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Gabb Phone Z2 Review: A nifty first smartphone for kids

The Gabb Phone Z2 is a great entry device for both parents and kids — but it's not quite perfect.

Gabb Phone Z2
(Image: © Chris Wedel/Android Central)

Our Verdict

The Gabb Phone Z2 offers a smooth experience for a child's first smartphone. The device is easy to use and there's no clutter of apps to distract. There are no games, social media, or internet on the phone and that can go a long way toward easing a parent's mind.

For

  • Great battery life
  • Fingerprint reader
  • Find my phone via the companion app
  • Blocked from downloading apps
  • 3.5mm headphone jack

Against

  • Too few parental controls
  • The camera is hit and miss for good photos
  • The screen doesn't get bright enough
  • No water resistance

As a parent of a 9-year-old and 6-year-old, my kids regularly ask to play with my gadgets. While my youngest hasn't quite started asking for a phone, my third-grader has been asking for a while now. Of course, when asked, I'm required by parental law to go into a diatribe about how when I was his age, cell phones didn't exist and blah, blah, blah. But times are different, and devices like the Gabb Phone Z2 didn't exist when I was a kid.

Sure, I could go out and buy any cheap phone and hand it to my son, but there are things that a responsible parent wants and needs to be available on a smartphone that a child is using, and Gabb Wireless is a brand that is working to solve those parental requests with its products. My son has been using the Gabb Phone Z2 for a few months now, and we've got some thoughts on it.

Gabb Phone Z2: Price and availability

The Gabb Phone Z2 launched in August 2020 for $99 through the Gabb Wireless store. The phone comes in a single color, black, but Gabb does sell four case options through its website. The cases are $12.99 and come in Blast Black, Galaxy Green, Poppin Purple, and Rad Red. The Gabb Phone Z2 is currently available on the Gabb Wireless website for $149.99. 

Gabb Phone Z2: What's good

Gabb Phone Z2

(Image credit: Chris Wedel/Android Central)

Gabb Wireless may not be a brand as widely known as Apple and Samsung, but it is definitely a big name in the kid's tech space. Aside from testing the Gabb Phone Z2, my son and I previously reviewed the Gabb Watch as an alternative to a smartphone. The watch has done a great job, but as my son's friends start getting phones, he too thinks he needs one — Enter the Gabb Phone Z2.

The device itself is made by ZTE and is a small device by today's standards with a 5.5-inch display. The phone's body has a nice shape, making it easier for smaller hands to hold. In keeping with the phone features we don't see much of these days, it also has a removable back and battery. 

Gabb Phone Z2
Dimensions
5.79 x 2.8 x 0.37 in
Weight140g
BatteryRemovable 2,660mAh, up to 16hrs talk time, up to 455hrs standby
Display
5.5in HD+ LCD, 720 x 1440x 295ppi
ColorsBlack
Memory2GB RAM
Storage32GB, microSD expandable
Processor
MediaTek Helio A22
CamerasFront 5MP and Rear 8MP
Water and Dust resistance
🚫
ConnectivityLTE, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2 LE
LocationGPS
OtherUSB-C, 3.5mm headphone jack, Capacitive fingerprint reader

At 2,660mAh, the cell does a great job of keeping up with regular usage. The estimated usage time is 16 hours of talk time with up to 455 hours on standby. While my son doesn't do a whole lot of talking or texting, there wasn't a single day that the phone was under 50% by bedtime. So even for a chatty child, the phone should get through a day just fine.

Performance for the Gabb Phone Z2 is more than adequate for a child, and given the device's parameters, the MediaTek processor isn't being pressed too hard. While 32GB might seem like a small amount of storage, it is expandable up to 1TB with a microSD card. That way, your child can take all the photos they want.

Gabb Phone Z2

(Image credit: Chris Wedel/Android Central)

As for photos, the Gabb Phone Z2 has a single rear 8MP camera with dual flash and a 5MP front-facing camera. There are some built-in filters in the camera app to give photos some added character. Aside from the filters, the only added features are a manual and panoramic mode to choose from.

Photos from the device are OK. While an older child may not feel they are good enough for their social media account, for a younger child, the photos are solid. Regardless of the child's age, there shouldn't be expectations that images from the Gabb Phone Z2 will compare favorably to what the best Android phones on the market offer. 

