The kid-friendly tablet market is dominated by names such as Amazon, Fuhu and LeapFrog, but there are plenty of other players aiming to put tech in your child's hands. Among them is Polaroid, whose new Kids Tablet 2 ships with a durable rubber design and a host of apps featuring popular characters from Disney and Marvel. Is this $99 Polaroid slate the picture-perfect kids tab?
Unlike its horizontally minded kiddy competitors, the Polaroid Kids Tablet 2 (also known as the V2) is designed to be used in portrait mode. The slate's 7-inch, 1024 x 600 display is surrounded by rubber-covered control buttons on the left and right when holding the slate vertically. Volume controls rest under your left thumb, with Power, Home and Back sitting under your right.
The Kids Tablet 2's plastic colored edges (available in orange, blue and purple) are sandwiched by two white soft-touch panels, with a 0.3-MP lens on the front panel and a 2-MP camera on the back. The backside sports two raised vertical grips to complement the slate's portrait-mode focus, which make a nice complement to the tablet's comfortable outer coverings.
All of the Kids Tablet 2's ports lie on the bottom edge, which hosts a headphone jack, power input, lock switch and SD Card slot.
The slate feels slightly bulky at 15.5 ounces, which is heavier than the Fire HD 7 (13.9 ounces) and XO Tablet without its cover (12.6 ounces), but lighter than both the Nabi 2 (1.3 pounds) and the covered XO Tablet (1 pound).
The 7-inch Polaroid Kids Tablet 2 has the same 1024 x 600 resolution as the XO Tablet and the Nabi 2, though its screen isn't quite as sharp as the 1280 x 800 Kindle Fire HD. We were underwhelmed with the V2's display at first, as the large app icons on the home screen looked a bit dull and pixelated.
Despite the slate's low resolution, the 1080p trailer for "Iron Man 3" looked surprisingly sharp on the device. We were able to see the finer details of Tony Stark's lightly bearded face, and the trailer's many explosions retained their impact. However, the on-screen action seemed to blend together during an underwater scene, and there was some noticeable pixelation in the film's logo. The slate's left and right viewing angles held up well when watching the video in landscape mode, though colors became inverted fast when we tilted the V2 upward.
The V2's average brightness of 196 lux can't hold a candle to the 436-lux Fire HD and 359-lux tablet average. Still, Polaroid's tablet outshines the kid-friendly XO Tablet (155 lux) and Nabi 2 (162 lux).
The Kids Tablet 2's stereo speakers are serviceable, but far from room-filling. The soaring vocals of Imagine Dragons' "Radioactive" sounded canned on the V2, and the drums and guitars became a muffled, low-volume mess in the background.
The less intense "Royals" by Lorde sounded clearer on the child slate, as we were able to distinguish the track's lush vocal harmonies. However, the song suffered from low overall volume.
The V2 runs a custom version of Android 4.2, with lots of colorful widgets and icons aimed at the young user. The slate's familiar lock screen sports the time at the top and an unlock slider at the bottom.
The V2's main home screen puts its children's content front and center, with six large, multicolored icons for the slate's key apps--Kids Cam, Videos, Music Studio, Safe Browser, Books and Draw. Swiping to the left reveals featured games and links to the V2's custom App Shop, while sliding to the right allows you to access the Arcade, Talking Ginger and Learn & Play apps. There are two blank home screens to the far left and right, bringing the total to five.
The top bar on the V2's home screen has an icon on the top left that allows little ones to instantly change the background, with an "All Apps" icon in the center and a settings icon at the top right.
The bottom bar sports icons for Back, Home and volume control on the left, with the time and wireless connection displayed on the right. Sliding up from the right side of this bar pulls up a list of notifications, as well as an icon for entering the full Android settings menu.
Parental Controls and Safe Browsing
The V2 operates as a standard Android tablet, but parents can activate the kid-friendly Safe Mode to limit the type of content their little ones can access. Accessing Parental Controls and toggling Safe Mode off both require a password. The slate's Parental Controls menu allows you to deny access to any application installed on the V2 when Safe Mode is on.
When we opted to block the tablet's Browser app and switched to Safe Mode, the application simply didn't appear in our menu.
There's no clear way to block specific websites on the V2, though you can block browser apps in favor of the included Maxthon Kid-Safe Browser. This app provides links to 24 tyke-friendly websites by default, with offerings like Cartoon Network, Nick, Sesame Street, NFL and Hasbro. If you'd like to add websites to the browser, you have to answer a math problem (ours was 12 x 100 divided by 2) and set a password from the app. Doing so opens up more kid-friendly choices such as StudyJams and KidzClix, as well as the ability to put any Web page in the browser menu.
We tried visiting websites not on the browser's list such as IGN.com, Laptopmag.com and CNN.com, and were denied access every time. We also were unable to follow ad links on the app's supported websites.
