Built with Junior in mind, the $269 Fuhu Nabi DreamTab is friendly-looking, offers a bright screen and speedy performance, and has some amazing parental controls. Parents can set time limits, approve apps, check homework and supervise chores, all through the interface. But that's not enough to send this slate to the head of the class.
The Fuhu Nabi DreamTab looks and feels like something little hands would grab onto and not let go of. The 8-inch display is rimmed by a shiny white face. Two speakers adorn the sides, if you hold the tablet in landscape mode. When we slid on the company's signature red bumper, the tablet took on an even more kidlike look.
A rough-feeling backside featuring a diamond pattern surrounds a notched middle section that can be used to attach the company's optional silicone tiles, called Kinabis. On the top right corner of the back you'll find a 5-MP camera with a flash. It's a slightly awkward placement, as we can foresee little people being confused when their line of sight doesn't match up with the camera.
Various slots and control buttons rim the edges. A pressure-sensitive stylus is housed in a slot on the bottom left side, while a microSD Card slot is on the top right edge. The proprietary charging port is on the bottom edge.
Measuring 9.3 x 6.39 x 0.83 inches and weighing 1.46 pounds, the DreamTab (with bumper) is smaller, but heavier than the $229 Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7 inch (7.3 x 5 x 0.35 inches, 10.7 ounces) and the $189 Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 7.0 Kids (7.4 x 4.3 x 0.34 inches, 14.55 ounces). While we didn't mind the heft, we can see small arms getting tired during long sessions.
The DreamTab can get warm during use. After streaming a Hulu video for 15 minutes, we measured 99 degrees on the upper portion of the tablet's backside. We consider anything over 95 degrees to be uncomfortable, but we've seen worse on other tablets, such as the 104-degree Toshiba Encore 2.
Click to EnlargeThe 8-inch, 1920 x 1200-pixel resolution screen on the Nabi DreamTab is better than most of its competitors. Sure, the 7-inch Kindle Fire HDX has the same resolution, but the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 7.0 Kids sports a 7-inch, 1024 x 600-pixel display. The latter's resolution is common to many kid-focused tablets.
At 437 lux, the DreamTab was as bright as the Kindle Fire HDX and a hair brighter than the Samsung's 436 lux. The tablet category as a whole is much dimmer, averaging 265 lux. However, you won't be taking this tablet with you to the park, as it was almost impossible to see the screen in direct sunlight.
Although the display's colors aren't accurate (see Delta-E result in our benchmarks), colors definitely popped when we were playing games and watching cartoons. On a high-definition trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy, explosions leaped off the screen, and the green skin on Zoe Saldana was downright eerie.
Prepare to have the kiddies plug in some headphones, because the volume from the stereo speakers on the DreamTab will definitely stand out. On the Laptop Audio Test, in which we measure the volume of a single tone from a distance of 13 inches, this slate pumped out 91 decibels. That's orders of magnitude louder than the 80-dB tablet average, the 77 dB of the Kindle Fire HDX 7 inch and the 78 dB of the Galaxy Tab 3 7 Kids.
The bass was nonexistent on Katy Perry's "Dark Horse," and the top-end cymbals distorted to sound a bit fuzzy. We noticed similar distortion on Bastille's "Pompeii." The difference between the beat, claps and synthesizer rhythm got a bit difficult to make out. Lyrics rang out clearly, however. Thankfully, the audio quality cleared up as soon as we plugged in our trusty V-Moda headphones.
Click to EnlargeThe first glance at the home screen makes it unmistakably clear that the DreamTab was created in conjunction with DreamWorks cartoon studio. In the background of the default lock screen, kids will be delighted to see Alex, Po, Toothless and Shrek from four of the studio's most popular movies. The DreamWorks logo of the boy sitting on a moon sliver even sits next to the Nabi logo on the main screen.
Android 4.3 Jelly Bean powers the basic functionality of the Nabi DreamTab, but Fuhu adds an overlay that the company calls Blue Morpho, which includes more than 400 new and kid-focused features. The Blue Morpho overlay is persistent, regardless of whether you're in kid mode or in the parental area.
