What tablet should you buy for your children?

Why I Bought Kindles For My Children

November 1, 2013 by Michelle

I finally broke down and bought the wee ones tablets. It’s the thing to do now, but I didn’t give in lightly. Before I chose the Kindle Fire HD for the wee ones, I did a ton of research to figure out what tablet would best meet the needs of my children. The Kindle ended up being our choice for so many reasons, and we’ve been happy with it ever since. (And no, this is not in any way sponsored.)

Last spring, the wee ones had a game day at school to celebrate the successful week 3 of the reading program.  Children were to bring in games from home to play.  Mister Man chose Battleship, while Little Miss brought in an Angry Birds game.  They were the only children in their respective classes (aside from one other girl in Little Miss’s class) who didn’t bring in some sort of a tablet or other device to play games electronically.

Personally, I thought that was fairly antithetical to the idea of celebrating reading, but it really hit home that even in second and third grades – at least around us – it truly is everyone who has a tablet and uses it regularly.  I began to think that maybe the wee ones were old enough.  That said, I was not comfortable simply handing them a tablet and letting them have at it.

What tablet should you buy for your children?

I wanted a tablet that had strong parental controls where I could control how and when they played games. The last thing I wanted to was to find them in the middle of the night spending hours playing on a tablet, which I could absolutely see them doing.  I wanted something that wasn’t going to break the bank, but at the same time I wanted a tablet that would grow with them.  I wanted it to have enough features that they could use it for multiple purposes from reading to playing games to sending email (though we aren’t there yet, but it will be a future need) to doing research on the web for school. It was important to me that it be a tablet with a name behind it that I know will last for a long time, as I don’t have any intention of buying new ones anytime soon. And I wanted it to have a strong battery life so that they weren’t regularly disappointed and whining when it suddenly turned off.

I pored over reviews and specs and information on all sorts of tablets from the iPad I own to Samsung tablets to more traditional “kid” aimed tablets and beyond.  I kept coming back to the Kindle because it was the device that met the majority of the criteria I wanted in a tablet.  That isn’t to say that the Kindle is perfect, but it was the best fit for my children for a number of reasons.

The fact that the Kindle allows you to Swype words – one of my favorite Android features ever is really just a bonus and didn’t play into my choice at all.  Honest.

Amazon Kindle Fire in the box

The Kindles were one of the few tablets with parental controls built in.  Too many others had no parental controls or those that were an add-on app, many of which had ways to get around the parental controls.  Kindle has Free Time which is a subsection of the Kindle that you can set up to best meet your needs.  You can choose what kinds of programs to allow – games, books, video, web – and how long for each activity and in total.

Flexible limits for Kindle Free Time

The tutorial walk through on the Kindle is simple, and I was able to get profiles set up for each of the wee ones in minutes.  I have ours set up so that they can play games for 40 minutes and read for an indefinite period of time.  When their 40 minutes are up, a screen flashes suggesting they choose something else to do.  Impressively, it also gives them a 10 minute warning so there are no shocks and surprises when game time is done.  They have adapted nicely to this (although they did figure out that if they double tap on the back button right when the game time end screen appears, they can get around the time limits though the consequences of me finding they’ve done this are severe enough that they stopped).

Kindle Free time has expired

You can set up a variety of profiles under your account to use on the same device or different devices.  That keeps one child from using all available game time, but it also allows you to give your 14 year old more access to the device than you might give your 6 year old.  Each profile has specific games, books, and programs loaded to it so that you can control who has access to what, again something that is helpful when you have multiple children.  That said, once you’ve purchased a book or a game, you can share it on multiple devices that are registered to your account so that you don’t have to buy Minecraft for $6.99 three times.

The downside to Kindle Free Time is that you cannot – at least as of now – load books you’ve borrowed from the library into it.  We borrow and download books from our school and public library on a regular basis, and they get loaded to the Kindle, but there is no way to transfer them to Free Time – and I’ve tried and researched everything.  Instead, the books in Kindle Free Time have to be books that you have bought or borrowed (if you have Amazon Prime) directly from Amazon.  The good news is that there are plenty of free books to appeal to anyone, so we have loaded several of those into the Kindle Free Time.

Because of this, the wee ones generally have to come to me to exit Kindle Free Time to gain access to their library books.  I simply enter my parental control password and choose to exit Kindle Free Time, and they are free to read.  Exiting Kindle Free Time doesn’t exit parental controls, however.  The controls you enact remain in force.  You can set up your Kindle to control what content they have access to even outside Kindle Free Time.  The difference is that here there are no time limits, which is why I have access only to books set up.  Games, apps, web, video, and the like are all shut off for them, and they cannot get into them.

