[This is my just-about-annual update!]
If you’re shopping for a tablet this year, you are not alone. A recent study by CommonSense.org reported that 80% of tweens (ages 8-12) have a tablet in their home, and over 50% have one of their own. This study did not talk about tablet use or ownership by younger kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises “children and teens should engage with entertainment media for no more than one or two hours per day, and that should be high-quality content.” Of course kids want to do what they see their parents doing, and that includes using tablets. Luckily there are options that provide educational content, age-appropriate entertainment and games, and parental controls for establishing limits.
Here are some tips and suggestions for parents looking for family-friendly, affordable tablets that offer parental controls.
Roundup of tablets for kids and families for 2015:
- Kindle – the new Fire for just $50, plus Fire HD and kids versions, up to $229
- LeapFrog Epic – for kids age 3-9, $128
- Nabi Dreamtab – for kids 6-9, $180
- iPad – three sizes, iPad mini, Air, and the new larger iPad Pro, $269 – $1,079
- Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Lite Kids Edition , $149
*Prices may not include special discounts such as Black Friday discounts
Here’s what to keep in mind when out shopping on Black Friday, Cyber Monday, December, or beyond. Consider the following questions when deciding which tablet is the best fit.
Who will be using the tablet?
Think about who will be using the device (one child, more than one, the entire family). If the tablet will be shared by family members, take a look at the Kindle Fire Kids Edition. It offers the ability to set up accounts for each member of the family, and then add restrictions individually on each profile. I like how the Kindle FreeTime parental controls let you specify reading time. For example you can allow unlimited time in the Books app but restrict the time per day on games, video and web. The Nabi tablet has similar features.
How old are your kids? More tablets are being designed for younger children this year as compared to my last review. (I’m guessing parents are tired of the kids hijacking their devices want to give them something of their own!) The tablets designed specifically for kids come with a bumper, suitable for younger children’s hands, and to prevent damage if dropped. These models also include parental control features that allow you to limit time spent using the device, which I definitely encourage when first introducing technology to little ones.
Tweens and teens will probably scoff at anything designed “for kids”, so the iPad mini or Kindle Fire might be the best for that age group. For Android fans, the Galaxy Tab has several “non-kid” versions.
What technologies does your family already use?
Consider your existing devices, phones, and computers – if you’re using a Mac and have iPhones, you may feel more comfortable with an interface you already use. Maybe an iPad mini would be a good fit. With iOS9, you can set up family sharing between devices, and now kids under 13 can have their own Apple ID. Sometimes staying within the same “ecosystem” means less of a learning curve and you can share data – music downloads, apps, settings – more easily between devices.
If you’re more familiar with Android, many of the kids’ options are built on an Android operating system. With Nabi the tablet has “parent” mode where you can access the Google app store to add apps for your use, or make available to your child.
When and Where will the family use the tablet?
Will you use the device mostly at home or on the road? Consider internet access from the tablet. Is Wi-Fi-only okay? Some tablets allow you to connect to the Internet over a 3G or 4G connection. These come at a higher cost than the Wi-Fi-only models so you’ll want to read the fine print. If most tablet use will be at home using your existing home Wi-Fi, you may not need the extra expense. Kids can still play preloaded games that don’t need Internet access, or read books, without an Internet connection.
How much are you willing to spend on a Kid’s tablet?
These 5 tablets range in price from $49.99 for the new Fire to over $1,000 for the new iPad pro with Cellular. That’s quite a range! More money will buy you more storage space, faster processing speeds, larger screens, better cameras, and the 3G/4G connection on the iPads. If you are planning to give each child their own tablet you might want to look at the lower end of the price range. For younger kids who might outgrow a device in a few years, the Kindle Fire Kids edition, or new Fire tablet for just $50 are reasonably priced (some even calling these $50 models a “throwaway” tablet). And the LeapFrog is designed to grow with you. If making an investment in a tablet that you hope to use for a while, for example for kids on the verge of tweendom or teendom, you might want a tablet that doesn’t LOOK so much like a kid’s tablet. (In some cases, those big plastic bumpers can be removed, and the Galaxy tablet can switch from kids mode to standard mode).
And yeah, apps cost money
When adding up the costs of tablet ownership, don’t forget all the apps and content that the kids will want to download! Consider tablets that come pre-loaded with apps and games. The Kindle Fire Kids edition is essentially the same product as the “non-kids” model but comes with 1 year of Amazon FreeTime Unlimited, and a 2-year worry-free guarantee. The designed-for-kids tablets such as LeapFrog and Nabi come loaded with games and educational content.
How much control do you want, as a parent?
All the tablets in this list have parental controls available. That’s great news! All but the iPads also have the ability to set time limits without having to install an additional parental control app. With the Galaxy Kids tablet, you can manage which applications children can access, and the amount of time the tablet can be used. The Kindle Fires have similar time management features. The LeapFrog has no in-app purchases or ads, and web content filtering with ability to add sites. Nabi’s parent mode gives you an area on the app to set parental controls, make apps available, and even group apps together in order to set time limits on specific apps or app categories. These built-in tools won’t replace your own rules such as no tablets after bedtime or at the dinner table, but will definitely help enforce them!
Research and Purchase
Here are link to each product’s web site where you can read up on the details, along with links to purchase. These go to Amazon but you may want to shop around at other retailers as most are also available at local retailers like BestBuy and WalMart and might have special holiday pricing.
- Kindle: Kindle Fire Kids HD Edition and the new $49 Fire
- LeapFrog website, Amazon: LeapFrog Epic
- Nabi website, Amazon: Nabi Dreamtab kids tablet
- Apple iPads
- Samsung website, Amazon: Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Lite Kids Edition
Will you be doing any tablet shopping this holiday season? Let me know in the comments!
(This page includes Amazon.com affiliate links. Read my policy and disclosure page for details.)