Your buying guide for the best kids’ tablets in 2017
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.
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 the iPad mini 2 in this list: it’s a lot cheaper now than when it first launched, but it remains the most expensive option here.
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, 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 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. This is why you won’t see them in our list below, so just decide if the included case, warranty, and Fire for Kids subscription are worth the extra cost for you.
Note that the standard 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.
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. These are fully fledged tablets with a great feature called Fire for Kids (even included on those which aren’t specifically the Kids Edition). 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. They rarely tell you how good a kids’ tablet is. 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.
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.
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 Kid’s Edition which comes with a year’s subscription for Fire For Kids 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.
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.
But we’ll say it again – you need Amazon Prime to fully enjoy it. It’s not that it is a complete necessity, but the prominence in the operating system of Amazon’s own apps and services means without a Prime membership it’s a frustrating user experience.
This caveat aside, it’s an incredibly priced media consumption tablet that exemplifies Amazon’s dominance in the low-end market – this over makes it an attractive, interestingly unique option.
Read our Amazon Fire HD 8 2017 review.
The updated software and interactive home screen are welcome, 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 new £99 Kids Edition Fire tablet is arguably a better deal as it has better hardware, a better warranty (with accidental damage cover) and a year’s subscription to kids’ content thrown in.
Read our LeapFrog Epic review.
If you’re after a tablet for your kids – or grandkids – the LeapPad Platinum is a decent choice. It’s completely locked down, designed specifically for kids and therefore 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.
The best alternative is Amazon’s Fire HD 6 which is a better-specified tablet but doesn’t have a stylus or case. If you can stretch to £119.99, the Kids Edition of the HD 6 comes with a foam bumper case, a “worry-free” guarantee and a year’s subscription to Fire for Kids Unlimited, making it a good deal.
Read our LeapFrog LeapPad Platinum review.
iPad mini 2
The iPad mini with Retina display is a fabulous tablet. The screen is excellent and more than worth the minimal weight gain. Performance is also excellent, and the 64-bit processor makes this much more future-proof than the original iPad mini.
The higher price (compared to the original cost of the iPad mini) may be frustrating, but it’s arguably better value than the iPad Air as well as being more portable.
If you can afford it, you won’t be disappointed.
Read our iPad mini 2 review.
The specially built-for-kids LeapPad3 and LeapPad Ultra XDi are similar in specs and functionality. The larger, 7-inch, Ultra XDi has twice the storage as the 5-inch 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. While the hardware is cheaper than normal tablets note that the software can be more expensive. The advantage of Leapfrog software is that, while not as cheap as normal mobile apps, it has been built by educational PhDs with both fun and learning in mind. With its white-list web browsing it’s safer online than most adult tablets, although it’s limited in its scope from that point of view. The LeapPads are bestsellers every year and the latest models build on an award-winning and popular formula without any huge leaps forward in terms of design or functionality. Check out the latest, best online prices: we’ve seen the LeapPad3 for under £50, and the Ultra XDi for £75.
Read our LeapPad3 and LeapPad Ultra XDi review.
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 all kids tech, but it’s a good choice for a child’s first computer. Check out the latest, best online prices: we’ve seen the InnoTab Max for under £55.
Read our VTech InnoTab Max review.