There are so many electronic devices available now that it is a difficult job to navigate your way around them and find one that will fulfil your needs, and entertain your child, without breaking the bank. Here is a recollection of my own kid friendly tech journey, and I will finish with some brief advice about internet safety.
My son was using a laptop from the age of two and a half. For his third birthday, I looked online at child friendly versions of adult devices and was disappointed at the results. I could buy him a “my first laptop/tablet” type toy, which was just that, a toy, with buttons to press and very simple games to play. Compared to the Thomas and Friends website and the CBeebies website that he had been used to playing on, these seemed like a very poor, albeit safe, alternative. I let him play with an old laptop of mine and soon he had picked the keys off it and made it pretty hard to use, and also made me realise that I didn’t want him to play on mine either if he could damage it like that. The Leapfrog range looked very good but I was put off by the app prices.
By this time I had also got my hands on a Samsung S3, which we both liked, and I was impressed with the range of apps for children. I love the S3, it does everything, from music to sat nav to social to…well, I’ve not really found much it can’t do yet, though syncing with my laptop has been problematic, and a spare battery and wall charger is a must – it will only really stand up to half a day of heavy usage. Cub likes it….lots, so I wanted to get him his own device so that I could have my (slightly fragile-seeming and too expensive for a child) phone back.
I settled on a generic 7″ Android tablet, for sixty quid off Amazon. On Christmas day, the device crashed three times, so I sent it back and got a refund. I discovered another seller who offered tablets of a similar price and assured me that they were as good as named brands. After the rocky start and, to be honest, pretty pixellated screen of the first device, I was happy with it’s replacement. The downside was it’s very short battery life, which essentially meant that you had to play it plugged in for the most part. At first that didn’t seem like such a big issue but it soon became a problem when my excited boy kept accidentally pulling the power cord out and had the device run flat on him. Over time, and with the addition of some more apps, the startup began to drag and it just ran more and more slowly, despite the addition of a 32gb sd card. He soon tired of this and I lost my phone to him again.
For the same Christmas Santa had bought me a Flytouch ten inch android device. This was brilliant, and compared with the speed of my sister’s IPad, until…..yep, that failed too, one day it just refused to charge. HQ Distribution, who had sold it, have still not refunded Santa, so he is taking them to the small claims court. My advice here is to buy from a well known and reputable seller, even if you do have to compromise your morals a bit – my trying to save money and support small business has led to a loss on my part, sadly.
Samsung Galaxy tab 10
In time, the Flytouch was replaced by a Galaxy tab ten, which I love, but again, not being able to play flash websites is a downside meaning that you do still need a laptop for quite a few things. I was hoping that in the long run this device would eliminate the need for a laptop completely, but there are still many things that are easier to do on a Windows pc/laptop that you can’t do on a tablet. Syncing with my camera, or indeed anything, via USB is one, and watching downloaded films via HDMI onto the television is another, as well as using many web design and graphics packages. I use it alongside my phone, as I find it easier to read on the big screen, and its a great alternative to a Kindle – I read books in bed in the dark and that helps me to drift off to sleep.
Leapfrog LeapPad Ultra
Later on in the year, I was given a Leapfrog LeapPad Ultra. This is 100% safe for children, both in terms of durability and internet safety. It comes with free apps included but they are limited, and you will end up buying more to pad it out a bit. They cost a bomb! You can buy cartridges or downloadable games – both are the same price, surprisingly – from five to a whopping twenty quid per game. If the Cub had never played on my phone or tablet before, I think he’d be very happy with this, but he does show preference for my Android devices. I am not impressed by its over-censorship. Youtube videos are pre picked by the manufacturer and don’t include some of the popular television show clips that we like to watch, and again, you can’t access websites like Cbeebies and Thomas on it.
Nokia Lumina 520
When somebody gave me the change to review a Windows phone, I was expecting great things. It is pretty great – it’s tactile, available in a range of attractive colours and the shell is tough, so you don’t immediately have to fork out for extra protective covers. The touch screen is incredibly responsive, so much so that you can use it with gloves on. It charges at incredible speed, especially compared to my Android devices, and the battery lasts all day, even with game playing, sat nav or the geocaching app running. I love the sat nav, it’s clear and accurate and even tells you when you are breaking the speed limit. The camera is fantastic, and has a handy little button at the side to take pictures with, but gets let down by the lack of a flash, meaning that indoor pictures can be poor grainy and badly lit. If all of your devices are windows, I would say that this is a very good phone. BUT….not all android apps are available in the Windows store, so things like Subway Surfers is only available to buy, and even though I had paid full price for the Android geocaching app and logged in as myself, certain features were not available to me unless I paid out again. Of course, but still a bit of a gripe. After the large screen of my S3, I do struggle to read some things on this small screen but my eyesight is not as good at close distances as it used to be..blah..I probably need varifocals but I’m putting that off! Many people prefer the small screen, you can use it with one hand and it is pocket-sized.
It comes with a “kids corner”, which is like the Kids Place Android app (mentioned below). You can pre-select the apps, music and games that you’d like your child to be able to access, so that they can play in safety and so that your own apps and data don’t get accidentally deleted. The selection of apps is good but not as extensive as Android, yet, at least, and many of them have a small cost of 79p or thereabouts, which I am reluctant to pay because the same is free on Android. Social networking, email and general web surfing is lightening fast and easy. I do like this phone, but my son does keep switching back to my Android for Minions Rush, which seems to be more limited on the Lumia – you can’t seem to access the different locations as easily, and for the other games that haven’t appeared on the Windows store yet. The phone itself is on three PAYG, which automatically comes with censorship measures, though they of course don’t work on WIFI, which you will most likely be using, unless you live in a city, due to poor UK mobile network reception issues.
Android Apps for kids
For children, there are plenty of fun and education apps out there now. Cbeebies has a brilliant app but Thomas’ app is expensive and very limited. My son practised his talking with the Talking Tom app and is now learning about looking after an animal with My Tom. We snuggle up together and play Subway Surfer, Where’s my water and Minions Rush, and he is alarmingly great at these. There are simple ABC apps, memory games, a Numberjacks app, an amazing Chuggington app (Thomas and Friends could learn a thing or two), and musical apps such as the Magic Belles.
Cub loves to watch YouTube videos of Thomas Episodes and reviews and it is easy enough to set controls to limit YouTube content, though, he has accidentally watched Chunky Mark and come out with some prime expletives. XXXAware and INEQE have some essential advice for parents and internet safety.
They advise to supervise your child on the Internet at all times, but we are only human and for peace of mind, Kids Place Android app opens up a protected corner of your Android device. You nominate the apps that your child can access, it blocks in-app purchases (though setting up a Google play pin prevents this too), and can block incoming calls, wifi and bluetooth. You can can set it to open as your home screen, or, click to activate it and your child cannot exit it without your pin number.
I of course haven’t reviewed the Apple products. Personally, I think they are over priced and limited in that they don’t seem to last very long or be backwards-compatible. This may have changed but I do think that Android devices have more longevity, in terms of the software still being usable in say two or three years time. I do not appreciate having to update my phone/tablet/laptop every two years because it is outdated already and I feel Android is the way forward on that front. Yes, a little solid netbook would be an amazing addition to my collection but if I had to pick one device that would suit the whole family it’d be, at the moment, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3, 8 or 10 inch. Samsung have brought out a child friendly tablet, the tab 3 kids, but I’d be wary of anything using pre existing controls, after the extreme censorship of the LeapPad. Kids Place does all that and you can choose what you want your kids to see and do, not somebody else.