There’s a good chance that, when you were a kid, mobiles weren’t that common. Even if they were, they weren’t the 5-inch plus pocket-friendly computers they are today. I still remember getting my Nokia candybar mobile and how excited I was.
Today, kids are increasingly connected and their tech is leaps and bounds above anything we might have considered in our childhood. They also seem to want more and more of it.
Whether you’re looking for a simple way to keep an eye on your toddler while they explore their world or you’re searching for an affordable option for a teen or young adult, we’re going to break down the best UK mobile options for kids in 2016!
While the exact features you might need will differ based on the age of your child and what you want them to do (or not be able to do) with their mobile, we felt these considerations offered benefits to any age group.
Affordability: Even as adults, accidents happen. Handing a kid a £500 mobile sounds like a recipe for disaster to us.
Kid-Centric Features: While a kid can use most any device out there--sometimes better than us--we wanted to find options that offered specific benefits to a range of ages and skill levels.
Good Battery Life: If the mobile only lasts an hour before it dies, it’s not going to do much to keep the kids from coming after yours to play games. If you’re using it for emergency calling or to keep tabs on their location, extended battery life also adds peace of mind.
Durability: While the rugged options out there are probably out of the price range of most kids mobile budgets, we wanted to find options that will stand up to the occasional tumble and deal with being tossed in bag or sat on from time to time.
With those criteria in mind, we made our picks.
Rugged designs and simple interfaces for tiny minds and active living
Offering voice dialing, GPS tracking and an emergency mode, the Tinitell smartband makes it simple for even toddlers to stay connected. You program numbers in using an app on your phone and when your kid needs to place a call, they push the button on the front and say the name of the contact.
While it isn't waterproof, it is splash resistant and the rubbery wristband and soft casing should stand up well to the abuse of being attached to a small child's wrist. The magnetic charging dock means no need for tiny fingers to line up tiny plugs.
Their FAQ notes that the smartband will work with any 2G carrier using the 2100mhz frequency. Recommended UK carriers include giffgaff, EE and O2.
Doro Secure 580
Featuring 4 speed dial buttons, an emergency assistance button and large function buttons, the Doro Secure 580 offers a look and feel similar to candybar mobiles with a simplified interface perfect for younger kids. Support for a range of frequencies makes the phone compatible with most UK networks.
Doro Secure 580 (Unlocked)
From £89.99 at Amazon
If you're looking for a way to keep track of your kids, texting a code to the phone sends back an link to the phone's location on Google Maps. While it doesn't offer a ton of additional features or flair, the price and features line up to create a great value-conscious mobile for kids.
Phones with Basic Calling and GPS Tracking
It seems that while mobiles get fancier each year, we’re doing less calling on them than ever before. But handing a kid a phone with high-speed mobile data, apps and social media opens up opportunities many parents aren't comfortable with.
If your kids want to call and text but you don’t want them to have the full features of a smartphone, a feature phone is a great option. They still get to talk with friends and you don’t have to worry about endless app downloads or a surprise on your monthly tariff due to a weekend-long YouTube binge.
Doro PhoneEasy 508
Looking for something more like a traditional mobile? The Doro PhoneEasy 508 features a large keypad, dedicated function buttons and a small display perfect for use by smaller fingers.
Doro PhoneEasy 508 (Unlocked)
From £29.99 at Amazon
Lack of web access or apps means you don't have to worry about teens running up charges or accessing things you don't want them to see.
Affordable, full-featured smartphones for accident-prone teens
While the original iPhone and early Android mobiles forever changed the way the world communicates, smartphones aren’t the revolutionary things they once were.
Today, you can find Android mobiles in the low-£100s that would run circles around these earlier devices. Jump into the £200s and you have a full line of options that are more than enough for most teens.
Motorola Moto E (2nd Generation)
With a 4.5-inch qHD display, quad-core processor and support for microSD cards, the Moto E is a capable, fully-featured smartphone. It costs a fraction of the current flagships and the 1GB of RAM should handle basic daily use and light gaming just fine. There's also a 5MP camera for capturing quick snapshots or sharing images on social media.
Motorola Moto E (2nd Gen)
From £99.99 at Amazon
One downside is that there's only 8GB of internal storage so taking advantage of the microSD expansion card slot is recommended.
With support for a range of prepaid and postpaid networks, there’s a good chance you can find a tariff to suit your budget as well.
Motorola G4 Play
Upgrading to the Moto G4 Play, you'll find a larger 5-inch screen, a faster processor and double the RAM. The 8MP camera will take images rivaling most entry level point-and-shoot cameras.