There are times that I wish to access the web – when we need to return library books and borrow new ones, for example – and I can easily turn off the parental controls to do so and open up the Kindle fully before turning them back on when I’m done.  You do have to enter your password twice to do this, but I’m ok with the slight inconvenience when it means that it’s that much harder for the wee ones to break into the Kindle and gain access to something they shouldn’t have.  Once the parental controls are off, it’s easy to turn the wireless capability back on and do whatever I need to do.

I do keep the wireless connection turned off for several reasons.  First, the wee ones don’t have access to the Internet without my being there.  Second, it drains the battery faster when the wireless is on, and that seems just silly to me.  Set up this way, we go days and days between the need to charge the battery.  Amazon claims that there is more than 11 hours of battery life on the Kindle Fire HD, and we have definitely extended that by a whole lot.  I have zero complaints about battery life, and the fast charger we bought definitely charges much faster than other USB chargers – because yes, I did compare them side by side with my regular charger – so we have minimal battery issues.

There is so much about the Kindle that will allow it to grow with the wee ones.  It has Bluetooth capability, so down the road I can connect a Bluetooth keyboard for when they want to do more typing than is feasible on a touchscreen.  The same goes for speakers or headphones for them to listen to music or the sound effects from games.  There is also an HDMI out port in addition to the USB portal, which means I can get content off the Kindle easily if there is something they’ve created that they want to share.

None of the other tablets I looked into could come anywhere near matching these capabilities – and the parental control was really the kicker for me.  I was surprised that more tablets didn’t offer some sort of parental controls aside from the ones that were strictly aimed at kids that really weren’t going to grow with my 8 and 10 year old and already were pretty much too young for them.

One other downside is that the Kindle really relies on content from the Amazon Marketplace.  That means that not every app is available in the marketplace, but that doesn’t mean we can’t load them or purchase them for Kindles – something I wanted to verify before finalizing my selection.  There is an easy way to download other Android (but not Apple – different operating system entirely) apps onto your Kindle, something I had to do with Overdrive, the app we use to download books from the library.  It was a simple process and thusfar the only app that wasn’t available on the Amazon Marketplace that we wanted.

Once I decided on a Kindle, the fun became determining which Kindle to purchase.  Because I wanted this to be a tablet that went far beyond just reading books, we immediately skipped over the e-readers.  The full on Kindle Fire Tablet ($399 for 4G LTE or $269 for wi-fi only) has the advantage of being 8.9 inches (which for book reading isn’t actually an advantage in my mind, coming from personal experience).  It also has a more powerful processor, but for what we’re doing, that wasn’t an issue.  The decision came down to the Kindle Fire versus the Fire HD.  We ended up going with the Fire HD partly because it was $10 more than the Fire due to the sale at the time.  The screen is a far better resolution on the Fire HD, and it was 16GB or 32GB as opposed to 8GB of storage on the device.  When you add in the 11 hours of device use versus 9 hours of device use, the $10 difference (or $40 as it normally is) became more than worth it.

We decided to go with the 16GB device, as we aren’t planning to store much content on there – no movies or video the wee one have created, no massive photo albums, etc.  We simple didn’t need 32GB for the additional cost.  The other downside is that there are ads when you turn on the Kindle.  It’s easy to ignore them and swipe to activate your Kindle.  You could pay an additional $15 to have the ads removed, but so far they haven’t bothered us, so we just ignore them each time the Kindle gets used.

At $199 (we got them on sale for $169 each, with the wee ones paying for half the Kindle and all the accessories to give them a tangible investment in the tablet), the Kindle Fire HD was definitely not the most expensive option.  It wasn’t the cheapest, either, but cheap isn’t my aim – quality at a reasonable price with features that fit my needs is.

We did have to purchase additional accessories that increased the price a bit.  The Kindles come with a USB cord for charging but no actual charger – something that I am not thrilled about.  Essentially I could plug the USB into my computer whenever I wanted to charge it, or I could cough up the $15 and buy a fast charger for the Kindles.  At the time, Kindle accessories were also on sale for 50% off select items, which was a bonus, but I still bought one charger.  For as long as the battery claims to last, we shouldn’t need two, and so far, it hasn’t been an issue.

