Choosing the best phone for kids in 2020 isn't the same as choosing the best phone for people of other ages.
When we're ranking the best phones in the US and the best phones in the UK for adults we're looking for phones that do as much as possible, but when recommending the best phones for children we're more interested in what the phones stop our kids from doing.
For younger children that may mean restricting the device to just calling and texting; for teens, it often means enabling them to use the apps their friends use without encountering the worst that the internet can offer.
Some phone firms make smartphones specifically for children, but most of our picks are phones that are easiest to adapt for a child’s use. Also, a phone that's great for a seven-year-old might not impress your teenager. Here we've picked the best phones for children in specific age groups based not just on parental controls but on durability, battery life, and affordability.
To identify the best phones for each age group we set different criteria. For the youngest children we focused on extremely simple, rugged devices that enable parents to stay in touch; for older kids, phones that covered the basics without exposing our kids to internet awfulness. And for high school students we considered the current crop of affordable smartphones.
As a rule of thumb, for anyone but the youngest children a phone running iOS 13 or Android 10 (or their successors) is a safe bet: both platforms have excellent parental control features that offer fine-grained control over pretty much everything.
For young kids
Best phone for young children
The Relay is a kind of GPS-enabled walkie-talkie with push-to-talk rather than the familiar calling screen.
It uses 4G LTE for US-wide range and also connects to Wi-Fi networks you've set up in the parent app, and its battery is good for two days between charges.
You can create geo-fenced areas from 50 to 200m across and be notified if your child starts to wander off, and the case is both tough and water-resistant – and no screen means no risk of a smashed display rendering your Relay redundant.
Downsides? It's only available on contract with a $9.99 monthly service charge (plus tax), and while the marketing blurb says it's smaller than a Post-It note they mean a big Post-It: it's two and a half inches square and half an inch deep.
There are multiple Xploras, of which the Go Clip is the simplest and cheapest: it's designed to hook onto a belt or backpack via the included carabiner hook and enable you to track your child's location via your smartphone app.
It's designed for places such as festivals where your little ones can easily wander off, and you can set up Safety Zones that will automatically notify you if your child leaves them.
The Go is sold SIM-free but if you supply one you can also use it as a phone, with simple touchscreen controls and support for text messages and emoji.
Best phone for pre-teens
We fond memories of the original 3310 from 2000, a phone so tough that if you dropped it you'd need to buy a new floor. The new Nokia 3310 3G isn't quite so tough, but it's still reassuringly chunky and makes for a really great children’s phone.
There's a brilliant battery with a whopping one-month standby time, a crisp, clear screen, an okay camera and a customizable interface, although to the best of our knowledge there's no easy way to remove the pre-installed Facebook and Twitter icons.
Although the 3310 3G is cheap, it's still on the pricier side of the budget feature-phone market: there are other Nokias that do much the same as the 3310 for less, albeit with a bit less style.
- Read our in-depth Nokia 3310 review
The Jitterbug Flip was designed for and is marketed to older users, but the same features that make it a great phone for Grandma mean it's also a good phone for younger users too.
There's none of that new-fangled Facebook or Twitter nonsense here, just big, bright buttons, a very loud speaker and a crystal-clear display wrapped in a case that's extremely reminiscent of the iconic Motorola Razr V3.
There's a camera, albeit not a fantastic one, and the user interface is simple to navigate.
Unfortunately the Flip is quite a bit more expensive than other feature phones and it's limited to the GreatCall phone service in the US, although it's available unlocked in the UK.
- Read our in-depth Jitterbug Flip review
When we say "cheap" we mean cheap: at the time of writing our local Argos is selling this lovely little phone in the UK for just £17.95 (around $20 / AU$35) SIM-free.
It's very similar to the Nokia 3310 3G, but this one's purely 2G – which means it couldn't use the internet even if it really, really wanted to – and focused very firmly on the essentials: calling, texting and playing Snake.
The battery is good for 15 hours of talking or a month on standby, there's a built-in FM radio with headphone socket that your child probably won’t ever use, and it comes in black, blue or pink.
Best phone for teens
The iPhone SE is the best iPhone choice for kids as it is the cheapest and smallest, so you’ll spend less and they won’t struggle with a massive phone. Released in 2020 it means it’ll get software updates for four or five years, so get your child a case for its fragile glass construction and there’s no reason it won’t last that long.
There are tons of cases and accessories on the market, plus it comes with headphones in the box. If your family are all on iPhones, your kids won’t miss out on the family iMessage chat, plus you can share photos and other files easily over AirDrop.
You could get an older iPhone secondhand but if you want to buy new, the SE is the best choice.
- Read our in-depth iPhone SE review
With a low starting price, this is a very capable Android smartphone that will keep your kid connected.
It has the latest Android 10, decent cameras, good battery life and a plastic build that hopefully won’t smash too easily. It’s got 64GB storage that should be enough for most children’s app and photo needs, plus a headphones jack.
Annoyingly it has no NFC so you can’t make mobile payments, but otherwise this is a great value teen option.
- Read our in-depth Moto G8 review
If it has to be an iPhone but you’re on a strict budget, try and find the now-discontinued iPhone 8. The range of cases on the market is unparalleled, and for undemanding use it’s still got decent enough specs.
The camera is solid, it has wireless charging, and comes with all the advantages if your family uses Apple products like the iPad and Mac, too.
A downside is that it won’t be supported for more than another year or two with software updates, so if you want the latest security and features for longer, try the iPhone SE 2020.
- Read our in-depth iPhone 8 review
There's a lot to love about the Moto E6 Plus, starting with the cost: with a typical street price of just £99.99 it delivers an awful lot of bang for very little buck.
It can be a little confusing to navigate the various different models, some of which have some differences in their features, but the core device is solid and smart with a 13MP main camera and an 8MP one for selfies, a decent octa-core processor, expandable storage via microSD cards and a long-lasting 3,000mAh battery.
It's no longer getting Android updates, though, so it runs Android 9 rather than the newer Android 10. Nevertheless it's a sensible buy.
- Read our in-depth Moto E6 Plus review
Honor's a big name in budget smartphones because it offers great value for money. The Honor 10 Lite is no exception, with a number of providers offering it for free on very low-priced monthly contracts.
The main negative isn't the hardware, but Google's decision to suspend Honor and its parent, Huawei, from future Android and app updates: the future is currently murky.
That's a shame, because the phone itself is brilliant. It's not too big and not too small, it looks fantastic, it has good online storage and there's a decent processor with 3GB of RAM for impressively smooth performance.
There's a pre-fitted screen protector to guard against drops, a big battery and a selfie camera with a whopping 24 megapixels; the rear camera is a clever dual-camera setup with 13MP. It’s a superb phone for selfie addicts as well as everyday use.
- Read our in-depth Honor 10 Lite review
- Step it up to the best iPhone 2020