“How much screen time is okay?” is one of the trickier questions parents face in the 21st century. Most set rules that fall somewhere between an outright ban and a free-for-all, a moderate approach supported by the research. But just as important as the quantity of screen time is the quality: What are kids doing when they’re staring at a screen? The difference between endless rounds of some brightly colored nonsense game and a vocabulary-building educational one, for instance, is vast. Kid-focused tablets are one of the best ways to limit and control screen time, but with myriad options from tech and toy companies alike, it can be difficult to strike the right balance between versatility and restrictiveness.
The best tablets for kids are tough, compact devices that can entertain kids on the go, and, with a bit of setting up, give parents control over how and how much a kid uses their tablet. Our picks are available at a variety of price points, run everything from custom operating systems to stock Android, and are aimed at different kids of all different ages. The best part about them for parents? Once you pick one up, sharing your iPad becomes a thing of the past.
The widely-used Kidoz platform comes pre-installed on this bare-bones, 10.1-inch Android tablet. Its interface and content are both designed for kids. An included silicone case protects the tablet and includes a built-in stand that makes it easy for kids to comfortably watch videos, and the micro HDMI port makes it to connect this thing to your TV. But the real thing that sets apart this tablet is the included Disney content: 18 storybooks and six audiobooks inspired by new and old classics like Frozen and Beauty and the Beast. Thankfully, screen time limits mean you don’t have to argue to make them take an electronics-free break.
As its name suggests, this tablet is aimed at preschoolers and kindergarteners. It comes with apps to help kids practice basic reading and math skills in addition to creativity and problem-solving. The curriculum adapts to kids’ abilities based on right and wrong answers, so kids won’t deal with content that’s too easy (and boring) or too hard (and discouraging). The seven-inch touchscreen is “shatter-safe” but not indestructible, though the energy-absorbing bumper helps. Built-in wifi gives kids access to a library of learning expert-approved videos, websites, and more.
Amazon’s kid-targeted tablet comes with a two-year “worry-free guarantee” that covers “anything that happens” to the tablet. In other words, if your kid sets fire to this Fire, Amazon will still cover it. The eight-inch tablet also includes a one-year subscription to Amazon FreeTime Unlimited, a treasure trove of family-friendly content like age-specific ebooks, programming, and educational apps from trusted brands like Sesame Street, Nickelodeon, and PBS Kids. FreeTime also has time limits, age filters, a kid-friendly browser, and trackable educational goals.
With built-in educational tablet apps from Dreamworks, Sesame Street, and National Geographic, there’s a ton for kids to learn from this eight-gigabyte, seven-inch tablet. You can also lay down the screen time law with automated time-outs, app category restrictions, and zero in-app purchases. Never again find a suspicious charge on your credit card statement only to discover that that $500 went to “popularity points” in Kim Kardashian: Hollywood.
If you have and want to keep the convenience of an Apple-only home, go the more affordable, child-sized route with the iPad Mini. It’s 6.1 mm thick, weighs just 0.65 pounds, and has a screen nearly two inches smaller than a standard iPad. That means it’s easier for small hands to grasp, though you’ll probably still want to spring for a protective case. It comes with FaceTime, which the grandparents will enjoy, and Apple parental controls, which let parents control screen time, content, app purchase, and privacy settings.
This Android-powered tablet has pretty basic specs: two gigs of RAM, 16 or 32 GB of storage, Bluetooth, wifi, and a five megapixel rear-facing camera. It’s most impressive statistic is its 20-hour battery life, a great thing for kids who might forget to keep their tablet charged. The tablet has multiple accounts built-in, and you can use yours to designate your son or daughter’s as a kid’s account. Kid’s accounts give young users access to curated content, a browser with pre-approved websites, and scheduling limits that can be set by parents. The available kid’s pack comes with accessories designed to kid-proof the tablet. A bumper case protects it from falls, a blue light filter that spares your kid’s circadian rhythms, and fun, scratch-resistant 3M stickers.
The Surface Go does the basics well: it weighs just a little more than a pound, has nine hours of battery life, and runs a full version of Windows 10. That means that older kids who might need to work with Microsoft Office or use full versions of creative software like Photoshop will be able to run those programs on this tablet, which comes with a detachable keyboard cover and stylus. Windows 10 also comes with parental controls that allow parents to set limits on internet browsing, downloads from the Windows and Xbox stores, and screen time. It will also send parents reports on web browsing and application usage.