I required that each of the wee ones also buy a sturdy case for the Kindle and screen protectors.  After having seen what Little Miss did to my iPad after I’d owned it for just a couple months, I wasn’t about to risk preventable damage.  There are tons of cases available, and each child chose a case that was a good personality fit – Little Miss with a bright green case that looks like duct tape and Mister Man with a traditional plain blue case.  There are a wide range of price options with cases, as well, and we were able to find protective cases to fit the Kindles that have been sturdy and dependable for around $20 each.

That said, the Kindle Fire HD has a new version – of course, because what doesn’t?  The Kindle Fire HDX has many of the same features and upsides and is what I would still purchase today.  It does cost more – it is $229 for the 16GB wifi only version with ads.  In addition to the 32GB option, there is now a 64GB option.  Tricked out with no ads ($15 upcharge, remember?) and wifi plus 4G LTE, the HDX costs $424, still cheaper than many other tablets out there.  For wifi only on a 64GB HDX, you’re looking at $309 with ads, which is very reasonable in my estimation.

Improvements made with the HDX?  I’ve only read about them, as we have the HD, but the processor is no longer a 1.2GHz processor.  It is now a 2.2GHz quad-core processor with 2GB of RAM, so what was already speedy is now even more so.  Even cooler?  The HDX intelligently shuts down other processes when you’re reading, which can extend the battery life from the 11 hours that the HD had up to 17 hours.  A feature Amazon is heavily touting that I don’t foresee us needing is the Mayday Button.  You can press it on your Kindle and instantly be connected to an Amazon Tech advisor 24x7x365 at no cost – assuming you’re connected to the Internet at the time, of course.

So yes, we are a family of tablet users now.  The wee ones may not be keeping up with the Joneses, but they aren’t ridiculously lost without them – and that isn’t the point anyway.  Would I buy a Kindle Fire HD (or HDX) again?  Absolutely.

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    Comments

  • Angel The Alien


    How DO You download apps that aren’t available on Amazon? I am not very good at following tutorials, but they seem to be all saying you have to download about twenty things onto your Kindle first. Is there an easier way?

  • Rebecky


    Thank you so much – this was most helpful and timely as we have been debating whether or not to get Kindle Fires for our children. Have you used yours for music at all? Our daughter has been asking for both a Kindle and an iPod and it seems like the Kindle could incorporate the music as well. Thanks in advance.

    • Michelle


      I’m so glad you found it helpful! Yes, you can use the Kindle for music, both buying music from Amazon and importing music you already own, though only mp3 tracks. You can create playlists and choose what songs you want to play. My kids aren’t into doing that *quite* yet, but I have a feeling it’s coming, as my daughter just had my husband create a playlist for her on our computer from our iTunes music. Again – part of why I chose the Kindle: there’s so much room to grow with your child.

  • Olivia


    Dear HonestandTruly,

    Hi! I’m actually trying to find a good cheap tablet for me. My family is Apple but I’ve been interested in using something else. I have a iPod but I wanted different software.. My parents really want controls on it because I lose track of time using my laptop and iPod 🙂 I really like the settings on this and I think my parents will too. Thanks so much for the review and BTW Minecraft is awesome! If you’re getting bored of Minecraft or want to explore more block building games try Eden it’s for 99 cents! Thanks again!

    OliviawithDogs

  • Heather


    What size kindles did you get? 6 or 7 inch

    • Michelle


      We purchased the smaller 7″ tablet rather than the 8.9″. For what my children are doing – and their smaller hands to begin with – the increase in price for the larger size tablet wasn’t justified. And they’ve been perfectly fine with the 7″ size.

  • Linda Thwing


    Thanks for your review. I have a question you might be able to help me with. We have four children and I purchased 4 Kindle Fire Kids’ Editions – all connected to my account. We have the 8gb so I know there isn’t a lot of storage on them. My question is this: since these are all linked to my account, does each Kindle have to share the 4gb storage set aside for games/apps, etc.? Or do each of my children have 4gb storage on their personal Kindle? If they have to share the 4gb storage, should I set up 4 different accounts to use for linking the kids’ Kindles? If you have any thoughts on this, I would appreciate it. Linda

    • Michelle


      Oh that is a really good question. We haven’t run into any storage issues on our devices. My guess is that you would each have that storage on the actual device, not 4GB in the cloud somewhere. It’s a physical memory restriction, I believe. For us, I can purchase/borrow games/books/apps on my account and then choose which of the Kindles to download that app/book/game to. It doesn’t automatically go onto both of them unless I set it up that way because they both want it. We’ve never run into a storage issue with ours, but I also don’t download movies, etc on them. I wouldn’t want to steer you wrong. If you have a chat with an Amazon customer service rep online, they can give you the 100% correct answer on that one. And come back and share what it is. I’m intrigued to know for sure!