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Gabb Phone Z2

(Image credit: Chris Wedel/Android Central)
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Gabb Phone Z2

(Image credit: Chris Wedel/Android Central)
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Gabb Phone Z2

(Image credit: Chris Wedel/Android Central)
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Gabb Phone Z2

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Gabb Phone Z2

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Gabb Phone Z2

(Image credit: Chris Wedel/Android Central)

Two very welcomed features of the Gabb Phone Z2 are the rear-mounted fingerprint reader and the 3.5mm headphone jack. Aside from the PIN, password, and pattern options, a fingerprint reader adds a layer of security while being easy for kids to use. The headphone jack comes in handy when plugging in a pair of the best kids' headphones instead of remembering to charge the Bluetooth headphones. 

While all of the things we've talked about up until now are typical for the majority of excellent budget Android phones, what separates the Gabb Phone Z2 is the software. Like its smartwatch, Gabb has custom software on the phone to limit the device's features to help keep your child safe. There's a companion app for the parent's phone called MyGabb. 

Gabb Phone Z2

(Image credit: Chris Wedel/Android Central)

The app is the parent's insight into their child's phone location, battery status, and more. As I mentioned, you can see where the phone is on a map with the ability to set regular location updates on top of manually pinging the device. In terms of parental controls, the app is relatively limited for the Gabb Phone Z2 — but more on that later. 

A handy feature that is in the app is called Safe Zones. It allows you to set up a geofence so that you'll get a notification when the device enters or leaves the designated zone with the ability to enable more than one at a time. For example, you can set one for home, school, a friend's house, or whatever fits your needs. This way, you can get a heads up when your child is getting to or leaving an expected location

MyGabb app screenshot

(Image credit: Chris Wedel/Android Central)

Another area that needs some supervision on a child's smartphone is the device's access to apps. Not only can the phone not download apps, but there are also only 14 apps on the phone — period. Limiting apps for a child is needed for various reasons, whether that's safety or to help with focus. Regardless of the reason, with the Gabb Phone Z2, you can have peace of mind knowing that access to unwanted apps won't be an issue. 

Gabb calls those 14 apps the Essential Tools. These are all pre-installed, and they can't be disabled or uninstalled. The phone's apps are radio, camera, video, record, calendar, calculator, call, message, contacts, photos, settings, files, music, and clock. There is a 15th app that is the Gabb app for initial setup. Also, when I previously mentioned the wired headphones, they act as an antenna for the radio app for listening to music when plugged in.

Gabb Phone Z2: What's not good 

Gabb Phone Z2: What's not good

Gabb Phone Z2

(Image credit: Chris Wedel/Android Central)

The Gabb Phone Z2 has a lot going for it when looking at a smartphone for kids, but some areas are ripe for improvement. From a hardware standpoint, the phone does quite a bit right. But the two primary areas that need help are the device's display and durability.

While the display has good color and is responsive, it's just not bright enough. In normal lighting, the screen is plenty visible. However, it is very tough to read outdoors or in a bright area. I'm not even talking about direct sunlight, either. Even on an overcast day, your child will need to cup their hand over the phone to see what it says.

Second only to parental controls, the most important feature for a kid's smartphone is durability.

Unlike many other smartphones, the Gabb Phone Z2 isn't using the typical glass and metal sandwich approach. Instead, it has a removable plastic back that curves to form the side rails, meeting the glass display. It's not shatterproof glass, so be sure to pick up a screen protector. 

It's a shame that at least some water and dust resistance certification isn't available on the Gabb Phone Z2. While the build materials are fine, what is missing is any form of water resistance. Most kids aren't going to think twice if their phone comes into contact with water or dirt, but it can ruin a phone quickly.

Gabb Phone Z2

(Image credit: Chris Wedel/Android Central)

Returning to the subject of cameras, it can take good photos. But as with most budget smartphones, cameras aren't an area that gets much attention. In good lighting conditions, the phone takes decent photos. However, where it really struggles is in low-light situations. Images are grainy, are details are hard to make out when focusing on subjects.

Another common characteristic of photos on the Gabb Phone Z2 is the frequent blurry snapshots. Auto-focus is slow to latch on, so tapping on the screen helps it know where to focus. But a young child won't know to do this and, at the same time, likely won't mind a blurry image now and then. What will most likely happen will be blurred photos from movement. Kids rarely hold still, and the lack of image stabilization on the Gabb Phone Z2 contributes to out-of-focus photos.

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Gabb Phone Z2

(Image credit: Chris Wedel/Android Central)
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Gabb Phone Z2

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In terms of software, the Gabb Phone Z2 is relatively bare-bones — and that's a good thing. While I don't have any issues with the lack of apps on the phone, some parental controls are missing that I feel need to be available. 

First off, I would like many of the options available to the Gabb Watch to be included on the phone. One of those would be the ability to manage the contacts for the phone. Your child can add contacts directly on the phone as it stands now. From the companion app, you can't see the contacts at all. As the child gets older, the parent should be able to expand the phone's permissions to then allow direct contact adding, along with some apps.

