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Choosing the best tablet for kids

By

November 3, 2013

Gizmag takes a look at some of the most popular tablets for children

Gizmag takes a look at some of the most popular tablets for children

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As anyone who has ever found sticky little fingerprints on their tablet will know, kids love touchscreen technology. But while you can appease them by installing apps on your device, the time will come when they will want one of their own. With this in mind, (and with Christmas fast approaching) here's the Gizmag guide to the best tablets for kids.

We'll start off by thinking about what to consider when shopping for your child's first tablet, and then look at some of our favorites. We'll be focusing on devices which would be suitable as a first tablet for four to seven-year-olds, and for easier management and additional functionality we've limited our selection to those with Wi-Fi.

Things to consider:

Durability

Protective cases, like this one from Fisher Price, can make a tablet more child-friendly

In the hands of even the most careful and diligent child, a tablet computer is an accident waiting to happen. Whether that means it being dropped, accidentally trampled on, or maybe driven over by the odd toy train. Therefore, things to keep an eye out for include chunky grips to minimize the risk of accidental drops, and rubberized bumpers which protect against damage caused when they do happen.

Some tablets will have this built-in, while others will require an additional protective case. Cases can also add a level of water resistance, which might come in handy if the contents of a juice carton was to find its way onto the tablet.

Size, Screen and Power

Tablets with nine(ish)-inch screens, have been designed for adults, and in the hands of a ...

Tablets with nine(ish)-inch screens, have been designed for adults, and in the hands of a young child they'll look strangely out of proportion. Something with a screen in the five to seven inch range would be a much better fit. It's also worth remembering that those chunky protective bumpers and bezels increase the size of a device beyond what the screen size might suggest.

Screen resolution can also vary wildly, with some kid-focused tablets having low-res blocky screens. If your child's used to devices with vastly superior screens, they'll instantly know they're being fobbed of with something inferior. The same goes for processing power. Kids who regularly use grown-up gadgets could find some of the lower-powered tablets a bit sluggish.

Operating System and Parent Controls

Kids tablets run a range of operating systems including child-specific ones and custom And...

Kids tablets run a range of operating systems, with choices including the child-specific ones developed by the likes of LeapFrog and VTech, custom Android versions which have been tinkered with to be more family-friendly, as well as familiar grown-up options.

Child-focused operating systems have been designed for kids to navigate and use safely, with features like educator approved apps and kid-safe web-browsing. They also feature built-in parental controls allowing you to limit what is used, and when. This is also available on some of the family-friendly Android tablets, though parents may have to take slightly more care to ensure the safe limits and restrictions are set up.

Apps

If there's a particular app on your smartphone or tablet that your child's addicted to, yo...

If there's a particular app on your smartphone or tablet that your child's addicted to, you'll want to make sure it's available for their tablet too. Luckily, with Android kids tablets, you typically get the same sort of app selection as you would with any Android tablet. Some manufacturers are also building their own kids app stores with titles judged as child-friendly by experts.

That said, LeapFrog and VTech probably still have the edge on quality educational titles, with large libraries of content developed with age appropriate education in mind. They also have deals with the likes of Disney to ensure your child's favorite characters are well represented. But this does all come at a price, downloads cost more than other app stores, and cartridge titles can cost US$25.

Do you want to use it too?

It may seem a daft consideration, but the question of whether you will want to use your ch...

It may seem a daft consideration, but the question of whether you will want to use your child's tablet is valid one. Do you want this tablet to just be a toy, or do you want to get additional use out of it? If so, you'll want to think about whether the screen-size, resolution and processing power are up to what you'll want to be doing.

Many Android kids tablets have a parent mode, where you can side-load apps which are not accessible to your little one. This means you could grab their tablet when they fall asleep in the buggy, and settle in for a Netflix session at the nearest coffee shop.

Top tablets for kids

LeapPad Ultra

The LeapPad Ultra from LeapFrog is more like a grown-up tablet than previous toyish models

The LeapPad Ultra is the top model of the LeapPad family. Thanks to a large seven-inch screen with a 1,024 x 600 resolution and an 8 GB internal memory, it's more like a grown-up tablet than previous toyish models. It has a 800 MHz processor and boasts two 2 megapixel cameras, built-in Wi-Fi and is designed to withstand the odd knock or drop.

Because it's from LeapFrog, the Ultra runs its easily managed operating system, and is compatible with more than 800 educator-approved games, eBooks, apps and videos. These can be downloaded by parents or bought on cartridges, and there's a selection of 11 pre-loaded.

The $150 LeapPad Ultra can also access the internet, but this is a managed experience through a kid-safe browser. Powered by Zui, everything on LeapSearch has been handpicked by learning experts and can be fine-tuned by parents.

