There are so many tablets out there, it can be a bit daunting at first look to find a kid-friendly tablet that won't become a paperweight after a while. Tablets are quickly becoming inexpensive investments that can help any child learn and play, once the main hurdle has been jumped. Finding the right fit in a tablet can be just as important as finding the right pair of shoes, so hopefully I'll impart a few helpful key elements on what to look for when searching through the tablet marketplace this season, as well as the pros on choosing a Windows-based tablet. Keep an eye out early next week, as I'll be showcasing the pros on other tablet formats as well.
What To Look For When Shopping For Tablets This Holiday
For any tablet, here are a few key elements to look for when finding a tablet for your child to use:
- Price-points is probably the most important element to factor in when finding a worthwhile tablet. It's a balancing act, but you'll find that you can stick to your holiday shopping budget and get a great tablet that will work as you expect. It's imperative to first, make a budget and second, stick to it; and it's fabulous how the tech industry has lowered their prices on tablets these days to be able to do both. A few years ago, a neighbour of mine was adamant to find his daughter a tablet that she could use for school and play. He found one at a local store that sold overstock, and asked my opinion about it. Just going by the listing specs alone, I couldn't justify the purchase for him, 'cause while the price point was awesome at $150 for an 8" Android tablet back then, the rest of the features were sure to frustrate his little girl. There are so many quality tablets on the market though for much less than that price of yesteryear thankfully!
- Also, don't forget to determine if you're going to add a protection/warranty plan. Kids will be kids. Depending on the value of the tablet, and knowing how your child interacts with similar tech already, decide whether you should also budget a warranty. Does the cost of the tablet warrant the cost of protection, or are you secure in just purchasing a replacement later if needed? Some stores, like Best Buy Canada will allow you to purchase a warranty up to 30 days after you've purchased your tech, so you may factor it in as a later purchase if you're on the fence.
- What's inside the tablet? Some features to keep a look out for are:
- the actual physical tablet size (bigger dimensions is not always better,) as well as weight and durability. It might sound counter intuitive, but lighter is not always better either. I've noticed with 4 year old KitKat, he's more liable to drop a lighter tablet, because he doesn't really feel the weight and then forgets that he's holding onto something precious. It's also helpful when the tablet fits his size, and I've found that 7" tablets is perfect for KitKat to hold in his lap and interact with.
- processing speeds, when a great processor and RAM are added together, you can have a fast acting handheld computer. There's nothing worse that clicking on an app icon and having to sit there and wait for it to load. Impatience much? Maybe. But you also need to consider constant tapping on an icon can actually have repercussions too. I've been known to tap an icon five or six times on my older tablets, thinking that the handheld froze or was just ignoring my requests for fun; next thing I know, the tablet has kept a memory of all my taps and suddenly I've tweeted out an advertisement I hadn't intended to share because my taps were just in the right place to open certain programs once app started processing again. I'm a big fan of the Intel Atom tablet processor and at least 1G of RAM will get you off to a great start.
- hard drive space for apps, games, movies, books, etc - it all adds up, so find one that has a fair amount of space, or at least one that says its "expandable" to be able to add more memory later. Chances are, your kid will download quite a bit. The minimum I would look for is 32Gs of space, which may sound like a lot, but those movies and music downloads can add up quickly!
- Long battery life-span is a must. Nothing less than 8 hours of continuous power will do. If you're planning a long drive somewhere, you'll want a tablet that is capable of making the drive with you for on demand entertainment.
- The Operating System (OS) is another important element to consider. When that neighbour asked me whether or not that specific tablet was a good purchase, part of my hesitance was the OS. It was already two years behind the most recent Android release, and there was no way to upgrade it. It was destined to be slow and clunky right out of the box.
What a Windows 8.1 Tablet Has to Offer
For this post, I'm going to showcase five main points of why a Windows 8.1 OS based tablet is right for your kid.
- You're most likely already familiar with the Windows 8.1 operating system yourself, or if not, then one of Microsoft's other OSs, 'cause they're basically everywhere. A tablet with Windows 8.1 is like a mini computer, and has all the possibilities you would find on a desktop or laptop.
- multiple user accounts - you can create an account for yourself as the Admin, and then create child-safe accounts for all of your kids, especially if they're not of age to own an email address yet. Be secure that you can protect, and know exactly what your child has access to with ease. Neither multiple nor child-friendly accounts are not readily accessible on most other operating systems, so this alone is a huge reason to consider going with a Windows 8.1 tablet.
- Windows 8 and above is all about the Xbox connection, so if your child is an avid Xbox user, a Windows 8.1 tablet would be the best bet for them to have access to their games, music and/or movies. There is even a way to connect your wireless Xbox controller to a Windows based tablet for better play. Simply attach a USB mini adapter to the wireless receiver for the Xbox controller for tablet compatibility. This might be a helpful advantage if you're always fighting with your gamers for the TV.
