The 1stFone – would you buy one? We weigh up the pros and cons


Can I call them on my 1stFone? – JD, 5

I’m not normally one to court controversy, so little did I know when I agreed to review the 1stFone that it would spark such a passionate divide between those in favour and those against. I shared a pic of the phone on Facebook and the thread went crazy – it was fascinating and challenging. I knew if I was going to review this bit of kit in a balanced way, I’d need to take my time and think very carefully.

In case you don’t know, the 1stFone is a very basic phone aimed at children aged 4-9. It doesn’t text or surf the web, it simply allows them to voice call only the numbers on the pre-set buttons.

So what do I think of the idea? Well when I received the phone, I was undecided and today, after a few weeks of use…I’m still undecided. Let me tell you why.

On the plus side:

  • It’s small and light
  • It has a cord with safety a release, so your child can wear it round their neck and is less likely to lose it
  • It can be custom designed so it looks just how your child wants it
  • The buttons are very straightforward and large enough for young children with less dexterity to use
  • It doesn’t look much like a phone, so is less likely to attract a mugger’s attention
  • It can’t be used to access the internet
  • It can’t be used to call anyone other than the people you choose
  • If a child were wearing this device and, heaven forbid, you were separated, you could re-connect very rapidly
  • If staying over at a friend’s house, it gives them a line back to their mum without the need to ask a grown up
  • JD seemed to love the independence and ‘grown up-ness’ of having his own phone, and it’s a chance for him to start learning about managing personal technology – a life skill he’ll need in this age of gadgets

But on the down side:

  • It’s very small, so when against the ear, it doesn’t really reach the mouth, even on a child, so the sound quality for the person on the other end isn’t great
  • If the child shares the phone’s number with someone, there’s nothing to stop them calling it, which could mean they have access to your child without your knowledge (you can choose whether or not to have the number displayed on the back)
  • If it’s off at the main switch, it’s potentially too complicated for a four year old to turn back on – you have to flick the switch at the back, then press and hold the on button, then wait until it flashes blue. Potentially, this renders it useless in an emergency
  • If it’s on, it’s quite easy for a child to accidentally push one of the buttons, which could mean being connected to, say, voicemail for long periods and racking up huge charges
  • Although very basic looking, it is an electronic piece of kit, so could attract muggers if swinging from a child’s neck
  • JD wanted to use his all the time to call his family members, so we had to take it away and only give it to him when out, which kind of spoiled his sense of ownership

Other criticisms levelled on the Facebook thread I’ll address here. The first, and loudest, was a ‘let kids be kids’ cry, which I’m glossing over here as I simply don’t agree that it’s an issue – technology is a fact of modern life, and the 1stFone is well controlled. Each to their own, of course.

Another question raised was whether parents would be less cautious if they felt their little ones were on the other end of a phone. I think that this concern is also pretty unfounded in the case of most sensible parents – really, if you think your child doesn’t need supervising in any circumstances, that’s a cause for concern, phone or not.

A final key concern raised by some was the cost, although I don’t agree. The handset is £40 – pretty cheap for a customised phone – and you can sign up for a rolling contract at £7.50 per month for 50 minutes. I think that’s pretty reasonable as a monthly fee if you plan to use it as intended and always take it out with you. There are other plans too – admittedly the Pay As You Go option is steep (about 10p a minute and it only lasts 60 days), but that might suit people who only intend to use it very rarely, as you could just top up the occasional £10.

The truth is, I think it’s well-executed, but I can’t help but feel that although it has some novelty and safety value, the 1stFone is largely unneeded, and probably only a worthwhile purchase for a small minority of parents. But the real question is, would you buy it?

Disclosure: we were sent the 1stFone and a one month tariff for review purposes. No payment was received. All posts are 100% honest.

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  1. says

    I may well be wrong, but I don’t think there’s any option for voicemail? – only the preset actual people, so you couldn’t incur a charge like that I don’t think??
    I would buy one. I’ve used mine for intended purpose – my son got lost in a crowd and rang us. I could still see him, but it’s only when he rang that I realised he couldn’t see us and was beginning to panic.
    We have a troop of 4 children within a 2 year age gap and when they were 6-8 we’d often let them go and play on campsites and farms we were staying on etc. and have to trek over and find them periodically, so we bought them a cheap phone to use between them. As they got older it became more useful until they were teenagers and started getting their own phones. I think the 1stFone is probably ideal for an 8-10 year old who might be allowed to go to a local park alone, or to call for friends. Nowadays we do all expect to be able to contact pretty much anyone we want at any time – we don’t get any privacy, why should they? :D
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