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10 months ago

Choosing a kid-friendly Android phone or tablet

YouTube Kids

Wander into any store with an electronics section nowadays and you'll find at least one "kid" tablet. It's usually a brightly-colored rubber block with a low-end touch display running an ancient version of Android, with a custom UI featuring giant buttons and a handful of apps for a handful of basic age groups. Choosing something smaller than a tablet is even worse, especially since the concept of a phone-shaped Android-powered Wifi-only handheld never really took off.

There's not much to these cheap, rubbery slabs, but they sell because it's not always clear there are reasonable alternatives out there. Choosing hardware for a little one should be just as much about software as it is hardware, and while price should absolutely be a factor in a gadget for a kid there's some basics you should be looking at along the way. To help narrow down the options out there today, we've put together this quick buyers guide to break down the important parts.

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Choosing the right hardware

Asus ZenPad 8

This may come as a shock, but wrapping a tablet in rubber and painting it with a primary color does not immediately make it invulnerable to harm and perfect for children. In fact, the added expense of something like that probably means the hardware responsible for delivering the experiences you and your child want probably takes a hit. By all means, grab a durable case for your investment to increase its chances of survival, but if you see an $80 tablet with a big red rubber thing wrapped around it keep in mind you're almost certainly not getting a quality device.

Choosing an unlocked phone means there's no carrier-specific software to cause trouble.

Looking for a tablet you want to give a child is relatively easy, as you're essentially looking for the same qualities you'd look for in a tablet for an adult. Screen quality, a reasonably capable processor, and at least 32GB of storage should make up a short list of qualifications for a kid-friendly tablet. There's no reason to look at a tablet with less than 1920 x 1080 resolution display, and the name of the processor manufacturer or how many GHz are in each core isn't nearly as important as how smooth the OS feels when you use it.

If you must dip below 32GB of onboard storage due to the price, you might consider looking at a device with expandable storage. If the tablet is going to be connected to the Internet most of the time that may not be necessary, but games and movies soak up storage fast on these devices.

ZenFone 2

Something smaller than a tablet requires a little more work. There's never been an Android version of the iPod Touch that was worth purchasing, but there are a couple of inexpensive smartphones out there that can be modified to behave like one. If you're willing to put in the work, there are unlocked Android phones in the $200-$300 price range that can do the job. Choosing an unlocked phone means there's no carrier-specific software to cause trouble, which will make setting up the device a little easier. Going this route is especially useful if you've got a kid who is starting to need to make phone calls, as you can insert and pull the SIM card when you feel it is appropriate.

Knowing what software is important

Google Play

It's can't be stressed enough how important software is when making a purchase like this, for several reasons. Google makes Android, but it's not a requirement to make things look the way Google thinks it should. As an open source operating system, Android can be adjusted to what the manufacturer thinks is appropriate before being loaded onto a phone or tablet. This presents some great opportunities for companies that want to include a child-friendly user interface that removes unnecessary or inappropriate items from the primary interface.

Not every parent wants their child to have unfettered access to services like YouTube, for example, and in many cases monitoring apps get pre-loaded that help parents see what their kids are doing on their tablets. These changes are made with the best of intentions, but come with their own unfortunate side-effects.

Kids are smart, there's no reason to rely on simple, bright interfaces.

When Google releases a new version of Android, manufacturers with devices sporting heavily modified versions of the operating system can't just push an update. Those changes need to be adjusted to support the next version, which means additional software development hours need to be spent in order to make that happen. If a manufacturer determines a device isn't worth updating, that company can simply choose to never update your device to the most recent version of Android. Whats worse, when your child finally graduates to their own piece of hardware, the learning curve starts all over again. Kids are smart, there's no reason to rely on simple, bright interfaces when you can disable the stuff you don't want your kids to use and let them experience a proper, modern operating system from day one.

YouTube Kids

Perhaps more important than version updates and software familiarity is access to the Google Play Store and Google Play Services. Google's suite of apps — Gmail, YouTube, Google Drive, etc. — are designed primarily for adults, but Google's recent push for ratings across the Play Store and child-friendly apps without offensive ads is a big deal. It means kids can take part in the ever-growing ecosystem of apps out there, educational and otherwise, and parents have the power to moderate and make decisions based on their rules.

It also means you can share music, movies, and TV shows from whatever services you want, from Play Movies and Disney Movies Anywhere to Plex and Netflix. Having controlled access to a larger environment is good for everyone involved, but it means you have to have the Google Play Store on the device in the first place.

Our top picks

Nexus 9

You've got the tools you need to get a quality device for your child, but if you're looking for something a little more specific there are a couple of options for both phones and tablets we can point you to.

