If you have a tablet and you have kids, chances are you've handed it over at some point for them to watch a video or play a game. So do you share your tablet and load it with kid content or should you get one that's designed with their needs in mind?
First, there are two types of kid tablets—those with proprietary operating systems and those that are based on Android. The Leapfrog LeapPad 2 ($99, pre-order on leapfrog.com beginning July 18), which was unveiled this week, is a perfect example of a custom-built kid tablet. It has apps, front and back cameras, a video player and even a music app for playing all your child's mp3 files (available this fall). Plus, it's been built from the inside out to withstand the inevitable drops and bumps. The Vtech InnoTab ($69.99 on amazon.com) also falls in this camp.
Other devices, like the VINCI Tablet II ($249 on vincigenius.com) and the Fuhu Nabi 2 (available this month), look like and are ruggedized Android tablets. When you turn them on, they run a custom interface that provides access to proprietary or kid-friendly content. The Nabi 2 also offers a parent mode, which lets you run regular grown-up Android apps you select from the Nabi app store.
The benefit of both styles of kid tablets is that they provide a secure environment for your child to enjoy content that's been developed with them in mind. I know I don't think twice when my 3-year-old takes the LeapPad and disappears into his room. When it's my iPad, I keep a close eye on it and him.
The sweet spot for kid tablets is between 3 and 7, though there are apps that reach older kids. And the best way to choose one is to look at the curriculum that's being taught to see if you're on board with the company's approach. VINCI is very strong for babies and toddlers. Leapfrog and Vtech tackle pre-k and elementary school kids well. Fuhu will deliver state-standardized core curriculum in English, social science, math and science for elementary school kids.
The Vtech InnoTab and Leapfrog LeapPad take cartridges or you can download content onto the device. The cartridges cost about $25 each, but keep in mind that they're a lot meatier than the apps you'd download from iTunes or Google Play. The downloadable content is what's comparable and similarly priced.
I'd be hard pressed to recommend a kid tablet, other than the Nabi, to kids over 8. The bulk of the content is developed for younger kids, even if the packaging says it goes up to 8 or 9.
Another option for young tablet users is to go with a rugged case, like the Moshi Origo ($30 on moshimonde.com) for iPad or Gumdrop Drop Tech ($49.95 on amazon.com) for Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, that provide quite a bit of physical protection. And there are great apps and services, including Magic Town ($11.99 per month), an online library of interactive books, and Reading Rainbow ($9.99 per month), which just launched on iPad this week. Plus, iOS 6 will let you lock your device to an app, when it rolls out this fall.