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PRODUCT REVIEWS

Best tablets for kids

Now that companies such as Amazon and Samsung have entered the market, some kids' tablets compare with mainstream devices

Last updated: November 25, 2014 02:15 PM

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As much as adults love tablets, children may just love them even more, as many parents can verify. When we first started testing tablets made specifically for kids, in 2012, they were more like toys. But today’s kids’ tablets have some very grown-up features—especially with the entry into the market of such companies as Amazon and Samsung.

Our labs just completed testing a new batch of kids’ tablets, which are included in our first-ever Ratings of kids' tablets: the Amazon Fire HD Kids Edition (7 inch), Fuhu nabi DreamTab HD8, LeapFrog LeapPad 3 and LeapPad Ultra XDi, KD Interactive Kurio Xtreme, and vTech Innotab 3 Plus, Innotab 3S Plus, and Innotab Max. And we found that they run the gamut of product sophistication.

How we test

Our tests focus mostly on the quality of the hardware. Some of the features we test in kids’ tablets are portability, battery life, and ease of use. We also check durability (whether or not companies make specific claims for it, because these product are meant for kids!) with a 2.6-foot drop test, using our lab’s tumbler. Tablets that come with cases or bumpers are tested with them.

For display quality, we measure screen brightness and size, and our experts judge color accuracy, viewing angle, and readability in sunlight. The touch-screen interfaces are graded on responsiveness, required pressure, dragging accuracy and speed, and use of multitouch functions, such as pinch-to-zoom.

What is a kids’ tablet, exactly?

Most have comprehensive, robust parental controls. Nearly all tablets for kids include controls, filters, and browsers that keep kids safe online and let parents regulate how, when, and for how long children can use the tablets. These tools vary in the amount of control they give to the parent, and also in how easy (or not) they are to use. Our lab testers try out and evaluate these features.

Of course, you can use or add parental controls to many "adult" tablets, too. For example, the Apple iPad lets you password-protect specific apps and features, content types, and game features. Amazon and Barnes & Noble tablets let you set up individual user profiles for up to six people, controlling which content they can access, and whether or not they can go online. Other Android tablets let you password-protect the Google Play Store, so app purchases can be made only when your PIN is entered.

Beyond all this exists a plethora of third-party apps, some free, that can make regular tablets more kid-friendly—from locking them down entirely (for really young children) to blocking inappropriate apps and sites, and setting time limits for various activities. But the built-in controls on most kids' tablets give you these kinds of protections out of the box.

Most kids' tablets come loaded with content children will enjoy. Child-specific content—including games, educational apps, art programs, e-books, music, and videos—comes with most of these tablets. Some of it is exclusive, and much has at least an ostensible focus on learning. (We don’t evaluate the educational effectiveness of the content.) One caveat: On some tablets, many so-called “included” apps are “free trials,” meaning you have to pay extra for full versions.

While we do look at the content that comes preloaded on the tablets, we don’t evaluate its quality for the Ratings—so we recommend you take some time to check what each tablet offers, to see if it’s right for your child. Also check the price of adding more content to the tablet, especially if it uses a proprietary app store.

You can choose and download a huge array of games, e-books, music, video, and apps for kids to any tablet. But having appropriate content preloaded lets children enjoy the kids’ tablets right out of the box, and saves parents a lot of curating time.

Prices can be lower. In general, you'll pay less for a kids’ tablet than for most others. Our most recent tested tablets range in price from $50 to $250. But you can pick up the "grown-up" Google Nexus 7 for $200 and the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7 for $180—and both are CR Best Buys. So tablets for kids aren’t necessarily the least expensive models on the market. (Make sure to factor in included content, though!)

Some have high-quality components. Just as with regular tablets, kids’ tablets vary in terms of the quality of components, such as displays, processors, memory, and cameras. Some of the ones we've tested have fast processors and high-resolution, responsive screens, but others—not so much.

When we’ve asked children to play with tablets, we’ve noticed that the devices that had sluggish performance and unresponsive screens frustrated them. Many kids are used to their parents’ devices, after all. So make sure you know what you're getting before you plunk down the cash. There's not much point in buying a tablet your child won't want to use.

How should I choose a tablet for my child? Determine what's most important to you—whether that's having strict control over your child's activities, owning a tablet that the whole family can share, or letting kids have their own devices that are designed for their age group. Then check our tablet Ratings to find the tablet that's right for your needs.

If you can afford only one tablet for your household, you'll probably want to consider a "grown-up" tablet that scored well in our tests. But a kids’ tablet can be a great additional device that will keep the young ones away from yours!

See our tablet buying guide for more advice.

—Carol Mangis

   

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