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, aside from the 1,024-by-600 Amazon Fire 7. That tablet has a smaller 7-inch screen, so its lower resolution doesn't end up looking fuzzy or difficult to read.
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 to 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.
Set Your Kids on Fire
Amazon's inexpensive Fire lineup is our top choice for children. The tablets are inexpensive and have a Kids Edition that comes with a rubber case and a no-questions-asked two-year guarantee. It costs more than the grown-up version we list above—the 7-inch, 8GB Amazon Fire Kids Edition (based on the Fire 7) costs $99.99, and the 8-inch model (based on the Fire HD 8), which we more highly recommend, costs $129.99. It's worth the increase in price 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.
Why Not Just an iPad? (Or an Android?)
Some parents won't settle for less than an iPad. While there's no such thing as a "cheap iPad," the latest model in the chart above is Apple's best value out there. Just make sure to get a big, rubbery case.
Android tablets can be great for kids who primarily want to watch movies and read. In general, they're less expensive than iPads, although the latest $329 iPad has mostly closed that gap. If comics are your main use, try to go with a 10-inch slate.
Parents will need to be more hands-on when it comes to restricting these general-purpose tablets, though. Apple has parental controls that can filter content and prevent purchases, and 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.
If you think an iPad or some of the Android options listed above are just too expensive to give to a child, check out the best cheap tablets we've tested.
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. Fuhu and Kurio's tablets can also be converted to work as standard Android tablets. They also come with ruggedized builds and/or protective bumpers.
These are the best choices for non-tech-savvy parents who don't want to have to think about selecting or curating content. They often have special apps and games from popular entertainment brands: Fuhu has Kung Fu Panda and Peanuts, for instance. But they can get frustrating for older kids or kids who want apps that aren't available in the manufacturers' limited stores.
For a broader selection of tablets for older kids and adults, take a look at The Best Tablets we've tested overall.
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.
Bottom Line: The Apple iPad is more affordable than ever. If you're looking for a basic tablet with a wealth of apps, it's a solid deal.
Bottom Line: The Amazon Fire 7 tablet makes a good basic video player and color ebook reader, and it's very easy to use.
Bottom Line: The Asus ZenPad S 8.0 strikes a good balance between price and features, with performance on par with more expensive Android tablets.
Bottom Line: The Asus ZenPad 3S 10 gives you lots of multimedia value for your money.
Bottom Line: The Fuhu Nabi Elev-8 is a very good gaming tablet for kids, although its hardware doesn't quite measure up with slates geared toward grownups.
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 cell…