Parents looking for a good tablet for a child are faced with a dilemma -- finding one that delivers a satisfying experience without exposing young ones to the seamier side of the Internet. All-too-often, child-oriented tablets have been saddled with performance that's almost laughably bad, and/or are notably overpriced for the level of performance they deliver. Some have parental controls that look substantial, but are easy for an inventive child to defeat. Some have app stores and operating systems that don't have sufficient breadth or flexibility to grow with your child.
Looking at the selection of tablets designed from the ground up to be kids' tablets, we find the choices to be underwhelming. With that in mind, parents looking for a safe yet reasonably powerful tablet to hand to their young ones could do considerably worse than the Amazon Fire HD. These tablets are less expensive and less powerful than the Amazon Fire HDX models discussed in the section on Best Cheap Tablets, but compete well with tablets priced similarly, and oft times with tablets that are priced higher.
The Fire HD comes in two, nearly identical versions, the 6-inch Amazon Fire HD 6 (Est. $100 and up) and up and the 7-inch Amazon Fire HD 7 (Est. $140 and up). Other than screen size, the only difference is that the Fire HD 7 comes with dual stereo speakers as opposed to a single, mono speaker on the HD 6. Both tablets can also be ordered in special edition versions designed specifically for children, the Amazon Fire HD Kids Edition (Est. $150 and up). That adds $50 to the base Fire HD 6 or Fire HD 7, but you get terrific added value, as we'll explain in a moment. That makes the Amazon Fire HD Kids Edition our easy choice as the best tablet for kids.
But, let's first look at what you get with the base Amazon Fire HD 6 and Fire HD7. The hardware line up is typical for this price range and includes a 1.5 GHz quad-core processor, 1 GB of memory and 8 GB of storage, upgradeable to 16 GB for $20. The biggest concern is the limited storage, and there's no microSD card slot for adding more. Amazon offers unlimited cloud storage for content obtained from Amazon and photos taken with the tablet, so there's that, but you still need to be cognizant of how much you download and store on the device. Otherwise, "Despite being dirt-cheap, the Amazon Fire HD 6 performed like a midrange slate," says CNET's Xiomara Blanco.
While these devices are very much worth considering by an adult looking for a "dirt-cheap" tablet, the Fire HD 6 and Fire HD 7 hit their sweet spot as a tablet for the younger set. That's because Amazon offers some of the best parental control features of any tablet, kid-oriented or otherwise.
FreeTime sets up a walled, child-safe garden for kids to play in. Web browsing and app purchasing are disabled, and parents can set up time limits for various activities, such as game playing or video watching. Parents can also set up as many as four separate profiles, designating in advance what content each child can or cannot access. Amazon's FreeTime Unlimited service completes the picture. Geared to kids aged 3 to 8, it offers unlimited access to age-appropriate games, educational apps, books, TV shows and movies, including content from Disney, Nickelodeon, PBS and more. Subscriptions run $4.99 per month ($2.99 for Amazon Prime members) for one child or $9.99 ($6.99 for Prime) for up to four children.
However, if you are considering the Amazon Fire HD 6 or Fire HD 7 for a child, buy it in its Amazon Fire HD Kids Edition configuration instead. As noted above, that ups the price of either tablet by $50, but offers lots of perks that more than offset the price difference.
For starters, it includes a year of FreeTime Unlimited at no additional cost -- which, for non-Prime members, essentially covers the added cost. It also includes a rugged, colorful removable bumper case that does a great job of protecting what's already a pretty rugged tablet. PCMag.com's Sacha Segan drops a Kids Edition Amazon Fire HD 6 tablet from chest height 10 times. He reports that it survived undamaged from impacts to its face, back or corners -- even bouncing in some cases. "Several of those drops would have shattered an unprotected tablet," Segan says.
The kicker is the added warranty -- two years, no questions asked. If it breaks or is broken, ship it back for a replacement. "Amazon representatives all but intimated that your child could put it in a blender -- just send the busted bits back and Amazon will send you a new one," says Dieter Bohn at TheVerge.com.
We've been long time fans of the Fuhu nabi 2 (Est. $180). At the time of its release it compared favorably performance wise to some of the better-rated adult tablets, including the Nexus 7. Time has passed, and the specs haven't changed, though it's still competitive with cheaper slates. The responsive 1024 x 600 pixel touch screen falls short compared to the Fire HD's (1,200 x 800), but is far better than what is found on many kids tablets. The 8 GB of internal storage is the same as the base Fire HD, but while you can expand the internal storage of the Amazon tablet to 16 GB, and that's it, you can add a microSD card to the nabi 2 to bring things up to a maximum of 32 GB.
The nabi 2 is protected by an outsized case that's roughly blob shaped. Most 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. Fuhu notes "Although glass is durable and can take a beating, it also takes very little pin point impact to break it." The one year warranty does not cover accidents or other breakage.
Like the Kindle Fire HD, nabi 2 supports multiple child profiles, and there's a "Mommy/Daddy" mode that puts you into a stock Android environment (albeit the older Ice Cream Sandwich version) that gives parents control over the tablet. A late 2013 update added support for Google services including access to the Google Play store. Access to the Amazon App store is also supported. The tablet comes pre-loaded with a healthy library of kid-friendly apps and content, and there's a curated nabi Treasure Box app store, with kid-friendly games and streaming content that can be purchased with nabi Coins -- a parent-managed virtual currency. Special editions of the nabi 2 add content from well-known children's entertainment brands, and include the Fuhu nabi 2 Nickelodeon Edition (Est. $200) and Fuhu nabi 2 Disney Edition (Est. $200).