Children using smartphone devices at school. Picture: iStock.
Children using smartphone devices at school. Picture: iStock.

The best and worst phones for your child

School's back from summer in less than a fortnight and, for many parents, there are no more excuses or ways to delay buying their child a smartphone.

But tech experts say there are traps in getting even the most responsible child a mobile phone, from selecting a model with the right software restrictions to investing in a good value phone plan.

And they warn parents to forget buying "a very, very cheap phone" for young students, as the whining won't be worth the money they save.

Parents should resist the temptation to simply choose the cheapest prepaid device for their kids and hope for the best.
Parents should resist the temptation to simply choose the cheapest prepaid device for their kids and hope for the best.

Research from the Australian Communications and Media Authority shows most Aussie kids get their first mobile phone as they enter high school, with ownership rates climbing from just over half of all children aged 10 to 11 years to 80 per cent of children aged between 12 and 13 years.

But Finder.com.au editor-in-chief Angus Kidman said parents with children going into high school this year should resist the temptation to simply choose the cheapest prepaid device for them and hope for the best.

"The really cheap outright phones, the ones around $150, are not very well featured, they have slow processors, they don't have a lot of memory, their cameras are pretty average. If you get one of those you're going to get a degree of offspring dissatisfaction and you're not going to get good value for money," he warned.

"In the $300 to $500 space, there are plenty of options. You're going to get a phone that is going to be decent and will last a while but one that is not going to completely break the bank."

Many parents are still choosing to give children their old smartphones rather than buy new models.
Many parents are still choosing to give children their old smartphones rather than buy new models.

Mr Kidman said parents should also consider buying their child's phone outright, if possible, and connect to a month-to-month phone plan that will give them the flexibility to change providers to get a better deal or adapt to their child's smartphone use.

Cyber safety educator Leonie Smith said many parents were still choosing to give children their old smartphones rather than buy new models.

"The majority of kids in schools that I go to have iPhones over Android phones," she said. "Often they're models that have been handed down from parents."

Ms Smith recommended parents give their children a smartphone with the same software as the one they use - whether from Apple or Google - so they can set up family-sharing features and are more familiar with content and time restrictions.

Parents should also create a list of rules for smartphone use in conjunction with their kids, she said, and invest in a rugged case and screen protector to protect their investment.

"If the screen cracks, it's going to cost you over $300 or they'll have to tolerate a broken screen," she said. "Having a phone with a cover on it can make a world of difference."

Public schools in states including Victoria and Western Australia will also introduce a ban on the use of smartphones during school hours this year, and Ms Smith said parents should research storage locations before investing in a device.

 

CHEAPEST IPHONE

Apple iPhone 7 ($449): Whether it's for those blue iMessages, parental controls, or because you want to share your app library, sometimes only an iPhone purchase will do. Even though Apple produces the cheaper iPhone XR, this three-year-old release is the cheapest sold brand new in retail stores. It features a 4.7-inch screen, 12-megapixel camera, fingerprint scanner, 32GB storage, and a splash-resistant exterior.

 

CHEAPEST PIXEL

Google Pixel 3a ($649): Google brought out a more affordable version of its smartphones last year - the Pixel 3a - and it delivers a lot for its mid-range price. Its features include a 5.6-inch OLED screen, fingerprint scanner, smart 12.2-megapixel camera with portrait mode, and the latest Android software. Some comparison shopping could help you find one of these handsets for less than $600.

 

DISCOUNT GALAXY

Samsung Galaxy A50 ($499): Sitting at the top of a student budget - but a fraction of a flagship phone cost - is this model from the Samsung A Series that borrows from the best. It comes with the same on-screen fingerprint sensor you'd find in more expensive smartphones, as well as three rear cameras, including one boasting an ultra-wide lens. The 6.4-inch device also features a powerful octa-core chip and generous battery life.

 

TOUGHEST PHONE

Telstra Tough Max 3 ($499): It's designed for tradies and clumsy users but this rugged, mid-range smartphone will also suit rough-and-tumble schoolbag life. The Telstra Tough Max 3, launched this week, can withstand drops and dunks thanks to its reinforced exterior, but it also comes with a 16-megapixel rear camera, 5.65-inch screen, fingerprint scanner and space for a memory card.

 

FULLY FEATURED

OPPO A9 ($399): Considering its sub-$400 price, there are a lot of unexpected features in this phone. The Android handset comes with four rear cameras, including a 48-megapixel snapper, and a 16-megapixel selfie camera upfront. It also has a substantial battery, at 5000mAh, Dolby Atmos speakers, and a 6.5-inch screen.

 

BARGAIN BASE

Nokia 4.2 ($299): Far from the Nokia models of the '90s, this smartphone comes with a 5.7-inch touchscreen, enough grunt to get through a day and power basic apps, a 32GB memory, and two cameras out back. This Nokia model is also notable for sporting Android One, which promises two years of software updates and three years of software security patches.


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