VTech InnoTab 3S

The InnoTab 3S is the top offering from VTech and boasts a five-inch screen

The InnoTab 3S is the top offering from VTech. This time a five-inch screen is order of the day, though it has just a 480 x 272 resolution and is powered by a mediocre 360 MHz CPU. The InnoTab 3S features Wi-Fi, a 2 megapixel rotating camera and 4 GB of internal memory.

Compatible with age-appropriate content from the VTech Learning Lodge, the InnoTab 3S comes packed with 17 free apps including an MP3 player, video recorder, clock and eReader. It's also capable of kid-safe web browsing with a selection of parent-approved websites.

Costing $100, the VTech InnoTab 3S also has the possibility to send and receive text and voice messages (along with photos and drawings) via Wi-Fi to the Android and iOS devices of family members if they install a VTech app.

nabi Jr

The nabi Jr is an Android tablet from Fuhu aimed at younger children (3-6 year-olds), whic...

The nabi Jr is an Android tablet from Fuhu aimed at younger children (3-6 year olds), which has a five-inch screen with a 800 x 480 resolution. It runs Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich, not that you'd know to look at the custom and colorful child-friendly user interface.

Powered by an NVIDIA Tegra 2 A9 Dual Core processor, the $100 nabi Jr has 4 GB of internal memory and a 2 megapixel rotating camera. The child-focused tablet experience is further backed by parental controls which include time controls, web filters and app management.

Child-friendly apps can be accessed in the nabi App Zone via Wi-Fi, and the included Wings personalized learning system teaches children through a series of challenges, while allowing parents to track their progress. A parental mode also allows for the side-loading of other Android apps you might not want your little one to access.

nabi 2

The nabi 2 is a seven-inch offering from Fuhu which has a 1,024 x 600 resolution and is po...

The nabi 2 is a seven-inch offering from Fuhu. It has a 1,024 x 600 resolution and is powered by a NVIDIA Tegra 3 Duad Core processor. It boasts a 2 megapixel camera, 8 GB of internal memory and 1 GB of RAM, all of which make it one of the higher powered kids tablets.

As with the Jr, its Android Ice Cream Sandwich operating system is buried under a child-friendly user interface and the Wings adaptive learning system is again on hand to help children learn, and kid-friendly apps can be accessed by the nabi App Zone via Wi-Fi. Parents can still side-load their own apps for use when the nabi 2 is not being played with.

While the standard nabi 2 retails for $180, special edition Disney and Nickelodeon versions packed with branded content, sell for $200. An unlimited kids TV streaming service can be added for $2.99 per month.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids is a kid-specific spin-off of the seven-inch Samsung Galaxy ...

The Galaxy Tab 3 Kids is a kid-specific spin-off of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3. Featuring brighter colors and additional child-friendly protection it looks every bit the toy, but it boasts some impressive tech inside. There's a 1.2 GHz dual core processor, 1 GB of RAM, and a 7-inch screen with a 1024 x 600 resolution.

Selling for $230, the Galaxy Tab 3 Kids also has 3 megapixel rear and 1.3 megapixel front cameras, 8 GB of internal memory, and built-in Wi-Fi. Samsung has also announced a range of bumpers and cases that will be available to help protect the tablet from butter-fingered youngsters.

On the software side, Samsung has given the Android 4.1 a child specific skin which screams aimed-at-kids with bold colors, cute-ified illustrations and big buttons. Parental controls include the ability to set daily usage time limits, and block the use of certain apps entirely.

Kindle Fire HD

The price of the Kindle Fire HD and the parental controls that Amazon includes in its tabl...

While the Kindle Fire HD isn't a kids tablet per se, its price, the parental controls that Amazon includes in its tablets, and the optional FreeTime subscription, make it a very interesting option. Particularly if you pop it into a child-safe case for added protection.

Though adults might want to opt for the HDX version, the $140 Kindle Fire HD has more than enough under the hood to keep most kids happy. Its seven-inch screen has a 1280 x 800 resolution and a 1.5GHz dual-core processor will keep things moving quickly. While it does have Wi-Fi, it's worth noting that the Kindle Fire HD does not feature a camera.

But it's the ability to create and manage profiles for children (and set limits about what they can use and when) that makes it a viable kids tablet. The Kindle FreeTime subscription service also allows unlimited access to a selection of kids books, games, educational apps, movies, and TV shows for a monthly fee of $4.99, or $2.99 for Prime users.

Other candidates

A tablet doesn't have to  have been specifically designed for children, many kids would lo...

As we've seen, a tablet doesn't have to have been specifically designed for children, to be suitable for them, especially if housed in a protective case. Because of the selection of apps available, almost any tablet will keep a child entertained.

