The age that kids are getting phones is getting younger and younger. While it’s been 9 years since I gave my 8 year old a cell phone, that statement is almost common now! Since I’ve been writing this blog for almost 13 years now, I have seen several “kids safe” smartphones come and go.
The market may not have been ready for these options 9 years ago, it is definitely ready for it now, and these companies are seeing some real success. I think we are getting some really great options as well!
There are 4 major players in this space right now. Troomi, Pinwheel, Bark and Gabb. So, how do they stack up against each other??
I’ll start with the first of these recent cell phones for kids. This is also my least favorite of the 3, and I actually do NOT recommend it at all.
The benefit of using Gabb is that there is no internet available on the device at all. This means there is no browser and no social media apps. The phone only has the ability to talk and text.
This is where the benefits of Gabb end. The problem with the device is that you are unable to limit contacts to the device, so they could call or text people you do not know. They can also get spam calls and texts, which could be problematic as well.
The other issue with Gabb is that there is no management available for the device. You cannot limit how long your child spends on the device, or when they can use the cell phone. So, if they wake up in the middle of the night and grab their phone, you would not be able to lock it down to prevent that.
Lastly, you are also not able to monitor the messages on the device. So, your child could send inappropriate or concerning texts, and delete them before they get home, and you would never know it was sent.
Pinwheel vs Troomi vs Bark
These three devices are very similar, but there are definitely distinct features that you will need to evaluate which ones are more important for you. Let’s start with where they are are similar though
All devices allow for contact approval, which means you will be able to approve who can call or text the device. They also all have message monitoring, so you can see the text messages your child is sending and receiving. Although, Bark’s device will only show you snippets of what is flagged as concerning. Since you cannot delete text messages on the Bark phone you can always go look at the phone to see the context of the messages.
All three also have GPS tracking, and use very similar Android based hardware. In fact the highest cost device on both Troomi and Pinwheel are the same Samsung A32 device. The Bark Phone is a Samsung A13.
Troomi and Pinwheel have a curated app store which they have selected various apps that should be safe for kids to use, however you can still choose to allow the app to be installed on the phone from the parent portal in each service. They both displays warnings on the app if there are things that could be concerning inside the different apps, like workarounds or ways to communicate with others through the app.
The Bark phone differs from the other 2 here in that it does not have a curated app store. It has access to the full Google Play store, so you can install social media apps or any other apps that are available in the store. Sometimes parents have a hard time determining which apps they should allow, and with no direction on what is safe or has inappropriate content or ways to communicate with strangers.
Benefits of Pinwheel
Since Pinwheel has been around a bit longer, the curated app store has more options at the moment. As of the writing of this article Pinwheel has 288 apps available to install on the kids cell phone, while Troomi has 56.
Pinwheel also has the ability to create various “modes” that allow different categories of apps during different times of the day. For example, during school hours you can set it so only educational apps are available, or during bedtime, only music apps are available. This allows you to create a highly customized profile for each day that will allow your child access to the applications they need to use, and reserve the more fun applications for other times.
These modes also feature a routine feature. During the specific mode like “homework time” you can create a checklist for your child to complete. This makes the tasks they need to complete easy to find. Every morning it can show tasks like “brush teeth” and “make bed”. At night it can show things like “read a story”.
Even though there is no social media available for Pinwheel, and you can view all of the text messages that have been sent and received, you can add Bark monitoring to the Pinwheel phone to get alerts about concerning content.
Another benefit to Pinwheel is that it is carrier agnostic. This means you can add the Pinwheel phone to your current cell phone plan to make sure your entire family is on the same plan. You do have to pay a fee to Pinwheel for the software and the parent portal. This is a $15/month charge. If you think of it as just paying for a parental control program, it’s on the more affordable end of the parental control options, and there is less of a chance that your child can circumvent the controls like they can on a standard iPhone or Android device.
Benefits of the Troomi Cell Phone For Kids
As Pinwheel is carrier agnostic, Troomi is it’s own cell phone service. There are 3 monthly service options. The first is $15/month and includes calling and texting only. This makes it very similar to Gabb, but has the added ability to limit the contacts and monitor the text messages. The next option is the $20/month plan that adds the ability to send photo messages and particpate in group text messages. The third plan is $25/month and includes the kids safe app store so you can allow any of the available apps.
One huge benefit of Troomi is the kids safe web browser. This allows for parents to specificially allow various URL’s to be accessed. With this safelist only browser, the child’s cell phone will not be able to access any websites that have not been specifically allowed. Why this is important is with Pinwheel there are apps that have a back door to the internet. There are warnings on these apps that will notify you of this possibility. So once you get access to this back door, the entirety of the internet is opened up. With Troomi, if they find their way to a browser, it will still limit the browsing to the websites you have specifically allowed instead of the whole internet.
While you can approve contacts on all three platforms, Troomi takes it a step further and gives you a few options on this. You can choose to have contacts blocked until you manually approve them, or have contacts in a moderated state that allows contact for 72 hours. If the contact is not approved within 72 hours, the contact will be blocked. The third option here is just the ability to allow anyone to contact the phone.
Benefits of The Bark Phone
If your kid is ready for social media, the Bark phone is a great option for you since it does allow you to install any apps available from the Google Play Store, including social media apps. Bark will still work for alerting on concerning content in specific social media apps, and you can allow or deny access to any apps or set time frames that the apps can be available.
Bark is similar to Troomi with respect to how the subscription plan works. They have 3 plans and the service is included. The basic $49/month plan includes unlimited talk and text, but you can use the phone on wifi for internet enabled apps. Next is the $59/month plan that has 4 GB of data and unlimited talk and text. The $69/month plan has 8 GB of data with unlimited talk and text. All three plans include the hardware, so there is not a separate purchase of the device.
The subscription includes the Bark Family plan too, so you can install and use Bark on other devices in your home that are able to use Bark. Your subscription would not be limited to just the Bark Phone.
The Bark phone does have a similar feature to the Pinwheel, where you can set what can be available during different time frames, but they only have 3 to choose from, Bedtime, School Time, and Free Time. There is also a 4th mode that is called default that will be in effect if none of the other 3 are scheduled.
While the app does alert on concerning content in text messages, it does not allow you to view all of the messages remotely. However, you have the option to enable the deletion of texts, so if you need to dig further into a concerning text, you can grab your child’s phone and see the full messages, and can then delete anything inappropriate that they’ve been sent so they won’t have to see that message again.
The Bark Phone allows you to make it as locked down or as open as you want. You can choose to allow access to the phone settings, app store, or even the ability to remove apps from the phone. Also, you can pause the phone at any time which will disable all the apps, except for the phone app so they can still call emergency contacts.
As I mentioned, the only one I absolutely do not recommend is Gabb. Even worse would be a flip phone. Most flip phones also have internet capabilities, so it doesn’t have the management or monitoring, plus an open window to the unfiltered internet. I like both Pinwheel and Troomi. Take the differences into consideration and decide which features are more important for your family.
Affiliate Link for Pinwheel – https://www.pinwheel.com?via=familytech
Affiliate Link for Bark – https://barkparentalcontrols.pxf.io/FamilyTech
Affiliate Link for Troomi – https://troomi.com?mct=A7pW5Yry
TLDR; ?? Watch the video instead
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