Your buying guide for the best kids’ tablets in 2018
The best tablet for your child will depend on their age. LeapFrog and VTech make tablets which are well suited to young children from around 3-6. When kids reach around 6 or 7, they no longer want what they see as a ‘toddler’s tablet’ and will start asking for something a bit more grown up. Find out how to keep children safe on the internet.
As well as tablets, some manufacturers also make kids’ phones, and there are also kids’ headphones to save you from listening to whatever they’re watching or playing, and keep their ears save with limited volume.
You children will no doubt already know what a ‘proper’ tablet should be like because they’ve borrowed your iPad or Android tablet. That’s one reason we’ve included latest 9.7in here. It’s actually cheaper than the iPad mini 4, starting from £339 from Apple. If you can find a refurbished iPad mini from Apple’s website, these can also be a good option.
If an iPad becomes available as a hand-me-down, that’s great: your child will be over the moon even with an old one. The issue is that they’re quite fragile. But, they have the widest selection of apps and games, many of which are free.
You can buy child-proof iPad cases (our colleagues at Macworld have rounded up some of the best), and disable Safari (to prevent web browsing) and restrict music, videos, apps and games to the appropriate age level, so they’re actually quite a good choice for kids – though their parental controls aren’t as comprehensive as on tablets designed specifically for kids.
Why is the choice so limited?
Aside from VTech and LeapFrog models, there isn’t a massive amount of choice for kids’ tablets. Tesco discontinued the excellent Hudl 2 and Samsung never made a successor to the Galaxy Tab 3 Kids.
This leaves only Amazon, which sells Kids Editions of its 7in and 8in tablets. These are more expensive than the standard versions, but include a foam case, a two-year warranty that covers accidental damage, plus a year’s subscription to Fire for Kids Unlimited which gives them access to a fairly good range of apps, games, videos and books. Parental controls are also excellent.
We don’t have a separate review of the Fire Kids Editions, because they’re otherwise identical to the standard versions, which you’ll find in our list below. Incidentally, Amazon recently expanded the selection available in the subscription, and you can read more about it on Amazon’s site.
The standard Fire tablets still have the Fire for Kids app, which includes the parental controls and hand-curated safe web browser, and ability to create different profiles so siblings can share it. However, it’s also crucial to understand that Amazon Fire tablets do not have the Google Play store or any Google apps on them. Instead they have Amazon’s Appstore and third-party versions of apps such as YouTube.
If you’re not going for one of the above, you could go for a ‘normal’ tablet (probably running Android) intended for adult use. Then you’ll have to lock it down (or not) to ensure the little ones don’t see things in apps or online that you’d rather they didn’t. When kids are using tablets, keep in mind how much screen time is healthy for children.
What to look for in a kids’ tablet
The advantages of a specially designed kids’ tablet include a ‘safe’ web browser (or no internet access) and games and pre-loaded apps which are appropriate for kids. What they don’t tend to have is a wide choice of the latest games. The LeapPads, for example, are great tablets, but your kids might be frustrated when they can’t get the same games or apps their friends have on Android or iPad.
And that’s why we rate Amazon’s range of Fire tablets. You can set up password-protected profiles so you can give each child access to only the books, games and apps you want them to see.
Plus, you can set different time limits for reading and playing. The fact that the range starts from just £49 is why we think the Amazon Fire is one of the best choices for kids right now.
Which specifications should a kids’ tablet have?
It’s best not to dwell too much on specs as they rarely tell you how good a tablet is for a child. Two things you should consider are battery life and screen size.
Many kids’ tablets last around half the time of an iPad – around five or six hours. They can, of course, use their tablet while it’s charging, but it’s worth avoiding any that don’t charge over USB as this makes it awkward to power them on long car journeys.
Younger kids might struggle with a 10in tablet, which is why the Amazon Fire is a good choice all round. Its 7in screen is just the right size for small hands.
Rather than looking at processor speeds and RAM, read our reviews to find out if a tablet is fast enough to keep up with your kids. Gigahertz ratings aren’t a helpful guide in this respect.
A third important aspect is storage. If the tablet you’re considering has no microSD card slot, you’ll have to start deleting apps, music, photos and more when the internal storage is full. It pays to get as much storage as you can, but it’s still important to have a microSD slot. Memory cards are cheap and even if a tablet doesn’t let you install apps on it, you can still use it for photos, videos and music.
