Your buying guide for the best kids' phones in 2021
Long gone are the days when you can fob off a child with your second-hand blower. These days they know more about tech than most adults and they want the best of the best, just as you do.
Whether you're buying the first phone for your child who's 10 or your 15-year old teenager, here are some of the best phones around for kids. We've highlighted options that blend value with ease of use, strong build and, perhaps most importantly, enough power to play the latest games and stream YouTube or Disney+.
If you're after a SIM for your child also see our guide to the Best Kids' SIM Deals.
Realme 7 - Best overall
The Realme 7 isn't the best budget phone around but it's pretty darn close, and its smaller 6.5in screen size compared to our current top budget pick - the Poco X3 NFC - makes it better suited to a child's smaller hands.
It looks great, runs fast and packs a 90Hz display for an astoundingly low price.
Provided you swing for more RAM than the base 4GB model, the Realme 7 offers up strong performance, packed into an attractive design at an affordable price.
The cameras could be better too, but for the money, there’s not much to complain about here.
Read our full Realme 7 review
OnePlus Nord - Most feature-packed
An outstanding affordable buy from 2020 with great performance, 5G, OnePlus' easy-to-use Oxygen OS user experience and a more diverse camera setup than the company has ever used on a phone. What's not to love?
What the OnePlus Nord really demonstrates is the company's ability to prioritise the features that users are looking for right now and wrapping them up in an attractive package with a compelling price point.
Read our full OnePlus Nord review
iPhone SE (2020) - Best OS/app support
The iPhone SE is a phone devoted to function over form, prioritising raw performance and camera capabilities over design or aesthetics (though battery life gets caught in the crossfire), all in the name of hitting its relatively affordable price.
That makes it a very un-Apple iPhone, with the exception of the impressive inclusion of the top-tier A13 processor at a mid-range price.
It’s hard to entirely forgive the choice to save money on a budget 720p LCD display and dated design, and you’ll be committed to carrying a battery pack with you every day. Still, if you want a reliable camera, fast performance and guaranteed iOS updates for years to come, without breaking the bank, then this is the iPhone for you/your kids.
Read our full Apple iPhone SE (2020) review
Oppo A5 2020 - Most affordable
The Oppo A5 2020 is a great affordable option without making too many compromises. With a huge 5000mAh battery, a classy exterior design and a big display, you'd find it hard to believe that it's priced as low as it is.
Of course, the quad-camera doesn't quite match up to its rivals - with just a 12Mp main lens and limited options, especially when it comes to low light. However, at this price, compromises are expected, and these downfalls don't quite detract from what is a powerful entry-level phone.
Read our full Oppo A5 2020 review
Moto G9 Power - Best battery life
The latest in a growing line of Moto G phones built specifically to offer exceptional battery longevity, the Moto G9 Power packs in a whopping 6000mAh cell, which offers up enough juice for multiple days usage at a time.
It also sports a pleasing display and a water-repellent design, and while its cameras are on the underwhelming side, if they're not your (or your child's) top priority, there's a lot going for the Moto G9 Power.
Read our full Moto G9 Power review
Nokia 5.3 - Best for ease of use
The Nokia 5.3 offers a lot for a phone for the money. The main camera produces clear and sharp images with very vivid colours, plus the 4000mAh battery doesn't disappoint, with around a day-and-a-half's worth of usage at a time.
Compromises naturally have to be made, like poor speaker quality and a relatively low-resolution screen, but if you're looking for a cheaper phone that does the basics well, then there's no harm in keeping the 5.3 in mind.
Read our full Nokia 5.3 review
How much should I spend?
It's really up to you. While we wouldn't advise paying flagship prices on the very best phones, we do recognise that some parents will be prepared to dig deep.
Dirt-cheap, basic phones are great phones for kids, ideal for ensuring they're contactable without offering distractions like TikTok, the latest mobile games or attracting thieves; and when the inevitable happens and they lose or break it, it's far less of an issue.
Sometimes buying a Chinese phone can be a good way to get an attractively-priced device with much higher specifications than you would otherwise get in the UK. However, steer clear of Meizu or Huawei's most recent models, as they don't (or legally can't) always pre-install Google Mobile Services and can sometimes pop up Chinese-language notifications that may be confusing to a child. If you buy from China, first read our advice on buying grey-market tech.
One thing to keep in mind is that your child will likely be using their phone on a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) basis unless you're prepared to take out a contract in their name (or add them to a family plan). If you want to go down this route you'll save money by buying the phone upfront and choosing a decent SIM-only deal. We've separately looked at the best SIM-only deals that are best suited to children.
Is an Android phone or iPhone better for my child?
Whether you choose to go down the iPhone or Android route will largely depend on your budget, what your child is used to and how loudly they scream.
Most iPhones will be well over-budget for a child but it is still possible to buy older models like the iPhone 8, secondhand or refurbished from resellers like MusicMagpie. If they demand a current-generation iPhone, look to the slightly cheaper iPhone SE 2020, which starts at £419. Even this, though, might be more expensive than what you had in mind.
Most of the phones we recommend run Android, which is every bit as good as iOS (and typically supports a wider range of free apps). Android devices are also very simple to use, but read our Android vs iPhone comparison to get a better idea of the key differences.
Both platforms are equally suited to children in the respect that they can be locked down so that your child only has access to experiences you're comfortable with them using. Read our advice on the best parental control software.
And, despite what you may have read, neither platform - although it is possible - is likely to get a virus. We've rounded up some mobile antivirus options here, for extra peace of mind, though.
Related: How to remove a virus on Android
Specifications and features to look for in a kid's phone
Most kids are used to playing games on a tablet before getting their own phone and will be used to the larger screen that offers. But a large-screened phone is much easier to drop and smash on the floor than a more compact model.
Related: Best kids' tablets 2021
Because we all know kids can be clumsy, a waterproof phone or rugged phone may also fit the bill too. Whichever device you choose though, we highly recommend you also purchase a case to go with it.
Adults can often overlook front-facing cameras, but for kids who love to take selfies, mess around with social apps like TikTok and video chat, they can be highly important. Don't even consider buying a child a phone that doesn't have a selfie camera.
You needn't worry too much about the core specifications, since most phones these days have or are capable of everything a child requires; casual gaming, YouTube and a camera.
The one thing you should look out for, though, is storage. We'd advise against anything with under 16GB of internal space. Look for a model with expandable microSD memory card support and be sure to take advantage of cloud services, such as Google Photos, to back up media online so more storage can be made available for apps and games, locally.
Backing up photos and video through the cloud will also mean they aren't lost should the phone become lost or broken.