The Arnova ChildPad is a 7-inch tablet running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) that’s marketed specifically at kids. See also - Group test: Best tablets for children
Children use their parents’ iPads and Android tablets to the extent that frustrated mums and dads sometimes buy lucky young ones their own, or pass down the older versions. But there’s certainly space in the market for a tablet designed for kids. See also Group test: what's the best cheap tablet PC?
The £99 ChildPad differs from other children’s tablets, such as the Leapfrog LeapPad Explorer and VTech InnoTab, in that it’s a proper tablet running Android, with the ability to run Android apps, browse the web, etc. This, of course, brings with it its own concerns for parents – worries that didn’t all go away after testing the ChildPad. See also: LeapPad 2 review and VTech InnoTab 2 review
Tablets for kids such as those mentioned above were incredibly popular during Christmas 2011, selling out as parents rushed to entertain their children ... and keep their own iPads to themselves.
So is the ChildPad the perfect tablet to hand over to your kids?
We think these child-friendly tablets are aimed at a 4-9 years age range, as older kids will prefer something more adult in style – although there are plenty of tablet cases that infantalise iPads and other adult tablets.
The Arnova ChildPad’s 7-inch size suits small children better than the 10-inch iPad. It’s about the same shape and size (22.3 x 14.2 x 1.22cm) as the LeapPad (17.9 x 13 x 2.4cm) and InnoTab (24 x 17.5 x 2.4cm), which seems about right for most kids.
The tablet isn’t too heavy, weighting 380g – the same as the LeapPad. The iPad weighs a whopping 652g.
It looks and feels simple and clean, with a blue band around the screen, and all blue at the non-slip rubberised back. A pink version would probably be a big seller, but there’s no sign of one that colour at present.
The ChildPad’s 4GB memory is twice that of the LeapPad and Innotab; although the 4GB LeapPad 2 is due in August. The ChildPad does have a microSD slot, too, so you can add up to an extra 32GB of storage. See the Tech Specs tab above for full ChildPad technical specifications.
The 800 x 480 screen is fine, and displays photos and videos at an acceptable standard. Pinch to zoom worked fine, as you’d expect from any decent tablet these days.
It’s a superior capacitive screen rather than the resistive screen seen on the other kids’ tablets that aren't as touch fluent, adding to the plus points about this tablets design and technical specifications – and good value for the £99 price tag.
We did find small type difficult to read on certain web pages, however. Many sites recognise the ChildPad as a smaller mobile device and therefore redirect the browser to their mobile-optimised sites – which often feature smaller text that we couldn’t zoom into.
The ChildPad comes with a camera, which produces acceptable results – a little better than the LeapPad and InnoTab but obviously way off the quality you’d get from an iPad or any compact camera.
The 0.3-megapixel rating is from a bygone age. It’s ok for quick snaps but not for anything you’d want to keep. The LeapPad 2 boasts two 2-megapixel cameras.
The camera’s front-facing position on the ChildPad is great for taking pictures of yourself (handy for quite a few mobile apps, especially kids’ ones) but annoying if you wanted to take a photo of something in front of you – as the picture viewer and controls are on the same side as the lens.
The sound quality is a little too quiet on some apps. There’s a headphone jack so parents and others nearby can be spared the annoying noises many games and apps pump out. But there’s no volume control, which seems a peculiar omission. Many tablets nowadays have software volume controls, so the omission of physical controls isn’t bizarre – and the low output volume means you won’t be demanding “Turn it down!” very often anyway.
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Archos says it has tweaked the Android interface to make it easy for kids to use, but it looks like a vanilla (geddt?) copy of the Android Ice Cream Sandwich screen to us.
Where the LeapPad and InnoTab have big friendly buttons the ChildPad has fiddly little things and Android’s usual rather unintuitive navigation.
The interface and clunky navigation won’t fox a child for long – once they know where they want to go and how to get there children are very good at remembering even the most complex navigation. It’s us poor adults who get lost in technology…
On the home screen there are folders for direct access to Games, Learning, Entertainment, Video, Music, Gallery and Puzzles.
We would have preferred an interface much more child (and parent) friendly from a device aimed at children – something a bit more like the LeapPad’s chunky buttons, or just something more refined like you get on the iPad.
Around 30 apps are pre-installed on the Archos Child Pad, including the ever-popular Angry Birds, which plays very well on the 7-inch screen. Another game, Stellar Escape, is quite fun, too.
There’s plenty of other apps to choose from, but a few are a little odd – and none are a patch on what’s on offer for the iPad/iPhone/iPod touch. Nowadays there is a great range of kids' apps available for Android devices such as this – it's a shame a few of them weren't installed as standard.
Apps and games are the real battleground in the tablet and smartphone wars, and the ChildPad is let down with a bunch of mainly poor pre-installed examples.
For example, Dress Me Up Lite is a classic game of choosing various clothes, hairstyles and accessories. It includes the ability to change the person’s skin colour, which is refreshingly multiracial – except that the darkest skin colour changes just the head, leaving pasty white arms and legs.
Kids Numbers is an early maths app, great for younger kids. There’s a link to buy the Full Version but the link went nowhere – a common problem with Android apps, and not something you’d expect to get past Apple’s notoriously pernickety App defenders.
MathForKid is not so good. When I clicked “Start” it came up with a message stating that “At least one arithmetic operation should be switched ON in Preferences”. Quite what a child would make of that I don’t know. Also there was no obvious way to get to these mysterious Preferences.
Someone more versed in Android than me pointed me to the Preferences, and I was able to configure. But the gameplay was very dull, and when I input a wrong answer to a simple addition I was informed that my result was “0%”. If a child is learning addition how are they going to understand percentages?
Word Tree 3D is confusing and starts Level 1 on a timer without any explanation of how to play. Kids games should always give the player a decent chance to work out what’s going on. This one fails to help, which is not a good sign on an educational app.
So overall, we were unimpressed by the games on offer. More child-centric devices, such as the LeapPad, are far more friendly and useful straight out of the box.
There's a third-party Kids App Store (AppsLib) that includes 10,000 apps in 14 family-friendly categories. As well as games, you can download books, comics, multimedia, sports apps and more.
We downloaded some free games, but prices for paid-for games were often listed in US$, which isn’t helpful. The games in AppsLib – even that name shows you how much more intuitive Apple’s iOS App Store is to Android – have prices set by the developer, not the store. Google's superior Google Play store isn't installed but is browsable at play.google.com.
Purchasing in AppsLib is blocked by a secure PayPal PIN number so that children can’t ‘accidentally’ buy apps.
NEXT PAGE: How good are the ChildPad parental controls?