1. Amazon Fire 7
The Fire 7 is a very minor update to the 2015 7in Fire tablet. It’s a shame that the processor and cameras haven’t been upgraded, but the low price makes it hard to complain.
It remains great value and a great way to use Amazon’s services including video and music – as well as Alexa. The absence of all things Google will be a deal-breaker for some, but it’s an excellent choice for kids or undemanding adults.
Read our Amazon Fire 7 review.
2. Amazon Fire HD 8
The Amazon Fire HD 8 2017 ticks a lot of the right boxes. It’s affordable, well built and plays back video to an exceptionally high standard.
You need an Amazon Prime membership to fully enjoy it, but this isn’t necessary if you’re buying the Kids Edition as that comes with a year’s subscription to Fire for Kids Unlimited.
Overall, it’s an incredibly priced media consumption tablet that exemplifies Amazon’s dominance in the low-end market, and it’s just as good for adults as kids.
Read our Amazon Fire HD 8 review.
3. Kurio Tab Advance
The Kurio Advance is a typical budget tablet, elevated by its well-thought-out software. The dedicated interface provides parents with a high-level of control, while remaining simple enough for anyone to setup in a few minutes.
We had a few niggles with the hardware itself, particularly the slow power button, but at this price it delivers what you would reasonably expect. The real problem it faces is the Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids, which currently sells for the same price, with a better display, more storage, and a longer battery life.
But, if you prefer to live outside the Amazon eco-system and have access to Google Play, then the Kurio is a good alternative.
Read our Kurio Tab Advance review.
4. Apple iPad
This iPad isn’t Apple’s usual big upgrade. Instead, it’s aimed at owners of older iPads who want better performance and the latest software features.
It’s slightly disappointing that the screen isn’t laminated and that the cameras aren’t the best Apple offers in an iPad, but considering the price it’s good value overall.
Read our Apple iPad review.
5. Kurio Tab 2
The Tab 2 is almost great. It combines a proper Android tablet with child profiles and some decent apps. However, the software could be slicker and the screen better quality.
It’s pretty good value if you can find it for under £80, though, but at the recommended £99, you’re better off with Amazon’s Fire Kids Edition which comes with a year’s subscription to Fire For Kids Unlimited and a two-year warranty that covers accidental damage. It may lack Android and Google apps, but it has a much better screen.
Read our Kurio Tab 2 review.
6. LeapPad3 and LeapPad Ultra XDi
The specially built-for-kids LeapPad3 and LeapPad Ultra XDi are similar in specs and functionality. The larger, 7in, Ultra XDi has twice the storage as the 5in LeapPad 3 but younger children may prefer the 3’s smaller size and weight. We think their upper-age range is six or seven rather than Leapfrog’s claimed nine, but our eight-year-old tester still enjoyed her time with both.
Software can be more expensive than other tablets, but the advantage of Leapfrog software is that it has been built by educational PhDs with both fun and learning in mind.
Just bear in mind that once your child has outgrown the kids interface, there’s no ‘proper’ one to which to graduate.
Read our LeapPad3 and LeapPad Ultra XDi review.
7. LeapFrog LeapPad Platinum
If you’re after a tablet for younger kids the LeapPad Platinum is a decent choice.
It’s completely locked down and will withstand the odd knock or drop. Kids will love the pre-loaded content, which is generally good quality, but they’ll be asking for more apps before long, and the choice is much more limited than on an Android tablet or iPad.
Read our LeapFrog LeapPad Platinum review.
8. LeapFrog Epic
The software and interactive home screen are good, but the hardware is disappointing for the money. You don’t get many games included, and there’s limited educational value in what’s bundled. Amazon’s Kids Edition Fire tablets are arguably a better deal: you get better hardware, a better warranty (with accidental damage cover) and more content.
Read our LeapFrog Epic review.
9. VTech InnoTab Max
The VTech InnoTab Max is best suited to children ages 3-6, and includes some fun, creative games plus an excellent messaging feature that kids love.
The kid-safe web browsing needs some parental monitoring but is more expansive than rival Leapfrog’s. We did find the InnoTab Max frustratingly slow to load, and the photo quality is as averagely poor as with virtually all kids tech.
Read our VTech InnoTab Max review.
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