With four kids from age 9 to teens, we’re in the process of getting our older kids cell phones. While some would choose to purchase their children the latest iPhone or Android phone, my wife and I are more hesitant. Not only are the prices of these smartphones rather steep, I’m not sure I’m ready to let my kids have access to the world. Call me an overprotective parent if you’d like, but I’d prefer to have a few more years of teaching before I give them access to social media and a tiny computer they can take with them wherever they go. What’s more is that smartphones aren’t very rugged, and my kids seem to break just about everything.
That being said, I still want my kids to be able to communicate with me if there’s a problem or if they need me to pick them up. My oldest son is heavily involved in competitive basketball and soccer.
If you’re like me and in a similar situation, here’s the solution my wife and I have come up with. We use some good and cheap tablets for our kids so they don’t miss out on all their favorite apps and a flip phone or other more practical options for communicating. We use portable MP3 players for when they want to listen to music while they’re out and about.
10 Good Kids’ Flip Cell Phones and Watch Phone Locators
|Relay Phone Alternative||Most carriers|
|Jiobit GPS Tracker||T-Mobile|
|Kyocera Cadence S2720||Verizon|
|Sonim Military Phone||T-Mobile|
|Laxcido GPS Smart Watch||T-Mobile|
|iPhone 7||Most carriers|
|Apple Watch 3 LTE||Verizon|
Kids’ Cell Phone Alternatives
Relay Kids Phone Alternative (works with any smartphone)
I am not quite ready for my youngest kids to have a cell phone. However, I found that for younger kids and tweens, Relay is a great option. It is like a walkie talkie that kids use to call your phone. Recent improvements have drastically improved how Relay functions.
Set up is fairly simple. Load the Relay app on your smartphone (for either android or iPhone) and follow the directions. The Relay can be connected to multiple smartphones. And more than one Relay can be connected to the same phone. You can choose to send a message to one Relay unit or multiple.
Using the Relay is easy. You just hold the button down and talk. If the parent doesn’t have the app open when a message is sent, the app sends an alert that there is a new message.
Unlike the phone watches on this list, you can connect headphones or earbuds to the Relay so your conversation is more private. You can also load music onto the relay and listen with headphones.
I have to admit, at first I was a bit skeptical about the GPS capabilities, but I was pleasantly surprised. Whether my kids are at school, playing at a friend’s house, or at the state fair with me, I can see where they are. The GPS is very accurate, and I can see where both of my kids are by looking at the app. I also like the geofencing option, which will alert you when your child goes outside a specified area. It saves location history for 7 days.
The Relay comes in 5 different colors. To make the Relay easier to carry and keep track of, you can purchase either a lanyard or an arm band. My kids prefer the lanyard. You could also unclip the holder from the lanyard and attach it to a backpack.
There is an SOS emergency alert, and the app tells how much battery life each Relay unit has. There is a one year product warranty.
Relay service costs $9.99 per month for unlimited messages, and there is no contract. It works nationwide, and GPS works well from across the country.
GPS Tracker for Kids
Jiobit Tracker for Kids (T-Mobile, AT&T)
If you don’t want a phone option for your child, the Jiobit is a great GPS tracker. This tear drop shaped tracker can be attached to a belt loop, button hole, shoelace, backpack, etc. It has encrypted location data only authorized users can see. This option works on T-Mobile and AT&T 4G Networks. As long as the unit is connected, there are no distance limits with the Jiobit.
Parents use the app to track where their kids are. The app can make the unit ring if it is lost or if the child is in a crowd. After parents set up a designated zone for their kids to stay within, the app alerts parents if the child leaves that designated zone. It also sends a notification when the battery is low.
Multiple adults can have access to the tracking info if parents choose. Babysitters, grandparents, or therapists can share in tracking duties.
The cost of the Jiobit is $8.99 per month with a 2-year contract or $12.99 without a contract. There is a 12-month factory warranty on the Jiobit, and you can purchase an accident warranty if you want one.
Jiobit only has real-time tracking; it doesn’t keep a history of where the child has been. That is the biggest drawback to this unit.
If you are looking for a tracker for Alzheimers patients or a GPS tracking system for special needs kids, the Jiobit is a great choice.
Flip Phones for Kids
Flip phones are a good option for kids. They are durable and pretty user friendly. Texting can be more time consuming than on a smartphone, but I don’t find that to be a bad thing. Below are flip phones and one that doesn’t flip but has the same features.
