Smartphones with Training Wheels: The Best Phones for Young Kids

If you're a parent today, you probably grew up in a time before cell phones—"back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth." But now that you're raising your own children, you want a cell phone glued to your kid's hip so you can keep in touch at all times. But which cell phone is best? We suggest two models, one from AT&T and the other from Verizon, that are ideal for elementary-school-age children. And we throw in a third in case your kids have entered the dreaded tween years.

Filip 2

The Filip 2, designed for children ages four to eleven, is an excellent way to stay connected with your progeny. This phone straps onto your child's wrist à la Dick Tracy's two-way wrist TV so it won't get lost. And its two-button design makes easy to use. The Filip 2 comes in bright colors and features a bold display for maximum visual appeal.

You can program up the phone with to five predetermined numbers. The device also includes one-way texting so you can send messages to your child like "Dinner is ready" or "Don't bring mud into the house."

The Filip 2 also includes smart-locator technology that employs a combination of GPS, GSM and WiFi. You can create up to five "safe zones" and receive notifications when your child enters or leaves one of them. You manage the device through your smartphone (either iOS or Android).

In the event of an emergency, your child can hold the red button down for 2 seconds to call each of the five contacts in turn until someone picks up. While this is happening, the call is recorded (along with background noises), and the Filip 2 sends location updates every minute.

Different-size wrist straps and extra spacers (sold separately) help ensure the right fit so the Filip 2 stays on your child's wrist. The watch comes in Superhero Blue or Watermelon Red, although green and orange replacement bands ($34 each) and spacers ($10 for a bundle of three) are available. The Filip 2 retails for $150 and is available only on the AT&T network.

GizmoGadget and GizmoPal 2

The GizmoGadget (left) and GizmoPal 2 (right) are Verizon's answer to AT&T's FiIip 2. Both are worn on the wrist. The GizmoPal 2, which is for children ages four to seven, closely resembles the Filip 2 in features. You can program up to four contacts, and you can set up GPS boundaries and receive notifications when your child crosses them. The device retails for $80.

The GizmoGadget is designed for slightly older kids (ages six to twelve). It's more like a real phone, with a 1.2-inch touchscreen and the ability to accept calls from up to ten numbers. You can send and receive text messages and emojis on it, too. Plus it has fitness features such as a timer, a stopwatch, and a step counter. It can even count jump-rope skips. The GizmoGadget includes a GPS locator and boundary settings. It comes in navy and red and sells for $150.

Blu R1 HD smartphone

OMG, your child just became a tween—the age when peer pressure and the need to be cool strike with a vengeance. At this point, your kids have outgrown the Gizmo Gadget, GizmoPal 2, and Filip 2. They want a device with more features and a more "mature" (i.e., practically teen-level) look. But you don't want to spend a bunch of money on a fancy device, especially if it's not attached to their wrist. Enter the Blu R1 HD Smartphone, priced at $100 for the standard version without offers and ads. (Amazon's super-low advertised $50 "starting at" price for the phone seems to involve some combination of your being an Amazon Prime member and your being willing to have your tween receive targeted lockscreen ads and offers from unspecified vendors on it—which may not be the best way to get your little consumer started out on a footing of scepticism about the wonderful world of things to buy.) Either way, if your tween drops the R1 HD or walks into a pool with it still in his or her pocket, you won't be out the rent money.

Even better, the R1 offers a ton of features for the price. It's an unlocked device so you can choose any GSM network you want. It comes preinstalled with Amazon apps, which are particularly useful if you're already signed up for Amazon Prime. It has front- and back-facing cameras, for taking pictures and video; a long battery life; a 5-inch HD curved touchscreen display; a microSD slot that is expandable to 64GB, and dual-sim capabilities so the phone can hold two numbers simultaneously. The operating system is Android v6.0 Marshmallow. It comes with 8GB of storage and 1GB of RAM. For an extra $10 you can double the RAM size to 2GB.

So you get a real smartphone for a pretty good price, making it tolerably expendable—and in the hands of a youngster, it's likely to be expended, sooner or later.

Photo credits: FilIP, LG, Blu.