Last year, according to a PBS Kids study, 54 percent of parents planned to buy or give a tech item to their children—and tablets topped the list, even beating out video-game consoles. That number may even grow in 2014.
So how do you choose the best tablet for your child? Here's what to look for.
While "grownup" tablets are fine for many older kids, and lots of them do come with parental controls and filters, there's a growing number of tablets made just for kids: Not only the LeapFrog LeapPad and Vtech InnoTab lines, which are more toylike and great for the younger set, but also full-blown Android tablets geared to children of various ages. Check the manufacturers' recommended age range, but also bear in mind your child's capabilities and preferences.
Android kid tablets are often are less expensive than "grownup" tablets, are more rugged, and come with child-oriented content. But often, kid-tablet specs—including processor speed, display quality, and screen responsiveness—can lag behind those of regular tablets. So you'll want to make sure snagging a great kid-tablet bargain doesn't mean you're buying an inferior product that your child will hate. Consumer Reports tests kid tablets for these features and more; our reviews of kid tablets provide more details.
These include Web filters—some are predetermined by the tablet maker, and some let you choose the sites you wish to be available to your child (or children, when they allow for multiple profiles). Other controls let you block and monitor specific apps and websites. And some let you specify how much time a kid can spend playing on the tablet, or even what times of day they can play.
Also take into consideration that some parental controls are easier to set up and change than others. This is another feature we look at when testing kid tablets.
Find more tips and advice on buying electronics for kids at our guide to video games, consoles, and tech toys.
If you plan to let a couple or few kids share the tablet, look for one that lets you create a profile for each child. That way, parents can assure an age-appropriate experience for everyone. On some tablets, parents can monitor each individual child's progress as they use educational apps.
Although all the kid tablets include games, e-books, art-studio apps, and more, the amount and quality of this content can vary. Some tablets seem to include a bonanza of popular games, but many may be trial versions that you'd have to pay for to keep. And some tablets are much more focused on education and creativity than others. So do your homework and see exactly what comes preloaded with a tablet before you make a decision.
Will you be using the tablet on the go, or mostly at home? How big are the hands that will be using the tablet? And will a couple of kids want to play or watch videos together? All those considerations come into play when you're deciding. Kid-tablet sizes range just as much as those of "grownup" tablets: from a phone-like 4 inches up to 10 inches.
If you're planning to take the tablet on trips, make sure it'll last long enough to keep your child occupied. In our most recent tests, most of the kid tablets ran a decent amount of time on a single charge, in the 7- to 9-hour range. But a few models came in at about 4 hours, short by any standard. Most kid tablets are now rechargeable, so don't forget to pack the charging cable.
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