Touchscreen technology is like catnip to the tactile child. All those cool games and bright colors, sliding around and reacting to the touch of a finger -- a kid can't resist it, and many parents can't resist handing their tablet computer over in exchange for a little peace and quiet. The problem here is that these devices are expensive, and kids can be careless. Most kids' toys are built to withstand being dropped on the floor or stepped on -- not like the iPad and other grown-up tablet computers.
So, what if you want your child to benefit from some of the educational apps offered on tablet computers, but you don't want him to break your most expensive gadget?
You're in luck. Several companies have come out with tablet computers built especially for kids. The products serve an age range from toddler to tween, and they all have their pros and cons. One definite pro, though, is that your kid will have her own tablet and won't be begging to play with yours anymore!
The LeapPad Explorer is meant for kids between the ages of 4 and 9, and in February 2012 was priced at $99. In December 2011, Consumer Reports rated this tablet "The Most Fun Overall" and also as the easiest tablet to use.
The LeapPad doesn't come with a lot of preloaded content, but a parent can buy cartridges -- games, books and learning games -- that look sort of like old-school Nintendo cartidges. Or, they can hook the LeapPad up to the computer and download applications, books and games from the LeapPad online shop. A customizable pet avatar guides the child through the process of learning how to use the LeapPad, and there's also a game where the child can feed, groom and play with that avatar.
One really interesting feature of the LeapPad is that it remembers and tracks each child's learning and adjusts accordingly; as a kid becomes more adept at a game, the game becomes more difficult. Also, parents can review their child's learning progress using the LeapFrog Learning Path Web site.
The Vinci Tab comes with the highest price tag among this group: In February 2012, it was priced at $389. It's recommended for toddlers and preschoolers, and the company's founder -- a mom herself -- says that the tablet is designed for equal amounts of playing and learning.
It's the most like a "real" tablet, running on an Android operating system, featuring a 3 megapixel camera and 4GB of storage. According to Consumer Reports, its touchscreen is more responsive than the other kid-friendly tablets on the market.
The Vinci comes encased with a red bumper to help it survive being dropped and thrown around and whatever else a toddler might put it through. Available content includes interactive e-books, games and music videos.
Consumer Reports states that some areas of the tablet feel "unfinished" -- for example, the media folder. It also noted that some users found the tablet less intuitive than others. However, it did say it has the best display and screen out of all the kid-friendly tablet computers it tested.
The Fisher-Price iXL has been called "the iPad for the kindergarten crowd." Aimed at just that age group (3 to 7 years old), the iXL comes in a clamshell shape, making it easily portable and durable. In February 2012, its price tag was $80; it has a 3.3-inch (8.3-centimeter) screen and runs on AA batteries, like the majority of the tablets in this article. You can also purchase an optional battery charging station for $35.
When you first turn on the iXL, you can set up a profile for your child or children -- the device allows you to create up to five customized profiles. Preloaded content includes a storybook, game player, music player, art studio, notebook and photo album.
An animated monkey guides kids around the iXL and stars in the preloaded game and book. You can connect the iXL to a computer and download other programs, as well as put photos and music from your computer onto the iXL. In terms of learning activities, the storybook reads out loud and lights up the words as they're spoken. The notebook helps youngsters practice their handwriting by providing letters for them to trace.
The Vtech InnoTab is aimed at children aged 4 to 9 and in February 2012 was priced at $79. Consumer Reports rated this tablet as best for games, and reviewers have noted that it's a godsend for long car rides. The InnoTab is the only kids' tablet with an "accelerometer," which means the tablet responds when you tilt it. So, for instance, a ball will roll around the screen based on how the user tips and tilts the device.
You also don't have to plug this tablet into a computer in order to set it up, as you do with the others. However, the customization options aren't as detailed as with other tablets, either. The InnoTab doesn't have a built-in camera, but you can buy an add-on for $40.
In terms of learning, the tablet comes with an interactive e-reader, which allows the child to choose whether he wants to read a book on his own, have a book read to him, or click on individual words to hear them read out loud. Games teach math and letters, and an art studio is also included, which offers painting and coloring applications. Kids can draw with their fingers or with a stylus (included), and they can even add special effects to their drawings; using Color and Pop, their drawings will become 3-D. The 5-inch (12.7-centimeter) screen is encased in plastic, making it rugged enough for kids.
The Kindle Fire is a good choice for a tween or teen. For a price of $199, your child can read books, magazines, or newspapers, as well as watch movies and TV shows and listen to music. With a 7-inch (17.8-centimeter) touchscreen, the Kindle Fire is smaller than the iPad.
It comes with WiFi connectivity and 8GB storage space, and no camera is included. The Kindle Fire's main focus is content, not bells and whistles. Fire runs the Android operating system, so there are lots of apps available for download, including apps for e-mail. There's also a Web browser for accessing the Internet.
Kids can download games, learning apps and art apps. The purchase of a Kindle Fire includes free storage in the Amazon "cloud," so your child doesn't have to be anchored by the 8GB of storage space.
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- Amazon.com. "Kindle Fire Apps." 2012. (Feb. 6, 2012) http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?ie=UTF8&docId=1000733201
- Consumer Reports. "First look: Content is king on new Kindle." December 2011. (Feb. 6, 2012) http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine-archive/2011/december/electronics-computers/tablet-computers/amazon-kindle-fire/index.htm
- Consumer Reports. "Review of tablets for kids." December 2011. (Feb. 6, 2012) http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2011/12/review-of-tablets-for-kids/index.htm
- Smith, Andrea. "Don't Break My iPad: Tablets Designed for Kids." ABC News. Oct. 13, 2011. (Feb. 6, 2012) http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/ipads-children-kid-friendly-tablets-breaking/story?id=14724793#.Ty6paeNWogE
- Vanhemert, Kyle. "Fisher Price iXL: An iPad for the Kindergarten Crowd." Gizmodo. Feb. 1, 2010. (Feb. 6, 2012) http://gizmodo.com/5472127/fisher+price-ixl-an-ipad-for-the-kindergarten-crowd