Best Phones for Kids! Comparison Guide for Gabb, Pinwheel and Troomi
“What’s the best phone for kids?” This is one of the questions we get asked the most. In the last five years, the market for smartphones designed specifically for kids has blossomed. Three popular brands of “first phones” are Gabb, Pinwheel, and Troomi. At Defend Young Minds, we’re happy to see this kind of competition in the “first phone” market because it means people realize the dangers of handing kids a smartphone with access to the internet.
All three of these phones are great options for parents looking for something safer for their kids’ first phone, but there are some crucial differences. We’ve compared these options side by side to help you find the right fit for your family. Read on for more details and check out the easy-to-read chart at the end for a quick comparison. (And be sure you use the links above to take advantage of the latest specials on each phone.)
How do I know if my child is ready for a phone?
Before going on, you’ll want to make sure your child is ready for the responsibility of a phone. Be sure to check out our free guide Is My Child Ready for a Smartphone? If they aren’t quite ready, you might consider starting with a smartwatch instead. Check out our comparison guide for the Best Smartwatch for Kids.
Similarities between these phones for kids
All three of these options
- are designed for kids with built-in safety features,
- have the smartphone look kids want,
- include GPS tracking so you can know where your child is (or where they lost their phone),
- eliminate potentially harmful apps like social media and games,
- use a parent portal for easy device management,
- have the ability to port a current phone number, and
- offer compatible accessories.
These phones are also similar in the cost of the device and service.
For the device, here’s the price range for each at time of publication:
*Use the links below to take advantage of the latest specials for each of these phones.
As for the cost of service, Gabb and Troomi offer similar plans between $20-30/month. Pinwheel’s cost will vary based on the carrier you select. In addition, Pinwheel charges a $15 monthly fee for their software–which helps make their software the most fully-featured.
Related: When Should Kids Have Cell Phones? Savvy Parents Reveal Best Strategies
Differences between Gabb, Pinwheel & Troomi
One of the biggest differences in these phones is carrier compatibility. Both Gabb and Troomi require you to use their wireless service because they have parental controls built in at the service level. For instance, they can block picture messages to protect your child from sexting. Both carriers are built on national names (Gabb on Verizon, Troomi on AT&T).
If coverage from those networks is not reliable in your area or you prefer to bundle your phone service with your current carrier, your best option is Pinwheel. You’ll need to make sure you select a Pinwheel phone model that is compatible with the carrier you desire, but you will likely then be able to enroll the device into your family plan. They also offer service through Mint Mobile at checkout.
2. Blocking spam calls and texts
A common issue for kids with phones is that they may receive spam or dangerous calls and texts from strangers.
Gabb’s solution to this problem is a smart filter they call Gabb Guard. This blocks suspicious phone numbers from calling or texting 90% of the time. It also “...stops over 95% of potentially harmful content from being texted to your child from unknown numbers, including URL links, image and video attachments, profanities, dirty slang, and solicitation messages.”
Both Pinwheel and Troomi solve this problem with contact whitelisting. A whitelist means that only numbers on the list are allowed to contact the phone; all other numbers are blocked. Troomi allows your child to add a contact for your approval, whereas Pinwheel requires the parent to enter the number in the parent portal.
If you’re wanting to lock down who your child contacts to prevent stranger-danger and grooming, a whitelist is the way to go. If your child is older and may often need contact with numbers not on the list, a whitelist may be too restrictive. (You can turn off the whitelist on Troomi, but then spam may be a problem again.)
Related: 10 Tricky Ways Porn Will Target Your Kids in 2022–PLUS Our Top Tips for Increasing Resilience!
The original Gabb Phone launched with the premise that a phone with no apps was a safe phone. It’s exactly what some families are looking for and a great choice for a first phone.
But many families have found that going app-free just isn’t feasible. Curated app stores are your best bet for making sure your child has access to the high-quality apps while staying safe. Each app available has been carefully tested and selected by tech-savvy teams who know the dangers, loopholes, and back doors to look for.
Though the Gabb Phone Plus will soon have an app store and Troomi has a small app library (just over 50 apps), Pinwheel is way ahead in this department. They’ve been curating an app store of parent- and therapist-approved apps without games or social media for a few years. Almost 300 apps are available, which means the ones your child needs are more likely to be available.
