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The 5 best phones for kids: Cheap, reliable devices for any child

What is the best phone for kids? The iPhone SE is ZDNet's top choice, but there are plenty of other worthy options. We compared features like price, screen size, and operating system to determine the best kids' phone.
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Written by Jason Cipriani, Contributing Writer on

There are a lot of decisions a parent has to make regarding phones and a kid. What age is appropriate to give a kid a phone? What kind of phone should you buy? Are there kid-specific plans? What about parental controls? 

While I won't address all of those concerns in the list below, I can empathize with the situation. Two out of my three children have reached the age my wife and I felt like we needed to have a way to stay in contact with them throughout the day at school, during sports practices and when they're at a friend's house.

Below you'll find five of my top picks for a phone for your kid(s). Well, technically four phones and a smartwatch that acts as a phone.

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Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Display: 4.7-inch | Processor: Apple A15 Bionic | Memory: 4GB | Storage: 64/128/256GB | Rear cameras: 12MP | Front camera: 7MP FaceTime Camera | Battery: 2,018 mAh | Cost: Around $429

Apple's iPhone lineup spans a wide range of models at varying prices. The most affordable of which is the iPhone SE, which starts at $429. Apple revamped the iPhone SE in 2022, bringing it current with the same processor as the more expensive iPhone 13 lineup. The end result is an iPhone 13-like experience in a phone that's half the price. 

The 4.7-inch display sits above the Touch ID home button that your child can use to secure their iPhone with a fingerprint. The rear camera takes photos that are nearly as clear and crisp as higher-end iPhones, while the front camera gives a solid FaceTime experience. 

In addition to arguably overpowered hardware at this price, you're also getting access to all of Apple's services, Screen Time parental controls, Find My, Family Sharing feature and the rest of Apple's software services. For a family that's heavily invested in Apple's products, the iPhone SE is a great phone for kids. 

Pros:

  • Most affordable iPhone
  • Strong performance
  • Battery life
  • Great camera

Cons:

  • Not the biggest display out of the group
  • Old design
Moto G Pure
Image: Motorola

Display: 6.5-inch | Processor: MediaTek Helio G25 | Memory: 3GB | Storage: 32GB, microSD card support | Rear cameras: 13MP, 2MP, depth sensor | Front camera: 5MP | Battery: 4,000 mAh | Cost: Around $159

The Moto G Pure is an incredibly affordable phone that offers a basic all-around experience. It's often priced below its full retail price of $159, easing some of the pressure that comes with a child learning how to take care of a phone. In fact, both of my kids who have phones started with a Moto G model in order to prove they could take care of a phone by not breaking it, losing it or leaving it somewhere it could be stolen. 

The Moto G Pure has a decent camera setup, still has a 3.5mm headphone jack, a large battery (helpful for kids who love playing games), and a large display. There are two potential downsides to the G Pure — storage and speed. With 32GB of internal storage, you'll want to add a 512GB microSD card to the G Pure in order to make room for pictures, videos, apps and games. 

Performance will be slower than what you'd find on an iPhone or the rest of the phones on this list, but for a young child who is just starting out with a phone, that's A-OK. 

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Large display
  • Battery life

Cons:

  • Performance
  • Low internal storage
Samsung Galaxy A32 5G
Image: Samsung

Display: 6.5 inches, 90Hz | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 | Memory: 4GB | Storage: 64GB, with microSD support | Rear cameras: 48MP main, 8MP ultra-wide, 5MP macro, and 2MP depth sensor | Front camera: 13MP camera | Battery: 5,000 mAh | Cost: Around $279

Samsung isn't known for its low-end smartphones, but with LG recently exiting the smartphone business, Samsung has started to improve and iterate its entry-level phones. Take the Samsung Galaxy A32 5G a $279 phone that looks and works just like a high-end Galaxy S22. 

There's a 5,000 mAh battery inside the A32 5G, which is more than enough to get through a full day of use for most people. Even kids. The 48-megapixel camera is great, along with the rest of the rear-facing cameras. 

With only 64GB of internal storage, you'll want to add more to it using the built-in microSD card slot that accepts up to 1TB of additional storage. 

Pros:

  • Price
  • Cameras
  • Battery

Cons:

  • Low internal storage
Google Pixel 5A with 5G

Display: 6.34 inches | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G | Memory: 6GB | Storage: 128GB | Rear cameras: 12.2MP | Front camera: 8MP | Battery: 4,620 mAh | Cost: Around $449

Google's phones are well designed, get new software updates with all of the new features before the competition, and aren't expensively priced. 

The Pixel 5A 5G is a prime example of Google's approach to smartphones. It has the same camera setup and processor as the Pixel 5 lineup, but it's priced at $449. 

For that price you get plenty of storage at 128GB, more than enough memory for gaming and multitasking, and a camera setup that rivals the iPhone. If you're not in a rush to get a phone for your child today and you want a Pixel phone, it may be a good idea to wait until July when the Pixel 6A launches with newer hardware at the same price. 

