From old-school rotary phones to the latest iPhone, kids love playing with telephones in a variety of ways. A phone’s playability has greatly increased over the years, thanks to smartphone apps for games, music, messaging, and day-to-day living. Over the years, toy makers have noticed kids sneaking away from their parents’ phones, or parents giving the kids their old phones to play with. The problem is that kids may come across inappropriate apps and sites, even if parents install apps or software specifically for parental control purposes. Or, they may come across files in the phone’s hard drive that lead them to certain sites, even after parents clear the device’s history. Kids can also end up purchasing game add-ons by accident, which can result in hundreds of dollars depending on often they play the game.
For many companies, the toy phone was the logical answer to this dilemma, ranging from display models with no functions, or toy phones with limited functions. Other companies started releasing very simplistic phones with no data provisioning, meaning that the phones could only perform basic functions like talk, text and play preloaded music. These options allow parents to choose the right phone for their child based on age, maturity and development level. In addition, it ensures that kids have something else to play with besides their phones, which can be easily damaged in the hands of children. If you’re looking to surprise your child with a brand new phone, you’re in luck, because we’ve compiled a list of 20 best phones for kids from some of the best toy and telecommunication companies in the world.
Our Top 3 Picks
- Chat and Count Smart
- Voicemail System
- Toysery Cell Phone
- Brightly Colored Keys
- VTech Baby Little SmartPhone
- Perfect for Little Hands
The Best Phone for Kids and Toddlers Reviewed in 2018
Criteria Used in Evaluation of the Best Phones on Our List
Ultimately, a phone for kids has to offer some level of functionality similar to what you’d expect adult phones. Otherwise, there’s no incentive for kids to choose a play phone over your real, more exciting phone. That’s why we looked for authentic phone functions like talk and text mode, storing contacts, light up or beeping buttons, and touchscreens with icons. However, “authentic” means different things depending on the age level and type of phone. For example, most toddler phones are small and simple in design, with bright colors and large buttons. They may have pretend apps for simple games and activities, but they generally lack the functionality of a real phone. Another category of play phones is the true-to-life, but non-functioning phones often called display or dummy phones. These phones lack mechanical functions, but their completely realistic design is a function in itself, especially for kids who turn up their noses at “baby” phones.
Older kids, on the other hand, can handle more realistic phones, including old-fashioned rotary phones, such as Learning Resources’ Teaching Phone. Depending on the age and maturity level, they may also be ready for smartphones that can be provisioned on a 2G account through carriers such as T-Mobile and Straight Talk. While 2G is very limiting, most parents feel that children are not ready for phones with data plans until they’re at least in middle school. Furthermore, these phones only have talk and text, thereby giving you greater control who they speak with, and how long they’re on the phone. Finally, we chose phones with SOS emergency features that make it easy for kids to contact one of several pre-programmed numbers in case of emergency.
Everything from a phone’s functionality to its color scheme should inspire high levels of imaginative play. The foundation of imaginative play is role playing real-life scenarios, and toy phones work perfectly in many of these situations. Even babies with limited verbal abilities are engaged in role play when they press buttons and giggle over pre-recorded messages. As for high levels of imaginative play, that can be inspired by different elements, according to your child’s needs and preferences. Some kids, for example, enjoy display phones since they can talk directly into them without interruption. Parents can practice all sorts of calling situations with their children, such as calling 911 or a relative in case of emergencies.
We also looked for themed phones with beloved children’s characters like the Go Spidey Flip Phone or the Minnie Rotary Phone. These phones give children the option to “speak” to their cartoon idols, or even pretend to be that idol, which is very common with the Spiderman phone. That can lead to some very complex, enriching forms of imaginative play, especially if they’re playing with friends. It can also help them learn social skills like sharing, empathy, and helping the less fortunate. While these lessons are presented in cartoons and movies, children don’t process them nearly as well when they’re only spectators. By acting out scenarios as the character, they can truly begin to process these values, and how to apply them to real-life situations.
From babies to tweens, kids are the reigning experts of rough play and inexplicable accidents. That’s why we did our best to choose durable, kid-tested phones with sturdy casing and limited internal components. However, durability is different based on the type of phone and its target audience. Real phones, for example, are meant for older kids who are responsible enough to take care of a phone. They’re not meant to be dropped or banged around, so repeated episodes of rough handling would inevitably damage the phone. Still, the phones should be made of thick plastic to ensure that they can handle years of normal wear and tear. Furthermore, a well-made phone should be able to withstand the occasional drop from a reasonable height, even on sidewalks and pavement.
As for play phones, these fall into 2 categories: toy phones and display phones. Toy phones typically have amusing features such as light and sound effects, so how long such features work was something we factored into a phone’s overall durability. Most manufacturers use materials like ABS plastic, which prevents most forms of wear and tear on the casing, screen and buttons. Display phones, however, have no working features that can be damaged if a phone gets dropped, even in water (a big advantage with toddlers). On the other hand, the plastic is much thinner on these phones, so they may crack or get dented from repeated rough play, or being thrown onto hard surfaces. Hence, we have to acknowledge that display phones are more prone to damage than ABS plastic toy phones, but they should hold up just fine under normal levels of play.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What’s a good age to get my child a real phone?
