The antidote to your child’s smartphone addiction (and, let’s face it, your own alarming habit) is a dumb phone. The dunce of the cell market may not have all the bells and whistles to which you and your child have grown accustomed, but that just might be the for the best. The best smartphone alternatives for kids don’t mess around with screen time-limiting apps or calls for discipline; instead, they just provide the bare essentials. These simple phones for kids can be used for conversations and some light fun, but are free of such distractions as apps and web browsing.
Some dumb phones are reminiscent of the old brick-like cell phones you bought before that Apple device that encouraged you to tap and swipe. Others are purposefully crafted to be both beautiful and minimal, filtering out features that are standard on smartphones. And finally, there are phone alternatives, devices that let you communicate with your son or daughter without a keypad or screen. All provide talk and some provide text, but none provide easy access to social media, streaming, and social media. Bonus: The comparatively low cost of these dumb phones means you won’t need to take a second job should the device break, which may be the smartest choice of all.
The original 'dumb phone' that launched a movement, Light's second-gen phone offers just enough functionality to make it a daily driver. Texts and calls are no problem, and an alarm will get your kid's lazy butt out of bed. There's even a primitive music function for a playlist or two. But no social media, browser, or anything else that will glue their eyes to the device.
The Relay, with its one-button communication, seems like a walkie-talkie. But with 4G LTE and WiFi connection ($7/month), it’s way more high-tech. Send the kid out with one of the brightly colored, rugged, and water-resistant squares, and you can communicate with him or her through an app on your phone or with a one-button push on a unit of your own. Unlike the traditional walkie-talkie, your channel is private, and you can track your child’s location in real-time via the app. More features are coming: Music channels administered by parental control, games, Google Relay, private channels, and voice messages are all promised.
Our favorite Finnish phone maker is cashing in on nostalgia with its 3310, which comes complete with its classic snake game. Will your child be as enraptured as you were all those years ago? Doubtful. But he or she will be able to complain for up to 22 hours of talk time (and up to a month of battery life in standby) should you be willing to listen.
Built to military impact specifications and waterproof, you child's well-worn excuse of having broke his or her phone won't hold up under cross-examination. While Plum's Ram 8 does have a five-megapixel camera and 4G connectability, there's no browser and only primitive texting. We love the addition of a programmable 'SOS' button for peace of mind for you and your kid.
The Jelly Pro is small — about the size of a credit card. But it’s more or less a regular smartphone, powered by the Android 7.0 Nougat operating system and including apps, GPS, messaging, gaming, and just about every other feature we’ve come to expect. So why include it on this list? Exactly because it’s small. Without a sun-blocking silhouette, kids just tend to use it less. With its size, it’s not super useful for all of those features you’ve come to expect on a smartphone, making it an ingenious method of reducing screen time and usage.
Items that are made for the most rugged conditions in the world — military, first responders, Antarctic explorers, etc. — are uniquely engineered to withstand the rigors of childhood. That’s why the XP5s makes our list. Its rugged case comes with a three-year comprehensive warranty, meaning if your child somehow manages to break it, you’re covered. Meanwhile, texting and calls are in, while browsing, apps, and streaming are out. By the time your warranty lapses, your kids will be ready for a smartphone. Note: For now, the XP5s is only available on Sprint and AT&T carriers.
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