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Why You Don’t Want Fuhu’s DreamWorks-Themed Tablet for Your Kid

Dan Tynan
Yahoo Tech

If you’ve got little ones, odds are that the first computer they’ll touch is a tablet. When your primary mode of artistic expression is still finger-painting, tablets make a ton of sense. Not surprisingly, there are now a lot of tablets built specifically for kids from ages 2 to 10.

nabi DreamTab

You’ll find the entire DreamWorks menagerie on the nabi DreamTab. In fact, you’ll have trouble avoiding them.

Earlier this summer Korean tablet maker Fuhu released the $270 nabi DreamTab HD8, the successor to its popular nabi 2 line of tablets. The Dream in the name stands for DreamWorks, the movie studio whose familiar stable of animated pandas, ogres, penguins, and dragons are buttered all over the device. (Fuhu has also built similarly branded tablets featuring Disney and Nickelodeon characters.)

I spent a few weeks playing with the DreamTab. The good news is that the DreamTab comes with a raft of controls to allay even the most paranoid parent’s concerns about dodgy websites, dicey strangers, or too much screen time. The bad news? The amount of branding aimed at kids is shocking, especially for a device that claims to be at least partly educational. I also ran into some technical snags getting everything to work, as well as plenty of opportunities to fork over more money for additional apps and services.

The good: parental controls
The DreamTab sports some nice design touches. A red rubber bumper around the edges protects it from the ravages of toddlers; there are even knobs on the back where you can attach letters to personalize it (with, say, your child’s name) or a stand for watching videos. Unfortunately, the charger plugs into the bottom of the device, which means you can’t charge it while it’s in the stand — an odd design choice.

Mom and Dad will also find plenty of things to appreciate once they turn the DreamTab on. Like, for example, Fuhu’s kid-friendly Blue Morpho interface, which sits on top of Android 4.4 and limits the apps your child can access, the websites he can visit, and the people he can talk to.

Blue Morpho interface

The DreamTab’s NSA app lets you keep an eye on what your kids are doing on the tablet — no wiretaps required.

Go into the password-protected Mommy Mode, or the parents’ dashboard at Nabitablet.com, and you can control settings for each of these things. The cutely named NSA (nabi Security Administration) app lets you edit your child’s friends list and view any messages or photos he’s shared with them. The Time Controls app lets you set limits on how long he can use any app on the device, and offer rewards for good behavior — like 30 minutes of gaming for every two hours spent on educational apps. You can even create a chore list, so the DreamTab nags your kids to clean their rooms and finish their homework, and then rewards them with “nabi Coins.” (More on those in a bit.)

DreamTab chore list

You can reward your kids for doing chores with nabi Coins that they can use to buy games and shows.

Later this fall, Fuhu plans to release the nabigator mobile app, which offers access to the same controls on your phone. (It was not available for testing at press time.)

The bad: consumerism gone wild
How you feel about the rest of the DreamTab, though, depends on how you feel about in-your-face marketing.

Granted, you are buying something with pictures of grumpy ogres, butt-kicking pandas, and dragon-training Vikings right on the box, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise. And if your kids love Shrek or any of the other classic DreamWorks characters, then they will also probably love this gadget. 

But the sheer volume and prominence of the promotional material is stunning. Take the first screen your child encounters after signing in:

Nabi home screen

The nabi Play app must be educational games, right? Nope, it’s a video player chock-full of trailers and clips for kids’ movies like How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Madagascar 3. There’s also a smattering of nature videos (adorable kittens? Check!), arts and crafts, a few animated Dr. Seuss books, and the like.

Nabi Play app

Nabi Play is mostly a repository for clips and trailers from kids’ movies, with a random assortment of other videos tossed in.

Or you’d think tapping “nabi Web” would launch a browser. Instead, it loads a carousel of seven websites — five of them promoting DreamWorks movies (Shrek, Dragons, Lego, and so on), one for Sesame Street, and one for a kid-oriented gossip rag called Fanlala. (Maxthon’s Kid-Safe browser is also loaded on the device, though it’s seven screens deep.)

Nabi Web app

Nabi Web is really a series of promos for popular DreamWorks movies. 

Fanlala also powers nabi Radio, a music service that prompts kids to ask their moms to let them sign up for a subscription but seems to work fine without one. The nabi Friends and nabi Konnect apps are Fuhu’s parentally controlled chat, email, and photo-sharing services.

Meanwhile, the Treasure Box is essentially Fuhu’s version of an app store — a place where kids can buy TV shows, movies, and games using nabi Coins. Parents must buy the coins ahead of time. They cost roughly 3.3 cents apiece. At current exchange rates, How to Train Your Dragon costs about $26 in real money.

How to Train Your Dragon download page

Want to own a copy of How to Train Your Dragon that you can watch only on the DreamTab? Be prepared to surrender 805 nabi Coins (about $26).

To be fair, this barely scratches the surface of the apps that come preinstalled on the DreamTab. There’s Dream Pro Animator, where kids can use the supplied stylus or their fingers to create free-form drawings. (Or they can insert characters from the DreamWorks stable — naturally.)

There are approximately 60 other games and educational titles, about a third of them built around DreamWorks characters and other familiar brands. Some, like Wings Challenge, Speakaboos, and Kno Textbooks, are introductory samplers that require a paid subscription for full access.

Nabi game screen

Meet the original angry birds. Solve a couple of very basic math problems, and you get to fling a Madagascar penguin at Melman the giraffe.

Bigger and better?
Aside from consumerism gone wild, I also encountered a number of technical glitches with the DreamTab. The first unit I looked at flat-out failed and had to be replaced. The second unit was beset with niggling problems, from a failure to recognize passwords to apps that were occasionally unavailable.

The DreamTab has innovative parental controls but is plagued by overt consumerism and technical glitches. I can’t recommend it.

Fuhu Big Tab

The biggest commercially available tablet on the market, the 24-inch Big Tab is essentially an Android-powered family PC. 

Fortunately, the DreamTab is not the only tablet Fuhu offers. This week the company introduced two large-screen tablets that offer the same parent-friendly controls with less blatant product placement.

The Big Tab 20 ($449) and Big Tab 24 ($549) are 20- and 24-inch versions of the nabi tablet, respectively. Both run the Blue Morpho OS, minus the DreamWorks promotions but with unique multiplayer gaming titles. Stand the tablet on a coffee table and it’s a video delivery device; lay it down on the table to play games like Fruit Ninja or Air Hockey with your kids.

If you’re looking for a tablet you can also share with your kids, the Big Tabs are worth a look. Skip the DreamTab HD8.

Questions, complaints, kudos? Email Dan Tynan at ModFamily1@yahoo.com.