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.
Amazon Fire tablets
Amazon, though, has an answer for all ages in its range of Fire Tablets.
The latest model is the 2021 Fire HD 10 which has just gone on sale and we're in the process of reviewing it. It comes in many versions including two for kids: the Kids Edition, aimed at younger children from 3-7 and the brand new Fire Kids Pro, for those aged 6-12.
In fact, Amazon now offers a total of six different tablets for kids. There's a choice of 7-, 8 or 10in screens and for each one, either the Kids Edition or Fire Kids Pro.
Kids Edition vs Fire Kids Pro: what the difference?
There's no difference in the actual tablet (nor their prices) at any of those screen sizes: they vary in the bundle you get.
Kids Editions come with a chunky, rugged case, a two-year warranty that covers accidental damage, plus a year's subscription to Amazon Kids+ which gives them access to a fairly good range of apps, games, videos and books.
Fire Kids Pro tablets come with a slimmer, more grown up case with a flip-out stand (like the Kids Edition) which puts the tablet at a suitable angle for watching videos hands-free. They, too, have the same two-year warranty and Kids+ subscription, but the content is tailored to kids from 6-12.
There's also a new, more grown-up interface that older kids will appreciate. It includes a hand-curated web browser, and you can also enable a filtered browser that's more suitable for pre-teens.
It's handy to know that even the standard versions of the three Fire tablets come with good parental controls, the hand-curated safe web browser and the kid-friendly interface, so you can save money if you don't want the case, warranty or Kids+ content. This means you do not necessarily need to buy the Kids Edition, especially if your child is already around 7 or older.
Conversely, the kids' tablets also have the full adult interface (and Alexa), so when your children grow out of the restricted child-friendly interface, they can ditch the bumper case and start using it like a proper tablet.
No Google Play Store
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 - in our experience - leads to disappointment as some apps (Snapchat, for example) simply don't run very well on Fire tablets because they're not powerful enough or the app experience isn't good because the tablets mostly have mediocre cameras.
You children will no doubt already know what a 'proper' tablet is 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 . If you can find a refurbished iPad mini on 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 older one. Not too old, mind, as really old ones may not support some apps or have poor performance. Another issue is that they're quite fragile. But, Apple's App Store has 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. Just know that their parental controls aren't as comprehensive as on tablets designed specifically for kids.
If you're not going to buy any of the models already mentioned, you could go for a standard Android tablet intended for adult use. Then you'll have to install a parental control app to ensure kids 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.
Amazon Fire HD 8 (2020)
- So-so cameras
The Fire HD 8 has a bigger, better screen than the Fire 7 and it's also around 30 percent faster. There's also more RAM, more storage and you can expand that by up to 1TB using a microSD card.
Another difference is that it has stereo speakers and a USB-C port for charging. Alexa is built in and she's hands-free even if the tablet is asleep with the screen off.
You have the option of the standard Fire HD 8 or a Plus model which costs £20 / $20 extra. For that, you get wireless charging and an optional dock which, in addition to charging the tablet wirelessly, enables Show Mode. This means it works just like an Amazon Echo Show and, with Alexa on-board, you can use it for video calls, music videos and watching Amazon Prime videos.
Of course, that's not something a child will care about, but it means the tablet could do double duty if you were also thinking of buying an Echo Show.
As with all three sizes of Amazon tablets, there's a separate Kids Edition of the Fire HD 8 which costs £139.99 / $139.99. It comes with a bumper case, year's subscription to Amazon Kids+ and a two-year accidental damage warranty.
While overall performance and camera quality isn't the best here, for the money it's hard to beat.
Amazon Fire 7 (2019)
- Good size for younger kids
- Poor camera quality
The Fire 7 is best known for being the cheapest tablet around that's worth buying.
The 2019 model is still the current one and has double the storage of its predecessor, a slightly better front camera and a choice of three colours.
It's no hotrod in terms of performance, but it's still the best tablet you can buy if your budget will stretch only to £50 / $50.
The Kids Edition comes with the same benefits as the Fire HD 8 and HD 10, but costs double at £99.99/$99.99, so isn't quite as tempting as the standard Fire HD 8 which is simply a better all-round tablet.
Amazon Fire HD 10
- Good size for older kids
- Kids versions are quite expensive
Although it's quite a lot more expensive than the Fire 7 and Fire HD 8, Amazon's biggest tablet has a sharper screen, better battery life and like the latest Fire HD 8 now has a USB-C port and the potential for faster charging if you use a 15W charger (a lower-power charger is supplied).
Performance from the updated processor is a bit better, but it's still obviously a budget tablet, something that's evident from the plastic build and mediocre cameras (even on the latest 2021 models)
For entertainment, however, it's a great device with decent speakers and a headphone jack (which all three Amazon tablets have).
The Kids Edition costs £199.99 / $199.99 and comes with a bumper case, a year's subscription to Amazon Kids+ and the two-year warranty that covers accidental damage.
Read our full Amazon Fire HD 10 (2019) review
Apple iPad 10.2in (2020)
- Great app store
- Proper tablet
- So-so parental controls
Older kids will certainly appreciate being given an iPad, but it's the most expensive option here.
Nevertheless, the 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.
This 2020 model is the 8th generation, but you can still buy - at the time of writing - the very similar 7th generation model for under £300 / $300, so if you can find one of these discounted at retailers who are shifting stock of the previous model, they can be good value.
Getting back to the software, this new iPad 10.2 will get iOS updates for several years to come, and also (like the 7th-gen) supports the Apple Pencil, which kids love to use.
Read our full Apple iPad 10.2in (2020) review
Apple iPad mini (2019)
- 64GB storage
- Apple Pencil support
- So-so parental controls
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
LeapPad Ultra XDi
- Good for young kids
- Expensive apps
The specially built-for-kids LeapPad 3 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 switch to.
Ultimately, we feel it's best to buy a tablet that children can grow into, but if you like the price and your child is younger than seven, it isn't a bad choice.
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.
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 - which is about five 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 the size and weight of 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.
How much storage do I need?
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.