Kids aren’t great at looking after phones. The youngest ones try to eat them. Slightly older kids tend to lose them, drop them or cover them in jam. And if the newspapers can be believed, teenagers spend half their time sexting and the other half mugging one another for their smartphones.
For parents that means applying very different criteria than you would when you’re buying a phone for yourself. You want something tough. You want something that’s easy to use and hard to lose. You want something you can lock down to prevent the kids seeing stuff they shouldn’t. And you want something that’s cheap enough so that when the inevitable happens and it gets dropped in a toilet, left in a park or stolen from a backpack it won’t cost too much to replace.
No matter what phone you decide to get, a few basic rules apply. Pay As You Go is safer than contract, because it means your child can’t run up enormous bills. You should discover the parental controls Android offers. Your phone provider can usually offer network filtering to try and keep kids away from inappropriate content. And you need to emphasise the basics of safe internet use: not storing sensitive data, not giving away too much personal information, not taking photographs of your unmentionables and sending them to boyfriends or girlfriends who clearly can’t be trusted. That kind of thing.
Once you’ve done that, it’s time to pick a phone. Here are five of our favorites.
If you’re not bothered about getting an Android phone, the Nokia 105 is hard to beat: it’s incredibly cheap, bomb-proof and the battery lasts forever. You can get one unlocked on Amazon UK for £17.99, and the US equivalent is the Nokia 106 for $24.92. It doesn’t do much, but what it does do it does brilliantly.
The L20 isn’t available from Amazon, but the UK carphone warehouse has it for just £19.95 when you buy a £10 top-up. That gives you a KitKat phone with a 3-inch display and a 2 MP camera, GPS and Google Play. It comes in a range of colours too.
Alcatel Onetouch Pop C1
Once again you won’t find this on Amazon, but your local phone shop may have one: at £29.95 (plus £10 top-up) in the UK it’s very cheap. You get a 2 MP camera, Android Jelly Bean, a 3.5-inch display and nearly three hours of talk time.
SAMSUNG GALAXY Y
Samsung’s tiny budget phone is just £54.55 unlocked on Amazon UK and $78.72 on Amazon US. It’s a tough little phone with a 2 MP camera, a 3-inch display and up to 6 hours of talk time, and while the processor and OS aren’t much to get excited about – it’s got an 830 MHz single core processor and Gingerbread 2.3 – it’s one of the more durable Android cheapies. You can’t really go wrong with any of the budget Samsungs.
Huawei Ascend Y330
If your child is poring over spec sheets and muttering darkly about single-core smartphones, you may be able to mollify them with the Ascend Y330. At $99.72 in the US and £69 in the UK it’s not going to burst your budget, and the 1.3 GHz dual core processor chucks apps along at a respectable rate. Factor in a 4-inch screen and a 3.2 MP camera with video recording and you’ve got a handset that should keep more demanding kids quiet.
We’re getting close to the $100 mark here, and as you might expect once you go beyond that the choice of phones – and their specifications – increases dramatically. Unless your children are particularly demanding, however, we wouldn’t recommend spending too much on a phone whose lifespan probably won’t be too long. If the kids demand the Samsung Galaxy S5, you can tell them that saving for smartphones is what paper rounds were invented for.