What's the best tablet to buy for a child?
Kids love tablets, and with so much child-friendly content available that can be both entertaining and educational, it's easy to see why. If you're looking to buy your child a tablet, we can help. We've reviewed the best and most affordable out there to help you find a tablet to suit your budget and their age.
The best tablet for your child will depend on their age. LeapFrog and Kurio make tablets which are well suited to young children from around 3-6. When kids reach around 6 or 7, they no longer want what they see as a 'toddler's tablet' and will start asking for something a bit more grown up.
And Amazon has the answer in its range of Fire Tablets. We've reviewed and compared every single current Amazon Fire tablet, so you can read more about them.
The latest model is the Fire HD 8 which launches on 3 June. It has a few updates over the 2018 model including a faster processor, more RAM, better battery life and USB-C charging. Read more about the 2020 Fire HD 8.
Of most relevance here are the Kids Edition versions. These are more expensive than the standard versions (up to twice as expensive), but include a bumper case, a two-year warranty that covers accidental damage, plus a year's subscription to Fire for Kids Unlimited (FreeTime Unlimited in the US) which gives them access to a fairly good range of apps, games, videos and books. Parental controls are also excellent.
Kids Editions are otherwise identical to the standard versions of the tablets, which also include the Fire for Kids / FreeTime app, the parental controls, hand-curated safe web browser, and ability to create different profiles so siblings can share it.
This means you do not necessarily need to buy the Kids Edition, especially if your child is already around 7 or 8.
However, it's crucial to understand that Amazon Fire tablets are not Android tablets. They do not have the Google Play store or any Google apps on them. Instead they have Amazon's Appstore and you have to watch YouTube via a web browser.
You can use a workaround to install Google Play, but this could lead to disappointment as some apps (Snapchat, for example) simply don't run very well on Fire tablets.
You children will no doubt already know what a 'proper' tablet should be like because they've borrowed your iPad or Android tablet. That's one reason we've included latest iPad mini and iPad 10.2 here. The latter is actually cheaper than the iPad mini, starting from £349 from Apple. If you can find a refurbished iPad mini from Apple's website, these can also be a good option.
If an iPad becomes available as a hand-me-down, that's great: your child will be over the moon even with an old one. The issue is that they're quite fragile. But, they have the widest selection of apps and games, many of which are free.
You can buy child-proof iPad cases and disable Safari (to prevent web browsing) and restrict music, videos, apps and games to the appropriate age level, so they're actually quite a good choice for kids - though their parental controls aren't as comprehensive as on tablets designed specifically for kids.
If you're not going to buy one of the above, you could go for a standard Android tablet intended for adult use. Then you'll have to lock it down (or not) to ensure the little ones don't see things in apps or online that you'd rather they didn't. When kids are using tablets, keep in mind how much screen time is healthy for children.
1. Amazon Fire 7 (2019)
The latest Fire 7 has double the storage of its predecessor, a slightly better front camera and comes in three new colours. There's no noticeable improvement in performance, but it's still the best tablet you can buy for £50 / $50.
Read our full Amazon Fire 7 (2019) review
2. Amazon Fire HD 8 (8th gen)
If you don't need Google apps on your tablet then this is the best cheap tablet going. It's worth the extra spend over the Fire 7 for the larger, better screen, unless you're buying it for your kids in which case the cheaper Fire 7 will do just fine.
And now you can use Alexa hands free, or pair the Fire HD 8 with the clever Show Mode dock to get an affordable smart display for home use. If you want to watch video on Prime and Netflix and not much else then this tablet is a no-brainer.
Read our full Amazon Fire HD 8 (8th gen) review
3. Amazon Fire HD 10 (2019)
Although it's quite a lot more expensive than the Fire 7 and Fire HD 8, this latest 10in tablet has a bigger, sharper screen, better battery life and also now offers USB-C and the potential for faster charging if you use a 15W adapter (not supplied).
Performance from the updated chip is a bit better, but it's still obviously a budget tablet - something that's evident from the plastic build and mediocre cameras.
For entertainment, however, it's a great device with decent speakers and a headphone jack.
Read our full Amazon Fire HD 10 (2019) review
4. Kurio Tab Advance
The Kurio Advance is a typical budget tablet, elevated by its well-thought-out software. The dedicated interface provides parents with a high-level of control, while remaining simple enough for anyone to setup in a few minutes.
