2015 best kids' tablets buying guide
It will come as no surprise to parents that kids enjoy using tablets to watch their favorite shows and play games, but is it best to let them use yours or get them one of their own? Gizmag looks at some of the things to consider if you're looking for a kids’ tablet, along with our pick of the best child-safe and child-focused tablets on the market in 2015.
Let's start off by briefly looking at some of the things you’ll want think carefully about, such as toughness, parental controls and app availability, when picking the right tablet for your little-one.
Kids love tablets, but that love isn’t necessarily mutual, especially if your child is one who is liable to drop, bash, and spill things on it. Luckily, kids’ tablets are generally quite a bit tougher than their adult-focused counterparts.
Some of the kids’ tablets built specifically for younger children are sturdier and boast features like big bezels, recessed screens and built-in bumpers to protect them from the inevitable harsh treatment. Others are more traditionally built devices, but with kid-proof bumpers and cases to help them survive the occasional drop or knock. Some tablets for younger users even come with the offer of free replacements if your kid does manage to break it.
If you are letting a child have their own tablet, the chances are there will be times when you are not watching exactly what they’re doing on it. For this reason, features such as robust parental controls and having access to appropriate content (and if it’s educational as well, that’s a bonus), should be right up there on your shopping list.
Child-safety features we’d look for include the ability to set time limits, both in terms of how long a tablet can be used in a single sitting and times of the day. Access to age-appropriate apps (without having to worry about in-app purchases) and child-safe web browsing should also be a must. Some kids’ tablets also let parents monitor what a tablet has been used for, track progress in educational apps, and offer digital rewards for good behavior.
An increasing number of toys nowadays require a smartphone or tablet to play with, which is not ideal if your child is relying on your device and you want to have any battery-life left by the end of the day. As such, you should think about which companion apps your child would need to play with their current toys, or any you are planning on buying them.
Typically this will mean you will require an iOS or Android tablet with access to a large selection of apps rather than those kid-specific models that only feature a more curated selection – though you’ll still want to check specific compatibility. For example, we know of little tablet users who consider the ability to play with toys like Osmo, which is iOS-only, a basic human right.
In the same way as allowing your child to play with their toys, you should also consider whether they have any favorite apps that they will expect to find on their own device. In previous years this would have limited you to more traditional adult-focused tablets, or adult tablets repurposed as kids’ devices. However, now even some some child-specific tablets run Android and have access to selected popular Android apps.
While they might not offer the same variety of app choice, tablets specifically for younger kids do have access to child-safe and child-friendly apps that have been vetted by educational experts. These apps and games tend to cost more, but they don’t feature in-app payments or adverts, and can have more educational value than those of rival systems.
There are a couple of considerations to be made when it comes to price, including how much the device costs, what apps and other content will set you back, and any on-going subscription charges. While initial purchase price is pretty straight forward, it can be a little less clear with the others. If you are used to using the Apple or Google app stores, you might have a bit of a shock at the cost of apps on some child-specific tablets.
Sometimes coming as cartridges or downloads, these apps can cost up to US$25. However, this is typically because they’re titles that might have more educational value than cheaper games filled with in-app purchases which you are used to downloading on your phone. Traditional Android tablets will have more familiar app prices, and can also come with subscription access to additional content, though these services can add-up once the initial free period expires.
The best tablets for kids 2015
LeapFrog LeapPad Platinum
When we spent some quality time with the LeapFrog LeapPad Platinum, we said it was an ideal first tablet for younger children, though we suggested its 3-9 target age-range was rather optimistic. The robust tablet is kid-safe thanks to a built-in bumper helping to protect a recessed 7-inch 1024 x 600 resolution LCD touchscreen, and has been designed specifically for children, with a stylus included.
Running a propriety operating system, the LeapPad Platinum also offers users a locked down, educational, and child-friendly experience with access to over 800 educator-approved apps, games and other content, which can come on cartridge or via the download store. Internal storage of 8 GB is plenty for storing loads of games.
While it lacks access to some popular apps that Android tablets can offer, the available apps arguably offer more educational value, along with good parental controls and kid-safe Internet browsing. It also has a couple of special features, such as the use of Imagicards, which mix physical and digital play. The LeapFrog LeapPad Platinum comes in a variety of colors and costs $129.99 (£99.99).
VTech Innotab Max
The VTech Innotab Max is another tablet with a 7-inch screen that has been specifically designed to survive in the hands of young children. In this case, the tablet has a built in flip-around cover and stand, along with a big bumper to protect it from knocks or drops. The screen has a 1024 x 600 resolution and the internal 8 GB memory can be extended with a microSD card.
A unique selling point of the Innotab Max is that its Android-based operating system means it has support for both VTech educational games and apps on cartridges, and those that can be downloaded from VTech’s Learning Lodge, which also includes select teacher-endorsed Android apps. This allows parents to ensure children are exposed to educational content, while still having access to some of the popular games they might enjoy on your devices.
