The age that kids are getting phones is getting younger and younger. While it’s been 9 years since I gave my 8 year old a cell phone, that statement is almost common now! Since I’ve been writing this blog for almost 13 years now, I have seen several “kids safe” smartphones come and go.
The market may not have been ready for these options 9 years ago, it is definitely ready for it now, and these companies are seeing some real success. I think we are getting some really great options as well!
There are 3 major players in this space right now. Troomi, Pinwheel and Gabb. So, how do they stack up against each other??
I’ll start with the first of these recent cell phones for kids. This is also my least favorite of the 3, and I actually do NOT recommend it at all.
The benefit of using Gabb is that there is no internet available on the device at all. This means there is no browser and no social media apps. The phone only has the ability to talk and text.
This is where the benefits of Gabb end. The problem with the device is that you are unable to limit contacts to the device, so they could call or text people you do not know. They can also get spam calls and texts, which could be problematic as well.
The other issue with Gabb is that there is no management available for the device. You cannot limit how long your child spends on the device, or when they can use the cell phone. So, if they wake up in the middle of the night and grab their phone, you would not be able to lock it down to prevent that.
Lastly, you are also not able to monitor the messages on the device. So, your child could send inappropriate or concerning texts, and delete them before they get home, and you would never know it was sent.
These two devices are very similar, but there are definitely distinct features that you will need to evaluate which ones are more important for you. Let’s start with where they are are similar though
Both devices allow for contact approval, which means you will be able to approve who can call or text the device. They also both have message monitoring, so you can see the text messages your child is sending and receiving.
Troomi and Pinwheel also both have GPS tracking, and use very similar Android based hardware. In fact the highest cost device on both Troomi and Pinwheel are the same Samsung A32 device.
The great thing about both services is the curated app store. Troomi and Pinwheel have selected various apps that should be safe for kids to use, however you can still choose to allow the app to be installed on the phone from the parent portal in each service. Pinwheel displays warnings on the app if there are things that could be concerning inside the different apps.
Since Pinwheel has been around a bit longer, the curated app store has more options at the moment. As of the writing of this article Pinwheel has 288 apps available to install on the kids cell phone, while Troomi has 56.
Pinwheel also has the ability to create various “modes” that allow different categories of apps during different times of the day. For example, during school hours you can set it so only educational apps are available, or during bedtime, only music apps are available. This allows you to create a highly customized profile for each day that will allow your child access to the applications they need to use, and reserve the more fun applications for other times.
These modes also feature a routine feature. During the specific mode like “homework time” you can create a checklist for your child to complete. This makes the tasks they need to complete easy to find. Every morning it can show tasks like “brush teeth” and “make bed”. At night it can show things like “read a story”.
Even though there is no social media available for Pinwheel, and you can view all of the text messages that have been sent and received, you can add Bark monitoring to the Pinwheel phone to get alerts about concerning content.
Another benefit to Pinwheel is that it is carrier agnostic. This means you can add the Pinwheel phone to your current cell phone plan to make sure your entire family is on the same plan. You do have to pay a fee to Pinwheel for the software and the parent portal. This is a $15/month charge. If you think of it as just paying for a parental control program, it’s on the more affordable end of the parental control options, and there is less of a chance that your child can circumvent the controls like they can on a standard iPhone or Android device.
As Pinwheel is carrier agnostic, Troomi is it’s own cell phone service. There are 3 monthly service options. The first is $15/month and includes calling and texting only. This makes it very similar to Gabb, but has the added ability to limit the contacts and monitor the text messages. The next option is the $20/month plan that adds the ability to send photo messages and particpate in group text messages. The third plan is $25/month and includes the kids safe app store so you can allow any of the available apps.
One huge benefit of Troomi is the kids safe web browser. This allows for parents to specificially allow various URL’s to be accessed. With this safelist only browser, the child’s cell phone will not be able to access any websites that have not been specifically allowed. Why this is important is with Pinwheel there are apps that have a back door to the internet. There are warnings on these apps that will notify you of this possibility. So once you get access to this back door, the entirety of the internet is opened up. With Troomi, if they find their way to a browser, it will still limit the browsing to the websites you have specifically allowed instead of the whole internet.
While you can approve contacts on both platforms, Troomi takes it a step further and gives you a few options on this. You can choose to have contacts blocked until you manually approve them, or have contacts in a moderated state that allows contact for 72 hours. If the contact is not approved within 72 hours, the contact will be blocked. The third option here is just the ability to allow anyone to contact the phone.
As I mentioned, the only one I absolutely do not recommend is Gabb. Even worse would be a flip phone. Most flip phones also have internet capabilities, so it doesn’t have the management or monitoring, plus an open window to the unfiltered internet. I like both Pinwheel and Troomi. Take the differences into consideration and decide which features are more important for your family.
During February, the code FAMILYTECH will get you the A12 device on Troomi for FREE. After February, you will still get a discount with that code, but the phone will not be free. You can also get a discount on Pinwheel by using this link. https://www.pinwheel.com?via=familytech