Tracfone Alcatel MyFlip 4G Prepaid Flip Phone
If you want a basic flip phone at a low price, the Tracfone Alcatel MyFlip is an excellent choice. It has worked well for my daughter. This is a prepaid phone, meaning you purchase minutes and then use them (unlike a regular phone plan with unlimited minutes where you pay the same amount each month). There is no contract or cancellation fee with this phone. Simply go to the website to purchase more minutes.
This phone is simple to set up and to operate. Please note: This phone comes with a built-in SIM card. You do not need to purchase one separately. The large buttons make this phone easy to use. Large print on the buttons would also make this a good cell phone for seniors. An external display shows who is calling without the need of opening the phone.
I have found the sound quality on this phone to be quite good. Like other flip phones, it takes a while to type a text message, but my kids don’t seem to mind too much.
This phone does have internet capability. My only complaint about this phone is that the minutes packages expire after a certain number of days.
For the price, you won’t find a better deal on a phone. Depending on how many minutes your child uses, the Tracfone Alcatel MyFlip 4G could be the right option for you.
ZTE Z222 Go Phone (AT&T)
The ZTE Z222 Go Phone from AT&T is a good choice for a flip phone for kids. It allows kids to call, text, and even check email, but it doesn’t have all the features or distractions of a smart phone. Kids love that they can use the built-in camera to take photos, match the photos with corresponding phone numbers, and use a photo contact list.
This phone has large buttons which make it easier for dialing and text messaging. It also has different ringtones, games, and graphics, which kids like.
Parents love that the ZTE Z222 has a long battery life (up to 48 hours). No more excuses about forgetting to charge the phone!
In addition to making regular phone calls, this phone has a voice recorder and alarm. This is a durable phone that will keep up with your kiddo.
The sound on this phone can be a little quiet, so if you are in a large group it can be hard to hear. Speaker phone seems to be loud enough, though.
Kyocera Cadence S2720 (Verizon)
The Kyocera Cadence S2720 phone is a good flip phone for young kids, if you get the right version. There are different options with this phone–you can get an unlocked phone you can use with a regular Verizon phone plan or you can get a locked phone that can be used only as a prepaid Verizon phone. *If you choose to buy the Kyocera Cadence S2720, be sure to check with the seller first to ensure you are getting the right version of this phone.
This phone is 4G and is very easy to use. It has Wi-Fi capabilities and Bluetooth. It can even be used as a mobile hot spot. A Verizon SIM card is included with the purchase of this phone.
Kids like taking photos with the 2.0 MP camera in this phone, even though the photos aren’t the great quality you get from a smart phone. Speed dial makes it easy for kids to call whoever is in their contact list.
The downside of this phone is that the battery life isn’t very long and the ringer is quite loud. Again, be sure you are getting the phone you want before you order it.
Sonim XP5 4G LTE Cell Phone (T-Mobile, AT&T, Cricket, H20, Straight Talk, Wal-Mart Family Mobile, NET10)
The Sonim XP5 is a very durable phone for kids. It works with AT&T and T-Mobile as well as prepaid plans through
Cricket, H20, Straight Talk, Wal-Mart Family Mobile, and NET10. It does not work with Sprint or Verizon. You will need a SIM card to use this phone, but you will have to buy it separately. Some carriers will give you a free SIM card when you sign up for service.
This phone allows kids to talk, text, and use the internet. With 4 GB of internal memory, this phone can hold a good amount of photos from the 5 MP camera. It also has a built in FM radio.
The battery on this phone lasts for 19 hours of talk time, which is more than most others on this list.
There are some drawbacks to this phone. The phone is large and very heavy compared to similar options. The internet browser on this phone is not nearly as easy to use as other comparable browsers. Apps included on the phone are difficult to remove.
A Good Alternative to Flip Phones – Kid’s GPS Watch Tracking Phones
If you’re afraid your kids will lose their flip phones or want a simpler option, here are a few good alternatives. With all of these smart watches, you need to know what they’re capable of and do best, as many of them are still fairly limited in their support and functionality. My guess is that this will improve greatly over the next few years. These watch phones work through a speaker phone system, meaning it is difficult to have a private conversation. However, since this is strapped to your child’s wrist, it is hard to lose. These watches are a good option for younger kids and tweens.
TickTalk 3 Unlocked 4G Smart Watch Phone with GPS Tracker (T-Mobile, AT&T)
The TickTalk 3 is a smart watch phone with 2-way video calling and 2-way text messaging. This watch phone works with AT&T and T-Mobile. Unlike other options that can be used for a low monthly fee, the TickTalk requires its own phone line with talk, text, and data.
