California-based Fuhu makes some bold claims about its nabi 2 kids' tablet, which bears a passing resemblance to that classic kids' toy, the Etch A Sketch. The firm is so confident in its abilities that it compares it to an iPad 2, Kurio 7 and LeapPad 2. See also: Group test: best tablets for children
nabi 2: design and specification
A quick look at the specs and the claims seem mostly plausible: the nabi 2 has a quad-core nVidia Tegra 3 processor, just like the Nexus 7. Performance should be no problem then. See all: Children's tablets reviews.
It also has a silicone bumper, similar to the Kurio's, except that it's food-grade which means it's guaranteed to be non-toxic. It also means the nabi 2 shouldn't be damaged even if kids drop it onto concrete. Indeed, you can watch drop test videos on Fuhu's website showing no damage even from a 7ft drop. A case-less iPad 2, needless to say, doesn't fare nearly as well. See also Group test: what's the best cheap tablet PC?
There's 8GB of storage, a micro SD slot for adding up to 32GB more, plus micro USB and mini HDMI ports. You also get a front-facing 2Mp camera which can be used for Skype video chats as well as self potraits, and a pair of speakers on the rear. See also: LeapFrog LeapPad 2 review
The 7in screen is the first sign of weakness. It has a 1024x600 resolution, which is a step up from the Kurio 7 (800x480), but a step below the Nexus 7 (1280x800). In practice, the resolution is high enough except when browsing the web where it feels too cramped. The other problem is that it isn't an IPS LCD panel: viewing angles are very poor when the tablet is held in landscape mode.
nabi 2: software
Fuhu boasts on the box that the nabi 2 comes with £120 of software. There are plenty of pre-loaded games (including learning games) to keep kids amused for hours. Too many, though, are 'lite' or 'starter' versions which nag you to upgrade, including the painting program, which should be a mainstay of any kid's tablet. Yet, there are just six images to colour in. All in all, it doesn't feel as if you're getting £120 of value, but you'd have to spend quite a bit to replicate the apps and other features on a Nexus 7 or iPad.
As well as the full versions of Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja HD, you also get eight games optimised for the Tegra graphics chip, which are sure to appeal to slightly older kids.
On the third home screen you'll find MeeGenius (as also found on the Kurio 7) which includes 30 kids eBooks with audio so they can be read out loud. There's also a Chore List app, to which you can pick from a set of pre-defined chores, or add your own, along with a voice recording (allowing kids who can't read to find out what each chore is). In the Mommy / Daddy mode you can edit which days each chore must be done - the only limitation is that a chore can't happen more than once per day. It's a good motivator for kids since that they earn nabi coins (which you buy from the nabi store) for completing a chore and can use these in the companion Treasure Box app to buy apps, books or anything else they fancy. We'd like to see a few coins included so you can use Chore List out of the box, as it can be a little confusing until you understand how it works. Treasure box also includes some free apps, and apps are occasionally on sale, so kids can learn how best to spend their 'money'.
Yet more apps include Spinlets+ Music and Spinlets+ TV. Music is like a mini iTunes for kids, where they can download individual tracks or albums, while TV is a streaming service with around 700 hours of kids TV shows. We'd like to see more shows from the likes of Channel 5's Milkshake, Cbeebies and CBBC, but you can access all of those via the web browser anyway, with a narrower selection through the videos 'app'.
On the fourth home screen is Fooz Kids, which includes a set of educational games, plus curated web links to websites, videos and crafts. During testing we found a few of the craft links were broken, but were impressed at how quickly the nabi's support team were able to update these.
Through the Fooz Kids website, or the Parental Dashboard on the nabi 2 itself, you can manage exactly what is and isn't available. You can do the same with apps and games.
Fooz Kids is unmistakably American, but we're assured it will be Anglicised over the next few months so it refers to the UK Key Stages rather than Kindergarten, grades and 'math' (and hopefully Mommy will sprout a 'u' and drop the 'o').
The exercises themselves are ok for older kids, but you'll have to supervise younger ones (4-7 ish) as they won't be able to read nor understand the questions as they're displayed on screen, but not read out. We liked how the games were displayed like the levels in Angry Birds and other games, and that the score was presented by up to three stars - a reward system even younger children understand.
An example of a math questions for 5-year-olds is: "Represent 6 in a different way" with the correct answer being 4+2 (from multiple choice answers). We'd rather have seen: "Which two numbers add up to 6", and had questions read out so we didn't have to read them instead for our 5-year-old tester. We also noticed that the questions within a level would vary wildly in their difficulty, which is another point we hope will be addressed.
We weren't too impressed with some the reading games for this age group, either. They were more of a memory test rather than a reading tutor since questions are asked about a story shown at the start, which then disappears off screen. Again, they're better for older kids.
One other issue we found was in the videos app: tapping the button on the BBC's website to play a video full-screen resulted in a message saying 'Do not use full-screen mode' and left the audio playing in the background. We then couldn't stop it and watch the video again in a small window.
In general, however, the nabi mode interface is well designed for kids, who will quickly become inseparable from their nabi 2.