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.
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.
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.
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).
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.