Click to EnlargeThe OS features oversized square app icons, perfect for little hands that haven't mastered fine motor control. Sadly, you cannot customize on which screens each app appears. An icon in the top right corner opens the app drawer and at the bottom of the screen you'll see a back button, a home button and a three-lined menu button.
Click to EnlargeParents can set up separate environments for up to 10 different children. Eleven home screens can be flipped through in Nabi mode, which is how each child will interact with the DreamTab. Most of the home screens house between five and eight preloaded apps, games and content portals for music, books and video. We particularly liked Nabi Radio, powered by Fanlala Radio, which is a tween streaming-music service akin to a child-friendly Pandora. Channels such as Boy Bands, Beiberbeats, K-Pop and Princess music are sure to bring out the star in your child.
Click to EnlargeThe Dream Pro Studio is a unique home page on this or any other tablet. Here kids can tap Editor, Draw or Animator to foster their inner animation artists. In these various areas, your little filmmaker can draw, add layers, clip pieces of video and create movies, but we imagine the finer points of this will require an older child to understand. We had trouble making anything approximating quality, but more from a lack of experience using these types of tools than from being confused by them.
Through Nabi Friends and Messaging, kids can chat with a select and preapproved list of people via another Nabi tablet. In Chores, kids can see what mom or dad expect them to do to earn Nabi Coins. Those coins can then be used in the Treasure Box, a store where kids can get apps, games, TV shows and movies. All of this requires mom or dad to set things up in the Mommy or Daddy Mode.
Click to EnlargeWhile parents can access the Google Play Store, the Fuhu Nabi DreamTab comes with 69 apps, many of which follow the DreamWorks theme, and some with education in mind.
For instance, Madagascar Math Ops require children to solve two math problems before playing an Angry Birds-style shooter using penguins to liberate the Madagascar crew from cages. Mantis and Crane sends these two supporting characters from Kung Fu Panda to fight against crocodiles with swords. Non-DreamWorks games such as Riptide GP2 and Fruit Ninja HD can also be found.
The education apps on the DreamTab go far beyond games. The Kno.com Textbooks apps allow kids to add actual textbook or course work through their school; parents who teach from home might appreciate this in particular. The app can be used to track your child's study habits as well as learning progress, but has high-school-age kids in mind.
Click to EnlargeFuhu preloads its own learning software, called Wings. This Common Core learning software is built for children pre-K through 6th grade. There are 3,000 lessons with 50,000 questions targeting everything from math and reading to art and music. As children progress through the app they can earn points toward movie or app downloads. Parents can track time spent, skills improved and academic proficiency.
Two separate University apps offer educational lessons for grades Kindergarten through 5th grade. For instance, in University Science, kids are given a statement about the nature of atoms, electrons and neutrons, and are then asked a series of quizlike questions. All in all, the number of options for learning on the DreamTab -- while laudable -- seems like overkill.
Click to EnlargeThe number of ways for kids to watch videos through the preloaded programs was equally mind-boggling. Nabi Video lets kids create their own Spotify-like channels for video based on kid-friendly YouTube videos or based on characters such as Dory from Finding Nemo. Using the basic Video app, kids will find a large variety of programming on DreamWorks and non-DreamWorks videos, including Lego Pirates of the Caribbean and Toy Story shorts or even Mister Rogers or Sesame Street.
There are shorts from DreamWorks major films that appear as standalone apps, including Kung Fu Panda, Shrek, Madagascar, How to Train Your Dragon and Turbo. Plus, the full-length Turbo movie is preloaded. The Cartoon Network app also brings tons of video programming to young minds.
If mom signs up for it, kids can access Spinlets+ TV, which contains more than 700 hours of kid-friendly programming from Cookie Jar entertainment. A subscription will run you $2.99 per month, but you do get a free 30-day trial. You can get a similar deal through Spinlets+ Music, but the Nabi Radio app is subscription-free.
