Mobile phones have long been a fascination of mine. As young as 8 years old, I was adopting old, unwanted phones from family members no matter how giant or clunky they were. We’re talking Zack Morris brick phone a la Saved By The Bell here. Once I even carried around an old wireless home phone and tried to pass it off as a cell phone at school, which was promptly confiscated by the teacher. Yeah, I was cool.
It wasn’t until I was 14 that I would get my first real, working cell phone, and I had to earn it by getting a job. But times have changed. Cell phones (now smartphones) are considered a lifeline between parents and children, and can even be a useful educational tool. I walk my son to and from school and have noticed kids as young as kindergarten age carrying around a smartphone of one type or another.
I’m not quite ready for my oldest, who is now 7, to have a smartphone of his own, but that doesn’t stop him from expressing his immense interest in them. I wasn’t at all surprised to see the word “phone” at the very top of his Christmas wish list this year. When I saw it, I realized that there would probably be a lot of parents this year who would receive the very same request, so I thought now would be a good time to compile a list of some of the most kid-friendly smart gadgets I know. With that in mind, let’s dive in.
The VTech KidiBuzz device is more of a smart toy than a real smartphone, but it does allow kids to send texts, drawings, and stickers to parent-approved contacts through Wi-Fi connections. It also offers an array of kid-friendly websites and allows them to download Android apps. It’s an excellent compromise for kids who want a smartphone to play with and parents who aren’t necessarily ready to give them a real smartphone. It’s targeted for kids ages 4-9, costs $99.99 and doesn’t require any kind of phone plan to maintain it.
On the flip side, maybe you want your kids to have the connectivity but not so much the apps. For that scenario, smartwatches might be up your alley. Now, I’m not saying you should go out and buy your kid a new Apple Watch or anything. There are actually a surprising number of smartwatches tailored just for kids.
dokiWatch S is one of the most popular options, but is also one of the most expensive at $219. It's also one of the most feature-rich children's watches, however, allowing kids to make video and voice calls, text, use emojis, and even use DokiAsk (Amazon Alexa).
Verizon Wireless customers have the option of getting the LG GizmoPal 2, which costs a much more agreeable $79.99, but is almost solely for the parent’s peace of mind and doesn’t offer much for kids to do.
If neither connectivity nor apps are important and your young’un would just enjoy having a smart anything, the Garmin vivofit jr. 2 is another good choice at $79.99. Unlike the first vivofit jr., the vivofit jr. 2 features an adjustable wristband. Its primary purpose is to encourage kids to stay fit by tracking steps and sleep to achieve goals, but it seems like a fun way to keep kids moving. Parents can also set reminders for kids to do their chores. Oh boy! Thanks, Mom and Dad!
Apple iPhone SE
Apple’s iPhone SE is great for kids for two main reasons: There are a decent amount of parental controls, and for an iPhone it’s extremely affordable. There have also been a significant number of deals on the iPhone SE since its debut, but that rings particularly true this time of year. The iPhone SE is also a good choice for parents/families who already use iOS, as it allows you to communicate easily via iMessage/FaceTime.
Perhaps you’re not an iOS type of family. If so, there is an expanse universe of options available for you Android fans, but most people don’t want to spend a ton of money on a new phone for younger kids (and understandably so). That said, there are a lot of affordable Android devices on the market, but not all affordable devices have good performance. Enter Moto E4. For $129.99 (or $10.83 a month) you could have a highly rated Android device that doesn’t burn a hole in your holiday budget. Kids will want for not with the E4’s features like a 5-inch display, removable battery, fingerprint sensor, splash resistance, and front-facing flash.
LG Stylo 3
For the same price of a Moto E4, you could also get the LG Stylo 3. It’s no Galaxy Note, but it has similar functionality for a fraction of the price. The included stylus is a handy tool for budding artists to doodle on the massive 5.7-inch display. The rear-facing camera is a little better than the E4 (megapixel-wise, anyway) and its microSD card slot will support up to 2 TB of additional storage.
ZTE Axon 7 Mini
For $70 more, you might consider the Axon 7 Mini. With a 5.2-inch 1080p display, Snapdragon 617 processor, 3GB of RAM, 32GB of on board storage, Dolby Atmos audio, 16-megapixel rear-facing camera, 8-megapixel front-facing camera, and up to 15 hours of talk time for just $199 (which includes a free case and free shipping), it’s a pretty sweet deal.
Of course, there are tons of phones to choose from out there. I tried to pick smartphones that had solid performance, good durability, and are affordable because smartphones can be both very expensive and very fragile, two aspects that don’t typically mix well with kids. The decision to buy a smartphone for a child isn’t a decision that is often made lightly, so sometimes baby steps are a good way to ease both parent and child through the process. Regardless, if it’s their first smartphone (or smart gadget) they’ll probably love you forever no matter what.