Features include GPS tracker, to-do reminders, Wi-Fi connectivity, and an SOS button that dials 911 when it is clicked twice. The Super Hearing Feature allows parents to listen in on their kids through the watch at any time. Kids can text parents with preset messages (I’m on the bus, I’ll call you later, etc.) or type their own messages. The camera on this watch allows for photo sharing.
The watch can only call or text to phone numbers approved by parents. TickTalk boasts that this watch is waterproof, but it would be best not to submerge it.
Unlike other options, the TickTalk 3 does not have music capability or games. Set up is difficult and the battery runs out quickly (it often barely lasts an entire school day).
While this option has some good features, the relatively high price and short battery life might be a deterrent.
Laxcido 3G Phone Call GPS Smart Watch (T-Mobile, AT&T)
Another option for kids is the Laxcido. It uses 3G data traffic and works best with AT&T or T-Mobile. You will need a micro SIM card, as this watch does not come with one.
This phone watch allows parents to call their children without an actual phone. Parents set up a list of contact numbers which are authorized to make and receive calls to and from the watch. Calls can be made quickly and easily, and the sound quality is good. The Laxcido also has SOS messaging in case of emergency.
Parents like that they can listen in on their children through the phone even if their kids are unaware. There is also a step counter, which is a fun feature. There is GPS and a geofencing option, which alerts parents when kids go outside the perimeters the parents set up.
Now, for the not so great. The GPS sometimes lags and takes time to update, so you don’t always know exactly where your child is. The set up is a bit tricky, and customer service isn’t great. Unlike similar GPS watch options for kids, the battery life on this one lasts less than 24 hours. There is no volume control or ring tone options.
The large watch face and band are pretty big on small kids. The emergency button is easy to press accidentally, which is not ideal for young kids.
This phone watch is less expensive than the others on this list, but it also doesn’t perform as well.
Gizmo Watch 4G (Verizon)
The Gizmo Watch from Verizon is another good phone watch option. This GPS watch for kids allows parents to choose up to 10 contacts for kids to call or text. Kids like that it has activity games and a step counter. Parents like that the watch has a customizable to-do list for kids to complete.
This watch has good sound clarity, and the GPS is accurate. With your current Verizon phone plan, the Gizmo only costs $5 per month. If a parent calls and the child doesn’t answer, the automatic answer mode allows parents to listen in on what is happening.
One complaint about Gizmo in the past was that you couldn’t buy a replacement charger without buying a new watch. However, Verizon has recently started selling chargers separately.
Unfortunately, the band quality of the Gizmo isn’t good. It is a standard size and is easy to replace, but with the cost of the Gizmo, you would expect a better quality band.
iPhone 7 (most carriers)
My 14-year-old just started high school, and we decided it was time for him to get a phone. We tried a prepaid flip phone, but he burned through the minutes so quickly. I called our cell phone carrier and learned buying an older model iPhone was actually cheaper than buying a flip phone to add to our plan. And there are some great parental controls with Apple. We locked down the phone so he only has access to calling, texting, and listening to music. He can’t add any apps without permission, and we removed the browser so he doesn’t have internet access. iPhone parental controls for kids also make it so parents can receive all of their child’s messages to keep their child safe.
The iPhone 7 has a 7 MP HD camera with 4K video recording. It has stereo sound as well as improved battery life over previous versions. Thankfully, this phone is splash and water resistant, which is important for kids. The iPhone 7 does not have a normal headphone jack; you have to use apple earbuds with this phone.
Note: This is a renewed iPhone. Be sure to check with the seller before buying this phone to make sure it’s unlocked for your carrier.
Carrier and App Parental Controls
Alternatively, you could hand down your old smartphone to your child and use a parental control app. There are many apps to choose from, with some having a yearly or monthly fee and others offering fewer features for free. In addition, removing data and using your carrier’s built-in parental controls can allow GPS tracking or limit texting, picture texting, filter browsing, or other capabilities you might not want your children to have. The time of day they can use their phone can also be restricted.
If you want more information I’d recommend you go directly to your carrier’s website for additional details. A lot of the information for can also be found on cell phone parental controls by Consumer Reports.
GSM vs CDMA
There are two types of networks that cell phone carriers use. Before purchasing a no-contract flip phone, be sure that it’s compatible with your carrier. For example, AT&T and T-Mobile run on GSM networks (which need a SIM card), while Sprint and Verizon use CMDA (and have a built-in SIM card). Even if a phone is unlocked it will still only work with the network it’s setup for.
Getting a phone or phone alternative for your child is a big step in their independence and allows you to better monitor them. The devices on this list will help you do just that. My favorites are the Relay, the Tracfone, and the iPhone 7.