The Arnova ChildPad is a 7-inch tablet running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) that’s marketed specifically at kids. See also - Group test: Best tablets for children

Children use their parents’ iPads and Android tablets to the extent that frustrated mums and dads sometimes buy lucky young ones their own, or pass down the older versions. But there’s certainly space in the market for a tablet designed for kids. See also Group test: what's the best cheap tablet PC?

The £99 ChildPad differs from other children’s tablets, such as the Leapfrog LeapPad Explorer and VTech InnoTab, in that it’s a proper tablet running Android, with the ability to run Android apps, browse the web, etc. This, of course, brings with it its own concerns for parents – worries that didn’t all go away after testing the ChildPad. See also: LeapPad 2 review and VTech InnoTab 2 review

Tablets for kids such as those mentioned above were incredibly popular during Christmas 2011, selling out as parents rushed to entertain their children ... and keep their own iPads to themselves.

So is the ChildPad the perfect tablet to hand over to your kids?

We think these child-friendly tablets are aimed at a 4-9 years age range, as older kids will prefer something more adult in style – although there are plenty of tablet cases that infantalise iPads and other adult tablets.

ChildPad design

The Arnova ChildPad’s 7-inch size suits small children better than the 10-inch iPad. It’s about the same shape and size (22.3 x 14.2 x 1.22cm) as the LeapPad (17.9 x 13 x 2.4cm) and InnoTab (24 x 17.5 x 2.4cm), which seems about right for most kids.

The tablet isn’t too heavy, weighting 380g – the same as the LeapPad. The iPad weighs a whopping 652g.

It looks and feels simple and clean, with a blue band around the screen, and all blue at the non-slip rubberised back. A pink version would probably be a big seller, but there’s no sign of one that colour at present.

Arnova ChildPlay kids tablet

ChildPad specs

The ChildPad’s 4GB memory is twice that of the LeapPad and Innotab; although the 4GB LeapPad 2 is due in August. The ChildPad does have a microSD slot, too, so you can add up to an extra 32GB of storage. See the Tech Specs tab above for full ChildPad technical specifications.

ChildPad screen

The 800 x 480 screen is fine, and displays photos and videos at an acceptable standard. Pinch to zoom worked fine, as you’d expect from any decent tablet these days.

It’s a superior capacitive screen rather than the resistive screen seen on the other kids’ tablets that aren't as touch fluent, adding to the plus points about this tablets design and technical specifications – and good value for the £99 price tag.

We did find small type difficult to read on certain web pages, however. Many sites recognise the ChildPad as a smaller mobile device and therefore redirect the browser to their mobile-optimised sites – which often feature smaller text that we couldn’t zoom into.

ChildPad camera

The ChildPad comes with a camera, which produces acceptable results – a little better than the LeapPad and InnoTab but obviously way off the quality you’d get from an iPad or any compact camera.

The 0.3-megapixel rating is from a bygone age. It’s ok for quick snaps but not for anything you’d want to keep. The LeapPad 2 boasts two 2-megapixel cameras.

The camera’s front-facing position on the ChildPad is great for taking pictures of yourself (handy for quite a few mobile apps, especially kids’ ones) but annoying if you wanted to take a photo of something in front of you – as the picture viewer and controls are on the same side as the lens.

ChildPad audio

The sound quality is a little too quiet on some apps. There’s a headphone jack so parents and others nearby can be spared the annoying noises many games and apps pump out. But there’s no volume control, which seems a peculiar omission. Many tablets nowadays have software volume controls, so the omission of physical controls isn’t bizarre – and the low output volume means you won’t be demanding “Turn it down!” very often anyway.

What are the best headphones for kids?

Arnova ChildPlay kids tablet android interface

ChildPad interface

Archos says it has tweaked the Android interface to make it easy for kids to use, but it looks like a vanilla (geddt?) copy of the Android Ice Cream Sandwich screen to us.

Where the LeapPad and InnoTab have big friendly buttons the ChildPad has fiddly little things and Android’s usual rather unintuitive navigation.

The interface and clunky navigation won’t fox a child for long – once they know where they want to go and how to get there children are very good at remembering even the most complex navigation. It’s us poor adults who get lost in technology…

On the home screen there are folders for direct access to Games, Learning, Entertainment, Video, Music, Gallery and Puzzles.

