Edit: There’s a big difference between the new kids learning tablets and those slate Android or Ipad tablets that are great for kids. See our recommendation for the best kids learning tablets here
With the explosion in popularity of the Ipad it was only a matter of time before kids of all ages would catch on. And no sooner than that, other tech manufacturers caught on. So now there is a whole slew of tablets on the market and you have the distinct privilege of picking one out for your child. So which one is the best children’s tablet? To answer that there are few things you should know about how we rated them.
When it comes to slate tablets there are two kinds: Ipads and Androids. Ipads are Ipads and if you’ve tried one you’ve tried them all. Androids are a bit different in that multiple manufacturers use the Android operating system (now called Honeycomb) and every manufacturer does things a little bit differently. The nice thing is that there are more options for the Android tablets and they can be every bit as powerful or simplified as you want. But Ipads are still considered frontrunners and if you are looking for the most variety in Apps, Ipads edge out the Android marketplace.
We chose our recommendation for the best kids tablet on price, value and reliability. Every kid is different, but if you are the least bit concerned about blowing 5-600 dollars on a tech toy to have it lost, broken or stolen then you can appreciate our top pick. And if you do have a bit more faith in your child’s responsibility our runner up pick will give you a good if not more expensive kids tablet that will perform every bit as good as the leaders of the pack.
Update: Amazon has released the Kindle Fire tablet since we first reviewed kids tablets. Upon review of the Amazon tablet we’ve decided to update our recommendation. Read on to see why
Best Tablet for Kids
Even though it hasn’t been released as of this writing, we’ve decided that when the Amazon Kindle Fire does come out it will be just about perfect for kids. Here’s why:
Price – probably the biggest reason is price. It’s being sold for $199. This is wa-a-ay cheaper than many of its counterparts (Ipad, Xoom, Tab are all around $500) and the performance is definitely comparable. Or if you prefer to look at it from the other perspective it’s about $50 more than our previously recommended best kids tablet and it has a ton more features and is built on the some of the best tablet technology.
Performance – The performance of the Amazon Fire is going to be amazing. They have dual-core processors which is just like the Ipad and it allows the tablet to multitask easily. So you can download a movie while playing mp3s and surfing the web. Virtually no restrictions. It also provides for seamless video streaming and because it also incorporates Adobe Flash it one-ups the Ipad.
Media and Web Browsing – Most kids are going to be primarily interested in surfing the web and using media: be it watching movies and TV, reading a book, listening to music. Amazon has a huge library of media that integrates perfectly and (of course) is super easy to access. And if you are willing to go the extra mile and pick up Amazon Prime ($79/year) they can have access to over 100,000 movies and TV shows on demand.
Amazon also went so far as to custom design a web browser for the tablet and have optimized it for surfing the web. Not to bore you, but the “Split Architecture” of their browser means they’ve created it so that the tablet does part of the work while a cloud based computer does the other half. This means that basically two computers are working on loading the webpage at once cutting the loading time in half. This results in faster browsing and better streaming of videos from the web.
Durability – anything that is going to be kid-friendly has to have some degree of ruggedness. The Kindle Fire uses a chemically strengthened plastic that is 20x stiffer and 30x stronger than normal plastics. This makes it great for just throwing it in a backpack and taking it with them on the go. It resists scratching and drops so you can worry that much less about it breaking.
Reliability – While it has yet to come out, Amazon has had tons of success with their previous release, the Kindle e-reader. And because they have a lot at stake here in the mobile computing market, you can be sure they are going to do what it takes to get it right. There is a rumor going around that they are actually losing money on each unit (something like $50 a shot). Now, they aren’t stupid, they’ll make this up in the long run with book, mp3 and movie sales; but if their tablet doesn’t stand up then they won’t make any money. This virtually guarantees it to meet all expectations.
Drawbacks – While the Kindle Tablet is great, it’s not perfect. Their are a couple of drawbacks that may or may not be deal-breakers for you. The first is that it fails to incorporate a camera and microphone. This eliminates any video teleconferencing (such as Skype) that tablets are especially good for. It also eliminates any home movie making opportunities. The other thing is that it has no 3G capability. This really only comes into play on road trips or the rare time when you are out of range of a wifi hotspot.
