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Does Apple or Amazon take the crown?

Parents, a word? We all know that too much screen time isn’t good for kids, but we also know that our sanity is precious. There are situations — road trips, air travel, long waits in restaurants — when a Bluey video or an interactive Dr. Seuss book might save everybody’s day. And that’s why I consider a tablet an essential addition to any parent’s toolkit, right alongside Goldfish crackers and packs of crayons. The question is, what’s the best tablet for kids? Which model has the best apps? Which one can withstand the most abuse? These are great questions, and I’ve got answers.

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Spoiler alert: I think there’s one that stands head and shoulders above the rest. It’s affordable, versatile and backed by an industry-leading warranty. Plus, it’s specifically designed for kids, with robust parental controls and a Godzilla-proof case. That said, there are a couple others worth considering, especially if you have older kids or want something that’s useful for schoolwork as well as education and entertainment.

If you’re not shopping for kids, be sure to check our roundup of the best tablets for 2024; it covers all users and all bases.

Rick Broida/Yahoo

Screen size: 8 inches | Storage: Starts at 32GB (expandable) | Rated battery life: 13 hours | Connectivity: Wi-Fi | Warranty: 2 years

Full stop: There’s no better tablet for youngsters than Amazon’s Fire HD 8 Kids. For one thing, it’s more affordable than any iPad, with a starting price of $150 (and frequent sales dropping it to $100, sometimes even less). 

Equally appealing, the HD 8 Kids lives up to its name by arriving in a colorful case that’s designed to withstand a lot of abuse. In fact, Amazon backs the tablet with an unparalleled two-year warranty, one that covers not only the usual stuff but also accidental breakage. So if Junior sits on, drop-kicks or tries to flush the thing, you can get a replacement.

The case is not only amazingly rugged, it’s also cleverly designed. There’s a built-in stand that can prop it upright for watching videos or, if you flip the tablet around, lay it flatter for games and other interactive activities.

Amazon includes a free year of its Kids+ subscription service, which offers unlimited access to a generous library of age-appropriate books, games, apps, videos and so on. Take note, however, that because this runs Amazon’s specialized operating system, you can’t access the full gamut of Android apps; you’re limited to those available in the Amazon Appstore. This probably won’t be an issue, especially for younger kids, but be aware that YouTube is one of the more notable Appstore omissions.

The tablet has front- and rear-facing cameras for fun with photos and video and baked-in parental controls you can monitor and update remotely.

If you have older kids (I’d say in the 8-12 range), the Fire HD 8 Kids Pro has a more “grown-up” case and more advanced parental controls. In nearly all other respects it’s the same, including price and warranty.

Although Amazon offers 10-inch versions of both models, they cost at least $60 more. I don’t see much advantage to the slightly larger screen, which will just be heavier and harder for little hands to hold.

The Fire HD 8 Kids is a slam-dunk product, without question the best tablet for children.

Pros

  • Rugged childproof case doubles as a stand and carrying handle
  • Robust parental controls
  • 2-year worry-free warranty
  • Often on sale
  • Includes 1-year Amazon Kids+ subscription
  • Expandable storage
Cons

  • Amazon Appstore has some omissions, including YouTube app
  • Performance can lag at times

$150 at Amazon

Rebecca Carhart/Yahoo

Screen size: 8.3 inches | Storage: Starts at 64GB | Rated battery life: 10 hours | Connectivity: Wi-Fi (cellular 4G/5G optional) | Warranty: 1 year

Amazon’s tablets may be affordable, but they’re not exactly fashionable: Older kids will almost certainly prefer a “cooler” tablet, namely an iPad.

It’s arguably a more practical choice as well, with a much more extensive app library and a lot more accessories (including the Apple Pencil, which is superb for taking notes, creating art and more). 

The iPad Mini also incorporates top-notch front and rear cameras, great for kids creating Instagram or TikTok videos, dabbling in moviemaking and so on.

Why not choose the larger, less expensive iPad 10.9? I wouldn’t rule it out, but because the Mini is smaller and lighter (just 10 ounces), it’s easier to fit into a backpack. And its 8.3-inch display (another of Apple’s crisp, bright and colorful Liquid Retina screens) is bigger than the phone they probably already have, so it’s a nice step up for the likes of watching movies, playing games, reading books and scrolling social media.

The big downside: price. The Mini starts at $499, and that nets you only 64GB of storage. The jump to 256GB adds a hefty $150 to the cost. The aforementioned iPad 10.9 starts at $349 with the same 64GB.

