CTR November 2013: Stylus Advice, Dutch Treats, Tablets and Vicky Rideout

Children’s Technology Review, November 2013

November 2013 Volume 21, No. 11, Issue 164

Welcome to the 164th monthly issue of Children’s Technology Review. This month, I’m taking you to Chicago to talk about touch screen stylus selection, Holland for a peak inside Medialab, and back home to discuss the latest “Zero to Seven” report and to offer some advice on the 2013 crop of tablets for children.

Choosing a Mobile Device for a Child This Fall

They’re coming…. A slew of pocket-sized devices that want very badly to be in your child’s pocket. Which makes the most sense?  Since last year at this time, I can tell you that there are at least five more Android-based options in the $150 range and they run smoother and offer more apps than last year. Do they compete with Apple’s iOS? Not yet. Apple hasn’t been sitting still since last year, piling even more apps inside a better organized kid’s section in iTunes. In addition, more of the Apple children’s apps do a better job with such things as firewalls to keep children away from purchases.

Let’s start by putting them into four categories: (1) Apple iOS, (2) Android & Kindle, (3) Toy centric (4) Video Game centric. Each has strengths and weaknesses to consider.

The iPad Remains the Best Choice. Once again, it makes the most sense to pick an Apple, which remains the easiest to buy and use, but most importantly has hundreds of times the quality of children’s content than any competitor. If you’re buying new, the best dollar/content ratio device is the 16 GB non-retina display iPad mini ($300) inside one of the many foam cases, like the GripCase ($40, www.gripcase.com). This model has the latest camera and connectors and will run all iPad apps. I don’t see $200 worth of difference in the screen quality between the old mini and the retinal version.

The Kindle Fire 7 inch HD ($140 from Amazon) option also offers an improving price vs. software access option, considering it gives your child a direct link to Amazon’s vast ocean of books and movies by way of a subscription feature called Kindle FreeTime Unlimited ($5/month) at http://amzn.to/181Q7Dv; a feature where you can freely download and use 210 Android apps, 353 videos and 1000 books (as of this month). App choice still lags far behind Apple options although the Kindle reminds us that tablets can be used for videos and books.

• Android-based options are even more plentiful this year and quality varies widely. The best option is one with access to the growing Google Play app store but most brands I’ve reviewed this year tend to be clunky and come with a salesman (or saleswoman) in their soul. At their best, they can deliver children’s content responsively and responsibly from a mainstream app store, where competitive forces keep prices in check. See, for example, the 16 GB 7 inch Nexus 7 ($220, http://www.google.com/nexus/7). At their worst, they offer collections of mid-quality, ad-laden apps inside a device with weak batteries. They’re more akin to 21st century catalog that tries to keep your child in their gated community to sell more content. We’ll review each individually, but currently I can’t recommend any, given the options above.

Toy based options from Leapfrog and VTech might have a lower entry fee ($100) but they make less sense this holiday season, given the cost of their software and batteries. With the exception of the LeapPad Ultra ($150 http://www.leapfrog.com) battery life and screen quality have stayed the same as last year, and Android options offer better app selection on multi-touch screens.

Video Game options: The chunky-sized Nintendo 2DS ($130) remains by far the best non-Apple, non-Android option, especially if you like Pokémon. I like how this device offers future access to 3DS software, but past access to hundreds of well designed, gimmick free game cartridges. Nintendo has done little to improve such things as the graphics quality, and it is still routed in a 2004-vintage mono-touch screen grip. But it provides enough exclusive content to merit a purchase. 

TV Viewing is Down, Tablet Use Up

A report called “Zero to Eight Children’s Media Use in America 2013” is Vicky Rideout’s latest in a series of reports commissioned by Common Sense Media. Having followed Vicky’s work for more than a decade, Scott Traylor interviewed Vicky to provide an overview of the key points. The first key finding: Television and video game use is down for children compared to just two years ago. The second; “the tablet is a game changer.” More on page 6, and online at http://childrenstech.com/blog/archives/13203.

Dutch Treats: A Look Inside the 2013 Edition of Cinekid’s Medialab

One of the themes at the 2013 Cinekid Festival (www.cinekid.com) was digital landscapes. According to Cinekid’s Director of Programming, Paulien Dresschler “there are more and more connections between the physical and virtual world.” Medialab attempts to “connect the front end with the back end of things” to “help children understand how things are constructed .. how they work and how they can change things.” This general theme of active learning and child empowerment square’s  nicely with CTR’s mission of empowering young children with technology. Have a look http://youtu.be/qbfpCoueCkY

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