The best phones for kids aren't like the best phones for adults. They're more about having the bare essentials without overwhelming your child with options, compared to having the best features in an adult smartphone.
That changes depending on the age of your child which is why our list breaks things down according to age group. A young child might simply need a device that they can call or text on, while teens are likely to want to be able to use apps too.
Some phone manufacturers offer smartphones designed specifically for children, but most of our picks are phones that are easy to adapt for a child's use. Our choices are based not only on parental controls but on durability, battery life, as well as affordability.
While you're thinking what to do, bear in mind that one of the best tablets for kids may be a better option for the youngest user. While, for high school teenagers, we've also looked at the most affordable adult smartphones too.
If you're already confused, don't worry. Generally, for anyone but the youngest child, a phone running the latest iOS or Android 10 (or later) is a safe bet. Both operating systems have excellent parental control features that mean you can control pretty much everything if need be, while still giving your kids features they can explore safely.
Best phone for young children
The Relay is a kind of GPS-enabled walkie-talkie with push-to-talk rather than the familiar calling screen.
It uses 4G LTE for US-wide range and also connects to Wi-Fi networks you've set up in the parent app, and its battery is good for two days between charges.
You can create geo-fenced areas from 50 to 200m across and be notified if your child starts to wander off, and the case is both tough and water-resistant – and no screen means no risk of a smashed display rendering your Relay redundant.
Downsides? It's only available on contract with a $9.99 monthly service charge (plus tax), and while the marketing blurb says it's smaller than a Post-It note they mean a big Post-It: it's two and a half inches square and half an inch deep.
There are multiple Xploras, of which the Go Clip is the simplest and cheapest: it's designed to hook onto a belt or backpack via the included carabiner hook and enable you to track your child's location via your smartphone app.
It's designed for places such as festivals where your little ones can easily wander off, and you can set up Safety Zones that will automatically notify you if your child leaves them.
The Go is sold SIM-free but if you supply one you can also use it as a phone, with simple touchscreen controls and support for text messages and emoji.
Best phone for pre-teens
We fond memories of the original 3310 from 2000, a phone so tough that if you dropped it you'd need to buy a new floor. The new Nokia 3310 3G isn't quite so tough, but it's still reassuringly chunky and makes for a really great children’s phone.
There's a brilliant battery with a whopping one-month standby time, a crisp, clear screen, an okay camera and a customizable interface, although to the best of our knowledge there's no easy way to remove the pre-installed Facebook and Twitter icons.
Although the 3310 3G is cheap, it's still on the pricier side of the budget feature-phone market: there are other Nokias that do much the same as the 3310 for less, albeit with a bit less style.
Read our in-depth Nokia 3310 review
The Jitterbug Flip was designed for and is marketed to older users, but the same features that make it a great phone for Grandma mean it's also a good phone for younger users too.
There's none of that new-fangled Facebook or Twitter nonsense here, just big, bright buttons, a very loud speaker and a crystal-clear display wrapped in a case that's extremely reminiscent of the iconic Motorola Razr V3.
There's a camera, albeit not a fantastic one, and the user interface is simple to navigate.
Unfortunately the Flip is quite a bit more expensive than other feature phones and it's limited to the GreatCall phone service in the US, although it's available unlocked in the UK.
Read our in-depth Jitterbug Flip review
When we say "cheap" we mean cheap: at the time of writing our local Argos is selling this lovely little phone in the UK for just £17.95 (around $20 / AU$35) SIM-free.
It's very similar to the Nokia 3310 3G, but this one's purely 2G – which means it couldn't use the internet even if it really, really wanted to – and focused very firmly on the essentials: calling, texting and playing Snake.
The battery is good for 15 hours of talking or a month on standby, there's a built-in FM radio with headphone socket that your child probably won’t ever use, and it comes in black, blue or pink.
Best phone for teens
The iPhone SE is the best iPhone choice for kids as it is the cheapest and smallest, so you’ll spend less and they won’t struggle with a massive phone. Released in 2020 it means it’ll get software updates for four or five years, so get your child a case for its fragile glass construction and there’s no reason it won’t last that long.
There are tons of cases and accessories on the market, plus it comes with headphones in the box. If your family are all on iPhones, your kids won’t miss out on the family iMessage chat, plus you can share photos and other files easily over AirDrop.
You could get an older iPhone secondhand but if you want to buy new, the SE is the best choice.
Read our in-depth iPhone SE review
If your child wants to play games on the move, they'll appreciate the Xiaomi Poco X3 NFC. It might have a mediocre camera but it makes up for it with exceptional gaming performance that's backed up with good battery life.
There's also the matter of its 120Hz wide color gamut screen which means everything feels smooth to use and looks great. It's those little things that will impress your offspring and it's all the better given you can buy these sorts of specs for a relatively low price.
It might look a little basic and less than premium but the Xiaomi Poco X3 NFC more than makes up for it where it counts.
Read our in-depth Xiaomi Poco X3 NFC review
Cheap and mostly cheerful, the Moto G10 offers everything your child could need but not necessarily any extra bells and whistles.
Its performance is a little slow and its camera unremarkable but its robust build quality means even the clumsiest of children will struggle to damage this one. Android 11 support means it'll last a while to come too.
Read our full Moto G10 review
If it has to be an iPhone but you’re on a strict budget, try and find the now-discontinued iPhone 8. The range of cases on the market is unparalleled, and for undemanding use it’s still got decent enough specs.
The camera is solid, it has wireless charging, and comes with all the advantages if your family uses Apple products like the iPad and Mac, too.
A downside is that it won’t be supported for more than another year or two with software updates, so if you want the latest security and features for longer, try the iPhone SE 2020.
Read our in-depth iPhone 8 review
Thinking of insuring your kid's smartphone?
While many phones for kids are built to last, they need to be given that children aren't always careful with tech. So with that in mind you might want to consider comparing the top contents insurance deals with GoCompare in the UK - it provides cover against accidental damage, loss and theft.
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