Nabi DreamTab HD8

Nabi DreamTab

Nabi's 8-inch Android tablet is the exception that proves the rule when it comes to brightly-color kid-tablets. While it's sporting a "child-friendly" UI and is loaded with Nabi apps, these tools are optional and you have access to the Google Play Store. For the price, you're unlikely to find a better 1080p Android tablet for kids.

BUY: Nabi DreamTab HD8 ($140)

Asus ZenPad 8-inch

ZenPad 8

The folks at ASUS have a long history of making decent, inexpensive Android tablets that fly under the radar, and the latest ZenPad is a perfect example. It's a Intel-powered Android tablet running the latest version of the OS, and the 2048 x 1536 resolution display makes everything look fantastic. For $200, you're unlikely to find something better.

BUY: ASUS ZenPad 8-inch ($200)

HTC Nexus 9

Nexus 9

Google's current Nexus tablet is typically something we'd recommend as the best tablet for grownups, but with its front-facing speakers and killer 2048 x 1536 resolution display it's great for everyone. You just have to swallow that price tag associated with a higher quality device with instant access to the latest software from Google.

BUY: HTC Nexus 9 ($420)

Motorola Moto G

Moto G

Few companies have worked over the last two years to bring a quality experience to the budget phone market as Motorola, and the end result is a device that could just as easily be a starter phone as it could a portable Wifi device for a child. It's fast, looks nice, and Motorola has worked hard to ensure the device is regularly updated.

BUY: Motorola Moto G ($175)

Asus ZenFone 2


Intel and ASUS have worked some magic on this 5.5-inch phone, and as a result it greatly exceeds expectations. There's a ton of extra, unnecessary software on this device for you to pare down if you're giving it to a child as a Wifi device, but the end result is a fun, capable gadget with 64GB of storage.

BUY: ASUS ZenFone 2 ($300)

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11 months ago

The Nexus 9 is finally a tablet you should buy

Nexus 9

More than eight months after we first got our hands on the HTC-manufactured Nexus 9 tablet, we're finally ready to officially recommend it as an Android tablet that's worth buying.

We've reviewed a lot of devices here. More phones than I can remember. A whole bunch of tablets. But things got a little weird in the fall of 2014 with the release of the Motorola Nexus 6 and the Nexus 9 tablet. And the source of that weirdness was Android 5.x Lollipop.

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11 months ago

Nexus 7 gets updated factory image of Android 5.1.1 build LMY48G


A new factory image has been released for the 2013 Nexus 7, which is Android 5.1.1_r6 build LMY48G. This maintenance release likely addresses some issues that users faced with previous builds, though no exact change log is available right now.

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11 months ago

32GB LTE Nexus 9 now available for just $379 from Expansys USA


Expansys is selling the 32GB LTE-enabled variant of the Nexus 9 for just $379 for a limited time, $220 off the regular retail price of the tablet.

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11 months ago

Large Android tablets are finally becoming fun to use

Nexus Dell

Hardware manufacturers are finally taking large Android tablets seriously, just in time for the software to complete the picture.

Android tablets have a long and storied history of not being very good. Despite dozens of options available to consumers, the overall experience — by which I mean third-party software, battery life, and hardware quality — has struggled. The combination of race to the bottom pricing and lacking software made the 7-inch tablet significantly more popular, and as a result the larger tablet market slowed for a while.

This year, things are on a noticeable upswing for Android tablets. Several manufacturers have released promising options, software has improved noticeably, and there's a roadmap for the future that makes owning a larger tablet something that makes sense.

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11 months ago

Choosing between a Chromebook and a large Android tablet

Nexus 9 Acer C720

Google now has two platforms for desktop-class computing, but which experience is up to the task of being a standalone laptop?

While it may be easy to look at Chromebooks and mock them for being "just a browser" or look at an Android tablet and call it "just a big phone," it turns out there's not a lot of truth behind the derision. We've entered an era where the browser is the platform for a lot of work and play, and apps come in all shapes and sizes. That's not to say there's no need for high-end computing machines, especially for folks who need that hardware for games and resource-intensive tasks, but it does mean there are lots of options out there now for web-focused and casual users.

It also means Google has a pair of platforms for you to choose from, and we took a look at why you might consider one over the other.

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11 months ago

Hands-on with the Nextbook Ares 8


The Nextbook Ares 8 is a $78 tablet that runs Android 5.0, but at less than $100 is it even worth a look?

Nextbook, a company that makes affordable Android and Windows tablets, has some relatively new Android based tablets available, and we got to see what it was all about.

