Shelly Picks the Best Tablets for Kids

UPDATED December 2, 2014: As tablets become more and more popular, tablet manufacturers are doing everything they can to expand one of their fastest-growing demographics: kids! In the past year, major players like Samsung and Amazon launched tablets designed specifically for kids, while companies like LeapFrog and Kurio updated their line of kid-friendly tablets with even better units.  

My grandkids have been tablet monsters for a while now, and they’re only 4 and 6 years old. They’re literally growing up with a tablet in their hands. They’ve been playing with my old hand-me-down iPads, which is a great way to give the little ones in your life their first hands-on tablet experience. But if you think they’re ready for a new tablet of their very own, there are a handful of great ones on the market designed specifically for them. Here are some of my favorites.

(1) LeapFrog LeapPad Ultra Xdi Kids Learning Tablet (MSRP $129)

The LeapPad Ultra XDi Kids Learning Tablet is the biggest and best tablet that LeapFrog has made. It has a really nice, high resolution seven-inch touch screen with Wi-Fi and a rechargeable battery. It’s also faster and has more storage than previous LeapPad tablets, and still has access to the awesome library of downloadable apps from LeapConnect. The Ultra is more expensive than previous LeapPad tablets, but is worth the splurge for older kids, who will benefit from a more grown-up feel than LeapFrog’s earlier tablets. The Ultra comes with apps like a music player that provide more of a “real tablet” feel that older kids will love. The Ultra is an older model, and made this list last year, too. But it’s still a great tablet, and now $20 cheaper than last year, features more value than ever.

(2) LeapFrog LeapPad3 Learning Tablet (MSRP $99)

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The LeapFrog LeapPad 3 Kid's Learning Tablet boasts a lot of the great features found in the LeapPad Ultra at a fraction of the price. It’s under a hundred bucks (and can be found online for less than that) and packs tremendous value. The LeapPad 3 is LeapFrog’s newest tablet, and is truly one of the best starter tablets for kids. It has built in cameras, video recorders and a microphone, which lead to lots of fun with some of the included 10 aps. With a battery life that lasts more than 6 hours, it’s a great device to help your little ones keep learning all day long.

(3) Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids Edition - 7" with Orange Bumper Case (MSRP $229)

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids Edition (7-inch with Orange Bumper Case) is the most expensive “kids only” tablet on this list, but it’s a great device. Available online for far less than sticker price, the Galaxy Tab 3 Kids features the build quality you’ve come to know and love from Samsung, presented in a kid-friendly interface that’s intuitive and user friendly for kids of all ages. With interactive menus and backgrounds, avatars and customization, your child can truly make the Galaxy Tab 3 Kids "their" device. This tablet also includes an application manager and time manager, which lets you restrict which apps your kids can access, and how long they’re able to use the tablet before it shuts down. One last note: Saying this is a “kids only” tablet is a bit of a misnomer – you can easily switch from kids mode to a standard mode and unleash the full power of an Android Jelly Bean tablet. Sure, it’s more expensive than LeapFrog’s devices, but it’s one you can use, too.

(4) Techno Source 96405 KD Kurio Xtreme 7 Android Tablet (MSRP $129)

The KD Kurio 10 made last year’s list, but KD’s latest and greatest tablet for kids is the slightly smaller 7" Techno Source 96405 KD Kurio Xtreme 7 Android Tablet. Featuring kid-safe web-surfing and parental controls, the Kurio Xtreme helps you rest easy by knowing exactly what your kids will be able to do with the device. The Kurio Xtreme includes more than 90 apps and games (KD says it’s a $300 value), with tons more available through Google Play. Worried about creating couch potatoes? Some of those included apps are body motion games, which makes your kids get up off the couch to swim, race, play soccer and more. One cool feature that not many (if any) other tablets on this list have is that the Xtreme lets you set up 8 independent user profiles. Now, all of your kids can use this one device, and each will have their very own experience. Now… if only they’d actually share the tablet!

(5) Amazon Fire HD Kids Edition Tablet (MSRP $189)

Amazon’s previous Fire tablets were great devices for kids, but this is the best one yet. Designed specifically for kids, the Amazon Fire HD Kids Edition Tablet is “a real tablet, not a toy.” It’s got a great processor and beautiful display, along with great speakers and front and rear-facing cameras. Included in the price of the tablet is a 2-year worry-free guarantee – if your kids break this tablet, Amazon will replace it for free, no questions asked. That’s awesome. Also included in the price of the tablet is a year of Amazon FreeTime Unlimited, which means access to 5,000 books, movies, TV shows, apps and games at no extra cost. Amazon has tons of original content to pair with its tablets, and the Fire HD Kids Edition is no exception.

(6) iPad mini (MSRP $249 [1st-Gen], $299 [2nd-Gen, with Retina display], $399 [3rd-Gen])

Everything I wrote about the iPad mini last year still holds true this year. The world’s best tablet app store can only be found on Apple’s iPads. The iPad mini is the most expensive tablet on this list, but it has a far greater reach and is more useful to the whole family thanthe kids-only tablets on this list. There are tons of great educational apps available on iOS (check out appoLearning for app suggestions for kids of all ages), and endless content to keep you and your child occupied. The iPad mini is the perfect size to carry around in your jacket pocket or purse, and works with all the apps you’ve bought for any iDevice in the past. In the past year, Apple’s added another iPad mini to its lineup, which means price drops for the first two models. The best value of all three is the iPad mini 2, but the first iPad mini is a perfectly fine device for older kids.

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Whichever tablet you purchase depends on whom you’re purchasing it for. There are certain points to think about – who’s going to be using it? How old are your kids? How big of a screen do you want?

If you’re looking for a device that the whole family can use, spending a little more on the iPad mini makes a lot of sense. If you’ve already got a tablet for yourself and you’re looking for one just for your kids, those price points might be a bit steep. Younger kids will love learning on the LeapPad 3 or Kurio KD Ultra, while older kids will feel more grown-up with tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids.

All of the tablets on this list are great ideas for holiday gifts – it’s up to you to pick the right one for your child.