Buying and setting up a tablet for child use

The following advice

  • is my opinion only; no guarantees
  • relevant to Android devices only as that is the bulk of my personal experience
  • is drawn on my experience in Australia, so may be inappropriate in other countries
  • was current as of September 2018

I would also like to point out that I am impartial in that I have NO pecuniary interests in any Android apps and make recommendations only on the basis of my experience. I do not receive any kickbacks from anyone to plug their products.

TOC

Buying the hardware
- Accessories
Setting up your child's tablet
Maintenance issues

⊕ Buying the hardware

It is very tempting to purchase the cheapest hardware possible. There are many lesser known brands available online through outlets such as ebay or alibaba. I have been down this route and would not recommend it. The tablets are

  • of varying build quality
  • often have very low hardware specifications
  • may be loaded with an outdated version of the operating system
  • may not not run the desired software

If you would like to investigate this further, try https://forums.whirlpool.net.au/forum-replies.cfm?t=2663216&p=1 as an example of other people's opinions.
My strategy is to buy refurbished brand name tablets. Factory refurbished is preferable to seller refurbished. My current go to is the Samsung Galaxy S2, but the Galaxy Tab A series is also worth a look. Other brand name hardware may be satisfactory, but I only have experience with the Samsung line.

Accessories

Screen protectors are a top priority for kids, and not just for preventing breakages. The amount of crud that kids can accumulate on a tablet in a very short time is surprising. Better to wipe it off the protector and not risk it getting into the innards of the tablet.

Protective cases are pretty much a necessity to save the tablet from being dropped. I favour the ones that feature a built in prop. Make sure that the case matches the tablet in orfer to have clear access to all buttons and the camera.

Headphones for kids - In general, over the ear head phones are regarded as better for kids than ear buds.  Ear buds may not be robust enough for fiddly little fingers and are more easily lost than the larger and more visually prominent over the ear types.  Another factor to consider on corded sets is that the thin cords on ear buds can be a choking/garotting hazard. Some manufacturers have taken it a bit further and built speakers into headband/beanies.

over-ear-headphones for kidswraparound with built in speakers

Besides form factor, the most important factor to consider for kid's headphones is that they have volume limiting to protect children's hearing. The nominal upper limit is 85dB. It is also recommended that kids do not wear headphones for more than 1 - 2 hours at a time in order to protect their hearing. You can search for more information about general safety considerations plus reviews of particular models to see if they meet your needs.

Setting up your child's tablet

Step 1 You will need an email account and internet access for all of the setup steps. I find it easiest to sign up for a gmail account which is specifically for the tablet.

Step 2 Assuming that the tablet has been reset to the factory defaults, set the tablet up using the gmail address that you obtained in step 1. You do this by following the prompts and forms that will occur when you turn it on. ( I personally do this  and the other steps well before the tablet is handed to the child for the first time.)

Step 3 Visit the Google Play Store using the app which comes with the tablet software. It is not advised to purchase/install apps from any other source initially for security reasons. This might be a good time to decide if you will be purchasing an Android apps if the budget permits. Probably the easiest and safest way to do this is via a Google Play card which can be purchased at supermarket and tech gadgets shop or even petrol stations. They have nominated values e.g. $20, $30 or $50 so you know exactly how much you are going to spend.

Step 3.1 Select a parental control app. My current selection is Kid's Zone. https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.ootpapps.kids.zone.app.lock It is free in its basic form but I consider it worth the cost of upgrading to the pro version. Follow the prompts to set it up as desired.

Step 4 There are thousands of apps aimed at children available in the Play store. The actual choice, will of course, depend on your children's interests.
But a few words of warning when selecting apps to download and install.

 Important factors to be aware of

➡ When you install an app, it will as for permissions to modify your system. Be wary of any app which asks to for access to information which seems inappropriate or unnecessary for a particular type of app e.g. very few apps for kids would legitimately require access to contacts which might be stored on your device.

➡  All apps have ratings on the Play store page, including the number of users who have rated it and individual's reviews.

Some further examples of what to look for when choosing apps

This example app will show ads interspersed with the game/activity screens.Screen for an app on Google Play Store

Why this might be a problem

  • This will probably be confusing for little kids as they will possible think it is part of the game or will recognise them as an interruption but not know how to get rid of them.
  • The ads could be for unsuitable or undesirable products (from the parent's point of view)

app screen from Google Play store This example app contains in-app purchases.

This means that, although the game is free initially, users will be asked to make payments either for new levels/additions to the game. Or the game will become so difficult to play, you will need to buy extra in-game resources to continue. In other words, you may end up paying several times the cost of another similar app which asks you to pay upfront. From my personal experience, this can lead to major frustration for both young users (who want more levels, powerups etc) and their parents/carers who do not want to be constantly paying for a game.

Google Play store app for kids screen shotSome apps have both ads and in-app purchases, as shown in the screenshot on the right. This app is an editor's pick - shows that cost is not taken into account when apps are rating by Android reviewers.

My advice is to find fully free apps or else use apps for which you pay up front. This means no nasty surprises over ads or requests for money for the kids and no nasty surprises with costs for the parents. If parents use Google Play store cards, then they do not have to worry about credit card security.

I do not have extensive experience with different app brand names. The only two companies I am familiar with are

  • Toca Boca - The Toca series has a few  free games, but the majority of their titles will need to be purchased. The
  • Lego - The Lego Creator series are free as Lego makes its money by selling its physical products.

In terms of videos, the ABC has a free download special version of iView for Kids which has many popular programs listed.

You know your kids better than anyone in terms of interests, needs and strengths.

If you want more assistance in selecting apps for you kid/s, try

Apps particularly useful for kids with special needs

Maintenance issues

Regular routines

1. Reclaiming space on an Android tablet

Unless you are lucky enough to have a a tablet with a memory card slot, it is highly likely that you will run out of space on a tablet. There are two approaches to this problem. You will need to use both as they solve different problems.

  • Manually go through and see what data your child has accumulated. It is not unusual for kids to take multiple photos and videos which gobble up space as they may not have fully grasped the concept of limited space. You need to go the file manager and delete files e.g multiple photos of the carpet or the spot where the cat was.
  • The other measure you can take is using the Device Management procedure in the tablet's Settings screen. For a description of how to do this on a Samsung tablet running the Android OS version 7,  see https://www.samsung.com/au/support/mobile-devices/about-device-maintenance/ This also has the advantage of running a security check on the device, checking battery life and freeing up available memory.

2. Backing up the tablet

You can back up the tablet's contents via USB cable or over via WiFi.

  • If you use the charging cable or something similar (miniUSB to USB) to connect to a USB port on your computer, the tablet will be visible in the file explorer as a new drive.
  • If you wish to do the backup via WiFi, then you will need to use an app such as Samsung's Kies Air, or one of the alternative connection management programs available. I cannot recommend any of them as they tend to be over ambitious and intrusive IMO.

Damage and replacement problems

If the tablet is behaving badly- turn it off, wait about 30 seconds, then turn it on again. It is already a cliche, but the fact is that it often works.

Chargers - Before binning a tablet that won't charge up, it worth trying different charger to see if the problem is not with the tablet. Genuine brand chargers can be quite expensive, but tend to be more reliable than the many cheaper generic versions available.

Screen replacement - can be expensive. I don't like a throw away mentality but sometimes economics gives you no choice.