In the past, it was a general rule to avoid any cheap Android device, but over the past year things have started changing. We have seen more and more affordable Android devices that are worth checking out, and it appears as though that trend may be moving towards tablets as well.

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11 months ago

Amazon launches Lollipop-based Fire OS 5 Developer Preview


Amazon is giving app makers an early look at the company's next operating system update with the Fire OS 5 Developer Preview.

Amazon will likely launch some new versions of its Fire HD tablets later this year, and it's already preparing for that day with the release of the Fire OS 5 Developer Preview.

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11 months ago

Samsung launches LTE-enabled Galaxy Tab A in India, Galaxy Tab E coming later this month


Samsung controls a lion's share of the tablet market in India, and is looking to continue its strong showing with the launch of the Galaxy Tab A and Galaxy Tab E in the country.

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11 months ago

T-Mobile celebrates Father's Day with free LG G Pad F 8.0


T-Mobile's latest promotion offers a free LG G Pad F 8.0 to customers, as long as they pay for a qualifying data plan.

For Father's Day, T-Mobile is giving away the LG G Pad F 8.0 to customers as long as they purchase a qualifying data plan for the tablet. That's right, for $0 down, and $0 a month on top of the data plan, you can get a brand new LG G Pad F 8.0 tablet.

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11 months ago

Dell's Venue 10 7000 Series keyboard is what every Android keyboard should be

Dell Venue 10 7000 Series

Dell's tablet experience feels like a laptop experience, and it's something more companies should emulate immediately.

With few exceptions, mobile keyboards are terrible. The keys often are too close together with next to no travel, and when you do pay extra for a feature like backlit keys it's usually not a great experience. In a world where we are surrounded by folks trying to claim tablets can be productivity machines, the dearth of quality keyboards for those devices is a little confusing. Software is an important part of the productivity experience, but when your web browser soaks up most of the productivity apps in your average workflow, a quality keyboard is the difference between banging out half a paragraph on a cramped rubbery piece of junk in a coffee shop and actually getting work done.

Dell seems to be the only company that gets this right now, and to demonstrate this they built a tablet and keyboard that feels more like a laptop than most of the mid-range "ultraportables" you'll see in your local electronics store.

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11 months ago

Meet the Harrier Tab, EE's new 4G-enabled tablet


The Harrier Tab is EE's latest piece of kit expanding the company's own brand product range. Available today, the new tablet comes packing Android 5.1 Lollipop, and 4G connectivity.

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11 months ago

In pictures: Nexus 9 versus Dell Venue 10 7000 Series

Nexus 9 Dell 10

Google and Dell both want you to use their Android tablets for productivity and entertainment, but the approach is what sets them apart.

Android tablets with large screens are mostly though to be no-compromise consumption devices. These are the computers that replaced inexpensive netbooks as a buying option for a lot of folks, especially with the volume of streaming video apps and games in the Google Play Store today. Google released the Nexus 9 to act as a sort of blueprint for large format devices, showing how quality front facing speakers and a high resolution display can make all the difference in the world. You can also use the Nexus 9 as a productivity device by sliding the magnetic keyboard folio into place and typing away on the mini keyboard.

Dell has approached things a little differently. The keyboard for this tablet is the star of the show, offering a quality typing and navigation experience without needing to worry about another battery or toggling a Bluetooth connection. Should you decide to play a game or something, the keyboard detaches and you've got an entertainment device with decent front facing speakers.

Here's a quick look at these machines side by side.

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11 months ago

Dell Venue 10 7000 hands-on

Dell Venue 10

Following on from the Venue 8, Dell's new 10-inch Android slate boasts high-end specs, depth-sensing cameras and a unique form factor.

One of the biggest Android tablet surprises of 2015 has been the Venue 8 7000 series, the super-thin tablet with a depth-sensing camera and a gorgeous display, which gets even better with Lollipop. Now the manufacturer's back with a second Android 5.0 slate, the 10.5-inch Venue 10 7000 series. Like its predecessor it eschews the traditional tablet form factor in favor of an unconventional handle/hinge design, while also running a high-end Intel processor with the chipmaker's RealSense 3D camera tech.

Sure, Dell's still terrible at naming most of its products, but we can't deny that the veteran PC maker is coming out with some interesting Android tablets this year. Head past the break for a closer look at Dell's latest 10-incher.

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11 months ago

Dell's ultra-thin Venue 8 7000 tablet heads to India for ₹34,999


Unveiled earlier this year, Dell's Venue 8 7000 Series tablet — specifically the Venue 8 7480 — has made its way to India for ₹34,999 ($549), with availability commencing from July.

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