  • Jennifer


    Does the Kindle Fire HD have a front & rear facing camera?

    • Michelle


      The Kindle Fire HD has a front facing camera (mostly because it’s intended for video chatting), but there is no rear facing camera. You can take photos with the front facing camera, but mostly selfie type photos, as it’s difficult to accurately take a photo when the Kindle is facing away from you. Hope that helps!

      • katy


        The new Kindles (the 6 and new 7) have front and rear cameras. I agree 100% with your review. I’ve used Kindles for myself and allowed my kids to use them for several years. I just bought my almost 8 year old her own. I found a way around the no downloading library books to free time I thought I’d share with you. I set up a freetime profile exclusively for Overdrive. Then, when my daughter wants to read or listen to books, she can switch profiles and download books from the library on overdrive. (The new HD6 and 7 allows kids to switch free time profiles but not go to the main adult screen. A password can be set up for the different profiles if you want.)

        • Michelle


          Perfect – I love the update on the camera. It was definitely a missing feature. I may have to figure out how to set up that Freetime profile just for Overdrive. That would definitely make my kids happy!

  • smlwoman


    Hi,
    I am trying to decide what would be best for my kids on the kindle Fires. I am looking at the kindle fire 7 for $50 or the kindle fire kids bundle. My biggest concern is for my older kids would they be better off without the kids free time so they can pick their own aps and have more space or would they be able to add their own games from the amazon store and not have interferance with the kids free time? I’ve heard others say they can’t get the aps to work on the kids tablet. Such as youtube kids, or minecraft or disney jr. etc. Any thoughts on this?

    • Michelle


      You can always turn the Kindle FreeTime on or off based on the parental control settings you choose. You can download apps from the Amazon store and then add them to each child’s FreeTime account on the Kindle Fire. My kids play Minecraft with no issues, though I will clarify that it is not the same version that is available on PC or iTunes, so the features are different. I haven’t tried to use the others with the Kindle. Do know what you’re buying though – the Kindle for Kids bundle is NOT a Kindle Fire. It is purely a Kindle that can read books but is not a tablet.

  • San Diego mom


    I have been trying to find out if the free time gives warnings and the store staff says they don’t think so but nobody seems to know for sure. I was surprised to see you wrote “Impressively, it also gives them a 10 minute warning so there are no shocks and surprises when game time is done.”. I have kids with special needs who can’t handle the tablet just turning off unexpectedly and I don’t want to buy it without understanding how the time warning works. Can you explain more about that? Thanks so much for this review!!

    • Michelle


      I completely understand the special needs aspect of it. You get a 10 minute warning, but that is the only one. A message will pop up 10 minutes before the allowed activity time is up that lets them know they have just ten minutes left. Once they dismiss the message, they don’t get another warning until the message pops up that says they need to find another type of activity to do as their time is up for the day. Depending on your child, that may be too abrupt, as it will stop in the middle of a game, book, etc. As the parent, you can extend the time if it is an issue. Or alternatively, you can set up ONLY the games/books/apps you want your child to have access to and turn off the wifi and not use the Free Time and manage the time allowed on the Kindle yourself where you can set more gently warnings. Good luck!

  • Jeff


    Hi, and thanks for such a great review. I bought one for my 8 year old nephew for Christmas. My concern is I don’t live close by. Will it be a pain in the rear end to manage this device from afar? Will I need to once it’s set up? I just want him to be able to play games, read, and use educational apps, and maybe some youtube.

    Any thoughts?

    Thanks,

    Jeff

    • Michelle


      You can’t manage it from a distance. You’ll have to rely on someone with your nephew to keep it updated and set up, etc. It isn’t designed to have someone log in from elsewhere. Once you have it set up, it’s like any other tablet where apps will have periodic updates, etc., but his parents should be able to assist him in getting new books on it, etc.

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  • Trackback from Kid Contract: If You Want A Tablet…
    Saturday, 2 November, 2013

    […] Kindles.  After a great deal of thought, I purchased both of them Kindles – and I shared my reasons why I chose Kindles for them.  At 8 and 10 years old, this is their first major electronics acquisition, but I know it […]

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