A tablet designed for young children, like the one Toys “R” Us just announced, seems like a good idea in theory. Instead of giving up your precious iPad, Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire, why not give kids a tablet of their own, pre-loaded with child-friendly apps and flexible parental controls?
The idea doesn’t work, though, if the tablet’s hardware can’t cut it. After looking at the spec list on Toys ‘R’ Us’ $150 Tabeo tablet, I’m a little worried.
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To be clear, I haven’t used the Tabeo, which launches on October 21. But I have used many Android tablets over the last couple of years, and when you have a weak processor like the 1 GHz single-core chip inside the Tabeo, you should be prepared for long load times and laggy touch response, especially when scrolling through in-app menus or web pages. Quad-core chips are not expensive anymore, so the processor is a puzzling corner to cut.
The tablet’s 800-by-480 resolution screen is meager by today’s standards as well, and with just 4 GB of storage on board (less, if you subtract the space taken up by the operating system and built-in apps), parents will need to run out and buy an extra microSD card before long.
Maybe I’m being harsh, but I’m wary of low-end tablets where it’s good enough for kids is the prevailing attitude, especially when there are other options that aren’t much more expensive.
One of them is Fuhu’s Nabi 2, a $200 children’s tablet with a quad-core processor and 8 GB of storage. (I’ve only used the original Nabi, which had great content but struggled on performance.) Spec-wise, it’s on par with Google’s Nexus 7, but has children’s features built-in, along with a parental mode for unrestricted use.
The other option is to buy a grown-up tablet and customize it for your children.
With Android tablets like the Nexus 7, a free app called Kids Place acts as a child-friendly launcher for the apps you already have, with a usage timer, a limited app list and other parental controls. Another app from Zoodles, called Kid Mode, is slicker and supports multiple user profiles, but it’s more complicated to set up and is filled with attempts to sell you more stuff. Amazon’s upcoming Kindle Fire tablets will have a built-in space for kids called FreeTime, which allows for app filters, purchase restrictions and time limits, and it has a simplified interface for navigation.
On the iPad, parental controls are weak, but you can restrict apps and media based on their content ratings, disable purchases and prohibit account changes. Just look for the “restrictions” tab in Settings, under “General.” Of course, the iPad is a much more expensive option, but the rumored iPad Mini would likely be much cheaper.
Toys “R” Us does plan to let people try its Tabeo tablet in stores starting October 21. I’m happy to be proven wrong about what the specs can handle — just keep in mind that it’s hardly the only choice if your child’s taste in gadgets proves too discerning.