(USATODAY.com) - Thinking about buying your child a smartphone? With the arrival of the lower-cost iPhone 5C ($79 at Walmart with a contract), it may seem the logical choice. The iPhone has a simple interface, parental controls, all sorts of apps and, now, cool bright colors. But is an iPhone better than your Android options? I've broken it down by parental pain points and made a pick for the best type of smartphone for kids.
If you were to just consider the parental controls available through Apple's iOS versus Android, iOS would win hands down. You can easily shut off access to web browsing, the camera, video chat, installing apps, deleting apps and sharing location information, among other things. Plus, you can set content ratings for videos, music, books and apps, and even set a volume limit.
With iOS 7 (coming Wednesday for current devices) parents also get the ability to automatically block access to adult content on the Internet or limit browsing to a list of sites they've approved.
Android phones offer few parental controls baked-in. You can set content restrictions for entertainment and apps available through the Google Play store, and require a password before your child can make a purchase, but that's about it. The password requirement for purchases also doesn't hold true for free apps, so they could still download free games if you didn't want them to.
All Android devices have access to robust third-party parental-control apps, though, including Kid's Shell, Kido'z and NQ Family Guardian. They let you block, manage and monitor apps, including locking Google Play and in-app purchasing. They also provide content filtering for web browsing and the ability to set time limits on using the device. In short, everything you need to create boundaries you feel are appropriate for your child.
All the major carriers-AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon-will let you set call and text restrictions by time of day. Sprint also lets you monitor and restrict who your child texts and see apps your child downloads. AT&T and Verizon let you set text and data usage limits, with Verizon letting you also set limits on calls and see which apps your child downloads. T-Mobile lets you put a cap on talk and text.
New cellphone carrier Zact provides the most robust controls. With Zact, parental controls can be set remotely via the Zact Control app (free for Android or iOS devices). You can set time-based restrictions for talk, text and individual apps and set when the device can have Internet access.
There are no anti-malware apps for iOS devices because of the way apps are restricted in Apple's operating system. These restrictions have also limited the frequency of malware on iOS devices. However, if your child jailbreaks the iPhone to load unauthorized apps, all bets are off. So it's worth loading an app like Lookout Mobile Security that will warn you if the device has been jailbroken.
Android devices receive the overwhelming share of malware attacks. However, if your child sticks to purchases from Google Play, Amazon App Store and other reputable marketplaces, the risk drops significantly. Plus, there are free anti-malware apps that protect Android devices, including Norton Mobile Security and Trend Micro Mobile Security.
Both iOS and Android devices have lost phone location and wiping options, so you'll be covered either way.
For Android devices, you can locate and ring the phone using Google's Android Device Manager web portal. For iOS devices, you need to turn on the Find my iPhone in settings before you can locate it using iCloud.
Once you have Find my iPhone turned on, you can also remotely wipe the phone if it falls into the wrong hands. And, with iOS 7, you'll also be able to create a custom message that tells people how to contact you should they find the device-even if you choose to wipe it.
For Android, you'll need to turn the remote wipe option on in the Google Settings app (a separate app from your device settings app) before you can remotely wipe it.
You can get an iPhone 4S (starting Friday) or a number of Android phones for free from your carrier, if you sign a new contract. To get the best price on an Android phone, you'll want to check out the Android phone options on Amazon and Wirefly and compare them to your carrier.
When you look at what you're getting for your money, you'll find last year's flagship Android devices, such as the Samsung Galaxy S III, at the free/penny price point in some places, while last year's iPhone 5 will cost $79.
Cellphone plan costs are also a factor. Looking at the major carriers (AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile), a plan for your child will start at $30 per month if you add a line or $50 if you get a standalone plan. Even the more budget-friendly services like Cricket Wireless, Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile will cost you at least $35 per month for service.
New cellphone carrier Zact is great for light smartphone users because you pay just for what you use-and you don't have to get data if your child will only be using WiFi networks. For instance, for about $19 per month, you can get 250 minutes of talk, 1000 texts and 250MB of data. Or, for the same $19, you could get 500 minutes of talk, 2500 texts and no data. You can make adjustments throughout the month and get reimbursed for what you don't use at the end of the month.
BEST SMARTPHONE FOR KIDS
My pick for the best smartphone for kids is a low-cost Android phone. There are great phones that cost nothing up front, like the Samsung Galaxy S III on Sprint.
The Galaxy S III may be a year old, but it is still a great phone. It has a beautiful 4.8-inch display, a battery that will easily take kids through a full day of use, an 8MP camera that performs well in low light and a 1.5GHz dual core processor, which easily handles all but the most processor-intense games. It was Samsung's flagship model until April this year and it's holding up well.
The other key factor is the price of monthly service set by the carrier. For Sprint & AT&T customers, adding a second line is the way to go. Verizon and T-Mobile customers may want to consider a plan on Zact. Zact has the Galaxy S III for $449 upfront or, you can save more with the $259 Samsung Galaxy Victory. Either way, you'll pay less over time, especially for lighter users.
All in, a low-cost Android phone provides the best value while providing a safe smartphone experience for kids.
Suzanne Kantra is co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Techlicious. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.