The Gabb Phone Z2 does a great job at reducing the chance for distractions and inappropriate apps, but it could do more.

I also would like the ability to see who has tried to contact my son's phone. Scammers don't know or care if the phone number they call is a child or not, and knowing how often my child's phone gets hit by unwanted calls or text messages would be helpful. The company recently introduced Gabb Guard, which runs in the background to filter out up to 95% of unwanted calls and texts, but it will cost an additional $.99 per month for the service. 

Gabb Phone Z2

(Image credit: Chris Wedel/Android Central)

Pivoting to the service, the phone runs on a Verizon MVNO managed by Gabb Wireless, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. What is, though, is if Verizon doesn't have good coverage in your area — you're out of luck. The phone only uses the Gabb Wireless network, and changing to a different SIM card will cause the phone to give an error and not connect.

If you purchase the phone on a two-year contract, it will run you $17.99 per month. A one-year contract is $19.99 and $24.99 with no contract. To activate group texts and MMS for the Gabb Phone Z2, it will run an extra $5 a month. Then there is the $.99 Gabb Guard and $4.99 to get a warranty for the phone. Adding a line to your family service provider is usually less than the potential $35.97 Gabb Wireless service — but that's not an option.

Gabb Phone Z2: Competition

Google Family Link

(Image credit: Chris Wedel / Android Central)

For phones that are specifically made for kids, Gabb isn't the only option. While you could just purchase any phone from a carrier and hand it to your child, that likely isn't the safest or most cost-effective way to handle it. If you do go that route, it is worth setting up an account for your child through Google's Family Link

Two other brands that offer a compelling package in the kid's smartphone arena are Troomi and Pinwheel. Both of these companies have low-cost phone options and include a suite of software features that work to ensure an enjoyable and safe experience for your child. Look for reviews for each of these brands' options in the future.

Ticktalk 4

(Image credit: Chris Wedel/Android Central)

Another option worth considering is a kid's smartwatch. Like with smartphones, there are choices other than the Gabb Watch. For a child between too young for a smartphone and too old for a basic watch, the TickTalk 4 is a fantastic choice from a software and hardware standpoint.

The TickTalk 4 is a cellular-connected watch that makes voice and video calls on top of sending text and voice messages. The watch includes two cameras, IP67 water resistance, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS. It even comes with free iHeart Radio Family streaming music. The companion app is full of parental controls like location tracking and contact management.

Gabb Phone Z2: Should you buy it?

Gabb Phone Z2

(Image credit: Chris Wedel/Android Central)

You should buy this if ...

- You are buying your child their first smartphone.

- You want a phone that won't distract your child with apps and social media.

- You are in an area of good Verizon coverage.

You shouldn't buy this if...

- You want a phone with a lot of parental control options.

- Your child is old enough for access to social media.

- The phone needs to be water-resistant.

The Gabb Phone Z2 is a solid option for a child's first cell phone because it is easy to use. The phone can only access the pre-installed 14 basic apps, so there is no access to the internet or social media. This is fine for a younger child, but a high schooler likely would feel quite restricted. While parental controls are present, they are very limited. It is nice that there is an add-on service, Gabb Guard, but it is an extra $.99 that is a necessary purchase if you want to block out spam from the phone.

Gabb Phone Z2

(Image credit: Chris Wedel/Android Central)

Gabb Wireless isn't going to be recognized by the average person, but it is one of the few small companies that is making an effort in the kids' tech space. The idea of getting my 9-year-old a smartphone is both exciting and terrifying. I want to introduce my son to mobile tech in a responsible way, and the Gabb Phone Z2 is a great way to do that.

The phone itself isn't a remarkable device, but it's exactly what it should be for a young child — aside from the lack of water resistance and dim display. It's large enough that touchpoints are easy to use yet small enough for use by smaller hands. The battery lasts a full day, and the cameras get the job done. 

As for the software, it does a solid job at restricting apps and access to things that worry parents. But it could use a few extra features to provide even more peace of mind. Ultimately, the Gabb Phone Z2 is a fantastic choice when looking for a child's first smartphone.

Chris Wedel
Chris Wedel
Chris Wedel is a fan of all things tech and gadgets. Living in rural Kansas with his wife and two young boys makes finding ways to get and stay online tricky. By utilizing his years of experience with the tech and mobile communications industries — success is assured. When not conquering connectivity challenges and testing new gadgets, he enjoys cruising a gravel road in his UTV with some good tunes.