By Christina Tynan-Wood
Trusting an expensive phone on a two-year contract to someone who typically can’t find his shoes is a daunting prospect. That’s why the Kyocera Jax ($9.99) — available in magenta or black on a prepaid plan from Virgin Mobile — is a safe but still hip option.
This slim, candy-bar-style cell phone comes with no contract. Got a chatterer? Load it up with a minutes pack, starting at $20 for 200 minutes. Or, for the strong, silent type, put some cash in his account and pay 20 cents per minute. If your child's phone ends up disappearing the way his shoes do, he'll learn his lesson without costing you much more than the price of lunch. And if he does well, you can always upgrade him to a no-contract, $25-a-month unlimited voice, text, and data plan.
Bottom line: Cheap, no-commitment phone and plan. Easy to replace if lost or broken.
Virgin Mobile's Flare ($19.99), a traditional flip phone, is simple to use: open to talk, close to hang up. Then toss it in a backpack, and it won’t make calls on its own when your little techster hits the buttons by accident. And like the Jax, if anything untoward happens to the phone while it’s in that backpack, it’s easy to replace.
The Flare even has a speakerphone for pajama-party gabfests. Since it's a prepaid phone, there's no commitment. Turn on texting when your child is ready for it, and give her a fixed number of texts. Turn it off if she misuses it.
Bottom line: Easy to use and replace. A no-contract plan that will let you dole out minutes as you see fit.
If your youngster needs a fuss-free flip phone, and you want to keep her from using it at school or after bedtime, the Katana II ($99.99) might be the ticket. Parental controls come standard with all Kajeet phones, so you set the limits.
Sign up for the GPS tracking service ($9.95 a month, no commitment), and you can also check online to see where you child is — did she make it from school to the sitter's? — anytime you like. The plans are designed to suit kids as well, including a $15-a-month plan with 60 minutes of voice and unlimited texting, enough to meet the social needs of most grade schoolers.
Bottom line: The perfect starter phone for kids whose parents want a little control.
This cute white-with-cherry-or-plum-trim phone (free with plan) is easy to use right out of the box: It has a clear screen and simple phone dialing on the front. But flip it open to access the QWERTY keyboard, and it becomes a terrific texting phone that will carry your kid right through the middle school years.
Don’t worry about your text-crazed kid spending the college fund to say "LOL" 2,000 times a day. T-Mobile offers free Web filtering and lets you set texting-per-minute limits so your child can never run over his allotment.
Bottom line: A great texting phone for T-Mobile family plans that won't break the bank.
The original Rumor was a wildly popular texting phone. The new Rumor Touch ($29.99 with plan) boasts a five-line QWERTY keyboard and a three-inch touchscreen. So staying on the cutting edge of the tween/teen social world is a mere glance and tap away. This phone comes in three hot colors: red, purple, and blue.
Bottom line: A good texting phone, a plan to suit your budget, and a sweet touchscreen.
This cute texting phone from Sanyo ($149.95), which also comes in plain blue, is like a Crackberry for kids, with a QWERTY keyboard on the face and a dedicated emoticon button. Perfect for texting!
It's available from Kajeet, which makes it a prepaid phone (no-contract plans start at $4.99) with parental controls and GPS tracking. The parental controls let you set time limits — say, no talking during school or after bedtime — and the GPS (an extra $9.95 a month) lets you track down your kid if she goes missing or, more likely, can’t remember where she left her phone.
Bottom line: An excellent prepaid texting phone with built-in parental controls.
Full-featured but still easy to use, the Pixi Plus (free with plan) has a touchscreen and runs on Palm’s WebOS operating system. There are lots of terrific apps available, and this smart phone has the ability to use several of them at once. The QWERTY keyboard makes it easy to text or browse the Web. And this compact phone is also WiFi enabled, so students can access homework and do research on the fly. Combine that with the apps, and this is a handy homework helper for ambitious students.
Bottom line: An ideal entry-level smart phone for students who need information wherever they go.
No contract. Unlimited calling, texting, and Web access for $50. Plus a bill that shrinks a little every month you pay it on time. (Monthly bills can go as low as $35.) What more could you want in a phone — good looks? You got it.
The Samsung Seek ($149.99) packs a lot of bang for your buck. Sleek and handsomely small, it also includes a nice digital camera. And if you have a high-speed texter, she'll be over the moon with the touchscreen and full slide-out QWERTY keyboard.
Bottom line: An inexpensive, no-commitment unlimited plan and a state-of-the-art messaging phone makes this a pick any parent (and kid) will love.
If you're thinking of giving your teen a phone this holiday season, you'll hit the jackpot with the LG Optimus T Android smart phone (free with a two-year contract, or, if you're already a T-Mobile customer, add your kid to your plan for $5 a month).
This is an outrageously inexpensive way to transform your teen into one happy kid. Google Maps, Gmail, the Android App store, and Google Calendar are all available on this slick little touchscreen phone. It even sports a full-featured music player.
Your teen will think you spent a fortune. His friends will think he’s the coolest. And you don’t have to tell him what a steal it really was.
Bottom line: An Android phone for next to nothing? Pretty close to a holiday miracle (and you'll be the hero gift giver to any phone-loving teen).