The child-focused tablet also allows kids-safe Internet access, while a Kid Connect feature lets family members send messages and images to the tablet from their smartphone. The VTech Innotab Max costs $109.99.
As you might have guessed, the 7-inch screen has pretty much become the standard now for kids’ tablets, and the LeapFrog Epic is no different, and again it has a 1024 x 600 resolution. However, where it does vary from the tablets we’ve looked at so far is that it has more potential to grow with a child. Physically, this means its chunky rubber bumper can be removed for a more grown-up look, while the Android-based operating system can also be customized depending on the age of your child.
Being a LeapFrog device, the Epic boasts access to hundreds of quality and educational titles that have been vetted by experts. These can be downloaded onto the 8 GB internal memory (the Epic also has a microSD slot for added storage) via an App Centre where selected popular Android titles, including those from the likes of Toca Boca, are also available. Users can also access the Amazon Android app store to side-load other titles, including things like Netflix of other apps, which again means the tablet could get more use as a child grows.
Grown-ups can also set access privileges to control which apps and websites younger users can have access to. The LeapFrog Epic costs $139.99 (£119.99).
Fire Kids Edition
Rather than create a device that can withstand anything kids can dish out, Amazon has taken a different approach. It has put a regular tablet in a protective bumper, and says that if your child manages to break it within two years, it will replace it free of charge. This worry-free guarantee will no doubt offer many parents the reassurance they want when buying a tablet for a child.
Once more we’re looking at a 7-inch 1024 x 600 screen and 8 GB of internal storage, which is expandable via microSD. Being an Amazon Fire tablet, the Kids Edition runs the Android-based Fire OS and can use a more child-friendly Amazon FreeTime/Fire For Kids interface that offers a kid-safe environment. There are plenty of available apps, and the device comes with 12 months of Amazon FreeTime Unlimited/Fire For Kids Unlimited, which offers access to thousands of books, movies, TV shows, apps, and games. Once the free period expires this will cost $4.99 per month (or $2.99 for Prime members) if you want to continue.
Parental controls allow users to limit not only which apps can be accessed by who, but also set time limits for certain types. This means it’s possible to do things like block games, but allow reading of books. An age-appropriate web browser is said to be coming soon. The Fire Kids Edition will set you back $99.99.
While most of the other kids’ tablets in this guide are designed primarily for playing games and consuming media, the Kurio SMART is something of an odd-ball in comparison as it also lets youngsters do their home-work. With an 8.9-inch 1280 x 800 screen, running Windows 10, and boasting a detachable keyboard, this is more like a kids’ Microsoft Surface than an iPad.
The productivity credentials of the device are further supported by the fact it comes with a year's personal subscription to Microsoft Office 365. But it’s not all about homework as the Kurio SMART comes pre-loaded with apps and games, like Minion Rush and Sonic Dash, with further apps available from the Windows Store. It can also run Kurio’s motion games, which get kids up and moving by using the built-in camera to sense movement as they jump around in front of the device.
Parental controls are delivered with Windows Family Safety, and include the ability to set time limits, block or allow apps and Internet filtering. The Kurio SMART will cost $199.99.
Apple iPad mini 4
While the iPad might not need any introduction, its appearance on a list of tablets for kids might. That’s because it’s more fragile than a device specifically targeted at kids, lacks robust parental controls, and is considerably more expensive. However, iOS devices arguably still have access to the best range of apps, and enjoy compatibility with a wider selection of devices and toys than other tablets.
For kids, we’d suggest an iPad mini 4 rather than an iPad Air 2 or Pro. Its 7.9-inch 2048 x 1536 screen is more comparable with other tablets for children and its smaller overall size is going to mean that it fits better in little hands. The Apple iPad mini 4 costs from $399.
Hopefully this guide has helped you identify what features you need to look out for in a kids’ tablet. It could be that you’re going to prioritize durability, app choice or parental controls, and all of those would be valid reasons to opt for one of these devices over another.
In recent years we’ve seen a big improvement in the quality of kid-specific tablets. They are no longer the slow and clunky devices they were a couple of years ago. Combine this increased performance with the child-focused environment and access to vetted age-appropriate educational content, and devices like the LeapPad Platinum are the best option if buying for younger children, say those aged 2-5.
Meanwhile, cross-over tablets like the VTech InnoTab Max and LeapFrog Epic, with access to both propriety educational apps and select Android titles, are better suited to slightly older children aged 4-7. These locked-down devices allow parents to know that their children are safe and have access to both quality educational titles and popular Android ones.
Tablets with access to more traditional app stores will no doubt appeal to older children, though parents will need to do a more hands-on job of ensuring downloaded apps meet their own quality guidelines and enforcing parental controls.
Finally, it’s also worth considering whether your child really needs their own tablet. The chances are they already have a selection of apps installed on your devices, and spend plenty of time using them. Do you really want them to have their own tablet that could encourage them to spend even more time playing on a screen?