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CES first look: Android tablets tuned for kids

Fuhu adds to its Nabi product line of Android tablets for kids, with cool cameras, NFC fields, and of course, bright colors.

When your kids see you using a tablet, of course they want to use one, too. Thank goodness there are some tablets out there tailored to them, so they can share the experience--without begging for time on your own device.

One of the early players in Android tablets customized for kids has been Fuhu, maker of the Nabi 2. The company introduced two new kids' tablets, the Nabi Jr. and the Nabi XD, late last year, and this was my first chance to try them out. Both will be on sale by the end of February.

Nabi XD has Nvidia Tegra 3 GPU

The larger of the two tablets, the 10.1-inch Nabi XD, impressed me most. It has a uniquely curved design, with white plastic and red plastic accents. The tablet even has both front- and back-facing cameras, an unusual find in a tablet that's clearly trying to push prices down ever-lower.

Equipped with Nvidia's Tegra 3 processor and Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, it costs $249 for the 16GB model, and $349 for the 32GB model. It has thoughtful, but not stifling, Android launcher customizations, to provide a more streamlined experience for the tweener set. However I'm still verifying the screen resolution; what I saw in person did not seem to match what the spec sheet claimed.

NFC field allows augmented-reality gameplay

The unique feature on the Nabi XD is the inclusion of a large, clearly delineated NFC field embedded into the back. The NFC works with Fuhu's own Battle Kinabis game: Tap the character figures with the tablet, and then, via augmented reality, the figures will get into the game.

The Nabi XD has some parental controls, but not nearly as much or far-reaching as on the currently shipping Nabi 2 or the forthcoming Nabi Jr.

Nabi Jr. sports a rotating camera

Aimed at much younger kids, the Android 4.0-based Nabi Jr. is priced at $99 for 4GB, and $129 for 16GB. It's thick and stout, made of glossy white plastic and bright, clear plastic buttons all around. There's also a back grid designed for use with personalization accessories like Nabi character tiles.

The single camera is cleverly designed to rotate so it faces the front or back of the tablet--something that's not practical on a mainstream tablet, given the real-estate constraints. There's even a capacitive touch stylus well for a small stylus, a terrific inclusion for kids who want to draw on a screen (small as it is).

The Nabi Jr.'s 5-inch display carries just 800 by 480 pixels, adequate for the smaller screen size (as opposed to larger displays that have the same resolution). It looked better than I anticipated.

The MicroSD card slot is smartly covered by the bright red, easy to slip off, bumper. The tablet also has a headphone jack and charging port.

Tailored for fun, education, and parental control

The interesting thing about the Nabi tablets is that Fuhu really has tried to tailor both the hardware and the software for its younger audience. The tablet's interface is an evolution of the Nabi 2's, with its simple tiles and highly guided, protected environment. A Daddy or Mommy mode lets adults into an unrestricted, standard Android universe, but kids get a very targeted experience, one that's preloaded with apps, and designed in conjunction with educators to match up with standard school curriculums. The Nabi 2 allows multiple child profiles; the company is still working out details for Nabi Jr., though.

Fuhu says it is working on an Amazon Kindle FreeTime-like time and usage allowance controls, but it doesn't have a solution yet. The company does say it's been getting asked about it a lot, though, and software is currently in beta.

For more blogs, stories, photos, and video from the nation's largest consumer electronics show, check out complete coverage of CES 2013 from PCWorld and TechHive.


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