Second Best Tablet for Kids
For the best kids tablet we chose the Coby Kyros Tablet (MID7024). We found that it was a tremendous value (at 150 bucks give or take) and had many good features with only one real shortcoming.
Starting out, it has a 7 inch touchscreen (for comparison, Ipads are 10.5 inches) and an 1.0 Gigahertz processor. These are pretty decent running slightly smaller and slower than some of the high priced competitors. The display resolution is 800 x 480 which again isn’t as good as an Ipad but it does come reasonably close. The Coby tablet uses the Android operating system (2.2) and this update runs very smoothly, much like the Motorola Droid phones.
Powering up the unit takes you to the settings menu. The settings menu is incredibly intuitive and will get you exactly what you need. This has everything from setting up the wi-fi to parental controls to apps and so on. Hitting the home button will get you to the familiar home screen with all of the icons in the grid waiting for you. The navigational buttons are just like the droid phones with the four buttons on the front (older versions had alternate arrangement that was difficult to use).
The hardware on the system is pretty good as well. It has some great speakers built in making it good for watching movies or listening to music. There are numerous ports that will accommodate everything from USB to HDMI (to connect to a TV or monitor) to a MicroSD card that can easily expand your memory (highly recommended). The Kyros comes with a protective cover and headphones so it is basically a complete package (minus an SD card). The way that Coby designed this makes it perfect for an older adolescent or teenager to have their music collection, movie playing capability and internet together all in one unit.
There is one neutral factor that is neither a positive or a negative but should be thrown out there: the Apps marketplace is NOT the Android market. Instead, Coby decided to keep it in-house and host their own Apps marketplace but you can connect to the Amazon Apps marketplace. The selection is decent and your children won’t be deprived, but they won’t have the depth of Apps that either Apple or Android has developed. It does come with a built in e-reader that does well with many of the free ePub books available online, or you can hook up the kindle reading app and read the thousands of books they have there.
The only drawback we found was that the touchscreen has some issues. It’s not nearly as responsive as the capacitive touch screen that the high end tablets use so it takes some getting used to. Once you’ve gotten used to it it’s not a big deal but if you go back and forth a lot it will mess with you. Doing a touchscreen calibration helps but it’s still not the same.
The one thing that we highly recommend is picking up a 16GB SD card. They are only about 20 bucks and you will find that the 4GB of internal memory gets filled fast.
The runner up for best kids tablet is the Asus Eee Pad Transformer. It seems like Asus keeps popping up in our recommendations (they built the Disney Kids netbook) and it’s due to their solid reputation and value pricing.
The Asus Transformer is Asus’ entry into the tablet marketplace and they have done an incredible job of competing with the big boys (Ipad, Motorola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy) but comes in at about a hundred bucks less. To start the Eee Tablet has a 10.1 inch capacitive touch screen that has one of the widest viewing angles (178 degrees). The capacitive touch screen provides the intuitive feel and responsiveness that makes the premium tablets worth the money.
It uses an NVidia Tegra 2 processor which is specially produced for mobile applications so the speed and and video are outstanding. This results in faster web browsing, being able to play videos in 1080p High Definition, as well as superb multi-tasking. Another big thing that the Asus Transformer does is play Flash videos (everything from YouTube to Hulu and more).
The Asus Transformer also has many of the same I/O features: USB, HDMI, MicroSD and Audio. The Transformer surpasses the Kyros by offering the dual camera option which is perfect for video chatting (skype, google chat, etc.) and it also supports the 802.11 n wi-fi and bluetooth for faster connections and more options.
One more cool thing about the Asus Transformer is that it hooks up to a docking station that turns it into a netbook. The docking station has a keyboard and additional USB/microSD ports and helps to extend the battery by something like 6.5 hours (more or less). The battery life is already pretty robust at approx. 9 hours which is awesome. Be advised the docking station is extra (~200 bucks).
The Transformer has access to the Android marketplaces so you can take advantage of the huge range of apps that they have. On top of that, the Transformer comes preloaded with a bunch of actually useful apps (such as the youtube app, an office type app [for word, excel, etc.]) that make it incredibly powerful right out of the box. It also features a music and video streaming option that can sync to your home or office computer and give you access to all of these files without the need for tansferring them.
The Asus Eee Transformer is definitely the best tablet for teenagers in high school or college and is a great solution at a reasonable price.