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 husband 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.
12 Good Kids’ Flip Cell Phones and Watch Phone Locators
Update October 2020. Gabb has launched their new Gabb Z2 that comes with GPS tracking. Trust me, you will not regret if you choose a Gabb. Use this link and the promo code MHFIVE to get Gabb’s brand new phone at $10 off!
|Gabb Wireless||Gabb Wireless|
|Sonim Military Phone||T-Mobile|
|Doro 4G Flip Phone||TracFone|
|Plum Ram 8 Flip Phone||T-Mobile|
|Jiobit GPS Tracker||T-Mobile|
|Relay Phone Alternative||Most carriers|
|Laxcido GPS Smart Watch||T-Mobile|
|Apple Watch 3 LTE||Verizon|
|iPhone 7||Most carriers|
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.
Gabb Z2 Wireless Phone
We have tried a lot of different cell phones for kids, and Gabb Wireless is definitely one of the very best. If you want a phone without games, internet, or social media, Gabb could be the right option for you. This phone looks like a smartphone, but it only offers unlimited talk and text.
This is a 4G LTE phone which runs on the Gabb Wireless network. We tested this phone in a variety of areas, including rural areas that typically don’t get great reception with other carriers. Gabb Wireless performed very well in all locations where we tested. The sound quality on this phone is exceptional.
Initial setup is so simple: Charge the phone and then use it. It is easy for kids to call and text with this phone. The buttons are easy to push, and kids love the fun emojis you can send. You can also set up an emergency contact with the phone.
Some of the other features of Gabb Wireless are a calendar with reminders, an alarm, a voice recorder, a calculator, and an FM radio (you have to use headphones to listen to the radio, but they are not included with the phone). You can use call forwarding or call blocking, and there is space for 8 phone numbers on the speed dial.
The basic plan with Gabb Wireless costs $20 per month for unlimited talk and text. For $25 per month you can get the Gabb Plus Plan, which allows for photo texting and optional GPS tracking. There is no contract with this phone; you can cancel anytime.
Overall, this is an excellent phone and we feel it’s best for tweens or teens. However, there are a few things to be aware of before buying. There are no parental controls with this phone. Kids can delete text messages without parents knowing. You can schedule times for the phone to turn on and off. However, the kids can change those settings themselves. Parents cannot turn the phone on or off remotely. There is only a 7-day window to get your money back if you decide this phone isn’t right for you.
KidsConnect KC2 4G Kids GPS Tracker Phone
If you want a phone that is really secure for your kiddo, the KidsConnect KC2 is an excellent option. We were really impressed with the quality of this phone and the number of great features it has. The main feature of this phone is that it can only call numbers you have programmed into it.
This phone looks different from any of the others on this list. It has three speed dial buttons and an SOS button on the front of the phone. This button also goes to a number that you predetermine. If pushed, the recipient will receive a text message that there is an SOS alert followed immediately by a phone call from the KidsConnect so you can talk to your child. You can also program up to 15 other numbers in the phone’s phone book.
Texting is also available with this phone, but again only to the numbers the parents have programmed into the phone. The phone has some pre-written texts that kids can choose to send or they can type a message. However, the buttons for texting are very small so it can be difficult to type anything but a short message.
The call quality of this phone is very good on the KidsConnect end. However, we found the recipient of the call might notice a little bit of a muffled sound. It’s not enough to cause any problems, but it was a bit surprising.
This phone has GPS tracking which can be monitored via the app or website. It also has geofencing option where you determine a specific area you want your child to stay within. If your child leaves that area, you receive a message. We found the GPS to be quite accurate. Sometimes there is a bit of a lag, but it is better than most of the other options out there.
The app and website allow parents to control this phone remotely. You can turn the phone off or on, change the volume, set up geofencing, and many other commands even when your child’s phone is not with you.
Battery life for this phone is better than for many others, lasting between 1 and 2 days, depending on use. Parents receive an alert when the phone battery is getting low.
The service plan for this phone is through KidsConnect only. It works off the T-Mobile or AT&T networks. If you don’t have T-Mobile available in your area, you will pay more for using this phone through the AT&T network. To be clear, you have to have service through KidsConnect for this phone. There are several different plan options with different prices. You pay for talk and text minutes. Plans are monthly, quarterly, semi-yearly, and yearly.
Overall, this is an excellent phone for kids, especially younger kids. If you want a phone that is really locked down and safe for kids, this is a fantastic choice. The service plans can be more expensive than other options, depending on how much the phone is used, but given the peace of mind parents will get from this phone, it could very well be worth the extra money.
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.
Sonim XP5 4G LTE Cell Phone
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.
Doro 4G Flip Phone
While the Doro flip phone is marketed for senior citizens, it’s also a good first phone for kids. This is a TracFone, so you purchase minutes upfront; there is no contract with this phone. TracFone typically has good coverage, even in more rural areas, and since it has 4G, you should get good reception with this phone. To be clear, this phone can only be used with TracFone, NOT with any other carriers.
The Doro is equipped with Bluetooth. It also has a 2 MP camera as well as video capabilities. An internal memory of 4GB helps store photos. For even more storage, the micro SD slot can hold a memory card up to 64 GB. You’ll have to buy the memory card separately, though.
The big buttons make it easier to dial and text. An button calls for help, which can be concerning if your child isn’t careful or just likes to play around.
Plum Ram 8 4G Flip Phone
The Plum Ram 8 is a rugged flip phone for kids. It works with almost all major carriers, but it does NOT work with Verizon. This phone is 4G and comes with a 5 MP camera that also takes videos. Other features include Bluetooth and an FM radio.
To use the phone, you will have to get an activated micro SIM card from your preferred carrier. Charging the phone can be done with the desktop charger or by plugging the phone in directly.
The sound quality on this phone is good, but the battery doesn’t nearly as long as others on this list.
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.
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.
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.
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.
TickTalk 3 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.
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. This is an excellent watch for eight-year-olds.
Laxcido 4G Smart Watch (T-Mobile, AT&T)
Another option for kids is the Laxcido. It uses 4G 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 doesn’t perform as well as others on this list.
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 7MP 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 Gabb Wireless, Relay, the Tracfone, and the Gizmo.