So your little one is growing up. Fast. And as he or she is starting to pick up on what tickles your fancy, expect to notice major changes in behavior, interests and “hobbies”. What’s that, I’m preaching to the choir? Then let’s skip the introductions and get right down to the meat of it.
The playground, education, your offspring’s whole mental and physical development, they’re entirely different ballgames than what you remember from way back when you were a squirt. Hide-and-seek is no longer hip. Card games are boring, dodgeball is for losers, hopscotch is a thing of the past and so is “I spy” or Marco Polo.
Meanwhile, what goes down in kindergartens and schools resembles sci-fi movie storylines rather than similar activities from three, five, ten years ago. You’ve been caught in the middle of a digital revolution and adapting to new trends is not a choice.
Bottom line, you have to buy your bambino his own tablet. Maybe a smartphone and laptop too, but that’s a discussion for another time. Right now, let’s see what your best Android slate choices are and how many of the obligatory boxes they tick.
Keep in mind some of the options below suit the needs of toddlers first and foremost (yes, you may want to get him an Android gizmo that early), others are specifically designed for kids aged 3 to 5, 6 to 9 or tweens.
6. Kurio 7S – $89.99 via Amazon; $99.99 from Best Buy, Toys R Us and Walmart
Right off the bat, this thing’s fundamental flaw is obvious. It doesn’t come from a household name in the hardware manufacturing business, or an OEM with a great tradition in building children-focused gear. So it’s normal to be a little wary about its build quality and reliability.
As far as the former is concerned however, we’re delighted to let you know the 7S is sturdy, versatile and good-looking. It comes with its own detachable protective bumper, so in theory, it’s ideal for kids aged three and up. Heck, even adults could pull off using the Kurio from time to time.
Needless to say it’s also extremely cheap, though I’m afraid the corners the tab’s creators needed to cut are glaring from a distance. The 7-inch display is horrible (1,024 x 600 pixels resolution), the battery minuscule (4,000 mAh), and there’s no Google Play support whatsoever, so at the end of the day, you can bet the farm your tween son or daughter will get bored with the 7S before you can fully unpack it.
5. Archos ChildPad 2 (80 ChildPad) – $89.99 via Amazon
Albeit strangely hard to come by stateside, the ChildPad 2, aka 80 ChildPad, benefits from Archos’ steadier reputation in the biz. Plus, a larger, higher-res screen: 8 inches, 1,024 x 768 pixels. Even better, it has access to the Play Store, which you can of course tweak, filter, censor or block altogether.
The parental controls are rich, easy to understand and master, the HDMI port can help you hook up the slate to the big screen in seconds, and the on-board 1 GB RAM ensures breezy multitasking. Too bad the processor is a single-core. Also, the 4 gigs of internal storage are laughable.
Aesthetically, the 80 Childpad is colorful, playful and charming, but pretty fragile, so I wouldn’t recommend you letting your three-year-old use it.
4. LeapFrog LeapPad Ultra – $149 via Amazon, Toys R Us and Best Buy
It’s weird. At a first glance, the LeapPad Ultra is nothing special. Quite on the contrary, in light of its shabby 7-inch 1,024 x 600 pix res display, crappy 800 MHz processor and absence of both Google Play support and storage expansion options.
But looking beyond the surface, you’ll find LeapFrog has no rival in build quality (try all you want, you can’t break or scratch the LeapPad Ultra), educational content and autonomy. No, this little guy ain’t a looker. It’s for toddlers, three, four, five-year-olds tops. And the ecosystem is anything but rich. Yet for some parents, the 9-hour battery, total parental control and indestructibility will make it a must-buy.
By the way, yes, we realize the LeapPad Ultra isn’t Android-based. It’s not exactly a “smart” device either, and mundane tasks like web browsing are really uncomfortable and clunky. But we have to give credit where credit is due, regardless of little things like operating system egos. Bottom line, there’s a reason this is an award-winning “toy” and Amazon’s best seller in kids’ electronic learning and education systems, and so you die-hard Android fans should be willing to ignore it’s not technically part of your world.
3. Toys R Us Tabeo e2 – $129.99 through, well, Toys R Us
Legal controversies aside, retail powerhouse Toys R Us did a splendid job in cracking the children tablet market with the first-gen Tabeo, and the second-gen is just as solid. In many ways, it’s very similar to the Archos ChildPad 2, sporting the same 8-inch 1,024 x 768 pix res panel and targeting mostly preteens, with an elegant but fragile exterior.
The Tabeo e2 trumps Archos’ contender primarily in raw speed, thanks to a dual-core 1 GHz chip and 1 GB RAM, accommodating a bunch of extra games and videos too, with double the internal storage (8 GB). The Achilles’ heel is the lack of Google Play support, although the Tabeo App Store is refreshingly vast, while the battery is no pushover, but no champion either, rated at roughly 5 hours.
2. Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids – $199 via Amazon and Best Buy
Look, we appreciate Samsung deems this market niche important enough to warrant its own spot under the Galaxy sun. But asking $200 for the Tab 3 Kids Edition when there are alternatives at half the price isn’t very smart.
Besides, the bundled bumper case seems frail and the children-dedicated “ecosystem” falls a little short in the education department. On the bright side, the 7 incher is slim, thin and cute, performance is unrivaled and not only is Google Play unrestricted, but pre-loaded software perks include $40 worth of free games and apps. This is definitely the closest a kid tab has ever gotten to catering to both the needs of small children and teenagers.
1. Fuhu Nabi 2 – $157 via Amazon, $180 via Nabi Shop and Walmart
A true classic of the kiddie tech décor, the Nabi 2 is today, like two years ago, the all-around best children-oriented tab. Its reputation precedes the 7 incher, and for a good reason, as the quad-core (!!!) slate splendidly blends sturdiness, reliability and functionality into one nearly flawless package.
Running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean with full Google Play support since late 2013, the Nabi 2 can reportedly last around eight hours on a single charge and easily access the Amazon Appstore and Nabi App Zone in addition to GPlay.
It’s the perfect gaming device, but also an ideal learning tool, and parents can control anything and everything their kids do on the Nabi 2. Sure, it’s a little pricey given its age, the 7-inch 1,024 x 600 pix res screen is pretty lousy, and the design makes it difficult to market to tweens. But for toddlers and kids aged 3 to 5 (maybe 6 or 7), it… is… the… best.