Your buying guide for the best kids’ phones in 2017
Long gone are the days when you can fob off a child with your second-hand phone. These days they know more about tech than most adults, and they want the best of the best just as you do. Find out how to keep children safe on the internet.
Here we round up what we think are some of the best phones for kids, those that blend value with ease of use, strong build and, importantly, enough power to play the latest games and watch YouTube.
Also see: Best Phone Deals
How much should I spend?
It’s really up to you. While we wouldn’t advise paying flagship prices on the very best phones, we do recognise that some parents will be prepared to dig deep.
Dirt-cheap, basic phone are great second phones for kids, which they can use on the trip to and from school. They won’t get distracted by Snapchat or the latest game or attract thieves; and it won’t matter too much when the inevitable happens and they lose or break their precious phone.
Sometimes buying a Chinese phone can be a very good way to get an attractively priced phone with much higher specifications than you would otherwise get in the UK.
However, steer clear of Xiaomi and Meizu models, which don’t always preinstall Google Play and can sometimes pop up Chinese-language notifications that may be confusing to a child. If you buy from China, first read our advice on buying grey-market tech.
One thing to keep in mind is that your child will be using the phone on a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) basis unless you’re prepared to take out a contract in their name. If you want to go down this route you’ll save money by buying the phone upfront and choosing a decent SIM-only deal.
A good compromise for a PAYG deal that you can keep an eye on is offered by GiffGaff, which lets you purchase low-cost one-month goodybags that offer a certain number of minutes, text and data, and no more. Your child won’t need to keep tabs on what they’re using and neither will you.
You should also consider own-brand PAYG handsets offered by mobile operators, which are often subsidised by the operator in order to get you on their network, such as the Vodafone models in our chart. Such phones will usually be sold with a non-negotiable £10 top-up, which will add to the initial cost.
Is an Android phone or iPhone better for my child?
Whether you choose to go down the iPhone- or Android route will largely depend on your budget, what your child is used to, and how loudly they scream.
Most iPhones will be well over budget for a child, but it is still possible to buy older models such as the iPhone 5s secondhand. The colourful iPhone 5c is perhaps the cheapest and best fit for a child, but if they demand a current-generation iPhone look to the slightly cheaper iPhone SE rather the iPhone 7. Even this, though, might be more expensive than what you had in mind.
Most of the phones we recommend run Android, which is every bit as good as iOS (and typically has many more free apps). It’s also very simple to use, but read our Android vs iPhone comparison to get a better idea of the key differences.
Both platforms are equally suited to children in the respect that they can be locked down so that your child accesses only what you want it to. Read our advice on the best parental control software.
And, despite what you may have read, neither platform – although it is possible – is likely to get a virus. We’ve rounded up some mobile antivirus options here. Also see: How to remove a virus on Android.
Specifications and features to look for in a kid’s phone
Most kids are used to playing games on a tablet before getting their own phone, and will be used to the larger screen that offers. But a large-screen phone is much easier to drop and smash on the floor than a more compact model that will fit in their pocket.
The type of mid-range phones we are looking at here will typically have HD or full-HD screens under 5in in size. Also see: Best kids’ tablets 2017
Because we all know kids can be clumsy, a waterproof phone or rugged phone would be ideal. Whichever phone you choose, we highly recommend you also purchase a case to go with it.
Adults can often overlook front-facing cameras, but for kids who love to take selfies, mess around with Snapchat and video chat, they are highly important. Don’t even consider buying a child a phone that doesn’t have a selfie camera.
You needn’t worry too much about the core specifications, since most phones these days have or are capable of everything a child requires: casual gaming, YouTube and a camera.
The one thing you should look out for, though, is storage: we’d advise avoiding anything with under 16GB of internal storage (thankfully such phones are becoming much less common these days, and many – at least of the Chinese offerings – have 32GB).
Look for a model with microSD support that allows you to add on more storage, and be sure to take advantage of cloud services such as Google Photos to back up multimedia online so more storage can be made available for apps and games.
Backing up photos and videos through the cloud will also mean they aren’t lost when the phone ultimately is lost or broken.
There’s plenty of competition in Android’s budget market, but the Moto G5 is the best around right now. The build quality alone feels like it belongs on a much more expensive phone, while the fingerprint gesture controls genuinely improve the Android experience. The benchmarks and battery hold it back, but they’re not unreasonable given the price – and you won’t find a much better looking phone at £169.