A kiddy tablet is only as entertaining as its software, and the V2 offers more than 70 games, apps and e-books right out of the box. Some of these apps are more enjoyable than others, but overall we were impressed with the amount of quality content that ships with the slate.
If you've got a young gamer in the household, the V2's Arcade portal provides access to 30 games, including puzzle, arcade and action titles. We had fun with simple touch games such as "Frog Pop'n" and adventure romps like "Konchi's Quest," though games such as "Space Rush" were a bit unresponsive during our playtime.
The slate packs an intuitive drawing app powered by Drawing Pad, which allows kids to let their imaginations run wild with a slew of digital crayons, paintbrushes, markers and stickers. Your child can flex his or her DJ skills with the easy-to-use Music Studio app, which allows little ones to make songs by tapping a series of colorful on-screen bubbles.
The Learn & Play app contains basic activities like Connect the Dots and Memory Match, while the Talking Ginger app allows tykes to interact with a virtual cat.
The V2 is a dependable tool for boosting your child's reading skills, as it packs more than 20 books featuring the well-loved characters of Disney and Marvel. Using the likes of Mickey Mouse, Wreck It Ralph and Captain America, these books are built to engage young bookworms with audio narration and an impressive level of interactivity. For example, while reading "The Amazing Spider-Man: An Origin Story," we had to shake our V2 in order to get a radioactive spider off of Peter Parker's hands.
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If you want to diversify your child's app suite, the V2 has a proprietary AppShop with dozens of free and paid apps sorted by genre and age range. Your kid won't find the likes of "Angry Birds" or "Cut the Rope" here, but there are some recognizable names like "Play Doh: Create ABCs."
The tablet's FreePlay icon on the home screen puts the AppShop's free games front and center, allowing your kids to instantly download titles like "Asteroid Defense Lite" and "Galaxy Bowling 3D Free."
Unlike the XO Tablet and the Nabi 2, the Kids Tablet 2 does not feature Google Play for downloading apps. However, you can download six additional app stores from the Parental Controls menu, including the Amazon Appstore, Opera 12, SlideME Market, 1Mobile Market, GetJar, and Mobihand. Aside from the Amazon market, all of the V2's featured app stores consist of free software and do not require credit card information.
The Polaroid V2 is powered by a 1.6-GHz dual-core Cortex A9 processor with 1GB of RAM. By comparison, the XO Tablet packs a 1.64-GHz dual-core ARM processor, the Fire HD runs on a 1.2 GHz dual-core TI-OMAP CPU, and the Nabi 2 contains a beefier quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor.
Polaroid's tablet provided decent performance during basic tasks. The slate took an average of 2.1 seconds to transition from the home screen to the camera app, and an even faster 1.3 seconds to do the reverse. Additionally, it took an average of 2.2 seconds to transition from portrait to landscape mode. We've seen much worse.
While we had a few hiccups playing the combat game "Space Rush," gaming was largely smooth on the V2. We were able to pop kernel after kernel without a hitch in "Ninja Popcorn," and "Frog Pop'n" ran at a consistent clip as more and more frogs attempted to eat our dragonflies.
The V2 netted 2,920 on the Quadrant benchmark, topping the Fire HD 7 (2,167) and XO Tablet (2,272) but falling short of the Nabi 2's score of 3,964 and the tablet category average of 5,535.
The Polaroid slate scored a 2,891 on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited graphics test, falling far below the 8,066 category average but outperforming the XO Tablet's score of 1,583.
At least for a Polaroid device, this tablet's cameras aren't great. The self- portrait we took with the 0.3-MP front camera was lacking in color and detail. Our strands of facial stubble seemed to blend together and our gray hoodie looked black.
The 2-MP rear camera fared only slightly better. The bright blues and yellows of our small desk toys were preserved in our shots, but the overall images were slightly blurred and pixelated.
The included Kids Cam app offers custom frames for your shots, so your little one can become a cowboy, a cat, Einstein or the Statue of Liberty.
While there's plenty of entertaining content on the V2, the fun might get cut short if the device isn't plugged in. Polaroid's tablet lasted through just 4 hours and 35 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test, which consists of surfing the Web over Wi-Fi on 40 percent brightness. The XO Tablet (6:04) and Fire HD 7 (7:30) lasted much longer, and the Nabi 2 almost doubled the V2's battery life at 8 hours and 5 minutes. The V2 also fell way short of the 7:37 tablet average.
The Polaroid Kids Tablet 2 isn't the most robust kids tablet on the market, but it packs a solid helping of quality kids' content for an inviting $99. Your child will get hours of fun out of the games, creativity apps and interactive Marvel and Disney books, and the camera app will allow your kid to put together some amusing shots.
We found the V2's Parental Controls satisfactory, but the tablet's weak battery life is hard to overlook when the Nabi 2 lasts almost twice as long. The Polaroid V2 is a pretty good choice at an ultra-low price, but we still recommend the $179 Nabi 2 or the $139 Amazon Kindle Fire HD if you've got the extra cash to spare.