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No-Frills Smartphone Alternatives for Kids

These devices keep your kids connected and give you peace of mind

Madison Miller

Published on: August 11, 2023

Cute laughing little girl using a smartphone alternative

The decision of whether or not to provide your child with a smartphone has become a complex deliberation. As parents, we are faced with concerns over the impact of social media on our children’s mental and physical health, and the risk of exposure to inappropriate content. While we want to ensure our kids’ safety, we also want to help them foster social connections and gain independence.

This ongoing issue has inspired an array of smartphones and devices designed to mitigate the unwanted side effects of smartphone use while amplifying their benefits. The following four phones are great ones to consider as you navigate the murky waters of smartphone alternatives for kids.

Gabb Phone

Tailored for younger children, the Gabb Phone is a purpose-built solution that eschews internet access, app stores, social media and games. Instead, it offers essential phone functions such as unlimited calls and texts, front and back cameras, a calendar, an alarm, a calculator, GPS tracking and FM radio. It features cloud-based digital backup, a spam blocker and image and group texting capabilities. Gabb Music, a clean music streaming service, is available through a subscription.

The Gabb Phone is currently on sale for $74.99 but normally goes for $149.99. No contract is required but you’ll need a service plan of $24.99/month. One-year and two-year contracts are available at no additional cost.

Key features:

  • No internet, no app store and no social media
  • Fingerprint scan for security
  • GPS location services
  • Bluetooth connection for music
  • Front 5MP and 8MP Cameras
  • Comes pre-activated

Why parents love it: The phone has a simple design and easy navigation. Parents can have peace of mind knowing their kids’ whereabouts with GPS tracking. Plus, they aren’t worrying about their kids stumbling onto inappropriate content.

Why parents might want to skip it: The Gabb Phone requires its own line and the monthly cost can become prohibitive for some families. Not ready for a smartphone? Check out the Gabb Watch 2.


Pinwheel stands out as an innovative phone operating system, pre-installed on select models from reputable manufacturers. Engineered to foster a kid’s autonomy, Pinwheel offers remote parental access and management. Like other kid-focused devices, Pinwheel doesn’t have social media access, a browser, or an app store (that’s accessible to children.) It does include a selection of beneficial apps that parents can add to the phone through the parent portal.

Choose from four phone options: Pixel ($499), Plus ($329), Rugged ($249) and Slim ($199). The first phone costs $14.99/month, with each additional device incurring an extra $4.99 monthly fee.

Key features: 

  • Custom modes
  • Parent-managed contact safelist
  • Remote management
  • No games, web browser, or social media
  • Curated app store
  • Supports multiple carriers
  • GPS location services

Why parents love it: Through Pinwheel’s custom modes, parents can help kids learn healthy digital habits. It also lets parents relax when kids use their phones unsupervised, nurturing a kid’s sense of independence.

Why parents might want to skip it: While the phone quality is sleeker than its competitors, all Pinwheel phones cost more than $100. In addition to monthly fees, a Pinwheel phone might be cost-prohibitive for some families.

Light Phone II

The Light Phone II lives up to its name, offering a minimalist approach suitable for individuals of all ages, including children. Free from social media and browsing capabilities, the phone is designed for calls and texts, accompanied by a customizable menu of tools. A dedicated dashboard website facilitates the management of phone functions and capabilities. 

With a price tag of $299, the Light Phone II is compatible with various carriers, primarily AT&T. Activation of a separate line is $30/month.

Key features:

  • Electronic paper screen (no blue light)
  • Features an alarm, calculator, GPS directions, music player, notes/voice memos, a headphone jack and calendar
  • Equipped with Bluetooth and wifi capabilities
  • Doubles as a personal hotspot

Why parents love it: The “light” design is reminiscent of e-readers with its lack of a backlit screen. No social media or browser puts parents’ minds at ease.

Why parents might want to skip it: While the Light Phone II has GPS direction capabilities, it lacks GPS tracking. The phone’s battery life can last up to two days with minimal use, but the GPS drains the battery quickly for trips longer than 35 minutes. The absence of a camera and limited group messaging features might be notable to some parents.

Wisephone II

The Wisephone II is safe for kids and is user-friendly for parents. It has no browser, social media, apps, or ads. It’s fit with the basic phone functions: call and text, calculator, clock, music, camera and more. The Wisephone II is available for preorder and will start shipping this winter.

With a standard price of $299, an active subscription of $7/month is required to unlock all features. An alternate version, Wisephone II Ultimate, priced at $599, includes a three-year subscription, eliminating the monthly fee.

Key features:

  • Triple cameras with 64MP
  • USB-C fast charging
  • 128 GB of storage
  • No social media, browser, or app store
  • 1 GB of data
  • Multi-day battery life

Why parents love it: The Wisephone II’s discreet design allows kids to blend in seamlessly, while the Family Portal grants parents full access to their child’s location, texts, call history and photos.

Why parents might want to skip it: While the Wisephone II offers an attractive package, its impending availability, and relatively higher price may give some parents pause. Additionally, its lack of compatibility with Verizon Wireless might be a deterrent.

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