laptops & tablets for children
The idea of the static home computer is potentially becoming outdated. The use of tablets is rising and the need for portable connectivity means that more homes now choose laptops.
Buying the right devices for your family really depends on usage and whether they’re required purely for entertainment or for homework and projects too. Understanding the different operating systems and the levels of built in security can help you make the right decision.
Five things you should consider when buying a laptop of tablet
Should I buy a tablet or laptop?
The easiest way to decide which to buy is to look at what you want to do with them. Do you or your children just need something to browse the internet on and access social media, even take on holiday with you? Then a tablet is your best bet. A laptop is recommended for those who need to sit at a keyboard for longer periods or require more complex software such as image editors.
Which operating system for laptops?
There are three main operating systems for laptops: Windows, Mac OS X, and Chrome OS and prices can vary according to what you need the laptop to do. If you’re web surfing and doing children’s homework a budget laptop running Chrome OS will cost around £200. Those looking to do photo or video editing are likely to need something more powerful. A top of the range laptop running Windows or Mac OS X can cost £1,500 or more.
All laptops and tablets can be password, PIN or fingerprint protected during the set-up phase. That means that nobody but you can unlock them to get to the ‘homescreen’ or access any of your family’s personal details or files without your entry requirements.
Which operating system for tablets?
Different tablets use different operating systems, of which Android and Apple are the most common. Google’s Android OS is found on a range of tablets from multiple manufacturers at a range of different prices, specifically at the budget end. Apple’s iPad is typically more expensive, however offers fantastic usability. Both have dedicated app stores to allow you to buy apps direct via the tablet.
Some tablets and laptops have what is known as dual-band Wi-Fi, which means they can connect to compatible wireless routers on different bands. Modern routers will often have two antennas, one for 2.4GHz and one for 5GHz with the latter being a more stable connection capable of faster speeds and further reach. You would ideally want to connect to that one, especially for portable devices.
What about an eBook reader?
If you don’t feel your child needs the connectivity offered by a tablet, but would like to give them a tablet experience for reading and study, an eBook reader looks like a tablet, but is technically different. It’s like a digital book, specifically designed for downloading and reading books on. Their e-paper screens are not backlit in the same way as a tablet, monitor or TV screen, which makes them easier on the eyes over long periods.
The range of Amazon Kindle devices are the best known eBook readers, with eBooks available from the Kindle Store, while Nook and Kobo also offer their own devices and stores.
However, just like in a bookstore with real books, eBooks don’t come with age ratings. Therefore some mature content is available, but it’s possible to require that a password be entered prior to Kindle Store downloads, as an added layer of parental control. Speak to your children about which books they would like to read or for young children, focus attention on the Children’s eBooks section.
Tablets and laptops to consider for your child
Here are some reviews of selected laptops and tablets that are currently available with pointers on the age they’re appropriate for, their level of functionality and the safety features they offer.
We’ve reviewed the following (in ascending age-appropriate order):
The tablet gives parents strict control over all aspects of access with the Robin, one of the most secure on test in fact by using the operating system that powers the Kurio and then increasing the security some more.
On the plus side, this tablet can be used on the go without WiFi connection restrictions, the down, well additional monthly payments.
By including a full keyboard on this Windows powered device the art of typing and becoming familiar with this skill is of real benefit.
It isn’t to say that this one falters on the entertainment sides, there is some decent enough content pre-loaded and processing speeds are impressive enough to satisfy the Kurio’s target audience.
It’s priced at around £160.
The parental controls extend from the ability to select accessible content to also setting time limits of genres of content too. Free access to the Microsoft Office suite makes this a very homework friendly device with a range of accessories that makes it feel quite grown up.
New 7 inch tablet for kids to explore and create
A series of parental questions during setup help you create an experience tailored for your child, and there’s a timer mode that allows you to limit screen time.
As you might expect you can buy more apps, but purchase decisions are never forced on the young user or you as a parent. Apps aren’t full of adverts, for example.
The LeapFrog Epic grows on the experience of its previous apps and dedicated tablet devices, making this very suitable for children reaching their teens who don’t want to feel they’ve been dumped with a “baby’s toy”.
LeapFrog LeapPad Platinum
A 7-Inch tablet designed especially for kids
Dedicated software means everything is educationally driven, while in-built tech like Wi-Fi, front and back cameras, 8GB of storage, and a stylus pen makes them feel their tablet is just as good as yours.
The tablet also features an interactive card game that lets children scan cards to load different games and apps. It’s not an iPad, but your young kids will still love it.
Amazon Fire HD Kids Edition
Great for kids to play, read and learn
Amazon has introduced a tablet that has been built just for children. It has a 6-inch HD screen and is limited to age appropriate games, eBooks, videos and apps. All content is curated and adapted so that there are no adverts, in-app purchases or links to social media that a child can accidentally stumble upon.
You can buy this from £119.
This tablet has a handy control that means parents can lock the amount of time the tablet can be used during the day, or even restrict game time until after a child has used the device to read for a set time.
