When Toys R Us announced that it would be bringing a new kids-oriented tablet to market, the Tabeo Tablet (*Est. $150), I sort of scratched my head and said, "umm, okay." Don't get me wrong -- I do believe there is a need for a tablet that that creates an age-appropriate experience for kids. But the darn thing needs to be usable, too, if it's not to wind up at the bottom of the closet or the toy chest. All-too-often, child-oriented tablets have been saddled with performance that's almost laughably bad. The Tabeo isn't that, but it's not a game changer either. In fact, as outed by The Digital Reader and other sites, the Tabeo has been available for a while now as the Archos Arnova Child Pad -- only you'll need to plunk down $20 more for the Toys R Us version. The Child Pad hasn't been extensively reviewed (the most in-depth take we saw is at Britain's PC Advisor), but the general feedback is that even at $130, it's overpriced for what you get. So, then, are there any good child-oriented tablets out there? I dug around a little to find the answer, and to my surprise I found that there truly are. Here's the lowdown:
Kindle Fire HD
Initial reviews are in for the new Kindle Fire HD, and they are largely positive: Most say it won't soon replace the Apple iPad as the king of the tablet hill, but as CNET notes, the Fire HD is everything that the original Fire should have been (ConsumerSearch will be posting its take on the Kindle Fire HD and the rest of the newest top tablets soon, so keep an eye out for that).
While the Kindle Fire HD, which starts at $199, isn't a child-oriented tablet per se, one new feature makes it very suited for that role. That's FreeTime, which lets parents set up a child-friendly environment for younger users. FreeTime wasn't available at the Fire HD's launch (Laptop Magazine reports it will be released in the coming weeks), but once it rolls out, it gives children a "playground' in which they can access only apps parents approve in advance. Parents can also set time limits for various activities -- such as game playing or video watching and set up multiple FreeTime profiles so that each of their children has access only to activities and apps that are appropriate for their age.
One thing that the Kindle Fire HD does not have is its own children's app store, and it can't access the huge Google Play app store (of course, that's a shortfall of lots of less-expensive tablets, including just about every child-oriented tablet out there). But it does have access to the Amazon App Store, which is home to over 50,000 apps, including thousands of kid-friendly game, educational, entertainment and other apps.
Are there drawbacks to using the Kindle Fire HD as a child's tablet? Yes, plenty. The need to preselect apps is one we've noted. Also, the Kindle Fire HD, while sturdy for a tablet, might find some survival challenges when subjected to the "enthusiastic" usage you should expect from time-to-time in the hands of a child. That's why, while we greatly respect what Amazon has done in making the Kindle Fire HD a good child's tablet, we think the Fuhu Nabi 2 is an even better choice.
Pricewise, things are a wash, with the Nabi 2 also selling for around $200. But while that's more than most child-oriented tablets, the Nabi 2 packs some serious hardware under its colorful skin. The responsive 1024 x 600 pixel touch screen falls short compared to the Fire HD's (1,200 x 800 pixels), but is far better than what is found on most kids tablets (the screen resolution of the Tabeo, for example, is just 800 x 400 pixels). The 8 GB of internal storage is half that of the base Fire HD, but while you can't expand the internal storage of the Amazon tablet, you can add a microSD card to the Nabi 2 to bring things up to a maximum of 32 GB, and 2 GB of free cloud storage is also included. The Nabi 2 is driven by a NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor, the same quad-core processor found in the Google Nexus 7 tablet.
As noted, one of the challenges of creating a child-oriented tablet is making sure it survives contact with its intended audience. The Nabi 2 is protected by an outsized case that's roughly blob shaped. The maker hosts some impressive drop-test videos comparing the the Nabi 2 to other tablets (iPad owners might not want to watch). Most user reviews take no issue with the tablet's ruggedness, though some comments that -- not surprisingly -- a direct hit to the screen will mean a trip to the store for a new tablet are spotted.
Like the Kindle Fire HD, Nabi 2 supports multiple child profiles, and there's a "Mommy/Daddy" mode that puts you into a full Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) environment that gives parents control over the tablet. The tablet comes pre-loaded with a healthy library of apps and content -- around $250 worth according to Wired -- and there's a curated Nabi app store with 500 additional apps. There's also a dedicated, Spinlets streaming application with more than 700 hours of child-friendly TV programming, though that requires a separate $2.99 monthly subscription.
The small size of the Nabi app store is a concern, but there's also a dedicated community of Nabi enthusiasts, Fan-a Tech, that has found ways of adding additional content. Among that is the Amazon App Store, so you also have that resource, and you can even sideload many apps from the full Google Play store if you own another android tablet or smart phone. This blog provides more details.
Reviews have been stellar -- not just for a child's tablet, but for any Android tablet. Wired wonders if the Nabi 2 isn't the best Android tablet, period (though that review predated the release of the Google Nexus 7 and the Kindle Fire HD). Android Police calls the tablet "surprisingly awesome." Finally, Ubergizmo seems to sum up the consensus when it writes: "Nabi 2 is not a tablet that you give to kids so that they can imitate parents who have 'real' tablets. This is a real tablet that kids can use to play, and learn in a meaningful way."