- There are more than just Xbox games, if that's not your child's thing (yet). With thousands of game app titles to choose from, there is something to keep anyone entertained. Even if it's something as excruciating as Solitaire (remember when Solitaire was one of maybe four games available on a PC?) If you need a quick distraction, a Windows 8.1 tablet has a limitless amount of answers for that.
- As we all know, it's unfortunately not all fun and games though! Many Windows 8.1 tablets come with Office 365 installed, which means your child can get their homework done on the tablet, should the family's desktop/laptop computer already be taken. Attach a Bluetooth based keyboard and mouse, and the tablet turns into an incredibly easy to store computer. Imagine your child's bedroom/work-station not having a big clunky desktop/laptop that takes up two-thirds of their desk. Or perhaps you have five members fighting over one family computer? (I did!) A Windows based tablet can help with your child's productivity in school, because it's essentially a tiny PC computer. And if your house printer has a wireless option, your child's documents can be easily printed directly from the tablet as well! There are also a few file storage options to consider; if your desktop computer is connected to OneDrive or even Dropbox, your child's files are readily available for access anywhere (which can be helpful for proof reading, or printing from a wired printer, etc.)
Want a Specific Recommendation? How about the HP Stream 7?
The HP Stream 7 has everything your child would need in a Windows 8.1 tablet. Do you remember when HP first came out with a tablet? I was excited when their proprietary WebOS system came out, it had great potential. With Android and iOS being such huge leaders in the tablet industry though, they didn't have much of a chance to flourish, and WebOS ended in an early death. TheHubs still has his HP Tab that we stood in front of Staples for hours to buy at $149 (which was an unheard-of price back then,) and it works beautifully even today. Some years later and HP has re-entered the tablet market with Windows 8.1, and I'm in love with this little bit of tech.
- Preinstalled apps, like Microsoft Office 365 and HP's ePrint, will help improve your child's productivity in school work.
- Durability and sturdy frame for those accidental moments. I actually dropped this tablet last night, while trying to juggle four items all at once in my office (blogger work can be crazy at times.) Luckily, there isn't any sort of scratch on the casing, nor the screen. In normal circumstances, this tablet has a great casing for grip, and has the right kind of weight/balance within it (not too heavy, not too light, kwim?)
- SUPER fast - with the Intel Atom processor and 1G RAM, this tablet does what I want, when I want it to. I've flipped through quite a few open apps with quick swiping, without the tablet pausing to think on what to do next.
- 8 hour active battery life, but also a great sleeper mode which means the battery life lasts longer, instead of quickly dying when the tablet is not in use but still turned on. I cannot comment on battery charging speed yet, as I've been struggling to kill the battery to do a full charge again. I've only managed to kill the battery once (it just didn't want to die,) and charged it overnight. When I get a chance to watch the charge speed, I'll update this post with that info. I don't have any indications that it would be a slow charge, but I don't have any clues to say its decidedly fast either.
- Amazing price at Best Buy (Canada); the current retail price for the HP Stream 7 is merely $119.99, and that's not even on sale! I've seen some remarkably bad tablet builds that are more expensive than this. This one is quite a bit cheaper than what we paid for the WebOS HP Tab years ago, and the Stream 7 is a much stronger tablet. If you do choose to purchase through BestBuy.ca, you'll qualify for free shipping, and next day delivery which is awesome to boot. I'm not entirely familiar with Best Buy Canada's warranty, but if you're interested in this tablet, you should definitely call them to find out if its worth as an addon. Given how durable and inexpensive this tablet is though, you may be able to live without one.
- Basically anything you'd want in a basic computer, wrapped in tiny packaging.
This is true for most internet capable devices; you need to invest in an anti-virus program. I'm partial to Nortons 360 and happen to have an extra download that I could install right away. If you don't have a budget for anti-virus software, you can get a free version like Avira (though I absolutely recommend purchasing a top-of-the-line protection bundle the moment you're able to.) Like my account with Nortons, these software bundles usually allow installation on more than one computer, so you can potentially spread the cost to protect most of your devices under just one purchase. When it comes to anti-virus software, you get what you pay for, and you don't want to mess around with viruses that could potentially steal your personal information if you're not suitably protected.
The HP Stream 7 tablet isn't missing any cameras per se, it has two in fact; like most tablets currently on the market though, these cameras are not up to par for photography lovers. They're great for Skype calls or moments when you simply don't have any other picture-capturing devices at hand, but at 0.3 and 2 MPs for the front and back facing cameras respectively, they're less than adequate. It's because of the simplicity of these cameras that I feel HP was able to make the Stream 7 so cost effective.
Are you considering purchasing a tablet for your child this year? What features are you looking for?
As part of the Intel Canada Insiders Experience blogger program, I was given the HP Stream 7 to review. All opinions are my own, regardless of product compensation.