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Best smartphones for kids

By Oli McKean

Looking to buy a mobile phone for your child, but not sure which one to pick? Let us give you a helping hand

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If you’re buying a mobile phone for your child, it can be tricky to know which is the best to buy. Here, we pick out our top choices, and explore how much you need to spend and how to set up parental controls.

The first thing you need to think about is what your child will be using the mobile phone for. If you just want them to have an emergency phone with mammoth battery life, to keep in the bottom of their school bag, it’s worth checking out our simple mobile phone reviews.

But if you want them to have a mobile that gives them fast internet, a decent camera and a few apps, you’ll need to invest in a smartphone. This doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune, though – we cover this, below.

We also highlight five smartphones we think offer terrific value for money – and stick a warning flag on three that might make your child understandably unhappy.

Just want to know the best of the best? Head straight to our Best Buy mobile phones.

How much do you need to spend on a smartphone?

The prospect of buying a new smartphone fills many of us with dread as they can be pretty expensive, and going for an iPhone or Samsung can feel like a safe bet - even if they are pricey options.

But the truth is you don’t need to spend top dollar for top quality. While some smartphones cost more than £600 to buy outright, we’ve found several worthy of our Best Buy recommendation that cost less than £300.

You might be wondering about the cheapest way to pay for a smartphone. If you’re willing to shop around, it’s almost always cheaper over time to buy a phone outright and take a Sim-only deal rather than going down the contract route.

If you do decide to take the bigger initial hit of buying outright, be careful to find the best Sim-only deal. Some providers charge more than their rivals for a smaller offering.

If you’d rather spread out the cost of a smartphone, and don’t mind too much that you’ll likely spend more over time, you can take out a contract. To get the best one for you, consider how much data you need. Some of the cheapest contracts offer 500MB of data, but that's only useful for those who rarely use the internet.

In many cases, you can reduce the monthly cost of a contract if you spend a little more upfront. This might be a good middle ground for those who don’t want to fork out the full cost of the phone to start with, but who want to reduce monthly costs where possible.

Looking for something a little larger? Read our guide to best tablets for kids

Our pick of the best smartphones for kids

We’ve selected five mobile phones that offer great value. They’re not necessarily the very best we’ve seen, but they have decent battery life, clear displays and good cameras – plus, they’re easy to use.

Only logged-in Which? members can view our recommendations in the table below. If you’re not yet a member, you can get instant access by taking a £1 trial to Which?

Which? score 73%
Reviewed Apr 2016
Battery:
3 out of 5
Camera:
4 out of 5
Screen quality:
5 out of 5

This smartphone is good value for money. It has a stunning display and takes very good photos. Plus it offers respectable battery life, and will speed through most tasks you throw at it.

Which? score 68%
Reviewed Feb 2017
Battery:
4 out of 5
Camera:
4 out of 5
Screen quality:
4 out of 5

Decent battery life and nice photos make this a good value phone. It can't quite compete with our excellent Best Buys, but there's really not much to complain about.

Which? score 66%
Reviewed Oct 2016
Battery:
4 out of 5
Camera:
4 out of 5
Screen quality:
4 out of 5

Good for its price - good battery life, nice photos and it's easy to use. Call quality is also fairly decent, making for fuss-free catch-ups.

Which? score 65%
Reviewed May 2017
Battery:
4 out of 5
Camera:
4 out of 5
Screen quality:
4 out of 5

This phone offers good bang for its buck, with impressive battery life and is generally easy to use. It doesn't quite reach our Best Buy threshold as it doesn't really excel anywhere, but it's a good phone for its price.

Which? score 57%
Reviewed Dec 2016
Battery:
3 out of 5
Camera:
3 out of 5
Screen quality:
3 out of 5

The best choice if you want to spend less than £100. It's far from the best smartphone we've ever tested, but it offers reasonable call quality - so you won't struggle to understand your child. It also has a removable battery, which should make it easier to resolve any battery-related problems.

Here are three smartphones to avoid

If you don’t do your homework, you could end up buying a smartphone that will leave you, and your child, feeling frustrated – especially if you’ve spent a fair amount of money on them. To help you avoid making a mistake, we’ve highlighted three mobile phones that shouldn’t be anywhere near your shortlist.

Which? score 36%
Reviewed Jul 2017
Battery:
2 out of 5
Camera:
2 out of 5
Screen quality:
2 out of 5

A dreadful smartphone from a well-known brand. It has a dismal screen, takes poor photos and gives little battery life, especially considering how long it takes to charge.

Which? score 21%
Reviewed Jun 2016
Battery:
2 out of 5
Camera:
1 out of 5
Screen quality:
1 out of 5

This smartphone is so slow, and the screen is so poor that it makes for a very infuriating experience. Even if you're new to smartphones and considering this as a starter model, we simply can't recommend it.

Which? score 15%
Reviewed Jun 2016
Battery:
1 out of 5
Camera:
1 out of 5
Screen quality:
2 out of 5

This is an awful mobile phone that you should steer clear of at all costs. It has one of the worst screens that we've ever seen, it's slow and the battery life is abysmal.

How to set up parental controls

As smartphones are connected to the internet, they’re a window to the whole world. While there’s a lot of wonderful and educational content your child has access to, there’s other content you may want to protect them from.

The good news is there are steps you can take to restrict certain content, but these work slightly differently for Android and iOS devices.

Android

Android is an operating system made by Google used by many smartphone manufacturers. While it works similarly across most Android phones, many manufacturers like to put their own stamp on how everything is presented. This means the advice below might not exactly match with what you see on your smartphone, but it should be pretty similar.

If you want your child to have access to apps, games, music, TV shows and films on the Google Play Store, but you still want some restrictions in place, you can follow these steps:

  • Open the Play Store app.
  • Go to Menu, then Settings, then Parental controls.
  • Turn parental controls on.
  • Create a PIN, to stop someone who doesn’t know the PIN from changing the parental control settings.
  • Select the type of content you want to restrict access to.

If you want to restrict any kind of access to the Google Play Store, you can follow these steps:

  • Go to Settings on the smartphone, then Users.
  • Click Add user and confirm that you do indeed want to set up a new user.
  • Click Skip Setup. This will prevent this account from downloading content from the Google Play Store.

iOS

If you decide to buy an iPhone for your child, and want to restrict the content they can see, you can follow these steps:

  • Go to Settings, then General, then Restrictions.
  • Tap Enable Restrictions.
  • Create a passcode. You’ll need to remember this if you want to change your settings, or to turn off restrictions.
  • Choose which types of content you want to impose restrictions on.

You can remove access to apps and features, such as iTunes, Safari and Camera. You can also stop someone from installing or deleting apps.

If you’d rather limit the types of content your child can look at, but don’t want to completely remove access, you can do this too. For example, you can prevent access to certain websites.

Plus, you can stop privacy settings, as well as general settings, from being changed.

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