With a bustling household of four kids ranging from 9-year-olds to teenagers, the prospect of introducing cell phones into the mix has become a hot topic. While some parents may opt for the latest iPhone or Android device, my husband and I are taking a more cautious approach. Beyond the steep prices of these smartphones, the idea of granting our kids access to the vast digital world gives us pause.
12 Good Kids’ Flip Cell Phones and Watch Phones
Updated January 30th, 2024.
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Safe Basic 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 a few that don’t flip but have similar features.
If you need a safe phone for teens, the Bark Phone could be just what you are looking for! In our opinion, it is the most customizable kid phone on the market. Parents decide how much access their kid has with this phone. Kids love all the features of the phone. Here are some of the highlights of the Bark Phone:
- Optional whitelist. Parents decide whether or not they want to control who can be added as a contact to the phone. I love the whitelist feature for younger kids, but for my high school child, I like to be able to remove the whitelist. He is on sports teams and can’t get all of the necessary text messages when a whitelist is activated.
- Bark Premium monitoring. When you purchase the Bark plan, it comes with Bark Premium, which alerts you to any concerning content on text messages or apps. This includes sexual content, self harm, bullying, and more.
- Location tracking. In my opinion, Bark has the best location tracking of any kids device currently available. I love that it can tell when your child has entered or left a location as well as how long they stayed at a location.
- Free phone. Unlike competitors, Bark offers a free Samsung phone when you sign up for service. Their monthly service is slightly more expensive than others, but competitors typically require you to buy a fairly pricey phone.
- Screen time limits. Parents can choose to set up screen time limits tailored to their child. You can set up limits that are specific to school. As a parent, you can choose to have a specific screen schedule for each day of the week if you want to. You can also remotely pause the phone for as long as you choose.
- Parent app. The Bark parent app makes it easy to make adjustments to your child’s screen time, check their location, and see alerts no matter where you are.
- Access to apps. This is one of the things that sets Bark apart from its competition (and something kids are really excited about). Children have access to the app store. They request apps they want and then parents go through the parent app to approve (or disapprove) apps for their child. This gives parents the ability to give access to most any app they feel is appropriate. Bark Premium alerts the parent to any concerning activity their AI notices happening on each individual app.
Overall, Bark is one of the best options available, especially for teens. It’s a great step for those who aren’t quite ready for a smart phone.
In my opinion, this is one of the very best kids phones available. It has features my child wants and the safety I want. The phones themselves are good quality Samsung phones and are durable and easy to use. Here are some of the highlights of the Troomi phone:
- Contact safelist. Parents control who can contact/be contacted by this phone. That means no spam calling or texts. Kids can request for contacts to be approved and parents decide whether or not to approve them.
- Remote text monitoring. Parents can access the online Parent Portal to see what text messages and photos (if parents choose to allow photo texting) have been sent or received.
- Unlimited talk and text. Not only can this phone call and text to the U.S., it can also contact Canada and Mexico and no additional charge. Troomi can also text 190 other countries free of charge.
- Phone matures with child. This is a phone that a child can use for years. As a child matures (and as parents deem ready), more apps can be added and more restrictions lifted.
- No social media apps. I’m not ready for my child to have social media and neither is he. This phone eliminates the possiblity.
- GPS tracking. Parents like to be able to see where their child is and this phone provides that.
- All in one service. With Troomi, you make one monthly payment for service. There is no separate service provider. That means one less bill to worry about.
- Different phone options and phone plans. Troomi has 3 different Samsung phones to choose from and 3 different phone plans. That means you can find what fits your budget and your needs.
- Vetted apps. The Troomi team has carefully chosen apps that are safe for kids. Again, parents make the decision on which apps kids can access. These apps range from email and school related apps to games and music streaming apps. Be aware that most apps on Troomi can be used only when connected to WiFi.
- KidSafe Browser. When (or if) parents decide to give internet access with the Troomi phone, they can use the KidSafe Browser, which only allows kids to access websites that parents have given permission for. There is also the option to use the regular Chrome browser if parents choose not to restrict internet use.
