8 best kids' tablets
These tablets are designed with children in mind to be both fun and educational
Tablet computers aren’t just for playing games, though that may be the attraction for many children. They are strong educational tools for everything from hand-to-eye coordination (and, actually, games are good for that) to learning in an entertaining way. Apple’s CEO Tim Cook says that coding should be taught in every school like any other language and his company has built a whole coding learning tool, Swift Playgrounds, which is one of the reasons Apple is key in this product category.
There are also kids’ editions of regular tablets, notably from Amazon, which offer greater robustness and a no-questions-asked replacement policy, among other features.
LeapFrog, the pre-eminent kids-only tablet brand specifies a three to nine-years age range and though Apple and Amazon don’t have age ranges in the same way, they are versatile enough to suit those ages and above.
Screen addiction for kids is a hot topic just now and Apple and Google have both announced plans to limit screen use with new software coming later this year (iOS 12 and Android P are the names of the operating system updates). In the meantime, Amazon has strong family controls already.
These are the best kids' tablets.
1. Amazon Fire 7 Kids Edition: $99.99, Amazon
The slogan is: “If they break it, we’ll replace it. No questions asked.” It comes in three colors, blue, pink and yellow, all protected with a robust, highly-tactile plastic bumper case. Amazon uses a special version of the Android operating system. It has fewer apps than on regular Android but each one has been fully tested so you know they’ll work. And the Kids Edition includes a year’s subscription to Amazon Free Time Unlimited, which provides access to 150,000 popular apps and games, videos and books, plus educational content from PBS Kids, Nickelodeon, Disney and others. Amazon has included tremendous parental controls to manage usage limits such as bedroom curfews, or educational targets such as reading which must be met before access to, say, video or games, becomes available. It also restricts internet and social media access.
2. Apple iPad: From $329, Apple
The latest iPad, though not the cheapest tablet available, is a tremendous value. And it has suddenly become especially education-friendly because it’s now compatible with the Apple Pencil, a beautiful, slim stylus which is a brilliant way to interact with the tablet. You can draw, write or paint with the Pencil and the tablet cleverly knows to ignore your hand if it’s resting on the display. The iPad matches Apple’s superb build quality and impeccable operating system with literally more than a million apps. These include the Swift Playgrounds coding language learning app which is aimed to suit children from the youngest upwards. Beyond that, the 9.7-inch display is bright and high-resolution, the processor is fast and responsive and sheer versatility and quality of the apps puts Apple beyond its rivals, for all ages. This iPad and the iPad mini 4 below also offer the choice between wi-fi only and wi-fi plus cellular, that is, you can put a sim card in it to use on the go – handy to keep kids busy in the back of the car.
3. Asus ZenPad S 8.0 Z580CA: $249.99, Amazon
If it looks familiar, you’re right, there’s a similar design ethos here to the iPad mini. It’s a fast, capable machine with a high-resolution display that matches that of the iPad mini. It works well for children because it’s a good balance of speed and value. This tablet charges fast (thanks to a USB-C charger) so Junior won’t be left without a device after it runs flat. Mind you, this is just as well as battery life, although officially claimed as the same as the iPad, runs for a little less in practice.
4. LeapFrog Epic: $179.99, Amazon
LeapFrog is a brand that focuses sharply on kids’ tech with web access limited to content that’s deemed child-appropriate by the company’s learning experts – this tablet is aimed at three- to nine-year-olds. The Epic is the first from LeapFrog to use Android, so there are plenty of popular games and educational apps available. LeapFrog has designed its own apps and has a customizable home screen so children can design the tablet’s onscreen look as they like. There are also some games which the company describes as “auto-leveling”, that is, they adjust to the age and capability of the player. The solid green bumper – it’s also available in pink - protects the shatter-safe 7-inch screen. It also has a useful stylus which is stored in the corner of the tablet. Epic, by the way, stands for Explore, Play, Imagine and Create.
5. Apple iPad mini 4: From $399, Apple
If a smaller iPad seems a better fit for little hands, the 7.9-inch display on the iPad mini series is a great size. Not only is the display smaller but it’s also the highest resolution in terms of the pixel density of any iPad, so it looks fantastic. It’s very thin and light, though it’s also the priciest and classiest tablet on test – and the cheaper full-size iPad is more powerful. The 8-megapixel rear camera is better than on rivals here, apart from the bigger iPad where the camera is the same. Although it’s a significant initial outlay, iPads are pretty durable so it’s likely to be around for a long time. And the presence of the brilliant Swift Playgrounds coding app is a big bonus, too.
6. Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition: $129.99, Amazon
This is essentially a slightly bigger version of the Fire 7 with, you guessed it, an HD 8-inch display. As with the seven-incher above, you can get it even cheaper if you get the regular edition ($99.99 if you allow it to show you an advertisement when you wake the screen, $114.99 without these ads, though there is a model with a lower storage capacity that’s cheaper). But either way, it’s amazing value that shouldn’t be underestimated. It comes in the same colors as the smaller version but it has a higher-resolution display and twice the onboard storage (32GB instead of 16GB) – though in both cases these tablets have the capability of adding extra storage, something Apple doesn’t offer. It also has high-quality dual stereo speakers, unlike the smaller Fire. Great for slightly older children or those who want the biggest-screen tablet Amazon makes.
7. LeapPad Ultimate: $66.48, Target
Available in trademark green and now a bright pink version, too, the LeapPad Ultimate is solid and tough with a 7-inch display. Like all the tablets here, it is powered by a built-in rechargeable battery. This is not an Android tablet so you’re limited to the apps the company provides – though there are over 1,000 of these available and ready to be bought or downloaded separately. LeapFrog says it teaches elements such as coding, reading comprehension, music and rhythm and more.
8. Lexibook Junior 2 Tablet: $57.97, Amazon
The 7-inch screen on the Junior 2 is much smaller than the tablet itself, which means the speaker can be directly front-facing, and still makes the gadget feel more durable thanks to the silicone reinforcement. This part of the design also makes it easier for little hands to grip. The Android operating system is modified to be kid-friendly and gives access to thousands of apps curated in the Lexibook Market to ensure suitability.
Verdict: Best kids' tablet
In terms of quality, versatility and great design, the iPad is the best here, especially now it has the added usefulness of the Apple Pencil, not to mention that this is the most affordable full-size iPad Apple has released. Even so, many parents will want something cheaper for their child, in which case either of the Amazon Fire tablets win out easily, which is why the Fire 7 Kids Edition is the best buy here. LeapFrog’s long-term commitment to the children’s tech world gives it a lot of credibility too - though not enough to knock Apple and Amazon off the top spots.