The Best Phones for Kids

The best phones for kids give them freedom without putting them at risk. Check out our favorites.
Best overall
Gabb Z2 kids phone
Gabb Z2
  • Icon Pros  Light
    Affordable
  • Icon Pros  Light
    GPS tracking
  • Icon Pros  Light
    Unlimited text and talk
Smartphone pick
Palm phone product image
Palm Phone
  • Icon Pros  Light
    Parental controls and monitoring
  • Icon Pros  Light
    32GB storage and 12MP camera
  • Icon Pros  Light
    $5/mo. data plan
Flip phone pick
jitterbug flip kids phone
Lively Flip
  • Icon Pros  Light
    No internet, apps, or social media
  • Icon Pros  Light
    Features for kids with special needs
  • Icon Pros  Light
    Smartphone version also available

Bottom line: Gabb Z2 is the middle ground for a middle school phone

Your kids have been begging you for a phone for months, but you aren’t sure they’re ready. The Gabb Z2 strikes a perfect compromise between basic and smartphones out there. It removes the risk of social media and internet access but gives your kids unlimited talk and text.

Gabb charges about $10 per month for service, or around $25 if you want to add group and image texting. It’s all done from a kid-friendly, modern-looking phone without distracting apps and features.



Compare kids’ cell phones

Best overallSmartphone pick Flip phone pick Screenless pick Screenless pick
Product

Gabb Z2

Palm Phone

Lively Flip

Verizon GizmoWatch 2

Relay by Republic Wireless

Equipment price

$99.99

$279.00

$99.99

$99.99

$49.99

Monthly price

$19.99/mo.

$5/mo.

$19.99/mo.

$4.16/mo.

$9.99

Parental access or controls
Icon No  LightNo
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon No  LightNo
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon Yes  LightYes
Internet access
Icon No  LightNo
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon No  LightNo
Icon No  LightNo
Icon No  LightNo
Games and apps
Icon No  LightNo
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon No  LightNo
Icon No  LightNo
GPS Tracking
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon Yes  LightYes
Social media
Icon No  LightNo
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon No  LightNo
Icon No  LightNo
Icon No  LightNo
Camera

Front 5MP, Rear 8MP

12MP

8MP

Icon No  LightNo
Icon No  LightNo
Price

Info current as of 09/30/20. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

Our approach

To pick the best phone for kids, we considered what's most important to us as parents and tried to find phones that were a good value, simple to use, and rugged enough to stand up to our kids. We researched numerous models and included our favorites here. Find out more about how we review products by checking out our methodology.

Kids’ phones reviews

1. Gabb Z2: Best overall

Best overall

The Gabb Z2 is a kids’ phone cleverly disguised as a popular smartphone. It has a front and rear-facing camera, fingerprint lock, and a handful of pre-installed apps read for your kids to use.

What isn’t included is the risks that come with social media, image and group texting, and internet browsing.

Pro Heading
Pros
Pro Bullet Looks and feels like a smartphone
Pro Bullet Unlimited talk and texting
Pro Bullet Under $10 per month
Con Heading
Cons
Con Bullet No dedicated parental controls

The Gabb Z2 is available for $99.99 up front and $9.99 per month. With that plan, your kids get unlimited talk and text time. So they can chat with their friends or send you updates when they’re out of practice.

You can pay extra to add features like image and group texting. But unless your kids need it, that $24.99 can stay in your pocket.

We like that Gabb doesn’t hold anything essential hostage and the extras aren’t much more than the basic plan.

One thing that makes Gabb stand out for the better or worse is its lack of parental controls. It’s a bold move that allows kids to make their own decisions about how often they use their phone and what they do with it.

But kids with this phone aren’t tempted with features like social media, games, or internet browsing, which can make this freedom dangerous.

Who is Gabb good for?

Gabb is a great choice for kids getting a taste for technology and freedom. Middle schoolers and older elementary school kids around 8 to 12 will enjoy having a good-looking phone and a way to talk to their friends.

Parents will like the limits on this phone and the ability to hand their little ones some more freedom.

2. Palm Phone: Smartphone pick

Smartphone pick

The Palm Phone is a tiny smartphone with powerful features. Just like an iPhone or Android phone, the Palm has apps, social media, and internet browsing capabilities.

The kicker is its parental controls that give you access to see what your kids use their phones for, how often, and where they’re located.

Pro Heading
Pros
Pro Bullet Parental controls
Pro Bullet 12MB camera and 32GB storage
Pro Bullet Data plan under $5 per month
Con Heading
Cons
Con Bullet Distracting features and apps
Con Bullet May be too small for some kids

The Palm Phone gives your kids all the freedom of a smartphone but with you in the backseat to keep an eye on them.

The Palm isn’t designed just for kids, so the parental controls on the Palm work through third party apps like Google Family Link or Bark.

  • Watch screen time
  • View their apps and screen
  • Track their location

The phone itself is pretty small but has a camera and storage that rivals its Apple and Android competitors. The 12MB camera takes clear shots while the 32GB storage is enough for your kids apps, their photos and videos, and browsing data.

Speaking of data, Palm offers a data plan for $5 per month or two months free if you provide your own SIM card. It’s also compatible with major providers like AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile.

Who is Palm good for?

With its access to big kid features like internet browsing, social media, and apps, the Palm Phone is best for older middle school and high schoolers. It’s a good fit for kids 14 to 18 who are ready for the responsibility of a smartphone (with the option for your supervision).

