Do Kids Even Need Tablets?
Kids want tablets. My daughter has had one since she was pretty small. First, it was just a music player helping to lull her to sleep at night. Then it was the indispensable movie theater for long plane and train rides. Now it’s primarily a vehicle for Marvel Unlimited, the infinite comics app.
But tablets are fragile, expensive gadgets with potentially unlimited access to the internet, both issues that I’ve tried to stay away from in my parenting. A good kid tablet is different from a good adult tablet: While you want a grown-up tablet to be slim, light, and fast, you want a tablet for kids to be cheap, rugged, and protected.
The chart above shows some of our favorite tablets for children, chosen for a balance of affordability, durability, and kid-friendly features. Here’s a quick walkthrough of how to decide which is best for you and your child. And whatever tablet you get, buy a case. With kids, it’ll pay for itself.
Specs Still Matter
Just because you’re giving this tablet to a kid, doesn’t mean you should give them a piece of junk. Hardware specs are important. Let’s start with screen size and resolution. An 8-inch, 1,280-by-800 display is good for reading comics and watching videos. That’s the lowest resolution you should consider right now.
Also pay close attention to storage specs. We recommend 16GB of storage rather than 8GB. This will let you install more apps and take more pictures and video. A microSD card slot can’t hurt either, especially if you want to download movies to watch on long trips.
If possible, look for 1.5GB of RAM or more. This will help apps launch and run more smoothly, particularly if there’s anything else running in the background. Battery life is another factor to keep in mind—you don’t want the tablet to die in the middle of a long car ride. Luckily, you can easily extend the life of a tablet with one of our favorite backup batteries.
How About Just an iPad?
The most recent iPads have really come down in price and are a tremendous value for what you pay. An iPad will always have the best tablet apps, will grow with your kid, and can double as a pseudo-laptop for schoolwork. Apple’s latest operating system, iOS 12, has new tools to let you monitor your kids’ tablet use and keep an eye on what applications they’re using and for how long. Apple also has parental controls that can filter content and prevent purchases, and you should use them to prevent your kids from spending money without your permission.
So if you have about $350 available—$329 for the tablet plus a nice big, rubbery case—an iPad is the most sensible buy right now by far. The rest of this roundup is, primarily, for people either with very small children, people who are entirely in the Android ecosystem, or people who don’t want to spend $329 on an iPad.
Set Your Kids on Fire
Amazon’s inexpensive Fire lineup is our top low-cost choice. The tablets are inexpensive and have a Kids Edition that comes with a rubber case and a no-questions-asked two-year guarantee. We’ve reviewed the Kids Edition of the 10-inch tablet and the adult edition of the 8-inch model. The 8-inch Kids model (based on the Fire HD 8 above) costs $129.99, which is worth the increase in price over the regular model if you think there’s a possibility for breakage.
Amazon’s tablets have a simplified interface, strong parental controls, and FreeTime Unlimited, which is basically a giant bucket of content for kids. A “parent dashboard” lets you keep track of what your children are doing and restrict their screen time. You can put multiple user profiles on the tablets as well.
Falling Back on Android
My family doesn’t have an iPad or a Fire at home, we have an Android tablet. Here’s why.
Our family is all-in with Google services; we communicate through Hangouts and my daughter has a G Suite email account that I supervise. If you primarily use Google cloud services and Android apps, an Android tablet can get you what you need for a little less money than an iPad, and it’s not locked down to Amazon services the way a Fire is.
In terms of parental controls, Android has restricted user profiles that can also prevent accidental purchases and filter Google Play apps. But if you intend to let your kids use one of these tablets out of your sight, you should really consider installing some parental control software.
Companies like Fuhu, Kurio, and Leapfrog have made their names with highly restricted tablets that come preloaded with kid-friendly software and, by default, don’t offer access to the open internet. By and large, though, these tablets haven’t been updated for years and are running old, insecure versions of Android that we no longer recommend. The one product of this kind which we’re okay with is Verizon’s GizmoTab, a low-cost, restricted-use tablet that works with your family’s LTE data plan.
For a broader selection of tablets for older kids and adults, take a look at The Best Tablets we’ve tested overall.
Pros: Good value. Loud speakers. Dual-band Wi-Fi. Very easy to use.
Cons: Highly focused on Amazon services. No native Google apps or services. Poor cameras.
Bottom Line: Amazon’s latest Fire HD 8 tablet is a great value for media consumption, as long as you can live without access to Google Play.
Pros: Terrific performance for the price. Elegant, high-quality apps. Supports Apple Pencil.
Cons: Neither rugged nor waterproof. Keyboard and Pencil accessories increase the price.
Bottom Line: The same price as last year’s model but now with Apple Pencil support, the sixth-generation iPad is the best midrange tablet choice for most people. But it’s still less practical than Chromebooks for most schools.
Pros: Sharp display. Lightweight build. Loud speakers.
Cons: Short battery life. Screen is reflective.
Bottom Line: The Asus ZenPad 3S 10 gives you lots of multimedia value for your money.
Pros: Affordable. Solid overall performance. Good battery life.
Cons: Poor camera quality. No dual-band Wi-Fi.
Bottom Line: The Lenovo Tab 4 8 is an affordable Android tablet with a long-lasting battery and decent performance for average multimedia use.
Pros: Parental controls, child-friendly software, and protective case. Crisp screen. Solid camera. Good network performance. Dual-band Wi-Fi and expandable storage.
Cons: Limited internal storage. Uncomfortable button placement. Lacks 24/7 live tech support.
Bottom Line: The Verizon GizmoTab is actually an Ellipsis 8 HD in disguise, with child-friendly software and accessories. It’s a flexible, if expensive option, if you need a kid-specific tablet with cellular connectivity.
Pros: Less expensive as a bundle than as individual components. FreeTime has a large library of guaranteed kid-safe content.
Cons: Awkward for using non-Amazon content. Smaller, less expensive Fire HD 8 has many of the same advantages. Not waterproof.
Bottom Line: The Amazon Fire HD 10 Kids Edition tablet is a very simple way to give children lots of guaranteed-safe apps and videos, but it won’t easily grow with them.