A: There’s no universal answer to this question, but as a general rule, you’ll want to be sure that your kids are ready for certain features. In addition to using them, they should be responsible enough to use them safely. A big point of contention is social media, which most parents allow their children to use on the family computer in a busy area like the living room or kitchen. With a kids cell phone that can be used anywhere, anytime, it is inevitably harder to track your kids, even with tracking apps or software. Additional features like taking pictures and texting can become problematic as well if your child starts communicating with inappropriate or dangerous people.
Ultimately, the right age and maturity level is something you’ll have to decide for your own child. However, we advise phones with extremely limited functions in the beginning, which is why most of our phones only operate on 2G networks. Such a limited network cannot provide internet or app store access, which we believe is inappropriate for a starter phone. Once your child learns to be responsible with safe, built-in functions and a limited contact list, then you can think about smartphones and other advanced devices. Still, you should never feel pressured to get your child a certain type of phone by a certain age.
Q: Wouldn’t a display phone be too boring for a child?
A: For some children, yes, but there are children that actually prefer reality over special effects and amusing features. In fact, there are plenty of kids who don’t like phones that talk back to them or play songs at the push of a button. According to them, that’s not what a real phone does, and that takes away from the fun of having a phone, even if it’s fake. They may also have little to no interest in cute characters and animations, or big, colorful buttons that make it loud and clear that it’s a toy.
The benefit to a display phone is that it’s modeled after existing phones, which is why you see authentic logos for carriers like Verizon. Because they’re commonly used by cell phone stores, they are completely accurate in terms of exterior features, including the size, color, screen image, buttons and icons. While it may seem boring that none of these features actually work, this is not an issue with kids who have imagination to spare. For them, role playing situations like ordering pizza or making a doctor’s appointment are incredibly fun and interesting, but only if it’s done on a “real” phone.
Q: Which phones are best for children with communication disorders?
A: All the phones on our list can benefit children with communication disorders, which are disorders that affect an individual’s ability to understand, detect and apply language and speech in their daily lives. Many children with communication disorders suffer from issues like speech and sound disorders, as well as psychological issues that make it difficult for them to express themselves in public. Play phones can be very helpful in working through these issues, since they can provide a safe outlet for kids to talk and role play at their own pace.
Real phones, however, can be extremely helpful — perhaps even life saving — if they offer alternative communication options like texting and SOS emergency contacts. The SOS emergency option allows you to program a few number as emergency contacts, so just pressing that button can help children signal that they’re in trouble. You can also role play with real phones, by the way, if you’re child is in another room. They can practice situations like “ordering” from the kitchen while they’re in the living room, or practice role plays with relatives and friends who are in different locations.
Q: Do any of the real phones come with warranties?
A: We know for sure that Mosthink’s T-Mobile UNIWA comes with a one year warranty. Jethro phones come with information for how to register your phone online, which is required to validate the warranty. As of now, Padcod does not offer a warranty program for their phones, but we can assure you of the phone’s durability for several reasons. First, the phone is a good height and width for holding securely in a child’s hand. That means less chance of dropping, although its thick screen should hold up perfectly fine when dropped from reasonable heights. Second, the keypad is flat, rather than individual numbers so there’s less wear and tear on individual keys. In addition, a flat interface with no spaces between the buttons means no dust and debris getting into the phone, which is another reason phones eventually malfunction.
As for damage to internal components, that’s unlikely to happen for a very long time since the phone has such limited capabilities relative to a smartphone. The main reason that smartphones need to be replaced every 1½ years on average is because they do and support so many complex functions, mostly through apps. They’re also very thin with extremely delicate screens that shatter easily. Hence, the internal components may get damaged when the phone is dropped, thereby causing apps and built-in features to malfunction. That’s why we stuck to classic 2 and 3G phones with full keyboard layouts, which are known to last several years as long as they’re not exposed to moisture.
Q: Are any of these phones drool/ waterproof?
A: This is a really big concern for parents of babies or toddlers who are still putting things in their mouths. The only phones that are definitely water/ drool proof are the display phones with no working features. These phones lack internal components like batteries and microchips, so there’s nothing that can be destroyed, nor anything that can harm your baby or toddler. All other phones, including most of the play phones, have batterized features which will stop working if the phones are repeatedly exposed to moisture. Even if you remove the batteries, there are internal components that can act as contaminants, so you should to keep these phones out of your child’s mouth as much as possible.
Q: What is ABS plastic, and why does it matter?
A: Plastics can be quite confusing, and sometimes scary depending on what you read about them. ABS plastic, however, is a very useful type of thick, durable plastic commonly used in toys like Legos. It’s also used for a wide variety of applications such as computer keys and plastic face guards on wall sockets. This plastic has a strong resistance to corrosion with an extremely low melting point. That means it can be exposed to much higher temperatures than most plastics without changing in shape or texture. Plus, it’s been proven to be generally harmless since it doesn’t have any known carcinogens or adverse health effects from repeated exposure. Its proven safety and resistance to physical impacts makes it ideal for toy phones, especially for babies and toddlers.