We would have preferred an interface much more child (and parent) friendly from a device aimed at children – something a bit more like the LeapPad’s chunky buttons, or just something more refined like you get on the iPad.

ChildPad apps

Around 30 apps are pre-installed on the Archos Child Pad, including the ever-popular Angry Birds, which plays very well on the 7-inch screen. Another game, Stellar Escape, is quite fun, too.

There’s plenty of other apps to choose from, but a few are a little odd – and none are a patch on what’s on offer for the iPad/iPhone/iPod touch. Nowadays there is a great range of kids' apps available for Android devices such as this – it's a shame a few of them weren't installed as standard.

Apps and games are the real battleground in the tablet and smartphone wars, and the ChildPad is let down with a bunch of mainly poor pre-installed examples.

For example, Dress Me Up Lite is a classic game of choosing various clothes, hairstyles and accessories. It includes the ability to change the person’s skin colour, which is refreshingly multiracial – except that the darkest skin colour changes just the head, leaving pasty white arms and legs.

Kids Numbers is an early maths app, great for younger kids. There’s a link to buy the Full Version but the link went nowhere – a common problem with Android apps, and not something you’d expect to get past Apple’s notoriously pernickety App defenders.

MathForKid is not so good. When I clicked “Start” it came up with a message stating that “At least one arithmetic operation should be switched ON in Preferences”. Quite what a child would make of that I don’t know. Also there was no obvious way to get to these mysterious Preferences.

Someone more versed in Android than me pointed me to the Preferences, and I was able to configure. But the gameplay was very dull, and when I input a wrong answer to a simple addition I was informed that my result was “0%”. If a child is learning addition how are they going to understand percentages?

Word Tree 3D is confusing and starts Level 1 on a timer without any explanation of how to play. Kids games should always give the player a decent chance to work out what’s going on. This one fails to help, which is not a good sign on an educational app.

So overall, we were unimpressed by the games on offer. More child-centric devices, such as the LeapPad, are far more friendly and useful straight out of the box.

There's a third-party Kids App Store (AppsLib) that includes 10,000 apps in 14 family-friendly categories. As well as games, you can download books, comics, multimedia, sports apps and more.

We downloaded some free games, but prices for paid-for games were often listed in US$, which isn’t helpful. The games in AppsLib – even that name shows you how much more intuitive Apple’s iOS App Store is to Android – have prices set by the developer, not the store. Google's superior Google Play store isn't installed but is browsable at play.google.com.

Purchasing in AppsLib is blocked by a secure PayPal PIN number so that children can’t ‘accidentally’ buy apps.

NEXT PAGE: How good are the ChildPad parental controls?

ChildPad – Parental Controls

Is it an advantage for the ChildPad to be a real Android tablet, or does its much more open nature bring with it real concerns for parents? Our over-riding concern is with giving a child unfettered access to the Internet.

Do you let your child use your tablet’s browser unsupervised? I bet many iPad-owning parents don’t even consider that they’re handing their children full access to the Internet. They should give that idea some serious thought.

Apple’s iPad has very limited parental controls. You can restrict and hide the Safari browser, with settings protected behind a passcode. There are actual no parental controls in Safari on the iPad. You can hide Safari, then install a browser with built-in parental controls.

Arnova ChildPlay kids tablet parental controls

The ChildPad comes with six months of parental-control application Mobile Parental Filter by Editions Profil. Its Intelligent Content Evaluation system verifies websites as your children browse, blocking inappropriate content and supposedly leaving the web safe for your kids.

When the six months is up, the annual fee is £19.98 – worthwhile for peace of mind.

When we had set up the parental controls and tested the web browser the Filter kicked in on all the obvious adult searches, but it’s not watertight by any definition. This is possibly because the software is French, and so some English-language adult content has escaped the censors. It didn't take too long for even our saintly minds to dream up a few searches that got past the filters.

We were able to access sexual images via a quick Google search, so it’s clear that the parental filter isn’t perfect.

This is a big negative for the ChildPad. It purports to be secured from adult content, but isn’t. Its default settings aren’t really good enough.

You can’t disable the browser but you could turn off the Wi-Fi to disable it – although this starts to eat away at the point of it being a proper Android tablet.

Things should get better, as a future version of the Parental Control app will let you limit the access to a ‘walled garden’ of sites selected for children. These sites comply with European standards for content for children.

In the meantime, however, there is a workaround for parents to be able to block everything and then add in sites they approve. You need to block all languages from the Setup tab, then add the sites you want to a whitelist from the enter websites tab.