Motorola Moto G4 Play
From £115.98 on Amazon
Support for microSD cards ensures plenty of room of music, apps and other media as well. While it costs a little more than the Moto E, the difference in performance and features is noticeable.
If you’re looking for a full-featured mobile for a responsible teen, we think this is a superb option. However, if you have any concerns about misuse or you’re looking for a younger child, sticking with the Moto E will provide most of the functionality at half the price.
What about an iPhone?
It seems everywhere you look these days, there's a kid with an iPhone. There's a good chance your kids have asked you for one as well.
However, the latest iPhone doesn't come cheap. This makes us hesitant to recommend a new iPhone for kids or teens. Even with insurance, you'll likely pay more for a replacement if it's broken than our previous teen-friendly recommendations.
However, if you're willing to buy used or refurbished, iPhones from the past generation or two are still very capable mobile devices. For example, depending on your network and internal storage preferences, giffgaff offers three different iPhone 5 models with prices ranging between £119 and £149.
Just remember, iPhones don't support microSD cards. So choose a model with plenty of storage.
Any other options for me?
Yep. Blu also makes a variety of Android mobiles with budget-friendly prices. Options start at around £40 with high-end models topping out around £200. All options are unlocked from the factory and many are quad-band. This means you can use them on nearly any GSM network--including popular prepaid options.
The top end options--such as the VIVO 6 and Pure XR--offer many of the features of major flagships at a price that is easier to stomach. Better still, it is dropped in the pool or left at the mall, you’re not out £500+.
Blu constantly releases new models, so we won’t get in-depth with details. However, in our opinion these are some good ranges depending on your needs.
- Basic: 4-inch+ display, at least 1GB of RAM, dual-core processor at 1Ghz or higher
- Media Playback: 5-inch+ display, at least 2GB of RAM, 8GB of internal storage + microSD card, dual-core or quad-core processor at 1Ghz or higher
- Gaming: 5-inch+ display, at least 2GB of RAM. 16+GB of internal storage, quad-core processor at least 1.2Ghz or higher
Anything else to keep in mind?
Yep. Glad you asked.
If your kids play a lot of games or have a large collection of downloaded videos or music, choosing an option with microSD card support will ensure they can fit their favorites on their mobile. For internal storage, we recommend starting with a minimum of 8GB, though 16GB is preferable.
Related: You can compare the best MicroSD cards here.
The apps added by the manufacturer or network and the operating system all take up room on the device. In most cases, you can count on these default apps taking up at least 1GB of storage space.
Alternative Options to Mobiles
Depending on your kids’ wants and needs, they might not need a full-time mobile of their own. We’ve found a few options that might work for extremely light use or situations where calling or mobile data service isn’t required.
Own an iPod Touch or Tablet? You can use apps to simulate many features from a smartphone. With regular access to Wi-Fi, you might get away without any monthly cost at all!
How do I do that?
There’s a good chance your kids already have Google or Facebook accounts. If so, both Messenger and Google Hangouts allow voice calling over Wi-Fi. If you’d prefer to keep your kids off social media, Viber and WhatsApp offer voice calling features as well--though their friends will need to have the app too.
And what if I want a more mobile-like experience?
As long as the device has a microphone, you can use Skype to add a phone number to it for a small annual fee. This number can place calls to other mobiles or landlines. Voice minute rates depend on the destination. However, Skype offers a range of bundle minute deals to make calling affordable.
Upcycle an Old Mobile
The old mobile collecting dust in your office drawer might be a great fit for your teen. You've already bought it, so you don't have to worry about costs should they break it. Most networks will also unlock your mobile for a fee should you need to use it with a new one.
For even more savings, you can use the method listed above for tablets and iPod touches to use VoIP instead. However, if your teen is on the go, they might have trouble using features unless Wi-Fi access is nearby.
Although the number of younger kids with mobiles is increasing--and they might tell you all their friends have one--there was a time when we all made it through our day without one. If you’re holding out and feel that the best choice for your kids is none at all, there’s some evidence to back you up.
There's nothing wrong with no mobile at all.
Ultimately, it is up to you to know what features are best for your child and what you’re comfortable with. We hope this guide helped to highlight the best options out there and answer any questions you might have.
If you’re one of the many parents out there that think mobiles and kids shouldn’t mix, let us know why in the comments! On the other side, if this guide helped you find the perfect option for your kid or we missed a question you might have, we’d love to hear from you too!
P.S. If you’d like to be able to track what your child does with their mobile device or place restrictions on their features, most major networks offer a form of parental controls or allow you to set per-line limits for common features--such as data or texting--through your account dashboard.
These tools also offer a great way to start building responsibility by creating a tariff and highlighting the true cost of the services they might view as a common part of life. Contact your network to see what options are available to you.