Pros:

  • Performance
  • Battery life
  • Camera

Cons:

  • Older hardware
  • Will be replaced by the Pixel 6A in July
Apple Watch SE
Apple

Display: 40mm, 44mm | Battery Life: 18 hours | Water Resistance: 50m | LTE Cellular Option: Yes | Cost: Starts around $329

Even though the Apple Watch SE isn't a phone, if you buy the cellular model and use Apple's Family Setup feature for the watch, you can turn the Apple Watch SE into what amounts to a smartphone that your child wears on their wrist. The cellular model starts at $329 for the 40mm version, but you can often find it on sale for less than $300. 

My youngest child has an Apple Watch SE instead of a phone that we use to text back and forth with him while he's at school, view his current location, or even call him when we need something while he's at a friend's. He can, of course, message or call us as well. 

There's a School Time feature that makes it easy to block all apps during school hours, ensuring that your child doesn't get distracted. (If they need to use the watch to get ahold of you, however, they can bypass it — a stat that's tracked so you can make sure they aren't abusing the feature.)

You'll need to be an iPhone user if you want your child to use an Apple Watch. 

Pros:

  • Always-on connectivity
  • All-day battery life
  • Harder to misplace

Cons:

  • It's not a full-fledged phone

What is the best phone for kids?

Apple's iPhone SE is the best for kids because it's affordable, has long software support and offers the best performance you can get in a phone under $500. Battery life and camera performance are just bonuses.

Product

Price

Screen Size

Operating System

Apple iPhone SE

$429

4.7-inches

iOS

Moto G Pure

$159

6.5-inches

Android

Samsung Galaxy A32 5G

$279

6.5-inches

Android

Google Pixel 5A 5G

$449

6.43-inches

Android

Apple Watch SE

$329

40mm, 44mm

WatchOS

Which is the right phone for your kid?

Deciding which phone is right for your kid comes down to age, overall cost and the operating system you prefer. Once you know those details, you can narrow down your search and then make a choice based on personal preference. 

Choose this…

If you want…

Apple iPhone SE

The best all-around phone that's sure to be supported for years to come

Moto G Pure

A budget-friendly phone that's perfect for starting out with

Samsung Galaxy A32 5G

A good mix of affordability with performance

Google Pixel 5A 5G

An Android phone with all of Google's latest software tricks 

Apple Watch SE

A way to get ahold of your child without giving them a dedicated phone

How did we choose these phones for kids?

I've reviewed phones for the last 12 years, 10 of which it's been my full-time job. On top of the experience of using all of the phones and devices listed here, I have an added advantage of going through the experience of my own kids getting to the age of having a phone of their own. 

All five of these picks are something I would -- and have -- trust my kids with taking care of. The price of the Moto G Pure, for example, is fantastic for a young kid who is just getting a phone and you aren't sure if you can fully trust them to be responsible.  After a few months of proving themselves, or however long you decide, they can then upgrade their phone to another pick on this list or a more expensive option.

What about parental controls for a kids phone?

Both Apple and Google have their own respective solutions for adding parental controls to an iPhone or Android phone. For iPhone users, you'll want to enable Screen Time on your and your child's phone. For kids who get an Android phone, the parent will want to set up Google's Family Link

Both options will give you control over schedules of when the phone can and can't be used, which apps can be installed and even who the child can talk to. 

What's the best cellular plan for a kid?

Sticking with your current carrier and adding a line to your account is going to get you the best deal on a new phone, however, if you want to buy a phone outright and not get locked into device payments, you can always start with a prepaid carrier like Republic Wireless or Visible. The plans are cheap, and you're not locked into paying the carrier back for a phone if your child loses it. 

If you opt to add a line to your account, most carriers now allow you to mix and match plans. For example, you can have your number on a plan that allows unlimited data usage at full speed, and then have your child's plan on a plan that could see data speeds throttled when the network is busy. It saves you money while still giving your child access to all things they'd want a phone to do. 

Are there apps built in to keep track of my kids location?

Yes! If you set up Screen Time on an iPhone, you'll also set up Apple's Family Share feature that includes Find My. Find My is not only what you use to track down a lost iPhone, iPad or Mac, but it's used to keep tabs on friends or loved ones. 

Google Family Link offers the same functionality, or you can add your child to Google Maps' Location Sharing feature. 

Are there alternative phones for kids worth considering?

Of course! There are countless phones available. From refurbished iPhones to used devices off of Swappa or a similar second-hand website. The iPhone 11 is the oldest device currently sold by Apple, but it's $499 and comes with an older processor and arguably a worse camera than the iPhone SE. However, it has a larger display, Face ID and comes in tons of colors. 

As for Android devices, well, you really have your pick of the sea. From well-known brands like Samsung and Motorola to lesser-known device makers like TCL and OnePlus -- the list of phones that are worth considering is long. 

As for smartwatches that replicate a phone-like experience, Verizon's GizmoWatch 2 is a respectable option. 

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