Smartphone Alternatives for Your Kids

Not ready to get your child a smartphone? Here are some great alternatives to help you keep in touch with your kids when they are away!

Most young children aren’t ready for a smartphone yet. However, we still want to be able to get a hold of them. Gone are the days when parents would have to drive around the neighborhood looking for the house with all the bikes in front to find your child.

Now we can give our children devices and be able to let them know it’s time to come home for dinner. We also can just have peace of mind knowing exactly where our children are at any given moment. It doesn’t seem like there are many options these days for these devices, but there are actually quite a few!

These devices are best suited for children in elementary school. Once your child hits Jr. High it’s definitely time to start thinking about a smartphone so they can communicate with their friends. It is a great idea to start your child out with something simple, to allow them to prove they can take care of the device in order to graduate to a smartphone when they hit Jr. High.


This is the closest thing to a smartphone you will find, that is safe for kids. The Pinwheel has an operating system that runs over the top of Android that turns the smartphone into a basic feature phone. This means the phone can talk and text, but has no access to a web browser or YouTube.

The Pinwheel has a list of highly curated apps that you are allowed to enable for your child’s device and you can set various timeframes throughout the day, like only learning apps during school hours or only music apps at bedtime. It’s seriously an amazing phone, and the best part is you can include in your family’s cell phone plan if you are using ATT or T-Mobile! (Verizon users, hopefully coming soon)

Gizmo Watch

My favorite smartphone alternative is the Gizmo Watch for Verizon. You don’t actually have to have your entire family on a Verizon account to use the Watch, but the Watch does need to be on a Verizon account.

The watch itself can call a specific list of contacts that you set. You can also allow it to text caregivers as well. There are only a set amount of phrases they can send, but they can record a voice message to send you.

The Gizmo comes with a watch band, but it is a standard 20mm size, so you can change it out with any band you can find. My son has the Mickey Mouse band because he LOVES Mickey. At least one of my children is as obsessed with Disney as I am!

It also has a step and jump counter to keep your kid active and the ability to change the watch face to match their mood or personality. For an extra $5 a month on my Verizon account, this device was a complete no brainer for me. We absolutely adore it!


Republic Wireless has come out with their own device that is actually screenless! I know there are a ton of parents that will be super excited about this one. The Relay phone is a small square-ish looking speaker that fits easily in your (or your child’s pocket)

smartphone alternatives

The accompanying app allows you to communicate with the device or use GPS to find where the device (and hopefully your child) are currently located.

It has a rugged design that is perfect for kids who may drop the device frequently, or play a little too rough. It also features the ability to talk to other Relay devices, so if each of your children has one, they can talk to each other when they are out and about.

The Relay is extremely in-expensive (about $40 for the device and $10/month for the service) and is a great way to keep in touch with your kids when they are on the go.


Relatively new to the scene is Gabb Wireless. This device offers unlimited talk and text and looks like a smartphone, but does not allow internet browsing, social media, apps, and more. It does have the ability to set an alarm and view calendars (but it’s not entirely clear if I can connect it to my child’s already created Google calendar).

The one interesting thing about the Gabb is that it doesn’t appear that I can monitor my child’s text messages, or limit the use of texting to specific times of the day. For a phone touting to be the safe phone for kids, this seems to be a glaring omission. I highly recommend the Pinwheel mentioned above over the Gabb.

Coolpad Flip Phone

For those of you still searching for a flip phone. Coolpad has your back. Coolpad actually has a variety of devices, including a GPS watch for kids if you don’t have Verizon, or don’t want to get a Verizon account.

The device I was sent through, is their flagship Snap phone, which is a flip phone that runs on Sprint’s or T-Mobile’s network. The Shap is just like you remember flip phones being, complete with T9 texting and all.

smartphone alternatives

I got to try one out for a bit, and while the call quality and the phone were great, I couldn’t bring myself to use it for longer than half a day. Granted, I do a lot of business through my phone, and being without it was like missing a limb.

Flip phones are a great option for your kids though. Just make sure you are aware of the limitations flip phones have (like a lack of parental controls, so no text monitoring or limitations, and the ability to still browse the internet).

For you parents that are lamenting the lack of options for your kids, never fear! As you can see there is a little something for everyone these days. Introductory devices like these are great stepping stones to the next step in your child’s technology journey! Help guide them through this murky water and by the time they are adults they will be able to manage their own technology, maybe even better than we manage ourselves.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I receive compensation if you make a purchase using the links.



About the author

Sarah Werle Kimmel

Sarah Werle Kimmel is a digital parenting coach and family tech expert. She has spent the last 20 years of her career working as a Microsoft Certified IT Manager supporting over 100 small businesses. During that time she started Family Tech LLC to help families understand and manage the technology in their home. She has regularly appeared as a family tech expert on local NBC, CBS, ABC and FOX news affiliates, BYUtv and Studio 5, and has been invited all over the world from tech companies like Lenovo, Verizon, Microsoft, Dell, and Samsung. Find out more on her website

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