For example, many schools use Google Drive and Google Docs to work on class projects. Pinwheel is the only one of these phones that will allow your child to access these apps. (Troomi has Google Docs and Sheets, but Google Drive is still pending approval.) Your teen may use a specific banking app, which is more likely to be available on Pinwheel than Troomi. This makes Pinwheel a phone that grows well with your kid.
If you need a specific app, check if it's available on Pinwheel or Troomi’s app lists before purchasing. (Watch for Gabb’s app list to appear soon.) If you’ve got an app you’d like to see added, you can make a request for the app to be reviewed by Pinwheel or Troomi. We expect a similar feature when Gabb’s app store is available.
Related: 5 Reasons Why Social Media is Not Smart for Middle School Kids
Though all three phones have ways to monitor your child and set limits, the exact specifics differ. Pinwheel, Troomi and Gabb Phone Plus allow you to view your child’s texts remotely through the parent app. The Gabb Phone doesn’t have this capability, so you’ll have to monitor activity on your child’s device directly and they do have the ability to delete texts undetected.
Pinwheel is also compatible with Bark, the smart monitoring software that alerts you when it detects potential safety concerns in text messages or other apps. In fact, you can add it on right at Pinwheel’s check out for only $5 month. You won’t be able to use this software on Troomi or Gabb.
Related: 3 Ways Bark Protects Your Child from Porn
5. Filtering and backdoors
Whenever you’re handing a kid a device with access to the internet, it’s important to consider how that internet is filtered and any backdoors that may exist. (Backdoors are indirect ways to access the internet and usually bypass parental controls and filters. For example, on a regular phone you may have removed or restricted the web browser, but did you know if you go to Google maps and look up the local strip club or the headquarters of a porn production company, you can see user uploaded images and visit their website?)
The Gabb Phone doesn’t have an internet browser or apps with backdoors to the internet. This is usually great for younger users, but as mentioned above may pose a problem for older kids who need various apps. The Gabb Phone Plus also has no internet browser. We don’t know yet how it will handle backdoors, but we do know that’s something they will look at carefully with each of the 3rd party apps they’re curating for their app store.
Troomi does have a web browser that enables parents to whitelist sites your kids are allowed to visit and blocks all others, with no current loopholes through apps.
Pinwheel also has a browser with filtering options; however, some of the available apps do have backdoors to the internet. Their app store puts a notice by apps with internet access to make parents aware.
Music is a feature that is really important to kids, but has proven to be difficult to consistently provide safely.
One innovation that Gabb has introduced is a curated music service, Gabb Music. Using a combination of AI and hand-selection, this app has a collection of songs in all genres with no swearing or innuendo so your child can browse without worry. The service is available for a $4.99/month subscription for radio-like listening with limited skips or a forthcoming $9.99/month fully-featured service similar to Spotify.
Troomi and Pinwheel both have access to Spotify Kids, Spotify’s filtered service.
And all these phones have Bluetooth capability so kids can connect ear buds or wireless speakers.
Related: Explicit Content in 7 Top Music Apps - A Parent's Guide
7. Screen time limits
The original Gabb Phone has no screen time limits; their argument is that with only 14 very practical apps, limits aren’t necessary. However, if your child is prone to spending excessive amounts of time texting or calling friends, this may be a problem. We also wonder if this feature may change once the Gabb Phone Plus can use apps.
Troomi’s approach to screen time will feel familiar if you’re used to Apple Screen Time or Google Family Link. You can set an overall time limit for the phone and time limits for individual apps. It’s simple and functional.
Pinwheel’s screen time limits are much more customizable. Parents create custom modes (eg School, Homework, Free Time, Bedtime, etc.) and determine exactly what apps the child can access during that time. You can also associate different modes with a checklist of chores that need to be done first. These modes can then be scheduled at various times of the day, and even different types of days like school days or holidays.
Choosing the best phone for your kid
Which is the best phone for kids? Well, that depends a lot on your family’s needs. Each of these phones is a great tool for protecting your kids from pornography and predators online. But no device is perfect. In addition to picking a safe device, make sure to talk to your kids about pornography and other online dangers. The Good Pictures Bad Pictures series of books and our Brain Defense: Digital Safety curriculum are a great way to prepare your child for their first phone so that they know why you are picking a device designed to protect them.
Brain Defense: Digital Safety Curriculum - Family Edition
"Parents are desperate for concepts and language like this to help their children. They would benefit so much from this program - and I think it would spur much needed conversations between parents and children.” --Jenet Erikson, parent