The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

November 22, 2012

Surprisingly, some tablets might make good presents for kids

By Joe Hadsall
Globe Features Editor

JOPLIN, Mo. — After watching their children play games on a tablet PC, some parents may consider giving their kids a device on their own. After watching their children drop a plate, bang a chair, break a toy or cause other examples of childhood destruction, many of those same parents think they might be nuts for even considering the idea -- especially after considering the cost of such a device.

The ability of a tablet to easily play movies, music and video games or access the Internet make them tempting for kids of all ages. And surprisingly, there are enough lower-cost, durable options that a tablet PC might make the perfect gift this holiday season.

But there are still plenty of cautions, said Shawn Giddens, manager of the Geek Squad department at Best Buy in Joplin.

"They are portable devices, so they are prone to some damage Giddens said. "A lot of warranties don't cover damage because of drops, so if parents are buying a device, we recommend some sort of extension plan that covers physical damage.

Because most tablet PCs have a glass screen, they are more durable in some ways, but more fragile in others, Giddens said. Tablets can be protected somewhat with cases and screen protectors.

Different devices

It's a tablet world these days -- aisles that used to be filled with laptop computers are now filled with iPads, Galaxys, Nexuses, PlayBooks, Kindles and Nooks. That means there are plenty of devices to choose from.

Giddens said parents should consider each product carefully to make sure that it will do what they want it to do.

"A lot of times someone will buy a device expecting it to do something it doesn't," Giddens said. "People won't be satisfied with what it does or doesn't do."

One common confusion is between tablets and e-reader devices intended for mostly written media. Though the Kindle Fire is a low-cost entry into the tablet market, it runs a controlled version of the Droid operating system, which doesn't grant access into everything Google Play offers.

Also, devices such as the LeapPad 2 aren't a true tablet, but more of an educational-based gaming system, Giddens said.

So if a tablet PC is on your kids' wish list, decide what it will be primarily used for and shop accordingly.

And some tablets are specifically made for kids, Giddens said. That includes the Nabi 2, a Droid-based tablet that features a kid-friendly OS and built-in parental controls. The device also has a large rubberized case, making it easier to hang on to, he said.

Smaller iPads

Apple's iPad is popular for many reasons, Giddens said. The OS is easy to learn and understand, kids are familiar with Apple software through school and there are a wide variety of apps that can be downloaded.

The unit's comparatively high price for a new model might give a frugal parent pause, however. New models cost anywhere from about $499 to $829, depending on memory and cellular capability.

The new iPad Mini helps costs somewhat. The device is basically an iPad with a smaller, almost 8-inch screen, compared to the iPad's almost 10-inch screen. They range from $329 to $659, depending on memory and cellular capability.

But Giddens points out an even smaller device that offers a similar experience: the iPod Touch. The device is basically an iPhone without the phone functionality, and does most everything the iPad can do. Prices range from $199 to $399, depending on model and capacity.

Giddens' 4-year-old son has one, and takes good care of it, he said.

"It makes a good compromise from the iPad," he said.

Do it quickly

One of the biggest pieces of advice Giddens offers is to take action quickly, he said.

"Buying early is key," he said. "Every year people come in and get mad because the one they want is out of stock."