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Gift Guide: Do homework when buying a tablet for kids

By Bree Fowler

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 11 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

In this Dec. 3, 2013, photo, Adam Cohen looks as his son Marc, 5, uses a tablet at home in New York. Tablets of all types are expected to rank among the top holiday gifts for children this year, but some experts and advocates question the educational or developmental benefits for youngsters.

Bebeto Matthews, Associated Press

NEW YORK — Tablet computers are expected to top many kids' holiday lists, but parents need to do their homework first.

Kids' tablets range from educational toys that perform more like hand-hand gaming devices to Android tablets good for whole family.

If you're shopping for someone else's child, keep in mind that some parents and experts oppose children using tablets entirely, and many believe that screen time should be limited.

TOY TABLETS

These products are made for young children and feature educational games and e-books. They're more toy than tablet.

They're encased in heavy-duty plastic, making them durable, but also heavy and clunky. Although some are Wi-Fi capable, they don't provide full access to the Internet.

Their screen quality and processing speeds lag those of traditional tablets. At times, my 4-year-old daughter opted to walk away rather than wait for an app to load.

— LeapFrog's LeapPad Ultra, $150, designed for kids ages 4 to 9:

I can set up profiles for different children. Many games adjust their level of difficulty based on the child's age. As a result, my 4-year-old daughter and my colleague's 9-year-old daughter can share the device.

But apps can be pricey — $5 to $25 each for downloads, or $18 to $25 for cartridge versions. Apps for both formats include interactive storybooks, e-books, music, videos and games.

Although most apps have some educational aspect, many include characters tied to popular TV and movie characters. Children can look at a variety of pre-screened content online, but can't search for specific topics, as they would for homework.

— Vtech's InnoTab 3S, $70, designed for kids ages 3 to 9:

At less than half the price of the LeapPad, the InnoTab may be more enticing for parents worried about spending so much for a tablet they can't use themselves.

The InnoTab has a much smaller screen, but weighs less and might be easier for little kids to handle.

Its apps are similar to those of the LeapPad, with all of the familiar cartoon characters. They're priced at $3 to $24, though about half of them cost $3.

Kids can view certain age-appropriate websites. Unlike the LeapPad, the InnoTab lets kids trade text messages with parents and other approved adults. For $15 a year, they can also exchange voice and photo messages.

FAMILY ANDROIDS

These tablets attempt to combine the functionality of a traditional tablet with the ease and safety of a toy version. Once your child's time is up, you can use the tablet to watch a movie or check Facebook. And as your children grow, you can let them do more so the device won't gather dust.

Their processor speeds, cameras and displays are generally better than those of toy tablets, though most are nothing extraordinary compared with traditional tablets.

— Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 7.0 Kids, $230, designed for kids ages 3 and up:

The kids' version of the Galaxy Tab 3 has yellow trim and comes with either a blue hard plastic or an orange, rubbery protective case.

Adults with a passcode get a typical Android tablet with the usual apps.

A kid-friendly mode blocks most of that out. The home screen features bright colors and smiling animals. It's easy for kids to scroll through the offerings, which include a handful of free games, a Nook e-book reader, video and still cameras and a kids' app store. Kids can use apps their parents add, but are blocked out of Web browsers and social media.

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