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Kids' tablets buying advice: choose a tablet PC for your children

Which tablet computer for children?

Best tablets for kids

If you don't want your children hogging your iPad or Nexus 7, there are tablets out there designed specifically for a younger audience. These children's tablets can protect them from the dangers of the web, and keep them entertained. Here's our guide to choosing a tablet computer for your kids. (See also: best tablets for children - group test.)

Kids these days are digital natives. Tapping a screen is second nature and they'll probably be able to work your iPad before they can read and write. There are lots of tablets designed for kids and, as well as being a fun toy to play with, they can also be great educational tools.

The quality of children's tablets varies enormously, though, so it pays to know what to look for. Although specifications play a part, it's important to get a device that can withstand rough handling: kids and fragile technology don't mix well.

You'll also need something that's responsive, has content appropriate to the child's age and has an app store with well-priced apps. See also: LeapPad 2 vs InnoTab 2 children's tablet comparison review.

Kids' tablets buying advice: Hardware

One of the factors that makes a tablet responsive is the processor. You can't tell by the gigahertz ratings how quick it is in the real world. A responsive touchscreen is the other main factor. When a child taps a button it should respond immediately, otherwise frustration will quickly set in. In both cases, only expert- and user reviews can give you this information.

One disadvantage of most children's tablets is that they have screens with poor viewing angles, unlike an iPad or other tablet with an IPS screen. Some are better than others, though. Again, check reviews before you buy.

Also look for a tablet that comes with a rubber bumper, as it's bound to be dropped on a regular basis. The Fuhu nabi 2 and Kurio 7 include these in the box.

Kurio 7 review

Battery life is important, since you don't want to end up with a tablet that lasts only a couple of hours before needing to be connected to the mains or a new set of batteries. In the latter case, rechargeable batteries are advisable.

Cameras are included on most tablets, but not all. If you want a tablet to double as a digital camera and camcorder, look for one with a rear-facing camera. Front-facing cameras are good only for self-portraits and video chat.

Finally, check the ports and controls. Tablets that lack hardware volume buttons are frustrating, and look for an HDMI output if you want to be able to hook the device up to a big-screen TV.

Kids' tablets buying advice: Software

Most children's tablets are based on Android, but don't provide access to Google's Play store. Typically, you'll be restricted to the manufacturer's own store, which may have a limited selection of apps and games, and they're usually more expensive than similar apps in Google's store.

The software that comes preloaded is also important, since it determines how much play time your child will get from the tablet before you have to start spending more money to keep them entertained.

Another thing to look for is a web browser that restricts which sites they can visit, and includes other parental controls for limiting their usage.

Kids' tablets buying advice: Parental controls

If you opt for a standard tablet for your child, you should be aware that your kids will be able to access pretty much all the content you might have blocked on a desktop PC or laptop. An easy way to restrict internet access and any other communication is to enable flight mode before you give the device to your child. Savvy kids will easily work out how to disable this, however.

Kids' tablets buying advice: iOS tablets

Apple has added to iOS some parental controls, but they will apply to anyone who uses the iPad. To set up an iPad for your kids to use, tap Settings, General, Restrictions. You'll have to enter a PIN to enable restrictions.

You can disable certain built-in apps such as Safari, but you can restrict other apps only by their age rating (or disallow access entirely). Similarly, you can restrict films by age, TV shows by those rated Caution and music or podcasts with explicit content.  You will also probably want to disable location services for social-networking apps. There are lots of other privacy settings that prevent apps from accessing your data, and you can disable multiplayer games and the adding of new friends in Game Center. It's sensible to disable in-app purchases, as well as the ability to install apps.

Safari itself has no parental controls, but you can disable it and install another browser, such as AVG's free Family Safety.

New in iOS 6.0 is Guided Access. This in effect disables all hardware buttons once an app has been opened, preventing kids from accessing anything else. You'll find the setting in General, Accessibility.

Kids' tablets buying advice: Android tablets

Google's Android OS doesn't have much in the way of parental controls, although its Google Play app store does offer content filtering. Launch Google Play, then press the Menu button and choose Settings, Content filtering. You can allow apps rated for low, medium or high maturity.

This goes some way to preventing kids from downloading inappropriate apps, but there are many alternative apps you can install that do a more thorough job.

Consider the free Kid Mode app. This lets kids play their favourite Android games, read stories and paint pictures, but there's no way to accidentally buy anything, delete your emails or access another app. We also recommend the parental-control apps from Kaspersky, Norton and the popular Funamo.

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