There are two interesting perks when buying this tablet. Firstly, there’s a two-year guarantee, meaning Amazon will replace it no matter how it was damaged. And secondly, every device comes with a one-year subscription to Fire for Kids Unlimited meaning all lots of entertainment and educational content is free for the first year. However, after the first year subscription costs start from £3.99 per month.
This is an updated version of the special edition version of its Fire tablet designed with children in mind last year.
The Kids Edition provides a safe and age appropriate tablet with no external distractions of costs. All content is selected by experts and although there is now access to YouTube and the internet, only those checked and certified for children are accessible.
You can buy this from £100.
The tablet has a 7-inch screen and comes with a no-quibble two-year guarantee, so if it is broken in any way Amazon will replace it regardless of circumstance. There is an included child-friendly bump to protect it against accidental drops.
The best feature is the one-year free subscription to Fore for Kids Unlimited. This will give you access to books, apps, videos or the internet.
Once your free subscription runs out, you will have to spend from £1.99 a month from then on for Prime subscribers, £3.99 a month if you’re not to continue your subscription.
Like with former Amazon tablets, every family member can have a profile on the device that provides instant access to their apps, games, books and videos. Plus, parents can set the amount of time a child is able to use the Fire or even rewards for reading. Read for a certain amount of time and the tablet will let them play a game, for example.
The Amazon Fire tablet is also tough and able to withstand a few knocks and scrapes. And the company has recently launched Amazon Underground, which is an app store that offers only totally free applications that have no hidden extra in-app costs.
Amazon Fire HD7
A great way to encourage kids to learn before rewarded with playtime
The Amazon Fire tablet range is typically focussed on reading, but the Fire HD series can do more, with a full colour screen for movie playback and an app store too. The functionality is simpler than iPads or tablets running the Android system, so it’s a good step up from a first tablet for younger children.
You can buy this for around £79.
Each family member can have their own profile, which can be set to restrict your children’s accounts from accessing content that’s inappropriate for their age.
A favourite feature is Amazon FreeTime, which gives parents the ability to set goals and rewards for children who use the tablet for educational means. Set a specific amount of reading time that has to be achieved, for example, before entertainment content, like TV shows, will be unlocked.
Tesco Hudl 2
A tablet for the whole family, with dedicated Child Safety app
Unlike the Amazon product family, the Tesco Hudl 2 runs Google’s Android operating system, which means full access to the Google Play Store, with its wide range of applications and games.
This costs around £129.
The Tesco Hudl 2 comes pre-loaded with its own Child Safety application, a personalised and password-protected portal that can restrict functionality and individual apps, block website categories (such as 18+), and add time-based usage restriction for weekdays and weekends.
The standard Android settings also mean it’s possible to limit what’s available from the Google Play Store. You can restrict search results and filter apps rated with low, medium and high maturity levels, as appropriate for your child’s age – follow the instructions here.
Smaller than the iPad Air 2, it is suitable for children thanks to its size. It’s also handy for slipping in your bag for a family visit to a restaurant, for example.
Although it is more expensive than other Android tablets, the range of apps and quality of the device is second to none.
You can buy it from £319
Parental controls, like all Apple’s products, aren’t as good as they could be, although you can restrict content by age rating and lock in-app purchases so you can’t rack up huge bills.
The best way to see the new iPad mini 4 is that it is a great tablet for you personally, being a lot more portable than other iPads in the range, yet comes with some great apps for the little ones in your life.
Toshiba Chromebook 2 (CB30-B-104)
The perfect homework companion
There are so many laptops available it can be baffling to know which to buy. Increasingly Chromebooks are the best affordable option, used by many schools for their students.
You can find this for around £169.
Unlike most laptops, which run Microsoft Windows, a Chromebook runs Chrome OS, meaning it’s not possible to install significant applications, only those from the Chrome web store.
However, by default the browser functionality means the entire internet is available just a few clicks away. To counter this, you should set your parental control settings on your home broadband and there’s also an app called Blocksi, which needs to be downloaded from Chrome web store and installed, that will auto filter inappropriate and adult content. It can also be set up to filter specific search terms, websites, and more thanks to password-protection.
That leaves the Chromebook, best represented by the Toshiba Chromebook 2, to be a great functional tool for homework, research and creativity.
Asus Transformer Book T100
Best of both worlds, with Family Safety monitoring assurance
As its name suggests, the Asus Transformer Book is both a tablet and a laptop rolled into one thanks to a detachable keyboard feature. It’s also affordable and runs full Windows 8 for a full-on feature set, including all Windows applications, making it more versatile than a Chromebook.
You’ll find this priced from £250 upwards.
If you don’t want your children installing applications or browsing for things they shouldn’t be, then Microsoft has you covered. The My Family feature allows for individual account setups, with admin-based restrictions as you please.
Then there’s Family Safety that will even allow you to monitor a child’s account. Automated email reports will summarise the websites visited, what’s been searched for, downloads, most used apps and games, and the amount of time used. Web filtering, time-restrictions and app/game restrictions can be put in place thereafter – whether as a response to excessive use, or as an initial limit.