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.
The Best Kids’ Tablet Deals This Week*
*Deals are selected by our partner, TechBargains
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, so use that as your baseline.
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.
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. Carrying a backup battery can help.
iPads for Kids
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 operating system has 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—$309 for the tablet at Apple’s Education Store web site, 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. The 8-inch Kids model (based on the standard Fire HD 8 above) costs $79.99 right now, 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 tablet 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, so do your research before buying.
For a broader selection of tablets for older kids and adults, take a look at The Best Tablets we’ve tested overall.
Pros: Simple user interface. Durable body. Works as an Echo Show.
Cons: Amazon’s app store falls short of Google Play. UI is very oriented toward showing Amazon content.
Bottom Line: The 2018 edition of the Amazon Fire HD 8 remains the best media tablet you can get for under $100.
Pros: Larger display for better multitasking. Smart Connector lets you use Apple’s keyboard cover or third-party option. iPadOS brings many software improvements.
Cons: Mediocre cameras. Large bezels.
Bottom Line: With its larger display, support for Apple’s Smart Keyboard, and iPadOS, the least-expensive iPad is a terrific tablet and potentially even a laptop replacement.
Pros: Simple interface. FreeTime provides extensive library of kid-friendly content. Two-year warranty. Rugged case has a built-in kickstand.
Cons: Low-resolution display. Sluggish performance. Poor battery life.
Bottom Line: The Amazon Fire 7 Kids Edition is a good, inexpensive tablet with lots of child-friendly content, but the Fire HD 8 offers more power and a nicer display for just a little more money.
Pros: Good value for tablet, case, warranty, and FreeTime Unlimited. FreeTime Unlimited content is high-quality and kid-safe.
Cons: Tablet isn’t waterproof. Limited apps in Amazon’s store.
Bottom Line: The Amazon Fire HD 10 Kids Edition is a safe, reliable tablet for children that will keep them occupied, but won’t grow with them.
Pros: In-store service and support from Barnes & Noble. Good size for comics. Google Play access. Plenty of storage.
Cons: Slow performance. Poor cameras.
Bottom Line: Barnes & Noble’s 10.1-inch Nook is a solid Android tablet for downloading apps from Google Play and reading comics.
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: Inexpensive. Runs relatively stock Android. Decent performance.
Cons: Poor battery life. Lackluster display and cameras.
Bottom Line: Walmart’s 8-inch onn. tablet is a solid alternative to Amazon’s Fire line for anyone who prefers traditional Android software to the Amazon-focused Fire OS.
Pros: Solid performance. Good build quality. Access to Google Play store.
Cons: Underwhelming cameras. A bit pricey for what you get.
Bottom Line: The Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8.0 is a relatively affordable Android tablet with decent specs, but you can get more bang for your buck if you don’t need access to Google Play.