Savvy parents are ditching top-of-the range smartphones for cheap handsets and capped costs
It’s the moment many parents dread – the point at which their child’s requests for a mobile phone can no longer be ignored. In the past it used to be that moving up to secondary school at the age of 11 was the trigger, but it seems now that many primary school kids are just as likely to be “phoned up”.
If you thought choosing the right deal for your own phone was complicated, it gets more so when shopping for a child.
If you are thinking of sending your 11-year-old off to a new school with one of the latest smartphones, you may want to think again: of the 10,000 phones stolen in London every month, as many as two-thirds are taken from children aged 13-16. Overall, around the country people aged under 21 account for 40% of theft victims. Buy your 11-year-old a new iPhone, and the chances are they won’t still have it at the end of the first week.
Ideally you should get the cheapest, oldest handset – one that is not going to appeal to thieves. If you have an old one lying around the house, use that. Parents often use this moment as an opportunity to upgrade their own phone and pass on their old handset.
If you need to buy one, the Nokia 100 is probably the handset to go for. It costs £7.95 from Carphone Warehouse when you also buy £10 pay as you go (PAYG) airtime, or £9 from Tesco. The advantage of Carphone’s handsets is that they are unlocked, enabling you to slip in a sim from any network.
This handset won’t win much kudos in the playground, but it has a colour screen, FM radio and a texting-friendly keypad. It should be reliable and tough – and it’s very cheap to replace if it doesn’t come home.
For a cheap smartphone, you could consider the Alcatel OT 903 from Carphone, which is now £40 when you buy a £10 top-up. It runs Android software, and users seem to like it. Buy one of those and get a bundled PAYG, and you’re into smartphone territory with very little outlay or risk.
Pay as you go or contract?
The advantages of going for a pre-pay, PAYG deal are many: it enables you to keep tabs on what is being spent, and if a thief takes the handset, your liability is limited to the credit balance. Equally, it’s a cheap option as a £10 top-up will last some children the whole term.
The disadvantage is that the call costs soon add up if you use the phone a lot. PAYG call charges are typically 25p-30p a minute, and 10p a text. Send 100 texts a week and make a few calls a day, and you’d be better off on a contract. The statistics show that teenage girls tend to use their phones far more than boys of the same age.
A good halfway house is to go for a PAYG bundle deal that gives you a similar monthly allowance to a contract but without the commitment and liability. For example, mobile network 3 offers 100 call minutes, 3,000 texts and 500MB of data downloads for £10 a month on a PAYG basis. You have to renew (top up) that amount each 30 days to get the allowance. The other networks have similar deals.
If you don’t want to pay upfront, or you think PAYG might prove to be a false economy, you can get contracts with a free new handset and a monthly data and calls allowance, all for a set monthly fee which can be as low as £7.50 a month over two years. To get an iPhone you will need to pay more – usually from £20 a month.
The problem with contracts is that in most cases the account holder (the parent) is liable for all the calls and airtime used. If your child runs up a £500 bill or they leave the phone somewhere and the finder starts calling South Africa, you have to pay for all calls made before you reported it lost.
While smartphones generally cost more they will run bill-reducing apps such as Viber, which enables users to make free voice calls, or WhatsApp, which enables users to share multimedia content without using airtime.
You might think that all of the networks would let parents cap their children’s spending, but only Tesco Mobile and 3 do. Tesco allows it on all its contracts including its sim-only deals. Once the child has used that month’s allowance of, say, 100 call minutes, they are blocked until the end of the month. Each contract comes with 5,000 texts a month, so they can always be in contact. Tesco Mobile’s service is provided by O2, so coverage is usually good.
3 users set their credit limit at zero, meaning no calls can be made once the monthly allowance is used up.
Our pick of the school-friendly (low-cost) free handsets is the HTC Desire C smartphone, free on a two-year contract for £7.50 a month at Tesco. It’s a phone that will command some respect in the playground but is not a strong magnet for thieves. Users get 100 minutes of calls, 5,000 texts and 500MB of data per month for £7.50. There is a built-in MP3 player, camera etc. However, there are many other phones to choose from.
Before you hand over an internet-enabled phone to a 14-year-old, you may want to restrict its access. Too many parents are unaware that they can ask their children’s mobile provider to block access to porn and other sites deemed unsuitable for under-18s. All the firms offer this and it’s just a case of asking for parental controls to be turned on. Ofcom has a page on its website on what parents should know.
Keep a record of the phone’s IMEI (its internal serial number) – just type *#06# into the phone and it will display the 15-digit number. You can use this to register the phone at Immobilise.com.
If it is stolen or lost, report it immediately. Don’t assume it may turn up. Don’t bother buying mobile insurance – mobile policies rarely pay out if the handset was stolen at school or college. If your contract handset is taken, you will still have to pay for the remaining months. Order a replacement sim, put it in a less desirable handset and hope for the best.
• If you are a parent who has tackled the issue of children’s mobile phones, let us know how you got on below – what approach you took, what pitfalls you came across, and what solutions you came up with.
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