In a recent survey, we asked subscribers about how they use their mobile devices. One finding: Twenty-eight percent of tablet owners said children 17 or younger also used their tablet. Some portion of parents who share their tablets with their kids surely must long to get the kids their own devices.
If you're willing to add another screen to your children's life, you could, of course, simply buy an additional iPad, Android, or other "grownup" tablet. But we recently took a look at four new Android tablets made just for children: the Fuhu Nabi Jr., Fuhu Nabi XD, Polaroid Kid Tablet, and Vinci Tab MV. The existence of these kid-specific tablets begs an important question. What (if anything) makes these kid tablets better for children than any other tablet? Here are some points to consider.
Most have comprehensive, robust parental controls. The Nabi tablets we tested have a separate mode for parents that let them access full Android settings, and from there, add apps for kids, put time restrictions on app use, and filter websites. And the Polaroid Kids Tablet has a filtered Safe Mode and the Maxthon Safe Browser: Parents can add the sites they want kids to be able to access, and it creates clickable icons to take them to each site. The Vinci Tab MV offers optional password protection for specific apps, but no browser security.
You can, however, use or add parental controls on many "adult" tablets. The Apple iPad lets you password-protect specific apps and features, content types, and game features. The Amazon Kindle Fire HD and Barnes & Noble Nook HD each lets you set up individualized user profiles for up to six kids, controlling content they see and whether or not they can get to the Web. Other Android tablets let you password-protect the Play Store, so purchases can be made only when a PIN is entered.
Beyond all this exists a plethora of third-party apps (some free) that can make regular tablets more kid-friendly—from locking them down entirely (for really young ones) to blocking inappropriate apps and sites, and setting time limits for various activities. But the built-in controls on most kid tablets give you these kinds of protections out of the box.
For more tips, reviews, and advice, see our guide to video games, consoles, and tech toys.
Most kid tablets come loaded with content children will enjoy. This includes games (many focused on learning activities), interactive e-books, videos, music players, and art-studio apps. (The Vinci Tab MV requires you to download its content but doesn't charge for it.) And all of them let you add what you want, customizing content to your child.
Of course, you can choose and download a huge array of games, e-books, music, video, and apps for kids to any tablet. But having appropriate content preloaded lets children enjoy the kid tablets right out of the box, and saves parents a lot of curating time.
Prices can be lower. In general, you'll pay less for a kid tablet than for most others. The ones we tested ranged from $150 $100 to $250. But you can get the Google Nexus, Samsung Galaxy Tab 2, and Kobo Arc for $200 to $250, and we recommend all of them. So those are some good non-kid tablets that cost as little as the more-expensive kid ones.
Some have high-quality components. Just as with regular tablets, kid tablets vary in terms of the quality of components, such as displays, processors, memory, and cameras. Some of the ones we've tested had fast processors and high-resolution, responsive screens, but others were lacking.
When we asked a group of children to try our kid tablets last year, we noticed that the devices that had sluggish performance and unresponsive screens frustrated them. So make sure you know what you're getting before you plunk down the cash: There's not much point in buying a tablet your child won't want to use.
Bottom line. You should determine what's most important to you before you purchase a tablet—whether that's having strict control over your child's tablet experience, choosing a tablet that the whole family can share, or letting kids have their own devices. Then check our reviews to find the tablet that's right for your needs.
Another consideration is sturdiness, which we didn't test. Some kid tablets come with rubber bumpers, which make drops and bumps less dangerous to the device. You can also purchase bumpers and tough cases separately for other tablets.
If you can just afford one tablet for your household, you'll probably want to consider a "grownup" tablet that scored well on our full array of tests. But a kid tablet could make a great additional device that will keep the young ones away from yours.
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