However, if you want to go the route of an otherwise adult tablet loaded with kids titles, whether that's a Nexus 7 or an iPad Mini, you'll want to think hard about how you'll manage internet access, what apps are available, and controlling in-app purchases … and make sure password restrictions are your friend.

Summing up

There are loads of tablets aimed at kids out there. We've only included our favorites here, but in the past year or so we've also seen the VTech InnoTab 3, the LeapPad 2, the FunTab Pro, the Meep! and the Tabeo. All of which makes picking your child's first one a difficult and daunting decision.

To that end, we hope we've helped you decide what's important in a tablet for your child – whether that's durability, having a child-specific operating system, or compatibility with other apps – to help narrow down your search.

We're pretty sure that almost any child could have hours of fun playing with the tablets we've looked at here. All have their relative merits, but of course only you can decide which is right for you and your family.

About the Author
Simon Crisp Simon is a journalist and photographer who has spent the last ten years working for national UK newspapers - but has never hacked a mobile phone - and specializes in writing about weird products and photography technology. When not writing for Gizmag, Simon is often found playing with LEGO and drinking far too much coffee.   All articles by Simon Crisp
14 Comments

Kids should be outside running around not sitting around on a tablet. Parents are getting to protective over there children "no he's not going outside he might get hurt" what happened to the days where a kid would fall out of a tree and they would learn not to do it themselves. We are creating a generation that believe that the outside is bad. Look at the rise in child obesity this would be greatly reduced if we stopped promoting these tablets and started getting them outside and active. What happened to sea saws? Apparently they are too 'dangerous' I know personally that they are not if they are used properly. Parents need to teach kids how to be kids and that it is ok if they fall over. We are breeding a soft generation so I say we need to stop promoting these devices for young children and also stop all the unsociable behaviour that has now become because of it. For a family to be at a restaurant and every single one of them is on their phone or tablet is not good social skills. That should be a time they are left off or at home. We need to teach the younger generations that time still goes on without these devices.

Paff95
3rd November, 2013 @ 11:13 pm PST

Great article - please do one of these on tablets appropriate for older kids! esp. early teen years, where it can't be "kiddy" but still needs some significant restriction over full-on access to the internet at large

I would want a system which allows these kids to do what they want, but on the basis that their parents can see what they've been up to.

Especially if that included a rating/scoring system to highlight likely problems, in order to alert both kid and parent.

Perhaps some higher risk actions could require a parent authentication upfront.

With the extremely wide variety of parenting styles, it would need ability to customise it upfront, and/or have it learn over time what kinds of usage are acceptable or not

Right at the heart of all this is the ability to set different permissions for different users of the device, which I believe Apple continues to refuse to do despite literally millions of requests.

With the volume of potential users (and especially the fact that their early experiences will shape their future purchases) this is a killer application if someone can get it right!

Nickov8
4th November, 2013 @ 01:46 am PST

Paff95: Hear! Hear!

willemco
4th November, 2013 @ 02:31 am PST

I think Paff95 went to the extreme. I think there can be a balance of going outside and using these tablets.

I think this is an excellent comparison, especially for this time of year.

BigWarpGuy
4th November, 2013 @ 05:44 am PST

@Paff95: Taking a "no tablets/computing devices!" stance is a little extreme. If you do your kids will be "well adjusted" fast food workers while the tech savvy kids whose parents understood the need for kids to be experienced with tech are researchers, techs and executives.

Used as intended, as learning aids, and not as artificial baby sitters these devices are awesome. My son has been using his since he was two and knows more reading/writing, and is better spoken than most of the other kids his age. The key is in managing the childs usage. Thus the need for parental controls.

As for social adjustment the way kids learn this best is through play with kids near their age. Keeping children at home alone with just Mom, Dad, or other adults creates socially awkward children who grow up to be mal-adjusted adults. It can take decades to recover from an excessively sheltered upbringing and the individual may never recover. Again it is all about balance. Too much of anything makes it a bad thing regardless of if it is vegetables, candy, outdoor activities, or technology use.

VirtualGathis
4th November, 2013 @ 10:12 am PST

Paff95, you do realize that kids can actually do more that one thing. My kids do both as I think using tech and getting outside and being a child are both very important in a child's education, they need to exercise their minds as well as their bodies.

Denis Klanac
4th November, 2013 @ 04:28 pm PST

Kids need a range of stimulations using all kinds of mediums and yes keeping up with new technology and playing outside and getting exercise/fresh air are important.

