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How to choose the best tablet for your child

Here's a list of what to consider before you buy

Published: December 03, 2013 03:45 PM

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Quite a few kids will find a tablet under the tree this holiday season, according to a recent PBS Kids study: It shows that 54 percent of parents plan to purchase or give a tech item to their children—and tablets top the list. They even beat out video-game consoles.  

So how do you choose? Here's what to look for.

Age

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 Ultra Learning Tablet ($150, ages 4 to 9) and Vtech InnoTab 3S ($100, ages 3 to 9), 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.

Price

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 report, "Today's kid tablets have grown up," provides more details.  

Parental controls

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. Other controls let parents 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. KD Interactive (which makes the Kurio-brand tablets) even lets parents set up a "piggy bank" account for the kids in its app store so they can purchase new games and other content themselves. 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.

Multiple profiles

If you plan to let a 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.

Content

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.

Size

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.

Battery life

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, we found that kid-tablet battery life ranged from 4.4 to 7.7 hours. Most kid tablets are now rechargeable, so if you are traveling, don't forget to pack the charging cable.

—Carol Mangis

   

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