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Equipped with a beautiful 5.93-inch edge-to-edge display at 2160 x 1080 resolution, the Honor 7X has plenty of room for gaming. That’s just 3/10 of an inch shy of the Nintendo Switch display and is sizeable enough for movies and YouTube videos. With its high resolution, colors look bright and sharp (which is especially impressive for a budget-priced phone).
It is powered by Huawei’s Kirin 659 processor and 4GB of RAM so there’s plenty in the tank for the latest Android games. It won’t compete against flagship devices, but it doesn’t have to. Apps open instantly and even with multiple applications running in the background, it shouldn’t slow down. When taking a break from gaming, there are dual 12MP and 5MP cameras on the back. The front camera is dedicated to selfies at 8MP. All of this is powered by a 3340mAh battery which should last all day.
If you’re looking for a cheap phone that doesn’t cut any corners, you’ll do well with the Nokia 4.2. It’s filled with all sorts of features that your kids will love — from a biometric face unlock and fingerprint scanner to 32GB space, extendable up to a whopping 400GB with microSD cards, and a battery that will last all day. Not only does the Nokia 4.2 have an HD+ screen, perfect for streaming shows or playing games on the go, but it runs on the Snapdragon 439 as well, meaning if it does run out during the day, you can charge it quickly with Quick Charge 3.0 technology.
Updates won’t be oversized or annoying since the Nokia 4.2 doesn’t come with any bloatware thanks to Android One, so don’t worry about your kid’s phone missing out on security. Reaching them won’t be a problem either, as the phone works with 4G LTE bands 1/3/5/7/8/20/28/38/40/41. To top it all off, using the Nokia 4.2's dual cameras and extensive editing features, your kids can also let out their creative side whenever they take pictures.
Parents know that kids are pretty much guaranteed to drop their phone at some point. Enter the Cat S41, a phone made to survive bumps and drops. Manufactured to handle a six-foot drop onto concrete, it’s tough. Dust-, dirt-, and water-resistant with an IP68 rating, it also adds a scratch-resistant Full HD 5-inch screen. Alongside its durable design, CAT added a MediaTek processor and 3GB of RAM. It’s not the most powerful device, but applications load quickly and navigating menus offers no stutters. The phone is compatible with GSM carriers including AT&T and T-Mobile. Connectivity includes the usual suspects like Bluetooth and NFC, but also 4G LTE data speeds for fast browsing. The 5000mAh battery offers plenty of peace of mind for parents knowing their kids will have battery life for days.
A rear 13-megapixel camera captures photos and videos good enough for social media. The front-facing 8-megapixel camera is perfect for capturing selfies or video chatting with friends.
As far as iPhones go, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better value than the iPhone SE. Apple took the insides of its popular iPhone 6S and stuck it into an iPhone 5S frame, and the result was a shockingly fast device that’s perfect for kids (with a much friendlier price tag that the newest iPhones).
If you do take the leap, parents will find a reliable device equipped with deep parental controls. With iOS 12, parents can limit smartphone use any way they’d like. Features like "downtime" allow for parents to remotely schedule a block of time in which a device can’t be used. That’s perfect for evenings/overnight as well as homework time.
"App limits" allow parents to set a specific amount of time that any app can be used. Just 30 minutes on Facebook a day? No problem. "Activity reports" allows parents to monitor what their kids are doing. You can see exactly how much time is spent on each app, including games. Also, with iOS 12, parents can prevent kids from independently purchasing new apps or music.
There’s a good chance the predecessor to this device was a parent’s first phone back in the early 2000s. Now, nearly 20 years later, Nokia has revamped its 3310 phone. With 3G network speeds, this phone is not the "brick" phone from the prior generation. Sure, it still makes calls, plays music and can send texts, but now it does a whole lot more.
The rear 2MP camera won’t capture professional photos, but it’s good enough to have fun with friends. There’s also no front-facing camera, but that’s par for the course with a phone in this price bracket. The 3310 does, however, come in four fun colors for a little personalization. It also adds a 1200mAh battery for up to 22 hours of talk time, which is far more than what most of today’s flagship smartphones can offer. The easy-to-navigate menu relies on a four-way directional pad to move around and a center key that doubles as a "select" button. A microSD slot adds up to 32GB of additional storage which can be used for photos and music.
Billed as the smallest 4G-enabled smartphone in the world, the Unihertz Jelly Pro phone is a perfect beginner device. Slightly larger than a pack of bubblegum, the Jelly Pro is still surprisingly full-featured and a great first phone. And once you look past its diminutive size, there’s plenty to like.
Built-in GPS and a pedometer provide an easy way to track steps or time. It’s especially good for listening to music. Bluetooth support is hardly surprising, but Unihertz specifically draws attention to its small size as a perfectly portable MP3 player. With 16GB of onboard memory, there’s storage for plenty of songs. Bluetooth support also means it will connect to the hundreds of wireless headphones that are available.
Android 7.0 Nougat controls the operating system providing complete access to the Google Play Store. That’s going to come in handy with the 4G speeds making app downloads fly by. Network speeds are compatible with both AT&T and T-Mobile LTE networks.
If you’re not quite ready to put a phone in the hands of your child, the GizmoWatch is the next best thing. Running off Verizon’s 4G LTE network, the GizmoWatch is a smartwatch that can make calls. Parents get immediate peace of mind with the GizmoHub app. You can set GPS boundaries and establish automated alerts for when your child leaves a preset area, just by pressing a few buttons. Want to reach your child while they are on the go? Two-way calling works with 10 preset contacts that parents can set up for incoming or outgoing calls. The same restrictions work with text messaging and its 20 pre-approved contacts for messaging.
Outside of parental overwatch, the GizmoWatch does offer something for the kids. The ability to count steps makes it fare well on the fitness side as does its waterproof design. You can change ringtones or themes to add a bit of personalization so each child can make the GizmoWatch their own. With up to four days of usage on a single charge, the only decision for parents is whether to get a pink or blue band.
Wearable - If you have a younger child, consider a wearable phone that’s designed specifically for kids. Since these phones are worn like watches, young children are less likely to lose them. Most of these phones are only able to send and receive calls from preapproved numbers, so you don’t have to worry about whom your kid is talking to when you aren’t around.
Battery life - Unless you want to shoulder the task of reminding your kid to plug their phone in every night, a decent battery is pretty important. Look for a phone that supports fast charging over USB-C, too—if it’s in the budget. When just a few minutes of charging can add hours of battery life, you never have to worry about not being able to get into contact with your kid.
Feature phones vs. smartphones - Feature phones are less expensive than smartphones, and they can help insulate your kid from problems like cyberbullying via apps. Some feature phones include built-in MP3 players and FM radios, if you want your kid to have some entertainment options. If you do go with a smartphone, make sure to familiarize yourself with the available parental controls first.