With the ever increasing ability of technology, the ever decreasing price and children’s innate ability to figure out technology (long before their parents) it’s only a matter of time before you break down and buy your child a laptop. And since more and more computing is being done “in the cloud” of cyberspace, it makes sense to pick up a netbook as they are designed more for surfing and less for hard numbers crunching or serious gaming. And netbook manufacturer’s are onto that. They are all scrambling to design the best netbook for kids, so the good news is there is plenty of competition but that just makes our recommendation all the more important.
We did a lot of research leading up to this. And it was tough to settle on a criteria to judge netbooks by. So to help you make this decision, we separated our recommendations into two categories: A netbook for youger kids (say 6-12) that can be found below and the best netbook for teenagers (12 and up).
Best Netbook for Younger Children
The big things that we looked at for kids netbooks in the younger age range were features such as usability, durability, parental controls and kid-friendliness (kind of an all-encompassing age appropriate category).
Even at the younger ages kids are pretty adept at figuring out how the technology works but you don’t want to have to waste time figuring out settings like WiFi routers or parental controls (or alternately having them screwing up those settings). And because most kids get pretty enthusiastic (read: rough) with their toys, it’s important that something this expensive can stand up to any punishment they may provide. And, as a parent, I know how important it is to have the peace of mind of good parental controls when browsing around on the internet. So with these criteria in mind we looked at several netbooks.
The two that really surfaced were the Disney Netpal Netbook and the Dell Nickelodeon Netbook. Both of these netbooks are branded with their respective kid-centric brands which may or may not be a good thing. What it does do is provide some level of familiarity and helps kids jump right in with very intuitive and branded interfaces. They can change wallpapers, screensavers, icons and the like to different themes (such as iCarly and Spongebob for Nickelodeon and Hanna Montana or Disney/Pixar’s Cars).
While both laptops compare pretty well, we chose the Disney Netpal Netbook over the Dell for two reasons:
- the Disney software seemed more integrated and was a bit more intuitive to setup and use
- There were many reports of the Dell Nickelodeon Netbook experiencing charging issues that would prevent the computer from being used as a laptop
With that in mind our recommendation for the best netbook for young kids is the Disney Netpal which comes in blue for boys and “Princess Pink” for girls. Below is a brief summary of what we liked.
The Netpal has a user interface that has specifically been designed for younger kids. It has a simple two dimensional “tray” that keeps the activities and programs that the kids can do together and makes them easy to access. The Disney Browser is a heavily branded internet browser that takes them to the Disney website which is jam-packed with all sorts of online games and activities but also allows for a simple search that lets kids access information from all over the internet but with a filter (that setting can be changed by the parents). And since it’s running on the Windows XP platform it has several widgets that they can use (stopwatch, sticky notes, etc.) that will help them make good use of their computer.
Netbooks are notorious for having problems with drops and spills which is why just any old netbook usually isn’t good for kids. The Netpal (as well as the Dell Nickelodeon netbook) is designed to take a bit of a punishment. It has a spill-proof keyboard that will protect against any accidental spills (you still can’t soak it). It also has a shock shield built in that uses an accelerometer to sense the falling computer and locks the hard drive in place so that you don’t lose any data. While you may not be all that concerned about their paper that they may be writing, what this really does is protect the operating system and vital computer files from getting damaged and making the netbook worthless.
The number one concern with parents and kids getting laptops is internet access. We’ve all seen enough “To Catch a Predator” to know that it’s necessary to know/control what your kids can experience. The parental controls on the Netpal are simple and easy to use and allow you to change the strength of the internet filter, block specific websites, and white list e-mail recipients (this chooses only certain people to be able to send mail). The controls also allow you to schedule times when they are allowed to surf the internet so that if you don’t want them staying up late or surfing when you aren’t home, the scheduling function can allow you to control when they access the internet. Finally, if you are concerned or overly-suspicious, you can see where they’ve been visiting using the browser history.
If your child/children are at all in to any of the Disney characters and programs then they will instantly enjoy the Disney Netpal. The user interface is specifically geared for kids to access games and Disney related online activities. These games and activities will keep kids entertained for hours and may be worth the price of admission alone.
Then there are other easy to use features such as the video camera, the graphics editor, the music player that are basic but very functional. They also get a streamed feed from Radio Disney that plays all of the hits from the Disney shows and other kid-related songs.
The 8.9 inch screen is a decent size for kids that is both visible yet portable. It has a 5 hour battery life which is much better than the Nickelodeon netbook. Then there are all the standard netbook features such as the built in webcam, microphone, the wireless internet, multi-function mouse, etc.
Not that you need to buy anything more, it might be a good idea to pick up a couple of things at the same time: A) so you don’t forget and B) so you can save on shipping. A couple of suggestions are:
- External DVD player (most netbooks don’t come with one and it would be a good substitute for a portable kids DVD player)
- Some sort of case (the neoprene sleeves are pretty cheap and decent)
- USB mouse (for kids that don’t like the touchpad)