This comes as little surprise, though; Apple makes the “cool” gear, and sometimes cool costs extra.

Pros

  • Compact, lightweight design
  • Great roster of apps and accessories
  • Superb front and rear cameras
Cons

  • Expensive
  • Only 64GB of storage in the base model
  • Not likely to survive a burst of gravity

$400 at Amazon

Rick Broida/Yahoo

Screen size: 11.5 inches | Storage: 128GB (expandable) | Rated battery life: 10 hours | Connectivity: Wi-Fi | Warranty: 1 year

Talk about a twofer: The Lenovo Tab P11 is a full-featured Android tablet with a spacious screen and great speakers, but if you buy it bundled with Lenovo’s detachable keyboard and pressure-sensitive stylus, it can pull basic laptop duty as well — ideal for kids in late-elementary and middle-school grades.

Why this instead of a Chromebook? Because it runs Android, it can do virtually everything a Chromebook can, but you still get the benefits of a standalone tablet. A really good one, with 2K screen resolution and a 120Hz refresh rate for silky-smooth gaming. (Let’s be honest, this isn’t just for schoolwork.)

Lenovo supplies a generous 128GB of onboard storage, and there’s a microSD slot for adding more — though I had a difficult time removing the SIM card-like tray that protects that slot.

Like a lot of tablets, the Tab P11 has cameras that qualify as good, not great. You get a 13-megapixel sensor at the rear and an 8-megapixel camera facing front; the latter is more than suitable for Zoom calls and the like.

I didn’t love the smattering of bloatware apps Lenovo preinstalled, but I did like the Reading Mode toggle designed to make the screen appear more Kindle-like (i.e., monochrome). Same goes for Productivity Mode, which tweaks the interface to look more PC-like and enables windowed multitasking. 

The value proposition here is pretty spectacular. For around $350 you get a versatile tablet with a useful keyboard and an advanced stylus. It may not be designed with kids in mind, but I think it’s a superb pick for kid-oriented work and play.

Pros

  • Impressive bang for the buck
  • Extremely good quad-speaker sound
  • Bundled keyboard is spacious and comfortable
  • Pressure-sensitive stylus works well for art and notes
  • Expandable storage
Cons

  • So-so cameras
  • MicroSD slot is difficult to access
  • Some bloatware

$325 at Amazon

Although I’m neither a toddler nor a teenager, I’ve tested tablets extensively — not just for this story, but over the course of their very existence. At this point in the game, and for the audience in question, there’s nothing that needs particularly close inspection. All the tablets here are varying degrees of fast, with lovely screens, loads of apps and batteries that can last for a full day. Camera quality definitely varies, but that’s of lesser importance to kid users.

“Testing,” then, focused primarily on things like durability, versatility and overall value. And that’s how we arrived at the Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids, Apple iPad Mini and Lenovo Tab P11, respectively — all top picks in those categories.

For younger kids in particular, durability tops the list. Whether you spend $500 on a tablet or $150, it’s an investment — and one unexpected encounter with the pavement can irrevocably damage that investment. The Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids isn’t especially durable on its own, but it comes wrapped in a hard-foam case that looks like it could withstand an angry elephant — and Amazon is so confident in that protection, it backs the tablet with a two-year warranty, complete with accidental-breakage coverage.

There are the obvious ones, of course — games, movies, educational apps, paint/coloring apps, etc. — but I especially love how tablets can hold a mountain of children’s books. (My wife and I used to schlep backpacks bursting with print books — not fun.) Many, if not most, of these are interactive, with words they can tap to hear pronunciations and little animations to make the stories even more entertaining.

A photo of iClever's cat-ear headphones.

Headphones for tablet-using kids? Good idea. Headphones with light-up cat ears? Adorable idea. (iClever)

Yes, and thank you for asking; I’ve been in restaurants and other public spaces where kids have audio blasting from their tablets, and it’s … unpleasant. For maximum cuteness, consider something like the iClever Kids Headphones with light-up cat ears (around $20). That’s a wired headphone, meaning it wouldn’t work with the iPad Mini (which lacks a headphone jack), but there’s a Bluetooth version available as well.

A tablet is pretty much a gateway to the internet, and it goes without saying that certain corners of it are not kid-friendly. With parental controls, you can configure the tablet to allow only age-appropriate apps and content. You can also set limits on total screen time. Amazon provides robust parental controls as part of the Fire HD Kids ecosystem; Apple offers iPad parental controls as well. And if you end up with an Android-powered tablet, check out Google’s Family Link settings, which are also quite extensive.

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