The Best Tablets for Kids: Reviews & Prices for the Top (& Safest) Tablet Options for the Holidays & Beyond
by Jeanne Grunert | Last Updated Feb. 20th, 2016
Kids and tablets go together like peanut butter and jelly. As any parent who has ever found mysterious Muppet-infused apps on their software can attest, children naturally and intuitively use tablet technology. Tablets can be a great learning device for children of all ages.
But tablets don’t have to be solely used for learning. Long car trips can be made much more fun by a movie playing on a tablet. Kids can make their own movies, take photos and more on most of the tablets listed here. They’re great tools for both learning and play, and some can even bridge the distance between home and school by using Microsoft-compatible software such as Excel, Word and PowerPoint.
Choosing the Best Tablets for Kids
Tablets made especially for kids come with certain features that differentiate them from the typical tablets intended for adults. As you’re shopping for tablets for your children, consider the following.
Tablets meant for children tend to be slightly smaller than typical tablets. Look for tablets with five to seven-inch screens rather than adult-sized nine inch screens.
Durability of the Tablet
Children are rough on their toys, and they’re rough on tablets, too. Tablets intended for kids are often build with harder cases and sturdier shells than adult tablets. Many also have plastic “bumpers” or thick grips to make them easier for children to hold. These grips or bumpers add a little to the width, but can cushion against jolts as well as provide superior hand-holds for tiny hands.
The great thing about kids’ tablets is that parental controls are built into the tablet, and are usually easy for parents to set. These controls prevent children from accidentally surfing into websites parents don’t want them to visit. Because tablet makers know that parents often find setting controls confusing, they’ve made most children’s tablets with intuitive controls that can’t be undone by most children.
Tablet Operating Systems
Kids’ tablets don’t need the same functionality or robust operating systems as their parents’ tablets. Common operating systems on children’s tablets are made by LeapFrog, Vtech, and Android. These operating systems are often touted as educator-created or approved.
Apps for Your Kid’s Tablet
Instead of cluttering up your tablet with apps for your children, a child’s tablet comes pre-loaded with plenty of apps for entertainment and education. Language instruction, mathematics support, even simple reading tools and ebooks are all found on kids’ tablets. And whatever your child’s tablet doesn’t come with, you can easily add later. Most offer plenty of storage for adding new apps.
Here’s where you may notice the biggest difference between your child’s tablet and your own. Screen resolution on children’s tablets may be lower than on adult-sized tablets, leading to some blurry images. Younger children probably won’t mind this as much as older kids.
The Top Tablets for Kids in 2014
The following tablets are often cited by consumer organizations, educational groups and parents as the best tablets for kids. Each tablet differs slightly, so review the pros and cons, and choose on that best fits the needs of your child.
LeapFrog really does go the extra mile to make their devices kid-friendly, and both the LeapPad 2 and the LeapPad Ultra come loaded with features to please even the fussiest child. LeapFrog is a recognized leader in children’s educational toys, and both of these models are packed with plenty of features both parents and kids will love.
- Inexpensive (often under $90)
- Includes 9 apps
- Can be used for music, games, video recording and more
- Work with 800+ LeapFrog educational games
- Five inch screen makes it a little smaller than others
- Although marketed for ages 3 to 9, may be better suited for older kids
LeapPad Ultra: Pros
- The top-ranked LeapPad tablet
- 7 inch screen
- Large grips on the sides make it easier to hold
- Very sturdy design
- Built-in WiFI, camera, and other tools
- More expensive than most kids’ tablets ($150 and up)
The tag line for this product is “Learn, create, connect” and kids can do this and more with this packed tablet from VTech. The VTech InnoTab features a kid-safe internet connection that enables your youngster to share photos, chat and messages with friends. “Learning Lodge” offers additional software parents can purchase separately.
- Good parental controls for safe website use and chat
- Up to 9 hours of battery life
- Can be used to take pictures, movies
- 20 apps included with purchases
- Additional apps can be downloaded and purchased separately
- Not as durable as other models, although protective skins and cases can be purchased separately
- May need to add custom memory card to expand memory enough to make videos and play more advanced games.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 is really targeted to the younger child, with large, colorful cartoon-like characters and large grips to make it easier to hold. Parental controls include safe web surfing but also time management controls so that parents can set the limits on their children’s computing time. The design of the interface features ‘card’ style graphics, like character cards, which are intended to make use easier for children.
- Time management controls are a nice added bonus for parents concerned about internet usage
- Good for young kids
- Friendly interface
- Card-interface may seem like a step back for kids used to using their parent’s or older sibling’s tablets
- Battery life deemed ‘acceptable’ by parents, but not great
- Can be slow
The Nora Jr. offers a good tablet for older children ready to start using their computers for school work as well as play. It even supports Microsoft Office applications such as Word, PowerPoint and Excel, offering older children and teens a good crossover device if they don’t want a full-fledged laptop. Free apps from the Google Playstore are included with the device.
- Very clear, crisp screen
- Excellent audio
- Can run sophisticated software many other kids’ tablets can’t
- Parents complain it takes forever to charge the battery
- Problems noted with the earlier models – some would not restart
The Kurios Kids line of tablets won the 2013 “Hot Toys” award, and the 2014 lines also proves to be a good Android-type tablet for kids. Sophisticated parental controls garner high praise from parents who like the additional level of control over their children’s computer use.
