By Aaisha Zafar Islam
Handheld computing devices have fascinated the tech community for a very long time. While many manufacturers had flirted with the idea of a tablet since early 1990’s, it would be a good two decades before Apple and Steve Jobs’ vision catapulted tablet into the public domain. The first generation iPad was released worldwide in early 2010; in the four years since we have seen tablets literally take over our lives, changing the way our future generations learn and are even babysat!
In our part of the world, tablet technology is all pervasive. There are tablets that meet most budgets, from coveted ‘retina display’ ones to those that are more easy on the wallet. Price points also depend on other factors, including configuration of the device, its model, make and of course which age group it has been manufactured for. So how do you decode the jargon, make sense of the specs and chose which one is right for your child?
According to age
Thanks to smartphones and touch screen devices, our children are exposed to fiddling with screens at a very early age. In some cases, as soon as they have fine-tuned their gross motor skills! As mothers we are often guilty of handing over our phones to soothe a crying child, but does your toddler need a tablet all her own?
If you are in the market for tablets for young kids there are two notable brands that offer a child-friendly ‘tablet’ experience. With a camera, newer versions include wi-fi as well and their prices go upwards of 80 CAD. You might be able to score a good deal at seasonal sales.
One thing to keep in mind with these tablets is that they are all tied up with their own OS and app stores. Unlike grown up tablets, there are no free apps and anything that catches your child’s fancy, or looks like a good learning app that would sustain their interest for long is going to cost.
Then there’s the age factor. Though they list the appropriate ages as 5-9, truth is that even a five year old who has experienced his parent’s tablet, or a smartphone, is going to outgrow it soon.
For young children, tablets cannot be labelled as an essential learning tool. They make a good babysitter and your child might learn some new things. However, at such an early age it is best to limit children’s screen time and not rely overmuch on smart devices.
For older children, they can learn to share screen time on your own tablet, or you can get them their own, but make sure to monitor how much, and how they use technology.
OS and apps
There are two main Operating Systems that most tablets rely on: iOS by Apple and Android by Google.
The iOS is more user-friendly and has a more sleek interface. Then there is the iTunes app store. Just this past June the app store surpassed more than 1.2 million apps with more than 75 billion downloads. Whatever your need, there is sure to be an app for that.
Android, the Google based OS, lacks the polish and finesse offered by iOS, nor is it as user-friendly. However, like most things tech, one learns fast. If you are looking for a more budget friendly tablet, look for an Android based one. Instead of numerical, all versions of Android are named after sweets: it started with Alpha and the newest version is called Kit Kat!
Google Play, Android’s app store currently boasts more than 1.3 million apps available to users, signifying their rapid pace of growth.
Windows has also introduced their versions of tablets based on the Windows 8, however it is yet to gain widespread acceptance with the public. Little public appreciation in turn means a poor choice of apps.
Space becomes an issue because any and all apps you download are stored on your tablet. You also need space for any media you store on it. The iPad starts with a minimum of 16 GB while Android based tablets can range from 4 GB and upwards.
iPad does not offer any external storage option, you can store your data or pictures on iCloud. There is a minimum available for free but you can increase that space through buying a subscription
Some Android based tablets do offer the capability to extend storage/space through an external drive. If you do not plan to store much data or need that many apps, even a basic 8 GB tablet would serve the purpose.
Storage space is a deciding factor in pricing for tablets, so keep that in mind when searching for yours.
Display, dimensions and weight
The first generation tablets were nearly 10 inches of touchscreen display and weighed around 1.5 pounds. Mini version of the iPad came out three years later, reducing screen size to just under 8 inches and shaving off weight to around 0.7 pounds.
iPad also upped their game with their ‘retina display’ touch screen and ‘air’ versions that pack the same functionality in a lighter, sleeker pack. Of course these frills and fancies come at a higher price.
Android tablets, while adhering to similar screen dimensions, vary in terms of weight, image/display quality as well as how responsive their touch screens are. You get what you pay for; bear that in mind when considering a cheaper tablet. It is better to ‘invest’ in quality. Some cheaper tablets are not as responsive to touch or are prone to ‘freezing’ often. You don’t want that kind of frustrating wait on your hands!
Finally weight. When you look at a handheld device, you prefer something light and easy to hold that would not leave you with a Repetitive Strain Injury! Weight should not be a deciding factor in buying a tablet, but it should surely be considered, particularly when you add a tablet folio, casing etc. for handing it over to your children. Every gram counts!
As explained above, a lot of factors decide the price point for a tablet, including big brand names. Android tablets are easy on the pocket, but you still want value for your money and for that you will have to spend. Big brands spend big money over research, quality control and value customer satisfaction. When price is a concern, always search for reviews of the tablet you think is best and then decide.
Handheld computing devices are a valuable learning tool, however as parents, we have to make sure that our children are not glued to their screens. Life is the greatest teacher, and our children should be able to experience, learn how to observe and then decide how to act. That is something no app can teach.
About the author:
Aaisha Zafar Islam is the executive editor of MuslimMoms.ca and a strong advocate of limiting children’s screen time.