, if nothing else, introduced us to mobile gaming through Snake.

The phone has recently been reimagined and re-released for £49, providing a basic mobile handset that isn’t quite a smartphone but is one of the most secure and simple to use on the market.

While this won’t quench your child’s desire to have a multi-purpose smartphone, it will enable you to keep in touch. Also, because it’s not a smartphone you don’t have to worry about in-app purchases and web-browsing is very basic, so a child won’t be lost in a world of inappropriate sites. It doesn’t have access to any of the social messaging services either, so that could also be a weight off the mind of a parent.

Instead, it comes with a full-colour screen and is essentially a phone used for, well, phoning people. It can text and it does, of course, come with an updated form of the Snake game.

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Motorola Moto G5

This is one of a number of budget Android smartphones available. Where the Motorola G5 (£134.99) does well for children is the robust build quality. It is more than able to cope with the drops and knocks of a child’s life.

It has a good camera as well as a fingerprint sensor for added security. It has good Bluetooth connectivity and is a great option for children to listen to music or audiobooks.
Although it’s not super fast, it has plenty of horsepower for most things a younger user will want to do provided high-performance games are not a focus for them.

If you want slightly higher specs for a little more money, the Motorola G6 Play (£179.99) extends the battery life, offers a large 18:9 screen and can run games faster.

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iPhone 11

Apple introduced three new phones in 2019 at the higher-end of the market, with the iPhone 8 perhaps the more accessible. It’s still not cheap, priced from £599, but is more affordable in comparison with the top-of-the-range iPhone 12 or 12 Pro that start at around £1,000.

In terms of software and speed, a teenage user wouldn’t know much difference anyway.

Security is again through a fingerprint scanner on the front, while Apple continues to be one of the safest options to ensure the phone is not compromised by viruses or external software. Apple keeps its platform locked down, with all apps first approved by the company before they become available.

The parental control settings in the latest version of the operating system, iOS 12, are easy to navigate and can restrict many of the features to age-specific barriers. In addition, a new Screen Time section in the settings provides detailed breakdown of every aspect of the phone’s use. You can set bedtimes and limit access to certain applications.

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iPhone SE

If your child wants an iPhone but the iPhone 11 is too prohibitively pricey, the iPhone SE continues to be on sale and is a great option. It is also more robust than the later models and while it is ill-advised to drop it, it’s less likely to slip from the grasp of a younger user. There are also plenty of protective cases to pair it with.

It costs from £349.

You can access the iOS14 screen time controls as on other iPhones. This is an excellent way to apply restrictions and bedtimes for younger phone users.

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.

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Google Pixel 2 and 3

This is Google’s own phone and is becoming a popular choice. It is expensive, starting at £629, but it will cost less up-front on a contract and is one of the best Android phones for teenagers who use their handset to watch TV shows and YouTube clips on.

Security is paramount on smartphones these days and the Pixel’s fingerprint scanner is one of the best around. It ensures private information cannot be accessed without your child’s print. You can even register your own too, in case you need to access the phone as well.

But where the Pixel excels is with parental controls. As this handset comes with Google’s core Android software, rather than manufacturer adjustments, it has excellent controls to fine-tune access to all aspects of the phone, including apps, social media and web browsing.

Similar to Apple’s Screen Time reports, the Pixel phones now provide a Digital Wellbeing app. This offers features across all built-in features to help you understand and balance the level of use each day.

The Dashboard provides an overview on how you spend time on the phone, with a daily overview, a graphic of how frequently you use different apps, how many times you unlock your phone, and how many notifications you receive.

There’s a particularly nice Wind-Down feature that will fade the screen to grayscale to help children disconnect as bedtime approaches.

These features do come at a price. The Pixel 2 costs around £499.99, while the Pixel 3 costs £780.

For the extra money on the Pixel 3, you can an additional wide-angle front-facing camera. The Pixel 3 also has a larger battery and wireless charging. Along with these specific features the newer phone is generally faster and more robust than the previous model.

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Vodafone Smart V8

Available for Vodafone customers only and must, therefore, be paired with a contract from that network, the Smart V8 is a solid, well-built smartphone for slightly older children that won’t break the bank.

It has a large 5.5-inch display yet costs just £160.

The Smart V8 comes with a battery that easily lasts a full day on a single charge – important if your child is on a sleepover and you want to keep in touch. But more importantly, it comes with all the parental bells and whistles Android handsets are usually known for. It also has a fingerprint sensor on the rear.

It is slightly hampered by just 32GB of internal storage and no microSD card slot to expand that, but in many ways that can ensure your child won’t fill it full of videos or apps, you wouldn’t approve of.

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