While they’ll love all these features and the crystal clear camera, they may get easily distracted by everything going on with this phone.

The good news is you can monitor their activity and screen time with third party apps like Google Family Link or Bark.

3. Lively Flip: Flip phone pick

Flip phone pick

The Lively Flip was originally designed for older adults, but with its extra-large keys and an urgent response button that can connect directly to a 24/7 operator, it’s a good choice if your child is frequently alone.

Pro Heading
Pros
Pro Bullet Distraction-free
Pro Bullet Brain games
Pro Bullet Options for kids with special needs
Con Heading
Cons
Con Bullet Designed for older adults

The clamshell design makes it a little less durable than we’d like for a kid’s phone, which is one of the reasons it didn’t make our top three. You pay for minutes on a month-by-month basis, so it’s a good starter phone, and for an extra fee, you can enable GPS location.

4. Verizon GizmoWatch 2: Smartwatch pick

The Verizon GizmoWatch 2 earned our top spot because it's perfect for both kids and parents. The watch design makes it comfortable and convenient for your child to wear, and the large, clear icons are simple enough that even a three-year-old can figure out how to make and answer calls from the contact list you set.

Pro Heading
Pros
Pro Bullet Fun design
Pro Bullet Simple interface
Pro Bullet Geofencing
Pro Bullet Smartphone app for parents
Pro Bullet Active games
Con Heading
Cons
Con Bullet Weak wristband
Con Bullet Proprietary charger

The built-in GPS locator and geofencing are a huge plus when it comes to your peace of mind, and the accompanying app for your smartphone makes it easy for you to control the settings on your child's watch. The watch has lots of fun activities, including games that encourage movement, so kids will want to keep it on.

The only downsides to this watch are the weak band that you'll probably have to replace, and the proprietary charger that comes only with the watch. No replacement chargers are available, so be sure to take good care of the one that comes with it.

5. Relay by Republic Wireless: Screenless Pick

Screenless pick

If you'd rather not have to worry about additional screen time, the Relay is a great alternative to a standard phone or smartwatch. It works like a cellular walkie talkie, communicating with the Relay app on your phone or with another Relay device.

All it takes is a push of a button to talk to your kids on your private channel (or for them to talk to you). You can also use the app to track the location of the device, so you’ll always know where your child is. The Relay is small enough to fit in a pocket, but you can get a case with a carabiner clip for easier portability.

Pro Heading
Pros
Pro Bullet Screen-free
Pro Bullet Easy to use
Pro Bullet Portable
Pro Bullet Durable
Pro Bullet Equipped with GPS
Con Heading
Cons
Con Bullet Spotty service

Relay leases cellular space from Sprint and T-Mobile, so you should make sure you get good service from at least one of those carriers in your area. Some users reported connectivity issues, especially when using one of the carriers that doesn't work well in their area.

Relay reports that new updates are coming to its system soon to let your child talk to (approved) people on other channels.

Before you buy a phone for your kids

When shopping for the right phone for your child, think about your biggest concerns. If you want to know where they are, you'll probably want something with a GPS tracker. If your child is active and careless (what child isn't?) then it's important to look for a durable design.

If you want to encourage them to keep their phone handy, then choosing something with fun features, like games and photo apps, is a good way to ensure they'll keep track of it. If communication is your main concern, an inexpensive "dumb phone" will work well to teach them responsible cell phone usage before they graduate to a smartphone.

As you ease your child into the world of communication technology, be sure to stay nosy. If their device has access to the internet, use parental controls and talk about what it means to be a respectful and responsible person online. Talk to them frequently about who they're communicating with, and take time to discuss cyberbullying. It's important to keep all lines of communication open—not just those accessed through a phone.

Final word

With all the technology available now, kids seem to be itching for the Next New Thing™  at a dizzying rate. But there’s no reason your kids can’t have a reliable phone to keep you updated or call in an emergency.

Phones for kids like the Gabb Z2 hit the perfect middle ground between giving your kids the freedom to use a phone without the distractions or risks of internet access, social networking, or games.

FAQ

The LG GizmoPal has a much larger screen than the GizmoWatch, so it's a little too bulky for smaller children. The GizmoWatch uses 4G LTE technology, so it has a faster connection than the GizmoPal's 3G capabilities. The GizmoWatch is also more expensive than the GizmoPal.

Yes, you can put parental controls on your child's cell phone using a variety of different apps. These apps can help you monitor and limit your child's screen time, prevent your children from seeing inappropriate content, and alert you to bad language.

Yes and no. Many wireless carriers have contract-free plans that are customizable, but they're usually open to anyone, not just kids. These plans are often more budget-friendly for families and they can grow with your child. For example, if your child's phone is for emergency purposes only, then you'll probably need only a bare-bones plan with minimal minutes each month. As they grow, you may want to add additional minutes and data.

An unlocked phone is a cell phone without a SIM card. The SIM card is the part of your phone that connects it to your mobile network. An unlocked phone comes without a SIM card so that you can use whatever carrier you like. If you buy an unlocked cell phone for your child, you can take it to your mobile network provider—like Verizon, Sprint, or AT&T—and have the phone added to your plan.

Kasey Tross
Written by
Kasey Tross
Kasey is a trained Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) member and a freelance writer with expertise in emergency preparedness and security. As the mother of four kids, including two teens, Kasey knows the safety concerns parents face as they raise tech-savvy kids in a connected world, and she loves to research the latest security options for her own family and for SafeWise readers.