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 kids are all involved in various activities, and we needed ways to communicate with the kids when they are out and about. Whether they are teens or younger kids, they need to be able to communicate with us. It gives me peace of mind knowing they can contact me when needed and I can keep tabs on them.
If you’re like me and in a similar situation, here’s the solution my husband and I have come up with. We have found phone watches to be great for our younger kids and a “training” cell phone to be perfect for tweens and teens. These phones allow kids to stay in touch with their friends without the potential dangers of social media and the internet. A phone that grows with kids is great for teens who are learning to navigate using apps.
12 Good Kids’ Flip Cell Phones and Watch Phones
Updated September 27th, 2022.
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Verizon is offering buy one get one free Gizmo Watch.
Pinwheel Phone Discount. 10% OFF. Code MHF10.
|Gabb Phone Plus||Gabb Wireless|
|Gabb Phone||Gabb Wireless|
|Pinwheel Phone||All major carriers|
|Sonim Military Phone||T-Mobile|
|Kids' GPS Watch Phones|
|Gabb Phone Watch 2||Gabb Wireless|
|Gizmo Watch 2||Verizon|
|Kids' GPS Trackers|
|Jiobit GPS Tracker||T-Mobile|
|Apple Watch 7 LTE||Verizon|
|iPhone SE||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 Phone Plus
This new phone from Gabb is a great option especially for teens and tweens. It’s a Samsung 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 camera are sharp images, and videos are fluid and high quality. The Gabb Phone Plus has split screen capabilities as well as app layering. Active GPS tracking makes it easy for parents to know where their child is.
The Gabb Phone Plus 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.
While there are other similar phones on the market, there are a few things that really set the Gabb Phone Plus apart:
- 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. Also, before a message is sent, the phone asks, “Are you sure you want to send this?” This reminds kids to think before they send a message. Additionally, messages and photos sent and received cannot be deleted. They can only be archived
- 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 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.
- Cost. The Gabb Phone Plus costs $199.99 (which is considerably less than most competitors’ phones) and plans start at $22.99 per month. Gabb Music Plus comes with a 3-month free trial when you buy the phone and then costs $9.99 per month. The Gabb Cloud to back up the phone is $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.
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.
All Gabb Wireless plans include unlimited talk and text. Plans range from $17.99 (for a 2-year contract) to $24.99 for no contract.
Overall, this is an excellent phone and we feel it’s best for tweens. 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.
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.
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 GPS Watch (Gabb Wireless)
This watch has so many great features for kids that it is almost hard to describe them all. Probably my favorite feature for this watch is it is stand alone; it does not require a smart phone to use it. For most watches that have as many features as the Gabb Watch you would have to have it next to a smart phone in order to work.
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. Unlike a lot of phone watches, the Gabb Watch uses a whitelist so that only numbers you trust can call or text through the watch.
Kids love that this watch has a built-in game that can motivate them to do chores or homework. It also 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. This watch is a great bridge for young kids and tweens before upgrading to a phone.
This watch runs only through the Gabb Wireless network. The good news is Gabb Wireless works almost anywhere, even in rural areas. You can call this watch and it can call out in any area that gets a cell signal.
With a two year contract this watch is only $9.99/month for a plan. This is a great deal considering what you get. Another notable feature is that there is an emergency button that lets you know if your child is in trouble. This is our most recommended watch for kids.
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 SE (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 SE 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 SE 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.
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.
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 flip 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 and KidsConnect 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 Gabb Phone Plus, Pinwheel, Gabb Watch, Tracfone, and Gizmo.