So you've decided you want to buy your child a tablet for Christmas, but you've no idea where to start? The tablet market is very exciting these days, with many new and interesting developments happening on a near-daily basis.
However as "family tablets" become bigger business, with more and more tablets entering the market aimed specifically at kids, how are we as parents supposed to choose which one is right for us? After all, a lot of these devices represent a significant investment, and you don't want to end up with the wrong one.
All tablets are not the same, so I've pulled together a little guide which I hope will help make your buying decision easier. In this guide I'll describe the three main categories of tablet available, give the pros and cons of each kind and then give my overall recommendations and "best buy" list
Tablets for kids
There are some tablets that have been designed from the ground up for kids, and I'm talking here about the VTech Innotab and the Leapfrog LeapPad. Every inch of these tablets screams kid friendly, from the amount of plastic protecting the sides to string to attach the stylus to the tablet so it doesn't get lost. These tablets come from two giants in the kids electronic games industry, and have a good selection of kid friendly and educational apps and games available for them.
Pros: These devices are made for kids from the ground up. They are designed to be durable. The apps available are designed for the target age group, and have great educational value. No adult set-up required.
Cons: The apps are expensive (generally in the £5 - £20 range each). Compared to apps available on smartphones these days they are quite simplistic - if your child has already seen "Angry Birds" they may not be happy with the selection on these toys. There is little longevity in the devices, and they won't appeal to older members of the family.
Price: Depending on the model you choose the initial investment is anywhere between £50 and over £100. Once you've bought the device, any additional apps will cost anywhere between £5 and £20
My verdict: I don't see these devices as a good long term investment, but they're a fun toy for younger kids. They certainly won't appeal beyond the upper age in the recommended age range, and if your child is close to the suggested maximum I don't think they'd be the best buy.
Tablets adapted for kids
A huge growth industry at the moment, there are new lines appearing all the time of tablets which are essentially a "standard" or "grown up" tablet which has been made child friendly by the addition of parental control software and a decent protective case. The main brands here are the Kurio and the Meep, but there are new ones arriving quite regularly. These tablets are usually based on Android technology, which has been customised by the manufacturer.
Pros: These devices are fully featured tablets but someone else has done all the child proofing for you. They usually have the ability to set up multiple users so the whole family can use the tablet. Little adult set-up is required.
Cons: If you're buying an Android tablet, the biggest selection of apps for it come through the Google Play store, and some of these devices don't have access to that. If you're buying for a child this may not be an issue, but if your intention is for the whole family to use the device this may be limiting. In general the performance (speed) and quality (screen resolution etc) of these devices is less good than other options available.
Price: Again the price depends on what you buy, but in general these devices seem to start around £70 and go up from there. Once you've bought the initial device the apps are cheap (some are free even), but the selection available varies greatly depending on whether the device can access the Google Play store or is limited to a manufacturers store.
My verdict: These can be a reasonable buy if you're looking for a more functional tablet but are not confident at setting up parental controls on a standard tablet. However, in general, they are more expensive and poorer quality (in terms of speed, screen resolution) than other tablets on the market. Personally I wouldn't buy one of these as a family tablet, but it might be a good buy for exclusive use by one or more children. I haven't managed to get my hands on one of these tablets for more than a few minutes, but here are some reviews from some people who have:
"Grown Up" Tablets
Although not especially marketed at kids, my own experience with the iPad has shown that there is a LOT of value in giving kids access to this kind of technology from an early age. In this market there is a choice between two systems - the Apple iPad or the increasing number of Android-based tablets. (Sorry, I don't think the Windows Tablet is a viable contender yet).
Personally I still think the iPad offers a better selection of apps for kids, and it's easier to find age appropriate apps due to Apple having a dedicated "Kids" section in their App Store now. On the downside, the iPad is the most expensive option on the table and I know many parents can't afford to give their kids that kind of technology.
The good news is that Android tablets are catching up in terms of selection of apps available, and there are some great deals out there. My personal favourite is the Nook HD - a high quality tablet with great parental controls built in for just £79. Tesco have made a strong entry to the market with the Hudl - a decent tablet for just £119, or £60 in Clubcard vouchers. And you'll never go wrong buying a Nexus 7 - it really is the definitive Android tablet.
Pros: A long-lasting purchase that can be used by all the family. The best selection of apps, with many educational titles being available free or for only a few pounds. An increasing number of schools are investing in this technology so this will support what your child is learning at school.
Cons: These can be more expensive than other options, and in general don't come with parental controls set up, so you may need to learn a little more about how they work in order to let your kids safely play on them. They are also not designed to be durable against the wear and tear that comes when kids use them, so you'll need to invest in a decent protective case.
Price: These can start from as little as £50 for unbranded tablets, and the branded ones start at £79 with the Nook HD. The Apple products are the most expensive, starting at £249.
My verdict: If you want a versatile tablet for the family, or for your kids, a "grown up" tablet is the best buy. I am sure my preference for the iPad shines through, but I have been pleasantly surprised by the Hudl and am starting to think that there are some viable Android alternatives out there. You can read my review of the Nook HD here, and listen to me talk about the Hudl on my podcast here.
I've highlighted a whole range of different tablets, and to be honest I think there's merit in any of these options. However I personally think you'll get a much more versatile device, one that can be used by the whole family and with the greatest range of apps available if you invest in the "grown up" technology. To make your choice easier I've listed my personal recommendations for all budgets:
Best buy under £100: Nook HD (£79)
Best buy under £150: Tesco Hudl (£119)
Best buy under £200: Nexus 7 (£199)
Best buy under £250: iPad mini (£249)
If you can afford it: iPad mini with Retina display (£319)
With any of these tablets, if you're going to let your kids use them, then I recommend you invest in a good quality case. Edge and corner protection is essential - we've only ever shattered one iPad screen in this family, and it was me dropping it on its corner onto a tiled floor. It was the only tablet that didn't have a case that covered its corners.
The gold standard of protective cases is Otterbox, but there is a great selection available to suit all budgets.
Are you buying your kids a tablet for Christmas? If so, what are you getting them? Do you agree with my recommendations or is there something you think I've missed? Have you recently reviewed any tablets? If so, please leave me a comment below.
Ruth Arnold is a geeky, tech-loving wife and mother of two (aged 5 and 3), trying to juggle working part time with running the home and organising the family. When she gets any spare time she likes to share tech tips and family milestones.
Blogs at: Geek Mummy