Gabb Phone Pro 3
This new phone from Gabb is a great option especially for teens and tweens. A good transitional phone for kids, the Gabb Phone 3 Pro is a Samsung A13 phone with some of the features of a smartphone but without the dangers. Unlimited talk and text means kids can communicate with their friends as much as they need to. There are safe apps a parent can approve for kids to use. However, there is no internet browser and no social media.
This phone is rugged and kids love that it looks like a smartphone. Photos taken with this 50MP multi lens camera are sharp images, and videos are fluid and high quality. Active GPS tracking makes it easy for parents to know where their child is.
The Gabb Phone 3 Pro runs on the Gabb Wireless network only. It has great reception and is available nearly everywhere in the U.S. I live in a rural area with spotty cell reception, but this phone works perfectly where we are.
A new feature for a Gabb phone, the Gabb Phone Pro 3 has 100 Gabb-approved apps that parents can choose to allow on the phone. These include learning, sports, news, communication, and food apps.
While this phone allows parents to control which apps are available on the phone, the Gabb Phone 3 Pro has much less in the way of parental controls than competing phones do. There is no way for parents to limit screen time with individual apps or with the phone itself. For this reason, we find the Gabb Phone 3 Pro is best for older teens, those 16 and older.
There are a few things that really set the Gabb Phone Plus apart from others:
- Gabb Messenger. This feature allows group and picture messaging. It has a filtration system that alerts parents to messages that potentially contain bullying or self-harm talk.
- Gabb Music Plus. This optional feature allows unlimited safe music streaming with explicit-free lyrics. There is no bleeping or removed words. Directly licensed from major labels, Gabb Wireless filters out anything with inappropriate language as well as anything contextual that could be considered violent or sexual. Let’s be honest: When kids hear a song that has been bleeped or had an explicit word removed, they know what the word is and likely think of that word when it comes to that part of the son. I love that Gabb Music Plus gets rid of the content all together! This platform is similar to Spotify, where you interactively choose songs on demand. Gabb Music Plus does require a separate monthly cost of $9.99 per month.
- Gabb Cloud. Gabb Wireless has its own cloud, which means they can better control the safety with this phone. In addition to being able to back up 10 GB of photos, videos, and contacts, the Gabb Cloud means there is no chance of kids finding back doors or secondary links in apps that would take them to a web browser or pornography. This has been a problem with competitors’ phones, but Gabb has taken the time to invest in this cloud, providing peace of mind for parents and safety for kids. The Gabb Cloud is an optional service and comes at a cost of $0.99 per month.
- Accessories. Gabb has new ear buds and a speaker available to purchase separately. These are great quality and kids are loving them.
If you are looking for a more intermediate phone, check out the Pinwheel. It is one step between a call and text only phone and a smartphone. Pinwheel allows kids to have parent-approved apps but still does not allow social media.
Pinwheel has whitelist contacts, meaning kids can only call or text numbers approved by the parents. This eliminates any spam and allows parents to control who their kids can contact. Additionally, from the Caregiver Portal parents can see all text messages sent to or from the Pinwheel as well as any calls made or received.
This safe phone for kids has GPS to help parents keep track of kids.
One of the best things about this phone is it can grow with the child. When parents feel the child is ready for a particular app, they can choose to add it to the phone. However, only apps approved by the Pinwheel team can be added. Parents are welcome to contact Pinwheel with requests for additional apps and the team will evaluate the app and decide if it will be approved.
This phone is pretty good at keeping kids safe. There is no web browser on Pinwheel. Be aware, however, that kids have found work arounds to access the internet through apps on the Pinwheel. When this happens, the Pinwheel team works quickly to remedy the work arounds.
Pinwheel works with most major cell phone carriers. Be sure to check before buying a specific phone because not all Pinwheel phones are compatible with all carriers. With this phone, you pay Pinwheel $14.99 per month for the Pinwheel service as well as the monthly cell phone fee with whatever carrier you choose.
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.
Kids’ Cell Phone Alternatives
If you’re afraid your kids will lose their flip phones or want a simpler option, here are a few good alternatives.
