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Updated 10/8/19

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Screen time is one of those things that a lot of parents struggle with at some point. But as parents of toddlers who travel a lot, we’ve decided we are ok with screen time on long flights and drives. When shopping for a tablet for a toddler, there are a lot of things to consider. First, toddlers are limited in what they can do on a tablet, so it’s important to find a tablet that is easy to use, and easy to put on ‘lock-down’ so they can’t change a bunch of settings until the device starts reading everything on the screen out loud in a different language (not that we’d have ANY experience with that!). Second, they break everything. So we need a case to make the tablet indestructible, and, even with the case, we assumed at least one tablet would be broken before too long, so keeping costs as low as possible is very important.

Some background on me first. I follow technology trends and read tech blogs and articles on a regular basis. I don’t always buy the latest and greatest, but I like to keep up with what’s available. Most people I know have fallen into the Apple© ecosystem and have stayed there, from computers to phones to tablets.

I decided early on that I didn’t want to be in that closed ecosystem and have stuck with Android equipment to this day. I think it has to do with the option to tinker and customize my stuff if I wanted to, and Apple© doesn’t let you do that. Apple© makes fine products, but in this day, you need to pick a system and stick with it so that all your devices can talk to each other easily and you don’t have to re-buy apps, movies, music, etc. you purchased previously.

kindle fire kids edition
On the plane with the Kindle Fire Kids Edition

First Kids Tablet: Kindle Fire Kids Edition

So, in our research, it seemed that lots of people were very satisfied with the Kindle Fire Kids Edition. It is cheap, runs a kid-friendly version of the operating system, and came with a thick, rubberized case. We bought two (like everything else with twins, since ours fight over everything) and put them to the test.

When they were little, it didn’t matter that they couldn’t work the tablet and navigate the screens. They just saw it as something with moving pictures and fun sounds. That was good up until when they wanted to do those things. They didn’t understand how to manipulate the tablets, so they would hit and swipe and bang on them, which is not good for a budget electronic device. After a while, one of our Kindle Fires became slow and unresponsive, to the point where it was unusable.

So we started looking for sales on the same Kindle Fire Kids Edition. It appeared that the best deal would be a two-pack, so we figured we would buy two and have one as a spare.

kindle fire kids edition
Kindle Fire Kids Edition – Kid-proof, even when they’re eating cookies with their toes.

Over time, the same thing happened again, so we used the spare. Additionally, since we’ve almost exclusively use tablets in the car, or on a plane, they aren’t often connected to wifi. Apps would just disappear and we’d have to get connected back on wifi to get everything working. This usually happened as we were IN the car ready to go.

Second Try: Lenovo Tab 4, 8″

At this point, I started looking at other options. Since I am an Android guy, I knew there were plenty of budget tablets under $100 that could work for the kids. There are a ton of unknown brands out there, but I figured we should stick to a bigger brand, which landed me on the Lenovo Tab 8. It was affordable, had expandable memory, and decent specs. I ordered two with 2 of the thick rubber cases and 2 memory cards since they only came with 8GB of memory.

I proceeded to set them up by deleting as many unnecessary apps as possible to keep the home screen as clean as possible. I loaded movies and shows on the SD card and opened up the movie player (I prefer VLC player). And then…….nothing. I tried deleting and re-installing the media. I tried reformatting the SD card. Nothing. I tried a different SD card to see if I got bad cards. Still nothing.

I then decided to load a sample movie directly onto the Lenovo tablet and it worked! So I started to look into user problems with this specific tablet and found that this was a known issue with reading the SD card. And there was no fix or support from the manufacturer. So you are basically stuck with a small amount of space to store your media, which would be unacceptable for us since movies and shows take up a lot of space.

So we ended up returning everything before the kids even had a chance to use them.

The Final Pick: iPads

The next obvious choice would be to consider the iPad. It was close to the holiday season and we had thought about up-sizing their tablets (from 7″ to 10″) anyways, so it was a serious consideration for a couple of days. There was still the issue of expandable memory, which is something Apple doesn’t provide on any of its devices. You just have to pay the markup for extra memory.

Ipad- our pick for the best tablet for your toddler
Snacking with the iPad in the car.

So there I was, considering buying an iPad. Someone who had never owned an Apple product other than buying an iPod for his wife. After looking at options and discussing further, we decided to go for the iPad with 128GB of memory to ensure we would not run out of space quickly. Of course, we also had to buy thick rubber cases, because: kids. 😕

And that’s where we are still today. Two iPads in rubber cases, two toddlers who have learned how to use them to watch movies, play games, and even how to turn on the camera and take pictures. They’ve held up well, and the only issue I have with them is having to use iTunes (for now) to upload any new movies or shows. And the price, which is almost 4 times as much as the Kindle Fire Tablets.

our toddler happy with his ipad
iPad case with a handle that rotates to become a stand.

Quick Hits:

Kindle Fire Kids Edition

  • Pros: inexpensive, comes with a case, expandable memory.
  • Cons: Amazon-specific OS with a smaller app store, did not hold up well for our kids. We went through 6 of these. Doesn’t function well unless its regularly on wifi

Lenovo Tab 4 8″

  • Pros: inexpensive, expandable memory, mostly-stock Android OS.
  • Cons: Tablet could not read SD cards, needed to buy a kid-friendly case.

iPad 9.7″ 6th Gen 128GB

  • Pros: good build quality, large app store, easy for the kids to navigate
  • Cons: Expensive, need to buy a kid-friendly case, no expandable memory.
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