Good information regarding tablets, my main criteria for purchasing a tablet was size and my son's ability to use/see apps and handle the tablet.

learnkidstoread
9th November, 2013 @ 05:14 am PST

VirtualGathis---you said your son has had a tablet since he was 2. I am trying to figure out which one to get my 2.5 grandchild for Christmas. This article was good but still doesn't help me to figure out what one is the best for now and for growth.. Can you tell me which one you have? or steer me in the right direction?? thanks!

imjeri2
15th November, 2013 @ 02:23 pm PST

WE bought my son 3 years old the nabi jr hes a non communicative high functioning autistic he loves it if the internet wi-fi were better not the tablets fault he would watch netflix all the time. I had no problem adding Google play / or amazon to add apps he already plays on my wife's phone. Personally i think paff is an idiot his rant is lethargic at best its best to give children a larger view of the world than scooting them outside what they miss at a younger age technology/play/education can not be summed up to anti social behavior as if scooting the trash under the rug by taking something away from the children to make things old fashioned for them to feel better about him self. you may see them as toys but they are more than that the company that does the nabi's tried to offer as many autistic children a low cost nabi inspire as they can to help these kids adjust and work through issues like communication/reflexes and educational programs to help them keep from falling behind we tried the inno tab 1 right before they released the 2 while it has lasted it didn't stand up to the can my kid take it apart permanently test he ripped out the battery holder and that sucker had duck taped batteries for the longest time (replaced every time he ripped them out ) inno tab and leap tend to charge you 20 bucks for apps your kid may never use again because its to complicated for the 3-6 year old to get working it doesn't seem to be the case to much with the nabi jr once we show him how to do something a few times he can get it working and if he doesn't like it he can hit the home button they also have a facebook page and respond back to you if you have questions or suggestions i suggested making it harder to get to the home button and hiding with a key lock the off button it also conserves energy if it hasn't been touched in more than a few minutes it turns it self off and pressing power brings it right back up where it was. it is just right for his hands as he is a larger 3 year old who only stops running around if a show he likes is on or he is learning his numbers on the counting apps or the number of other apps that came free on it. i added a free sign language app/and i added music from my personal library of kid friendly songs as far as the case goes i think they need to re tool the little red tabs that hold the rubber on and make the posts so you can screw the tabs to the casing protector to the nabi jr so the kids can't rip it off even if it is a rugged tablet. the camera swivels so you can take front or back pictures and it is capable of use for Skype if you are near wifi. you can also sync videos/pictures/music/ and android apps from your pc in order to get into parent mode you have to put in a password. the speakers are defiantly loud enough to be heard and having a head set for car trips won't hurt the company sells a nice pair of head phone with decibel limiting mode for children and adult mode. you can also order them online with out all the hassle of going to the store even buying them in bundles unlike most other "kid tablet companies" they make more than a couple accessories while some are superficial like having to pay for the kick stand. there are other things to make it custom to your child. The nabi tablet is a tool not a toy and they have powerful tablet tools for each age range nabi jr for 3- 6 ,6-10 and even a tablet for tween and the wings program on there is common core compliant you can also check on the child progress on it just like a khan coach or teacher plenty of bonuses of course for the wings program if you find you like it to keep getting the lessons you pay for those any game you find for free you can add if you want nab also has a list of asd recommended games and apps. Encase you are wondering if I'm working for them I'm not I'm a psychology major in developing young minds with mental disabilities and veterans illnesses.

Tommy Hickok
17th November, 2013 @ 12:11 am PST

Tommy, since i cant understand what you were saying because you typed it on a speak and spell.. What do you think of the Nabi.. please use complete sentences so i dont go buying a lobster or something

Erik Nelson
17th November, 2013 @ 08:14 pm PST

I am surprised that you have not included in your kids tablets comparison the 3 tablets of brand TABBY. They are all over the internet (Walmart.com Bestbuy.com target.com etc.).

From reading the website ( tabbytablet.com ) I can't tell too much, but a fair comparison should have included TABBY brand tablets as well

Navis
29th December, 2013 @ 04:39 pm PST

Now that NABI update NABI 2 to Jelly Bean and add full support to Google play is very closely to Galaxy Tab Kids, the only advantage of GTK is the rear camera.

But NABI 2, have HDMI output as it main advantage over GTK, but no much people used that.

At the end of the day i prefer GTK over NABI 2...the rest of Kids tablets do not come even close to these two...

Pedro Perez
30th December, 2013 @ 01:02 pm PST

I got the Samsung Galaxy tab 3.0 8.0. First bought Nabi Jr but was too limited in space and Nabi 2 couldn't download half the games like Angry birds that you could on Nabi jr do Samsung was the best choice to download everything that I could on my android phone.

David Faustrum
1st January, 2014 @ 11:32 am PST

It's a great idea to purchase a tablet at a young age for your child. This will greatly help in their development and they will have a "heads up" on all the other kids that don't have one.

Can you put a cost on your child's future. Most of the kids tablets can be purchased for under $100 these days. It's money well spent!

Patrick Kallie
12th January, 2014 @ 08:23 am PST
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