So you could approve Cbeebies, Moshi Monsters, for example, and pre-checked educational sites, and feel secure that Little Johnny won’t be checking out, in graphic detail, how his baby sister was made.

(Remember that you might need to add the mobile-site address rather than the standard web URL, as some sites redirect the 7-inch device to their mobile sites.)

The ChildPad is much more secure than other tablets but unless you block everything and then add-in sites on a one-by-one basis (as described above) it isn’t 100 percent effective at blocking adult content. And, importantly, you have to set up this level of restriction: the default settings are good but not totally secure.

Arnova ChildPlay kids tablet internet

ChildPad overall

The Arnova ChildPad is a nice design for a kid’s tablet, and a lot cheaper than an Apple iPad. It’s more functional than other kiddy tablets, and older children will prefer its cooler, more-adult design.

In terms of price it’s reasonable – a little more expensive than the Leapfrog and VTech alternatives, but with more free and cheaper games; and it costs a lot less than Apple’s £329 iPad. The in-between iPod touch (new from £169) is smaller but boasts superior interface, games and apps – but with similar worries as the iPad on the web browser front.

It should be remembered that most tablets feature near-zero parental controls, and the ChildPad's filters are mostly successful but the fact that they're not 100% secure at the default setting does worry us. That said, no parental controls can be 100% secure, and it's a bonus that the ChildPad offers which other tablets do not.

The Arnova ChildPad is let down most, however, by a ragbag of pre-installed games and apps that are nowhere near the quality of what you’d get on an iPad or on other child tablets such as the Leapfrog LeapPad or VTech InnoTab. ANgry Birds is good but most of the others are pretty dreadful.

Its vanilla Android interface is also a fiddly, low-resolution affair. This is a real shame, as otherwise the ChildPad hardware is excellent for the price.

Arnova ChildPad: Specs

  • Flash memory: 4 GB, expandable via micro SDHC Slot Operating system • Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich • Processor: ARM Cortex A8 @ 1GHz RAM • Screen: 7 inch, Resistive screen, TFT LCD, 16 million colours, 800 x 480 screen resolution • Video Playback H.264 up to 1080p resolution, MPEG-4, 30 fps • The device can play video files with the following extensions: .avi .mp4 ,mkv, .mov, and .flv Audio Playback1 • MP3, WAV, APE, OGG, FLAC • Photo viewer: JPEG, BMP, GIF, PNG • Interfaces: Micro USB slave 2.0: Mass Storage Class (MSC), Micro SD slot (SDHC compatible)• WiFi (802.11 b/g/n) • Front camera • Built-in speaker • Microphone • G-sensor • Lithium Polymer battery • USB Power Adapter Dimensions & weight: 223mm x 142mm x 12.2mm
  • 380g • Compatibility: Microsoft Windows 7, Vista, XP, or higher, Mac OS or Linux.
  • Flash memory: 4 GB, expandable via micro SDHC Slot Operating system • Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich • Processor: ARM Cortex A8 @ 1GHz RAM • Screen: 7 inch, Resistive screen, TFT LCD, 16 million colours, 800 x 480 screen resolution • Video Playback H.264 up to 1080p resolution, MPEG-4, 30 fps • The device can play video files with the following extensions: .avi .mp4 ,mkv, .mov, and .flv Audio Playback1 • MP3, WAV, APE, OGG, FLAC • Photo viewer: JPEG, BMP, GIF, PNG • Interfaces: Micro USB slave 2.0: Mass Storage Class (MSC), Micro SD slot (SDHC compatible)• WiFi (802.11 b/g/n) • Front camera • Built-in speaker • Microphone • G-sensor • Lithium Polymer battery • USB Power Adapter Dimensions & weight: 223mm x 142mm x 12.2mm
  • 380g • Compatibility: Microsoft Windows 7, Vista, XP, or higher, Mac OS or Linux.

OUR VERDICT

The ChildPad looks the part but we can’t recommend it to parents because of its sub-standard games and fiddly interface. The range of games and learning apps on the Leapfrog LeapPad and VTech InnoTab are superior to these Android offerings, although they pale into insignificance compared to those on offer on more expensive iOS devices. Given a better interface and much-improved apps and games, plus the promised more secure parental controls the ChildPad would be compelling. Currently, it’s just not good enough.

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