Kid’s GPS Watch Tracking Phones
Maybe a cell phone watch would be easier for your child to use and keep track of. 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.
Gabb Watch 3 (Gabb Wireless)
One the best features of this watch is its locking features. This watch can be locked down during school so it can’t be played with (although it can still contact parents). The Gabb Watch uses a whitelist so that only numbers you trust can call or text through the watch. In case of emergency, there is an SOS button kids can push to contact parents. This watch cannot call 911.
Kids love the independence this watch offers. It has an accurate GPS that allows you to program in safe zones to tell you if your child leaves a safe zone you set up, such as school and home.
Service for this watch is only through the Gabb Wireless network. Gabb Wireless runs off Verizon towers so you know it will get good coverage even in small towns. The watch call out in any area that gets a cell signal.
Unlike other similar watch options, the Gabb Watch 3 allows kids to type their own text messages rather than relying on preset text messages which might or might not be applicable. This means this watch can be used by young kids or even older ones. We recommend it for kids ages 4-10.
With a two year contract this watch is only $12.99/month for a plan. There are also options of a one year contract or no contract for slightly more per month. This is our most recommended watch for kids.
Troomi Watch (Troomi Wireless)
Kids can only contact those approved by their parents. In order to receive a phone call or text from the Troomi Watch, the recipient has to have the Xplora app. That means Troomi Watches cannot communicate with each other.
This watch has 10 preset text messages that kids can send. If none of those options fits what they want to say, they can record a voice message and send it.
Parents can lock down this phone so it can’t be used during school hours. When it’s in school mode, kids can only contact their parent through the SOS button.
Unlike many other options, the Troomi Watch has a camera. At 5MP, it’s not great quality, but kids like that they can send and receive photos with this watch.
Of all the safe kids phone watches we’ve tried, Troomi definitely has the best GPS. It is accurate and best of all, it shows the GPS history, where most others only show current location.
Overall, the Troomi Watch is an excellent choice.
TickTalk 4 4G Smart Watch Phone with GPS Tracker (T-Mobile, AT&T)
The TickTalk 4 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 4 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.
Gizmo Watch 4G (Verizon)
The Gizmo2 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 $10 per month. This watch can only be used on the Verizon network. If a parent calls and the child doesn’t answer, the automatic answer mode allows parents to listen in on what is happening.
Only parent-approved numbers can contact or be contacted by this phone watch for kids. That provides peace of mind for parents, as they know their kids will be safe with this communication device.
Text messages are pre-set messages only, including “I’m home”, “I missed my bus”, and about 20 others. If a child wants to send a message other than the pre-set texts, they can use the voice message recorder to send a recorded message.
One drawback with this watch is that text messages from the watch show up only in the parent app (they don’t show up as a regular text message on the parent’s phone). That means parents could miss texts from the watch.
Unfortunately, the band quality of the Gizmo isn’t great. It is a standard size and is easy to replace, but with the cost of the Gizmo, you would expect a better quality band. This is an excellent watch for eight-year-olds.
GPS Trackers 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.
iPhone 14 (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 14 has a 12MP HD camera with 4K video recording from 24fps up to 60 fps with a 5X digital zoom. It has stereo sound as well as improved battery life over previous versions. Thankfully, this phone has an ip67 water rating (can be good under a maximum depth of 1 meter of water up to 30 minutes) which is important for kids. The iPhone 14 does not have a normal headphone jack; you have to use apple earbuds with this phone.
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.
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.
What are WGSM and 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.
What is a Basic Phone?
A basic phone is a phone that is designed to be simple and generally has limited access to the internet and smart phone apps. A basic phone can typically only send texts and make phone calls. Some basic phones have applications, while others include GPS tracking. Some refer to these phones as “dumb phones” due to the lack of smart phone capabilities.
Does a Basic or Flip Phone have Wi-Fi?
Most phones come with Wi-Fi capability. As a parent you can decide whether you want your child to connect to it. Some of our favorite kid-friendly phones like Gabb cannot connect to Wi-Fi.
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 Troomi Phone, Bark Phone, Pinwheel, Gabb Watch, Tracfone, and Gizmo.