We had a few niggles with the hardware itself, particularly the slow power button, but at this price it delivers what you would reasonably expect. The real problem it faces is the Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids, which currently sells for the same price, with a better display, more storage, and a longer battery life.
But, if you prefer to live outside the Amazon eco-system and have access to Google Play, then the Kurio is a good alternative.
Read our full Kurio Tab Advance review
5. Apple iPad 10.2in (2019)
Older kids will certainly appreciate an iPad, but it is the most expensive option here.
Nevertheless, this latest 10.2in tablet is relatively good value at this price. Just note that it only has 32GB of storage, and that isn't expandable. The next step up - 128GB - is a lot more money.
It could be tempting to look for a used iPad, and that's fine if it's relatively recent, but watch out for older models which aren't compatible with the latest version of iOS and which can't run some of the newer apps.
That's not an issue for the 10.2 of course: it's brand new. It's a particularly good buy if you want to make the most of Apple Arcade.
It also supports the Apple Pencil, which kids love to use.
Read our full Apple iPad 10.2in (2019) review
6. Apple iPad mini (2019)
You'd be forgiven for assuming a smaller iPad would be cheaper, but the new iPad mini is more expensive than the 10.2.
But it does come with 64GB of storage as a minimum, so it could be the better choice if you know your kids will install loads of apps and games, take lots of photos and videos.
There's also support for the Apple Pencil, just like the iPad 10.2.
Read our full Apple iPad mini (2019) review
7. LeapPad3 and LeapPad Ultra XDi
The specially built-for-kids LeapPad3 and LeapPad Ultra XDi are similar in specs and functionality. The larger, 7in, Ultra XDi has twice the storage as the 5in LeapPad 3 but younger children may prefer the 3's smaller size and weight. We think their upper-age range is six or seven rather than Leapfrog's claimed nine, but our eight-year-old tester still enjoyed her time with both.
Software can be more expensive than other tablets, but the advantage of Leapfrog software is that it has been built by educational PhDs with both fun and learning in mind.
Just bear in mind that once your child has outgrown the kids interface, there's no 'proper' one to which to graduate.
Read our full LeapPad3 and LeapPad Ultra XDi review
What to look for in a kids' tablet
The advantages of a specially designed kids' tablet include a 'safe' web browser (or no internet access) and pre-loaded games and apps which are appropriate for kids.
What they don't tend to have is a wide choice of the latest games. The LeapPads, for example, are great tablets, but your kids might be frustrated when they can't get the same games or apps their friends have on Android or iPad.
And that's why we rate Amazon's range of Fire tablets so highly. You can set up password-protected profiles so you can give each child access to only the books, games and apps you want them to see.
You can set different time limits for reading and playing on an Amazon tablet. The fact that the range starts from just £49.99/$49.99 and for the most part gives you access to the popular games that kids want to play.
Admittedly, as they get older, they will quickly discover missing apps: there's no doubt that Amazon's selection is not as broad as Google's.
Which specifications should a kids' tablet have?
It's best not to dwell too much on specs as they rarely tell you how good a tablet is for a child. Two things you should consider are battery life and screen size.
Many kids' tablets last around half the time of an iPad - around five or six hours. They can, of course, use their tablet while it's charging, but it's worth avoiding any that don't charge over USB as this makes it awkward to power them on long car journeys. Amazon Fire tablets do charge via USB.
Younger kids might struggle with a 10in tablet, which is why the Amazon Fire 7 is a good choice all round. Its 7in screen is just the right size for small hands.
Rather than looking at processor speeds and RAM, read our reviews to find out if a tablet is fast enough to keep up with your kids. Gigahertz ratings aren't a helpful guide in this respect.
Is 32GB enough for a tablet?
A third important aspect is storage. If the tablet you're considering has no microSD card slot, you'll have to start deleting apps, music, photos and more when the internal storage is full. It pays to get as much storage as you can, but it's still important to have a microSD slot. Memory cards are cheap and even if a tablet doesn't let you install apps on it, you can still use it for photos, videos and music.
Some tablets have 32GB or even 16GB of storage. That's enough if storage is expandable, but we'd caution against it if not. Videos and games can quickly eat up 32GB of storage.