Oregon Scientific Meep full review

Meep tablet Picasart Kids

We've seen quite a few kids' tablets recently, and the Meep is yet another vying for your attention. At £130 it's more expensive than a £90 LeapPad 2, but cheaper than the nabi 2 and Kurio 7.

Like the latter two, this is an Android tablet running Ice Cream Sandwich, which is much more evident than usual. However, as you'd expect, it's pretty locked down, so your kids can't muck around with settings that would cause any problems.

Meep tablet: hardware

As we'd expected, the screen is a fairly low-resolution 7in display with 800x480 pixels (the same as the Kurio). This makes text look pretty blocky and jagged (and there's a lot of small text in the pre-loaded apps which is hard to read because of this), but you don't notice this so much in images.

Viewing angles are poor, just like the Kurio, and colours invert if you tilt the Meep too much. In the camera app, the shutter and zoom controls disappear and reappear as you tilt the screen a little. The display is fairly dim, too, so you'll need to set it to maximum brightness.

The screen is recessed by a few millimetres because it uses an optical sensor (the so-called Z-Force technology) rather than a capacitive or resistive touchscreen. It isn't nearly as responsive as a capacitive screen, which even the £99 Arnova ChildPad has, and it's tricky to select things at the edges. It's hard to move the volume slider to maximum or bring up the Android settings panel, for example.

Even relatively gentle finger prods leave a lingering mark for a few seconds, just as when you press on an old laptop's screen. Given the rough treatment tablets get from children, this is quite worrying.

A front-facing 0.3Mp camera takes dismal quality photos and videos, but can be used for video chatting with Skype.

Meep tablet main menu

There are no hardware volume buttons which is annoying, and the stiffly sprung power button is hard to use with the rubber bumper in place as, like the screen, it's so recessed. The pair of rear-facing speakers aren't very loud at all, and most kids will struggle to hear them unless in a quiet room.

You can plug in a pair of kids' headphones, such as Griffin's MyPhones and - unusually - plug in a microphone. It's also possible to hook the Meep up to an HD TV via HDMI. There's also a micro SD card slot to add to the 4GB of internal storage.

Meep tablet: software

Setting up the Meep is a bigger hassle than with most tablets. You have to do it via the website and you're forced to register a credit card (and be charged a Euro at the same time) right at the start. You do get 100 coins which can be used to purchase an app, but it's cheeky nonetheless.

The main screen consists of two carousels. On the right-hand side is one that scrolls between Apps, Games, Music, Video, eBooks, Camera, the Meep Store, Settings, Help and a bizarre Safety 'app' which gives kids tips and rules about using the Meep, such as 'Do not bully anyone'.

Meep carousel menu apps

There are over a dozen games pre-loaded, but the vast majority are free apps which nag you to upgrade to the full or ad-free versions. Angry Birds is the highlight.

Apps consist of just a few relatively unimpressive titles including a the same colouring app trial as found on the Nabi 2, plus a better colouring app (Picsart Kids) and Toon Googles - the US-based cartoon app as found on the Kurio 7.

A few game trailers are provided under videos, and six songs in the music section.

The left-hand carousel lets you see your contacts list where you can send messages to people, including your parent (also known as the Meep Boss or Meepervisor).

The Meep store is split into Apps, Games and E-Books. There are greyed out areas for Video and Music, which are 'Coming soon' according to the label. There are only a few dozen ebooks, none of which we'd heard of - there are no big-name kids titles.

The store includes certain apps which are actually from the Google Play store. Attempting to install one displays a message to this effect and lets the child send a request to the Meep Boss to install it. From the web-based management interface, the request can be seen along with a log of what the child has been doing on the tablet.

Meep web management

Clicking on the More Details link takes you to the app on Google Play where you can install it remotely. Also, clicking on the Account button in the web interface brings up a link to open Google Play on the Meep itself (this is the only way to launch it) so you can search for and install apps locally.

From the website you can buy extra coins and access Parental Settings. These let you set how long the each child (there can be multiple users) can use apps, games, the web browser, video player, music player and more. Oddly, there's no global control, so you can't limit a child's use to, say, two hours per day and let them choose how they use those two hours. It's possible to disable in-app purchases and purchases from the Meep store.

Meep parental controls

The web browser has a whitelist of 'approved' websites that's managed by the Meep team and you can send suggestions of sites to add. When a child tries to access a blocked site, a message tells them so and suggests they try another site. Google Safe Search is enabled by default, which covers both web searches and image searches. It's by no means perfect, and without trying too hard we were able to view images we wouldn't want kids to see. Attempting to search for any banned word results in a pop-up telling the child they can't use that word in the browser.

The YouTube app works in a similar way - a whitelist of videos approved by the Meep team. There appears to be no way to search for videos either, so you can't find a particular nursery rhyme, for example, or a clip from a certain kids' TV show.

Disappointingly, the browser doesn't support flash, so there's no way to watch catch-up TV shows from the likes of Channel Five's Milkshake or to use flash-based sites such as PeppaPig.com or MrMen.com.

Unlike the nabi 2, there's no way to access the full Ice Cream Sandwich Android interface.

Next page: performance and accessories

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