Click to EnlargeNabi Books, oddly, doesn't bring you books to read. It lets you create your own, by taking or using existing pictures and then adding text. We found this a disconnect, considering how straightforwardly other apps were named.
Unless you're in Daddy Mode, there is no way to check recently opened apps to get back to that show or game your child is demanding to see again. If you don't remember which video app you were in, you may be up a creek filled with children's tears.
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Click to EnlargeKeeping with the theme of too many ways to do the same thing, there are three different methods kids could use to surf the Web on the Nabi DreamTab. The Nabi Web app is a preselected list of sites that your child might enjoy, including DreamWorks sites for the various big-name movies such as Shrek or Kung Fu Panda. Here you can also gain access to Sesame Street and a few other sites, which parents can personalize by white-listing specific websites.
Fooz Kids Web functions much the same way as Nabi Web. Here you'll find a separate list of preselected websites for cartoons such as Pokemon, Arthur and Dexter's Laboratory. Such approved sites on this browser as Between the Lions lets kids play games, watch video clips and have stories read to them. You can also white-list specific sites here.
A couple more home screens over, the Maxthon Kid-Friendly Browser also offers access to yet another preapproved list of kid-friendly websites. This list too includes Arthur, but also has some new ones loaded by default such as Crayola Kids and National Geographic Kids. This is the only browser with a URL address bar, but your child will be restricted from accessing most of the Web. By default, you cannot even open Google.com, but you can white-list other sites if you want. We found this browser to be the most useful.
Of course, through the Google Play store, you can always download the Chrome browser as well.
Click to EnlargeTapping the menu button on the bottom of the screen brings up a bar of options, including Chore List, Settings, Camera, Web (for Nabi Web) and Home. In the middle of the bar is Nabi Daddy Mode (this can also be set to say Mommy Mode).
Entering the parental control mode requires a password, as you'd expect. Once in, you'll see some more familiar apps, such as Google's Play store, a Google folder of apps such as YouTube or Gmail and a Settings app. Along the bottom are apps designed to helpfully troubleshoot any problems that might arise with the tablet. Through the Fan A Tech app you can see the user forums, complete with video tutorials. Nabi MD gives you a report on the available storage and battery status of the tablet, while Nabi Cares takes parents to the Support pages on the Nabi site.
Click to EnlargeSeveral other apps are fairly self-explanatory, such as Nabi Clock, Nabi Cloud for accessing the device's video and photos, and Chore List where Mom or Dad can check off if a child has completed his or her duties for the week. This is also where parents can buy Nabi Coins, which can be used to purchase apps or movies, and reward kids for completing tasks. We really like that you can give your child an allowance, in essence, in Nabi Coins. And that those coins are tied to educational activities or chores.
You can add apps to the parents' side of the tablet through the Play store, but to add them to Nabi mode you must tap the Add Apps app and check off the ones you want your child to use. Confusingly, App Zone is another way to get kid-friendly apps. Here you can search for apps by age range, category, top rated, free or paid as well as bundles. You can also get movies and TV shows in the same way through App Zone.
In the Bookstore app, you can purchase new lessons for the Wings educational program. For instance, the Kindergarten Reading package will cost you $19.99, which seems fairly hefty.
The Fooz Kids app takes you online to the dashboard for managing your child's Fooz program account. This ties into many of the Nabi apps, including the Maxthon browser, Chore List and Video apps. Here parents can tweak content and settings per child.
Click to EnlargeTime Controls does about what you'd expect, and is very similar to what you'd find in Amazon's parental controls. This app lets you specify exactly how much time a child spends with what types of media or with the tablet in general. Interestingly, you can also specify that your child must spend an hour exercising or earn more time watching videos if they complete some Wings lessons. Plus, parents can get a per-child report that says what apps were used and for how long in the last week.
The NSA app, specifically named to evoke the big-brotherlike behavior of the National Security Agency, allows parents to see all the communications a child has with others through the tablet. That includes setting up a child's friend list, if a child can take photos, what the child has said in an email or whom the child is chatting with. We found the NSA association a bit creepy, but it does make the app's intention clear.
