Tablets out-shipped portable computers this year for the first time ever. There are more tablet models to choose from than ever before, which means there are tablets for everyone... including your kids! Two years ago, just 8 percent of kids had access to tablets; today, that number is 40 percent, and it's trending up.
So when is it appropriate to purchase this kind of technology for your kids? As far as I'm concerned, it's never too soon. An 18 month to 2 year old will immediately know what to do with your old, hand-me-down iPad. It's a great way to give the little ones in your life their first hands-on tablet experience.
However, if you think they're ready for a new tablet of their very own, there are a handful of great ones on the market designed specifically for them. Here are some of my favorites:
(1) LeapFrog LeapPad Ultra (MSRP $149)
The LeapPad Ultra is the biggest and best tablet that LeapFrog has made. It has a really nice, high resolution seven-inch touch screen with Wi-Fi and a rechargeable battery. It's also faster and has more storage than previous LeapPad tablets, and still has access to the awesome library of downloadable apps from LeapConnect. The Ultra is more expensive than previous LeapPad tablets, but is worth the splurge for older kids, who will benefit from a more grown-up feel than LeapFrog's earlier tablets. The Ultra comes with apps like a music player that provide more of a "real tablet" feel that older kids will love.
(2) LeapFrog LeapPad2 Explorer (MSRP $99)
If you don't want to spend $150 on a tablet for your toddler, LeapPad's previous model, the LeapPad 2 Explorer, is another great choice. It's under a hundred bucks (and can be found online for $75) and packs tremendous value. It was one of my favorite tablets for kids last year, and it's still a great choice for your child's first tablet. Its screen is a little smaller than the Ultra and it's got a little less storage space, but it works with all cartridge apps and games from the first LeapPad, giving you access to a massive catalog.
(3) Toys R Us Tabeo e2 (MSRP $150)
Toys R Us's first-generation tablet, the Tabeo, was another great kids tablet that I loved last year. This new and improved version is even better. Its specs mirror some of the mid-level tablets for grown-ups - the 8-inch device runs Android Jelly Bean (version 4.2) and features a dual-core processor. The Tabeo e2 is designed for kids aged 6 to 11, and includes parental controls and educational applications to make sure you know exactly the type of experience your kids are getting from it. You can see easily see which new apps are installed, block other apps and also limit usage by time or day.
(4) KD Interactive Kurio 10 (MSRP $229)
The Kurio 10 is more expensive than some of the other tablets on the list, but its 10" screen makes it a great choice for two kids to watch a movie together (as long as they share). Its full-sized screen has a wide viewing angle, making sure your kids both get a great view of whatever they're watching. It's also got a great battery life - Consumer Reports says it lasts more than 7 hours - which makes it a great choice for car trips to grandma's house ... or just for a lazy Sunday at home.
(5) Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7" (MSRP $229)
The Kindle Fire is the same price as the Kurio 10, but it's the first tablet on this list that the whole family can use. It's considerably more powerful than the kid-focused tablets shown above and has access to a whole world of content that you can enjoy after your child goes to bed. What's really great about the newer Kindle Fire tablets is a new feature called "Kindle FreeTime." This parental control mode lets you set time limits for different types of content; you can limit your child to just half an hour of videos a day, but give them two hours of reading time ... or any other combination you see fit. Even more so than the Tabeo e2, you're able to control the exact experience your kids will have with the tablet.
(6) iPad mini (MSRP $299 [1st-Gen], $399 [2nd-Gen, with Retina display])
The world's best tablet app store can only be found on Apple's iPads. The iPad mini is the most expensive tablet on this list, but it has a far greater reach and are more useful to the whole family than tablets like the LeapPad 2. There are tons of great educational apps available on iOS (check out columns by contributing writers Stephen Danos and Brad Spirrison of appoLearning for app suggestions for kids of all ages), and endless content to keep you and your child occupied. The iPad mini is the perfect size to carry around in your jacket pocket or purse, and works with all the apps you've bought for any iDevice in the past. The $100 price difference between iPads is worth it for more power and a better screen, but if you've got your own tablet and this is purely a secondary device, the $299 price point will work fine (and be much easier to find this holiday season).
Whichever tablet you purchase depends on whom you're purchasing it for. There are certain points to think about - who's going to be using it? How old are your kids? How big of a screen do you want?
If you're looking for a device that the whole family can use, spending a little more on the Kindle Fire HDX or iPad mini makes a lot of sense. If you've already got a tablet for yourself and you're looking for one just for your kids, those price points might be a bit steep. Younger kids will love learning on the LeapPad 2 or Tabeo e2, while older kids will feel more grown-up with tablets like the LeapPad Ultra or Kurio 10.
All of these tablets are wonderful -- just make sure you match the features and benefits to the intended user and you can't go wrong.