Read our Moto G5 review.
Overall, the A3’s improvements for 2017 are pretty significant and make this nice-size, reasonably priced phone even more appealing for those who like the idea of the Galaxy S7 but can’t quite stretch their budget that far. Its waterproofing and fingerprint sensor are both convenient and practical, and the good-looking design makes it easy to forget that this phone has a price tag that’s half that of many flagship phones.
That said, there are alternatives if you’re willing to look to other brands, and you might be surprised to find that you’ll get more for your money. We’d recommend checking out the Moto G5 and Nokia’s new offerings before you buy the Samsung Galaxy A3 to see whether they appeal to your wallet a bit more.
Read our Samsung Galaxy A3 review.
We like the improved design of the Smart Prime 7 and Vodafone has even dropped the price, even if it is by £4. You get a decent phone for the money but we can’t help but be a little disappointed by the downgrade to a Snapdragon 210 and that the camera is suddenly limited to 720p. Prime 6 owners have little reason to upgrade and although you can’t go too wrong for just £75 you might be better off spending a little more on a better rival.
Read our Vodafone Smart Prime 7 review.
The Galaxy A5 2017 is a fantastic mid-range phone, with the looks of a flagship and some decent performance and all-round specs. Our only real concern is that Samsung is pricing itself out the market, with just a small difference in price separating this and the Galaxy S7 – we like the new Galaxy A5, but we’d choose the higher-spec Galaxy S7 every time.
Read our Samsung Galaxy A5 2017 review.
With various upgrades including a waterproof design, great cameras and stock Android, the new Moto G 2015 is a great affordable phone. The device is still a bit chunky and it’s a shame to see the stereo speakers gone. It’s worth opting for the model with 16GB of storage and 2GB of RAM. Now with a price cut to £149, the Moto G 3rd-gen is the best budget phone you can buy.
Read our Motorola Moto G (3rd gen) review.
Vodafone’s Smart Ultra 7 in our opinion isn’t really an upgrade over the Smart Ultra 6. It’s £10 more expensive than the previous model and doesn’t really perform as well – the Smart 7 had worse benchmarking results than its predecessor in GFXBench, scoring 13fps compared to 14fps in T-Rex and 5.3fps compared to 5.7fps in Manhattan, although the Smart Ultra 7 bested the 6 in Geekbench 3 with results of 3002 compared to 2469. The camera, though the same on paper, seems to have had a slight downgrade too, producing rather washed out photos during testing. On the other hand, the 5.5in 1080p HD display is vibrant and crisp, and one must remember that the smartphone only costs £135 so if you are on a budget, it’s still a solid option.
Read our Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 review.
The new Moto E 4G is a worthy upgrade over the original Moto E, with upgrades in every area. For an extra £20 it adds 4G LTE connectivity and a front-facing camera, plus performance and storage improvements. It might not be as fast as the grey-market Doogee F1 Turbo Mini, but this Moto E 4G is a much better deal than the EE Kestrel, making it the best budget 4G phone intended for UK sale we’ve seen.
Read our Motorola Moto E 4G review.
The UMIDIGI Z Pro offers fantastic value at just over £200. It has a large battery, a decent screen and powerful performance. The dual-camera doesn’t offer quite the relief we were hoping for following poor performance from the UMI Z, but this is still a great phone.
Read our UMIDIGI Z Pro review.
The OnePlus X was the best value smartphone of 2015. We love the premium design in a smaller form factor to the firm’s other phones. Software is a strong point and you get a gorgeous screen. However, cuts had to be made somewhere and the X is lacking features such as NFC, 11ac and Wi-Fi. It also is missing the fingerprint scanner and USB Type-C port found on the OnePlus 2. Battery life isn’t great and cameras aren’t best in class but this is a great phone for the price.
Read our OnePlus X review.
The SE is what many iPhone fans have been asking for, and it’s a great upgrade if you’re still using an iPhone 5. For 5S owners, things aren’t quite as clear cut. If you’re not happy with the 5S’s performance, the SE should solve that problem. However, unless you really want to shoot 4K videos, you’re not going to notice a massive improvement in photo quality. There’s a much bigger jump in quality if you’re coming from an iPhone 5 (or earlier), however. In 2017 the SE might be more expensive but Apple has doubled the storage making it a more attractive buy.
Read our iPhone SE review.