If your wee ones haven't put their hands on your iPad already, they may be begging for one soon. Tablets -- bigger than smart phones, smaller than laptops -- are an excellent learning tool for inquisitive young minds. Apps are available offering everything from e-books to math games, to subject-specific programs about animals or mythological creatures, and creative tools from finger-painting to photo retouching. Plus, videos, movies and music can help entertain youngsters, whether you're taking a long road trip or just running errands around town.
There's no escaping the fact that tablet usage is spreading like wildfire among the younger set. According to a study from Nielsen, about 70 percent of children in households with tablet computers use them. About 77 percent use tablets to play games, while 57 percent use them for educational purposes. Around 55 percent use the tablet for entertainment while traveling, and 43 percent use it to watch television shows or movies [source: Reuters].
The good news? Your kids don't have to run roughshod all over your iPad to enjoy using a tablet. Read on to learn more about five great new tablets that are ideal for kids.
The V-Tech InnoTab offers interactive books, educational games, creativity tools and a library of apps. This durable toy comes in a blue or pink color scheme, measures 9 x 1 x 10 inches (23 x 3 x 25 centimeters), and operates on four AA batteries. A five-inch (12.7-centimeter) touch screen lets kids aged 4 through 9 interact with the device -- just like mom and dad operate their smart phones and grown-up tablets.
The InnoTab features four different media players: an e-book reader, MP3 music player, photo viewer and video player. Each e-book includes a story dictionary to help kids expand their vocabularies and understand new words in context.
The InnoTab syncs to any PC or Mac with a USB cable, so you can download additional games, e-books and apps from V-Tech's online Learning Lodge Navigator, where you can also keep tabs on their child's activities and progress.
LeapFrog Leap Pad
Built just for kids, the LeapFrog Leap Pad is a learning tablet with a 5-inch (12.7-centimeter) color touch screen, built-in camera, microphone, stylus and 2 gigabytes of storage. Perfect for kids from 4 to 9, they'll spend hours on the Leap Pad reading or listening to e-books, watching videos, creating masterpieces, playing educational games -- even editing photographs. Kids can choose from versions in pink or green.
Named Toy of the Year for 2012 by the Toy Industry Association, the tablet features an accelerometer that allows kids to tilt the screen left and right to navigate through mazes or create artistic masterpieces. In addition, the tablet offers more than 100 games, books and apps. Parents can keep track of their child's educational development and identify areas could use a little work by connecting the Leap Pad to a computer and accessing the Learning Path application.
If you want to buy a kid-specific tablet -- and price is no object -- consider the Vinci Tab VH-2001. It offers an exceptional display and touch screen interface. Designed by a mom especially for tykes, the Vinci features a durable, soft frame that's built for small hands and the occasional rough-and-tumble child's play.
Parents worried about the long-term health effects of exposure to WiFi signals will appreciate the fact that the Vinci doesn't include a wireless router.
Now the technical specs: the Vinci runs Android 2.2 and features a 7-inch (18-centimeter) screen, 512MB of RAM, and 3-megapixel camera. Out of the box, you'll find it loaded with learning games, videos, music and interactive books. The Vinci tablet is a little more expensive than some other tablet-for-kids options: A $398 version offers three hours of battery life, while a $479 version runs for six hours on a single charge.
Motorola Xoom Family Edition
If you're looking for a tablet with features the entire family will appreciate, consider the Motorola Xoom Family Edition. It offers plenty of games, movies, educational apps, and creativity tools to entertain the whole family, while providing the ability to handle more grown-up tasks, from checking email to updating spreadsheets and doing research on the web.
The Motorola tablet features the award-winning Kid Mode app that allows kids to access only the web content you approve, including educational games and Web sites. While the tablet comes loaded with pre-installed apps, users have access to 250,000 more online at the Android Market. It runs Android 3.1 using a dual-core processor and 1 gigabyte of RAM, plus up to 64 GB storage.
The tablet features a 10.1-inch (25.65-centimeter) HD widescreen display and a long battery life that allows up to 10 hours of video playback -- enough time to keep the little ones in the backseat entertained during a long drive to the beach. There's also a built-in camera and webcam, so your entire family can easily share photos or video chat with distant relatives.
Apple iPad 2
If you're thinking about getting a tablet for your kids, don't overlook the device that's truly the "Mac daddy" of them all. While the Apple iPad 2 may be a tad expensive starting at $499, it's also the easiest to use, responsive and feature-rich. Plus, it's lightweight, quick, and boasts a 10-hour battery life.
The iPad 2 offers the widest variety of learning apps, encompassing an extensive range of topics and complexity, so it grows along with your child. And for entertainment, the iPad 2 offers videos, movies, books and games galore.
Although handing your little ones something they'll regard as a $500 toy seems like a recipe for disaster, many parents comment that the iPad 2 is intuitive enough for toddlers to navigate with little assistance. If you decide to share your iPad with your little ones (or even give them with one of their own), durable cases are available to protect your investment, from sturdy and sensible to toddler-friendly and a little bit silly (see the iGuy).
Whatever tablet you choose, it's certain to become the favorite toy of every youngster (or just the young at heart) in your household!
HowStuffWorks finds out what 'Hour of Code' is all about and how it can help children and adults learn about computer programming.
- Bilton, Ricardo. "10 Best Tablets for kids." ZDnet.com. November 29, 2011. (Feb. 23, 2012.) http://www.zdnet.com/photos/10-best-tablets-for-kids/6330739?seq=9&tag=siu-container;photo-frame#photo-frame.
- Carew, Sinead. "In homes with tablets, most kids use them." Reuters. February 16, 2012. (Feb. 23, 2012.) http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/16/us-tablet-computers-idUSTRE81F15S20120216.
- ConsumerReports.org. "Review of tablets for kids." December 2011. (Feb. 23, 2012.) http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2011/12/review-of-tablets-for-kids/index.htm.
- Leapfrog.com. "LeapPad." (Feb. 23, 2012.) http://www.leapfrog.com/leappad/index.html#create_and_share.
- Moore, Joshua. "iPad vs. Android Tablets: A Kids Perspective." GottaBeMobile.com. July 7, 2011. (Feb. 23, 2012.) http://www.gottabemobile.com/2011/07/20/ipad-vs-android-tablets-a-kids-perspective.
- Ragaza, Laarni. "Vtech InnoTab Interactive Learning App Tablet." PCMag.com. Nov. 22, 2011. (Feb. 23, 2012.) http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2396670,00.asp.
- Smith, Andrea. "Don't Break My iPad: Tablets Designed for Kids." ABCnews.go.com. Oct. 13, 2011. (Feb. 23, 2012.) http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/ipads-children-kid-friendly-tablets-breaking/story?id=14724793#.T0HOnM3-T14.
- Tuttle, Brad. "Should you buy a toddler a tablet?" Time.com. Dec. 9, 2011. (Feb. 23, 2012.) http://moneyland.time.com/2011/12/09/should-you-buy-a-toddler-a-tablet-how-about-a-480-tablet/.
- VTechKids.com. VTech InnoTab." (Feb. 23, 2012.) http://www.vtechkids.com/brands/brand_view/innotab.