Rise of the dumb phones: 5 alternatives to smartphones

By Carrie Rogers-whitehead, Contributor | Posted - Aug 21st, 2018 @ 5:15pm

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SALT LAKE CITY — Remember when RAZR flip phones were the cool, new craze? Maybe you do, but your kids probably don't.

Smartphones have taken over the world of telecommunication. Parents, however, have started providing their children with dumb phones as they realize that giving kids free access to the internet might not always be such a good idea.

"I worked in the cellphone industry for seven years. Never once in all that time did a parent say to me they were glad they purchased a smartphone for their child," said South Jordan mother Melissa Jeffress.

"They did call me weekly and ask how to block, limit, monitor, walk back the purchase or suspend the line. Parents often recognize after the fact that they have given a key to their children that opens a box they are simply not ready for."

And though smartphones for children can be problematic, connection is often a necessity for families. Fortunately, there are alternatives for those that need to coordinate schedules and pickup times but don't want to give their child Pandora's box.

Some parents may even want to consider getting one for themselves and eliminating all the distractions that come with a smartphone.

Here are five dumb phone alternatives to choose from:

1. Light Phone

Photo: Light Phone via Indiegogo

The original Light Phone came out as part of an Indiegogo campaign in 2015 and more than doubled its financial goal before selling out. Now, the company is currently taking reservations for the Light Phone II, which is set for release in April 2019.

The credit card-sized phone is lightweight and meant to be a second phone for when you want to take a step back. It's set up to send messages and forward calls to a secondary phone, and the Light Phone II can do other simple things like give directions.

2. Nokia 3310

Photo: Nokia via

Parents of children may feel some nostalgia toward the Nokia since it was likely their first phone. In the late '90s, Nokia was the most popular mobile phone brand in the world and millions of people downloaded the mobile game, Snake.

Now, the Nokia is back with its colorful 3310 model, complete with limited internet access, a camera, MP3 player and, of course, Snake.

3. GizmoPal 2 and GizmoGadget

Photo: LG via

LG has created two wearable devices that include tracking and some phone features: the GizmoPal 2 and GizmoGadget. Both are run through Verizon and have an inexpensive monthly plan.

"We bought our 9-year-old a GizmoGadget to keep in contact with us while he plays further than a block away from the house. He can only text and voicemail mom and dad via the app and call a few other approved phone numbers," said South Jordan mother Diana Baker.

The GizmoPal2 is a smaller, more toy-like version of the GizmoGadget with fewer features, but the device can still make calls and track the wearer.

4. Jethro SC318

Photo: Jethro via

Families may also be concerned about staying connected with older loved ones. The Jethro SC318 is designed for seniors, with large buttons and a hole for a neck or wrist strap.

Parents may also appreciate that the Jethro SC318 does not connect to the internet, although it's only available through T-Mobile and AT&T.

5. Locked-down smartphones

Instead of buying a basic phone, parents may decide to strip and lock down their old smartphones before handing them over to their children.

When locking down a smartphone, you should:

  • Set parental controls on Google Play and the Apple Store to block in-app purchases.
  • Restrict data usage.
  • Set up restricted accounts.
  • Clear out unnecessary apps and consider creating controls for new downloads.

South Jordan mother Cambrey Fuller Olmos said she used to give dumb phones to her children, but she now appreciates the tracking features on the smartphone.

"We just block most of the other features so I could have the GPS tracking — and because I could just give (my son) my old phone that still works and get a new phone," she said.

There are also plenty of parental control apps and web filters that can be added to a hand-me-down smartphone.

"One of the big reasons we don't let our kids have smartphones is because they are so addictive. We see it in ourselves, in public, on TV — everywhere people are glued to their phones," said Laura Gaillard, a South Jordan mother of five. "Even with our kids having dumb phones, they're still on them, a lot."

Gaillard feels providing dumb phones allows connection but also buffers her children "from the outside forces" and allows them to be more present.

Though dumb phones provide an alternative solution to the problems generated by smartphones, communication is still key when it comes to helping your kid navigate the world of tech — and there is no need for a device when talking face-to-face.

Carrie Rogers-Whitehead

About the Author: Carrie Rogers-Whitehead

Carrie Rogers-Whitehead is the CEO of Digital Respons-Ability, and her company trains parents, educators and students on digital citizenship. She is also a college instructor, mother and author of the upcoming book "Digital Citizenship in Schools."

Carrie Rogers-Whitehead

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