When you dropped a small fortune on your own smartphone or tablet, you probably didn’t imagine yourself handing the thing willingly over to someone with sticky hands and maybe a full diaper. But if you have a smartphone or tablet and a little one, you’ve probably done exactly that at one point or another. (Perhaps telling yourself that, while the gadget will help keep the kid quiet for a little bit, it’ll also give her some valuable STEM time).
Unfortunately, while she’s enjoying herself with your gear (and possibly sending rude texts to your boss), you are offline. That may mean it’s time to get the young one a smartphone of her own — or, better yet, one of these tablets specially designed for little minds and fingers. They aren’t as breakable or expensive as yours, and they’ll keep her safe from inappropriate content while keeping your data safe from her.
If you have kids, you’re probably already familiar with Leapfrog’s toys and educational games. This brand-new Android tablet packs a wealth of Leapfrog content — developed by an in-house team of developers and educators — onto a 7-inch screen. It also runs a special version of Android, with a kid-safe browser that controls access to the wider digital world. The home screen interface is a fun, interactive village that changes with the seasons, the time of day, and the kid: The home screen and content a 3-year-old sees, for example, is more cartoonish than what an 8-year-old might get. (They each get their own log-in.) The integrated stylus and bumper-cover scream “kid’s toy!” — but as soon as your kid decides he’s too old for that stuff, they can be removed, making the Epic hip enough for fourth grade. $140; Leapfrog.
It’s hard to get into trouble with this tablet, even if you’re very young. There is no browser, so even little geniuses can’t hack their way into the Internet’s seamy underbelly. The app store is specific to this tablet and chosen by parents and teachers with education in mind. There is a camera, a stylus for drawing on the screen, and kids can share those drawings easily with just a couple of taps. You control who he can communicate with on the tablet, so there’s no danger there. And it’s loaded with books. The device itself is solid and elegant. Fable says it’s for kids 3 to 10, but we suspect that those at the older end of that range will expect a full-fledged browser and app store. $129; Vizitme.
Fuhu makes a range of Android tablets for kids. The Nabi Jr. is specifically for kids 3 to 5, meaning it’s simpler to use and harder to break than other nabi tablets. Just like its older brothers and sisters, the Nabi is focused on education — in this case, getting tots ready for kindergarten. The content teaches as well as entertains. Kids can earn more screen time by reading, doing chores, or playing educational games. How cool is that? $100; Nabi.
Nabi Pass Tab
What with keeping them in diapers and school supplies, kids are already expensive enough, and that’s before you throw in the latest technology. Nabi understands: For $10 a month, the nabi Pass Tab it gets you the nabi 2s — an educational, fun Android tablet for kids 6 to 9 — and unlimited books, movies and games. If the tablet goes into the drink, you get another. Want to upgrade? Just ask. Yes, it adds up to more than $100 a year, but that could be a good deal if you’re committed to giving your kids age-appropriate technology (even more so if they have destructive streaks). Plus, the educational content on nabi gamifies the Common Core curriculum your kids have to learn, so maybe you’ll end up spending less time drilling them on their times tables and vocabulary words. How much is that worth? $10 a month; Nabi.
Sprout Channel Cubby
This 7-inch Android tablet (running Kit-Kat) comes preloaded with over 40 shows from the educational Sprout Channel. There are also games and activities that draw from those shows, as well as favorite Sprout characters. It’s enough content to keep your tot happy and playing for hours, but there are parental controls so you can set a time-limit on the fun. When the Sprout content runs out, you can go into Google Play for more games and apps. $100; Sprout.
Updated 9/15/15 to correct the name and URL for the nabi Pass Tab.