How To Choose The Right Smartphone For Your Child

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Your child is starting high school this year and will be making their own way home, so you're considering getting them their first smartphone. Or perhaps their friends have one and they've been begging you to join the club all summer. We look at the best options.

The first thing you need to consider in this situation is which phone will be suitable. There are three main options you can go with here. You might consider giving your kids a hand-me-down or buying the device outright, in which case you'll need to pick a suitable prepaid or month-to-month plan for a SIM. Alternatively, you can buy a new phone on a 12 or 24-month contract plan with phone service and internet included.

Personally, I lean towards the hand-me-down (or second-hand) option. Kids can be rough with their possessions and if lunchboxes and jumpers are any indication, they're also likely to be forgotten on the bus or in the playground.

If your teen is requesting the latest iPhone 7 or Samsung Galaxy S7 but you're not willing to spend a minimum of $60 per month or $1149 outright on top of plan costs, you can look at picking up an older model that will cost less. You could consider an iPhone 6 or Samsung Galaxy S6, for example.

Purchasing a new phone outright can cost north of $900, especially if your child has their heart set on the newest device. But you don't need to spend up big: you can find entry-level devices which are very decent between $250 and $300. They won't be the latest and greatest, and your teen may deem it prehistoric. But most will settle for a "lame" phone over no phone at all.

With a contract you get the phone and a SIM plan. This can work out cheaper than purchasing the phone outright and you can usually find some pretty respectable phones (by your kids' standards), coupled with a plan that won't break the bank. There are plenty of decent smartphones on $50-a-month plans.

If you do choose to opt for a contract the downside is that your child won't be capped on usage and thus can run up bigger bills. This means once they've exhausted their data allowance for the month, which is almost inevitable, it will just roll over and cost you an extra $10 per GB. Also remember that you'll have to keep paying for the contract even if the phone is lost or damaged (you can opt for phone insurance, but that creates additional expense).

With an outright buy (or hand-me-down), you can consider a prepaid plan, which means your kid can never run up an unexpected bill. The key feature to look for is the data limit which can range anywhere between 150MB and 90GB per month.

The amount of data included is important because your kids will likely be spending most of their time on streaming services like YouTube, Netflix and Spotify, which can consume a hefty amount of GBs. Unlimited calls and texts are pretty much stock standard these day so providers mainly compete on data.

Plans you might consider (and that won't leave you broke) include the Boost $40 ULTD with 5GB and bonus data on weekends, Coles $40 prepaid with 7GB, and OVO for Mobile Extra Large $44.95 with 12GB; all include unlimited calls and texts.

As well as considering the costs and model, make sure you've thought about why your child needs a phone. If you want a smartphone only for the necessities, such as calls and messages in emergencies, you'll end up paying a lot less. But realistically, your child is going to want to use the phone for social media and browsing, so choose a phone and plan that fits and make sure you set clear rules and boundaries on how to use it.


This article originally appeared in Digital Life, The Sydney Morning Herald's home for everything technology. Follow Digital Life on Facebook and Twitter.


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