Android for under-13s: no Google accounts; no family sharing

We’re entering a new phase in the Wilson family as my eldest son starts secondary school next week and my youngest becomes more and more tech-aware.

The nearly-10 year-old just wants a reasonably-priced, reasonably-specced tablet as my original iPad is no longer suiting his needs (stuck back on iOS 5 and with a pretty low spec by today’s standards) – I’m sure we’ll work something out.

A bigger challenge is a phone for the nearly-12 year-old. We’ve said he can have his own smartphone when his birthday comes and effectively there are 3 (well, 2) platforms to consider:

  • Windows Mobile: limited app availability; inexpensive handsets; uncertain future.
  • Apple iOS: expensive hardware; good app support.
  • Google Android: wide availability of apps and hardware; fragmented OS.

Really, Windows isn’t an option (for consumers – different story in the enterprise); Apple is only viable if he has a hand-me-down device (which is a possibility); but he’s been doing his research, and is looking at price/specs for various Android devices.  The current favourite is an Elephone P9000 – which looks like a decent phone for a reasonable price – as long as I can find a reliable UK supplier (i.e. not grey market).

In the meantime, and to see how he gets on before we commit to a device purchase, I’ve given him an old Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini that I had in a drawer and I put a giffgaff SIM in. Because it’s a Google device, he gets the best experience if he uses a Google account… and that’s where the trouble started.

We went to sign-up, added some details, and promptly found that you have to be 13 to open a Google account. And unlike with Apple iCloud Family Sharing, where I have family sharing set up for the old iPhones that the boys use around the house, the Google equivalent (Google Play Family Library) also needs all of the family members to be at least 13.  There simply appears to be no option for younger children to use Google services.

Maybe that’s because Google’s primary business is about selling advertising and advertising to children is questionable from a moral standpoint (though YouTube have come up with a child-friendly product).

I tried signing in as me – which let me download some apps but also meant he had access to my information – like all of my contacts (easily switched off but still undesirable).

Luckily, it seems I created him a GMail account when he was 5 weeks old (prescient, some might say) and I was able to find my way into that and get him going. Sadly, it seems I was not as mentally sharp when his little brother was born…

(As an aside, I originally gave my son a Nokia “feature phone” to use and he looked bemused – he later confessed that was because he didn’t know how to use it!)

Postscript: I’ve since given my youngest son my Tesco Hudl and was able to sign up for a Google account without being asked to provide date of birth details…

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