Best Smartphones for Kids (2021)

Topics covered…

  • What are the best smartphones for kids?

  • 2 essential parent tests to find the right fit.

  • A close look at the iPhone, flip phones, Wisephone, and others.


Your kids are begging for a smartphone.

They want the games, the prestige, the connection with friends. And as a parent, you want to give them what’s best. You want to make them happy, but you’re also wise.

So, you offer your list of concerns, hoping logic will win…

Have you thought about strangers contacting you randomly?

Are you ready for the responsibility of social media?

Everything you share is out there…FOR-EV-ER.

And the classic response?

“But Mom, everyone has one!”

As a parent, you want to empower your tween as a digital citizen. But, you also know safety is a top priority.

How do you balance both?

Let’s weigh the best smartphones for kids in 2021 using these two priorities.

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iPhones: The best smartphones for kids? Take another look…

In the search for kid friendly phones, the iPhone—at first glance—is the big ticket. It’s colorful, fun, and popular.

PCMag lists several Apple products as good options for kids. They include the iPhone SE (2020), iPod Touch (2019), and the new iPhone 12 mini.

But, they all use the same iOS software with…

  • a fully functional web browser.

  • the pantheon of reigning social media apps.

  • full access to the App Store.

We did a deep-dive on the iPhone’s safety shortcomings in a previous post. In short, iOS has too many safety loopholes for kids and tweens, including….

  • Easy workarounds with parental controls and Screen Time.

  • Full access to the internet creates a filtering nightmare.

  • Open App Store with approved games and tools which undermine your child’s safety.

Apple’s security issues can run from the more benign to the very harmful:

Apple never designed the iPhone as a kid-friendly phone. Though they have implemented Screen Time and parental controls, the iPhone is still a powerhouse of addiction, one kids can easily exploit.

Safety Test: Failed

But doesn’t iPhone empower kids and teens?

Well, it depends on how you view empowerment. If you want an all-access pass to the internet and social media, then the iPhone is a clear winner.

 

But, if you view empowerment as digital citizenship, using tech responsibly, and having the right tools at the right age…well, the iPhone falls short.

Here’s why.

If you start with the iPhone as a baseline, it’s like handing the car keys to an 11-year-old. They may be able to figure it out. But could you highway merges, three-point-turns, and parallel parking?

As adults, we know the most important skills—relationships, driving, careers, etc.—take time with experiential knowledge, not easy access.

One child advocacy and research group recently held a webinar hosting some of the best minds on this topic. They talked about the role of tech in kids’ lives and the needs for digital literacy and digital citizenship.

These top minds recognized tech is a part of our families’ lives, so we cannot run from it. Instead, they argue a holistic approach to empower young people to understand how online messaging is “constructed” by a specific author, for a specific audience, and for a specific purpose.

The issue is the unfettered access to all the things with an iPhone. It’s not a good training ground for digital citizenship or for learning how to handle the complexities of online life. 

It takes time to hone digital literacy, a skill many adults haven’t mastered.

The issue is the unfettered access to all the things with an iPhone. It’s not a good training ground for digital citizenship or for learning how to handle the complexities of online life. There’s no real mentorship, trust hand-offs, or seatbelts built into an iPhone natively.

So, does it pass the empowerment test? Not really.

Maybe for an older teen who has a natural give-and-take with his or her parents, it could work. But as a kid friendly smartphone option…major concerns.

Empowerment Test: Slight fail.

 

Flip Phones: Safe smartphones for kids?

Flip phones are ideal for simple calling and texting, but their late 90’s design repels kids. 

 

Who can blame them.

But in the conversation of safety and whether it’s the best option as a smartphone for kids—who cares about looks.

A basic flip phone will allow your kid to make calls and texts. But, it lacks monitoring and app control. There’s no oversight with a flip phone. 

That means the flip phone’s simplicity is also its Achilles heel of safety.

Also, will a flip phone grow with your child and empower them to become a modern digital citizen?

No way.

It’s not a real stepping stone to the tech they will be using one day on their own.

the flip phone’s simplicity is also its Achilles heel of safety.

Though flip phones—and other “dumb phones”—are here to stay, their target audience is not families who want a safe option.

So, if you’re looking for the best smartphones for kids, pass on the flip phone.

Safety and Empowerment Test: Double Fail.

Kid Smartphone Alternatives: Techless & Gabb

There are a growing number of solutions for kid safe phones in 2021. From companies like Techless and Gabb Wireless. They offer a more standard smartphone form factor compared to the flip phone.

Let’s compare the Z2 by Gabb to the Wisephone by Techless.

They are built to be simple and and to be free from social media, so they have a huge leg-up compared to the iPhone and flip phone for safety.

But, how do they compare?

SIMILARITIES

Both phones…

  • Are free of social media.

  • Do not have access to an open app store.

  • Do not have access to web browsers.

  • Focus on safety.

DIFFERENCES

  • Home Screen: Gabb’s Z2 has colorful, circular Android icons; while Wisephone has a calming, minimalist interface that doesn’t distract.

  • Parental Controls: Parents can adjust the Wisephone’s home screen and its available “tools” (apps) via an online dashboard called the Family Portal (beta). On the other hand, Gabb’s Z2 "lacks server-side parental controls” according to PC Mag. This means parents cannot customize controls or apps on the phone.

  • Monitoring: The Z2 cannot monitor calls or texts. The Wisephone can through its Family Portal (beta).

  • GPS & Tracking: The Gabb Z2 has a find-my-phone feature, but lacks GPS navigation and realtime tracking. With the Wisephone, however, parents can track location in realtime on the Family Portal (beta). As well, Wisephone includes a Maps feature for navigation.

  • Just for Kids? Each family member can use Wisephone and benefit from it. The Z2 is only a kid’s phone though. The Wisephone features a Family Portal (beta) where you can assign permissions and add on additional tools as your child grows up.

  • Mobile Plans: Gabb forces users into either their basic plan at $19.99/month or their Pro plan at $24.99/month. Wisephone instead allows you to use a SIM card from the carrier of your choice, making it more flexible and affordable.

  • Camera: The Z2 comes with an 8-megapixel camera. The base Wisephone comes with a 13-megapixel camera. Both have front cameras for selfies.

  • Build Quality: Gabb’s Z2 is ultra-affordable and priced as a kid’s first “basic” phone. But if you’re looking for better build quality or a higher-quality camera, then the Wisephone offers a variety of models for the whole family.

Safety Test: Both are much safer than a standard iPhone or Android, but the Wisephone has an edge over the Z2 with its flexible parental controls and built-in monitoring.

What about empowerment?

Gabb meets immediate childhood needs and offers tweens a small collection of apps. It’s definitely an affordable first phone.

The Wisephone, as well, meets childhood needs for connection. But it offers more longterm empowerment for growing tweens. Since Techless is adding new tools and features and parents can change permissions, the Wisephone can grow with your child.

In short, both are solid smartphones for kids, but only one is made for broader appeal and use.

Empowerment Test? It’s a tie for kid use. For longterm empowerment, look to the Wisephone

 

What we should expect from smartphones for our kids…

The tech world is changing rapidly, and they need to be ready. 

Our kids need to get their hands on something safe and empowering. So when they’re independent, they will be able to handle the smartphone universe with wisdom.

Until then, the we have to shop with our safety and empowerment lenses on tight. The options for kid smartphones are plentiful. Hopefully, these tests and examples will make the sifting a little easier.

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