Since the advent of the game-changing Apple iPad early in 2010, tablet computers have been one of the hottest electronics products on the market. Much as adults love them, though, children may just love them even more, as tablet-owning parents can verify. (See our latest review of kid tablets, featuring give Android devices.)
Toy makers have taken note as well, and this year several companies—Fisher-Price, LeapFrog, and Vtech—have come out with tablet-like toys that feature at least some of the capabilities of real tablets, albeit in less sophisticated, less expensive form. They’re each built of hard plastic that feels as though it’ll take a fair amount of abuse. You’ll find such features as touch screens, music players, cameras and video recorders, and photo-editing apps.
We purchased three of these toy tablets and tested them in our lab and with children within the manufacturer-recommended age ranges to see how well they work—and whether kids will actually settle for toy versions of the real thing. Our conclusion: The child tablets have fewer features than standard tablets, but their learning apps and child-friendly content make them ideal for children. Children can have fun with the toy tablets, particularly the LeapPad. But they may still clamor to play with your responsive, feature-rich tablets and smart phones.
There is also the Vinci Tab (from Vinci), an Android tablet that’s customized for toddlers and young children. It’s quite a bit more expensive than the toy tablets—ours cost $480—and though it lacks wireless-Web capability, it has specs and features comparable to “grownup” tablets. We acquired the Vinci Tab, curious as to whether it’s really worth the extra money. Our conclusion here is that the Vinci didn’t really deliver for the price.
The child-tablet companies make various “learning” claims for their products. Each tablet includes media such as interactive storybooks that read aloud and let children click on words and other elements, spelling and counting games, and creative activities, and more can be purchased as downloads or add-on cartridges. (We aren’t evaluating the educational efficacy of the tablets in this report.)
The toy tablets each have a modest price, at least compared with prices of standard tablets, which can cost as much as $800—but of course, don’t expect the same functionality. And each one requires parental help with adding content or media, especially the Vinci, which has a younger target audience than the others.
All the child tablets can be connected to a PC for new content downloads and software upgrades and to transfer media onto and off the devices. The LeapFrog LeapPad also syncs with the company’s Learning Path website, so parents can check up on what their children are playing and how well they’re doing. Vtech has a similar site that keeps track of kids’ activities on its InnoTab.
Each tablet has a color touch screen display and features at least a few preloaded learning games and apps; you can add to your content by downloading more or buying insertable cartridges. All the devices but the LeapFrog have a memory card slot for additional storage, all but the Vinci have a headphone jack and stylus, and all use four AA batteries, except for the Vinci, which has a built-in rechargeable battery. None of the models have wireless Web connectivity.
Finally, to a greater or lesser extent, all the tablets require parental participation to get new content onto the devices, set up profiles, sync for updates, and so on. So parents, be prepared to help out, at least initially.