- Safe web surfing controls
- Time management controls include not just time limits, but hours when kids can use the device
- Set up of the device was easy for parents to use
- Sturdy design and construction
- Expensive ($199)
- Limited free apps for kids
- Poor quality camera
Oregon Scientific may not be a household name like Android, Google or Chrome, but it’s worth checking out when you’re shopping for a child’s tablet. The Meep is designed for children ages six and above and features a very durable design, as well as good choices for downloadable games and apps. The Meep comes pre-loaded with many games, ebooks and more so that parents don’t have to fuss too much with the setup of the device.
- Sturdy design keeps it running despite the occasional mishap
- Android version 4.2
- Touch screen is very responsive
- Can expand memory from initial 4 GB to 32 GB
- Don’t confuse sturdy design with unbreakable – screen can be broken
- Parents say that older children feel it’s too “childish”, so much be good for younger kids
It’s astonishing when you look at the screen resolution on this tablet and realize that at 1024 x 600, it’s almost as good as desktop screens were a decade ago. The 7” Dragon Touch offers crisp graphics, thousands of both useful and fun apps on the Google Play store, and good initial storage capacity that can be expanded via the memory card slot to 32 GB.
- Good tablet for photos and videos
- Parental controls enable kids to download free games, but require password for paid games
- Easy to set up and use
- Some customers report problems with batteries
- Can be slow
The Polaroid 7” tablet for kids won accolades in 2013 for its design and innovation. The design itself offers a lot to like, especially the extra padding around the edges to protect it from accidental knocks and jars. Parental control, display locks and other tools make it a parent-friendly device too. Included with the purchase is access to the Polaroid app shop, which like others on the market, offers additional free content.
- Many features are more for parents than for kids, especially those around the programming
- Extra features to enhance durability
- Over 35 fun apps included and free to download
- Includes a tablet stand to make it easier to use for e-reading
- Battery can be slow to charge
While not designed especially for kids, the Kindle Fire 7” tablet is so user-friendly that kids can enjoy it as much as adults. It features a dual-core processor to handle games, apps, and more simultaneously, and comes with a hefty 8 GB of memory – much more than the average child’s tablet. Like most children’s tablets, the Kindle Fire 7” also comes with parental controls so that parents can set time limits on their children’s computer time. You can even create individual profiles so that different members of the family have varying access to content and internet use.
- Good, inexpensive entry-level tablet for adults or children
- Good for older children; does not have a ‘childish’ look to it. Looks more like an adult tablet.
- Durable construction
- Easy to use buttons for power and volume
- Some people complain that the screen is darker than on typical Kindle devices
- Extra charges to access some content
Teaching Kids to Care for Their Tablets
Although kids’ tablets are intended to be more durable than the adult version, it’s important to teach kids how to use, store and care for their devices. The better a child can care for his own device, the longer it will last.
- Teach your child to plug the tablet in each night so that it charges overnight.
- Make sure they learn to store the tablet in a safe place, out of harm’s way. Tablets should be stored at room temperature indoors.
- Don’t let them leave tablets in the car for long periods of time. Tablets shouldn’t be exposed to heat over 140 degrees F. On a hot day, temperatures inside a car can get above 120 degrees or higher.
- Purchase a carrying case in colors or patterns your child likes, and make sure they use the case whenever they’re transporting their tablet.
- Create a storage space for cables, cords and accessories. A zip-lock plastic bag or a clear container with a snap-on lid makes it easy for kids to put away their accessories.
- Set a good example! Be sure you practice what you preach and take just as good care of your own tablet.
Cleaning a Tablet
Kids will be kids, and there will be times when even the most careful child will spill something on a tablet.
Liquids spilled on a tablet can be disastrous. Unplug the device and remove the battery before attempting to clean it. Tilt the device to enable the liquid to run off, and wait until it’s fully dry before replacing the battery or plugging it back in. If it doesn’t turn back on, contact technical support or bring it in to an authorized repair shop to assess the damages.
Clean the screen with cleaning pads saturated with denatured alcohol. Always use a soft cloth on the screen, as any type of abrasive or bristles can cause scratches.
Caring for a Tablet Battery
Parents often complain about the short life of their child’s tablet battery. Tablet and other rechargeable batteries require special care to extend the battery life and maintain the maximum power storage available.
One trick to extending the battery life on a tablet is to keep the vents clean. Use a soft cloth and wipe out the vents and wipe around the case on the tablet. Make sure your child knows he shouldn’t put stickers or anything over the vents or the case of the tablet. These can block the airflow and make the tablet run hotter than it should, which taxes the batteries and shortens the battery life.
Learn how to adjust the screen brightness on the tablet. By setting it to the lowest setting that’s still comfortable to use, you can save battery life.
Lastly, always let batteries charge fully before using the device on battery power. Teach your child to plug in the device overnight, which typically gives them plenty of time to charge.
Shopping for Your Child’s New Tablet
You can purchase tablets just about anywhere now: at national retailers, “big box” stores, local electronics stores, and online outlets. Be sure to write down the exact make, model and number of the tablet you’re interested in when you go comparison shopping.
It’s helpful to view tablets in person even if you plan to buy them online. Check out the screen, the resolution, and the ease of use while you’re in the store. Note which ones come with accessories and which you may need to buy separately.
Most of the tablets listed here are available from Amazon.com shopping, which can also save you money on shipping if you are an Amazon Prime member.