Rikki says her son is too young for a smartphone, but wonders if a stylish ‘dumb’ device will withstand peer pressure
Thu 10 May 2018 07.46 EDT Last modified on Thu 10 May 2018 08.06 EDT
My son is nine and beginning to hang out with his pals, some of whom sport smartphones. Despite his pleas, we have made it clear there is no way he’s getting one. Aside from delaying his unbridled internet access, our argument is that if he can look after a dumb phone for a year or two, we might consider getting him a smartphone when he starts secondary school.
I don’t want him to feel left out, and I’d like to get him a phone that – even though it lacks internet access – has a certain cachet, and perhaps some built-in games. But all the non-smartphones in the shops seem to be black and decidedly functional. Rikki
Dumb phones have very little cachet with children, unless you’re the first to have one, and it’s already too late for that. Your son may be happier if you involve him in buying a new phone, rather than giving him a hand-me-down, which is the usual parental solution. But unless he actually needs a phone, it might be simpler just to promise him a smartphone when he turns 11.
Unfortunately for you, not buying him a smartphone will not stop him from accessing the internet – or at least seeing it – on a regular basis. He may well have some direct access via his friends’ phones. If not, there will very likely be shared viewing of YouTube videos and other content, some of which you might find objectionable.
At least when your child gets his own smartphone, you will be able to install parental control software, track what he is doing, and track his location. Make sure he knows this and it will, I assume, influence how he uses it.
You will also have the powerful threat of taking his smartphone away.
Most children in the main European countries get their first mobile phone between the ages of 11 and 18, but it varies by country. According to a 2015 research paper, about a third of British children get phones when they are nine years old, compared with a tenth of Belgian children and two-thirds of Danish children. At age 11, more than half of British children may have mobiles, and at 16, it’s more than 90%.
While phone use is not unusual at this age, you should also think about your child’s maturity, and the peer pressure he is under.
As a parent, you should already be familiar with your child’s internet use through his interactions with PCs, tablets, games consoles and smartphones in your home. His risk-awareness and self-control, or lack thereof, will help you decide how far to trust him.
Peer pressure is trickier. You could dig into which friends actually have which phones, and consult other parents and even teachers. (Some schools allow smartphones to be used in class – which is why Danish kids have so many – while others insist they are turned off.) He may not be as left out as he feels.
You should also find out what he really wants to do with his phone, because it probably isn’t to make lots of voice calls. He might want to play smartphone games, in which case a dumb phone won’t be useful. He might want to use text messaging, WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat or whatever services his friends use.
He might be better off with, say, an Apple iPod Touch – which isn’t a phone – or an Android smartphone without a sim installed. But how important is it for you to be able to call or text him?
Not many mobile phones are truly dumb. Low-end models often have cameras for picture messaging and built-in FM radios as well as being able to handle voice calls and send SMS texts. Most include a few simple apps and games. Thanks to Opera’s mini-browser, some cheap phones like the Nokia 216 can even access the web.
The problem is that these phones are not designed for kids. They are for adults who want a phone that’s cheap, simple and has long battery life, or because it’s all they can really afford. The major markets have been India, China and many African countries, where adding Facebook and Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, a game such as Angry Birds Lite, or a mini-browser can be a significant selling point. Of course, users in these countries are also switching to cheap Android smartphones, so the market for less-smartphones is in long-term decline.
It’s a market still dominated by Nokia, though the phone brand is now owned by HMD Global, which is based across the road from Nokia’s headquarters in Espoo, Finland. Nokia, as you may not have noticed, is now churning out lots of different Android smartphones at fairly attractive prices. The phones are made in China by Foxconn, which also makes Apple iPhones and other products.
The Nokia 105 (2017) is one of the most basic phones you can get: it can’t handle picture messaging, Java, Bluetooth, wifi or even WAP. It has no SD card slot so it won’t work as a music player. However, the latest version – released in August – feels pretty robust, and has the rounded “classic” Nokia styling. The features include an FM radio, flashlight and Snake Xenzia game, and you may find a couple of trial games pre-installed. It’s cheap or sometimes free with a £10 or £20 top-up. It’s available in black (£16.94), white (£15.48) and blue (£18.70). (100) add
It would be better to step up to the Nokia 130 (2017), which was released at the time. This adds a rear-facing VGA (640 x 480 pixel) camera, Bluetooth 3.0, GPRS and Edge support, a bigger battery, and a microSD card slot that can handle up to 32GB of music. As well as Snake Xenzia, it comes with five try-and-buy Gameloft games. It’s available in red, grey and black, but mostly black (£26.93). Note: you need to insert a microSD card to use the camera.
The next step up would be the Nokia 3310 3G (2017), which has a bigger, better QVGA screen (240 x 320 pixels instead of 120 x 160), a 2 megapixel camera, and a WAP 2.0/xHTML browser. It also supports WhatsApp. In this case, it’s worth getting the 3G version, which will offer a wider range of networks. It’s available in blue (£41.84), red (£43.18), yellow (£43.95) and charcoal grey (£42.48). But while the retro styling does echo the old Nokia look, it’s pretty expensive for a dumb phone, unless you can find a better deal. Android smartphones start at around the same price, or even less. (106) add
You can compare the three Nokias side-by-side at GSM Arena.
Nokia is also launching a bright yellow Nokia 8110 4G “banana phone” as a new take on the one used by Neo in the Matrix movie. It has been well received on YouTube, and there’s an informative review at AnandTech. It does have internet access but the screen is so small it’s not very practical.
I’m not sure it will appeal to pre-teens, but it’s utterly distinctive. I’d love one.
It’s getting harder to sell feature phones now that Android phones are so cheap, especially now that Chinese manufacturers such as Huawei (Honor), Xiaomi, and ZTE are established brands. (The French Alcatel OneTouch and the American Motorola brands are also now Chinese-owned.) Some users are buying smaller brands direct from China, though they may also be available on Amazon or from other sources such as GearBest, Chinese Smartphones UK and Laptops Direct.
The Alcatel Pixi 4 is one of the cheapest smartphones you can get at £39.28, but it only has a 4in screen. The BLU Grand X (£49.99) is worth a look with a 5in screen, and the Doogee X20 (£52.99) is amazing value for a smartphone with a 6in screen.
There’s a huge price gap between a Nokia 105 (£16) and an iPhone X (£999), and you wouldn’t confuse the two. The price gap between a Nokia 3310 3G (£43) and a Doogee X20 (£53) might be small enough to change your mind about buying a smartphone rather than a dumb one.
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