Some parents may appreciate the fact that this is the first tablet designed with COPPA rules in mind. That means the content on the tablet conforms to the FTC's Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. In other words, no data will be collected for children under the age of 13. A child's identity, even when chatting with friends, will be shielded. And nothing can be done on the tablet without a parent's consent, which is always helpful.
Click to EnlargeThe Fuhu didn't skimp on the specs for the Nabi DreamTab. The 1.6-GHz quad-core Nvidia Tegra 4 CPU with 2GB of RAM kept things snappy, for the most part. We noticed a 1-second lag in switching between Nabi and Daddy Modes, as well as switching from landscape to portrait mode. But we liked the realistic-looking water effects and smooth gameplay of Riptide 2.
The Kindle Fire HDX 7 inch, by comparison, runs a more powerful 2.2-GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 CPU, while the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 7.0 Kids tablet runs a much less powerful 1.2-GHz dual-core Marvell processor with 1GB of RAM.
On the Quadrant synthetic benchmark, which measures overall performance, the DreamTab scored 17,241. That's less than the Fire HDX 7's 19,924, but above the pitiful 3,671 scored by the Tab 3 7.0.
On the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited graphics test, the DreamTab scored an impressive 15,815, considering the tablet average is just 9,972. But the Fire HDX 7 is still better, with a score of 16,201. The Tab 3 7.0 Kids scored just 1,970.
Using Vidtrim, the DreamTab transcoded a 1080p video to 480p in 3 minutes and 48 seconds. That blows away the Fire HDX 7 (4:42) and the Tab 3 7.0 (13:25).
App load times were also good, as the DreamTab launched the N.O.V.A. 3 game in 19 seconds, where the Samsung kids' tablet took 28 seconds. And it took about 14 seconds to load Despicable Me: Minion Rush, which is about 12 seconds faster than on the Kindle Fire HDX.
Click to EnlargeSurprisingly, Fuhu includes grown-up cameras on its DreamTab kiddie tablets. On the front sits a 2-MP shooter, and on the back is a 5-MP camera. Other kid-friendly slates often offer less powerful options, like on the Galaxy Tab 3 7 Kids (1.3 MP and 3 MP, respectively). The mainstream Kindle Fire HDX 7 inch features a 5-MP rear camera and a 720p front camera.
Click to EnlargeSadly, images shot outdoors on a sunny day seemed to show the colors and vibrancy of a foggy, gray day. Colors of a purple tree appeared brownish and muted. The New York skyline looked dim. Indoor shots of a Pop bobblehead of Daenerys Targaryen were downright grainy.
Similarly, selfies taken inside weren't great. Every facial blemish seemed amplified and a bit fuzzy.
The Fuhu Nabi DreamTab lasted 5 hours and 27 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi with the display set at 150 nits. That's one way to limit your child's time spent using a tablet, but not our preferred method. Using an earlier version of our battery test that set brightness at 40 percent, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 7.0 Kids lasted for 8:13 and the Kindle Fire HDX 7 inch survived a bit longer (8:39). The overall tablet average is 7:42.
Fuhu has built a full universe of accessories and add ons for the company's devices. Specifically for the DreamTab, you'll find the Kinabi packs of letters for $24.99 or picture tab packs for $12.99. The Paper FX frames, which surround the screen with characters from your child's favorite DreamWorks films, will cost you $7.99. A plastic logo of the company that can help organize the tablet's power cord is $6.99. Sadly, because the company uses a proprietary charging port, a 4-foot replacement cord will cost you $14.99.
Beyond that, on the company's site you'll find backpacks, briefcases, headphones, cameras, tablet stands, car chargers and screen protectors. Plus, Fuhu curates a toy store on its site as well, for third-party items such as wooden blocks and musical instruments.
Click to EnlargeSure, the Nabi DreamTab is cute and friendly-looking. And for those parents already entrenched in the Fuhu Nabi universe of accessories and apps, we can see the DreamTab being a logical upgrade. However, for $70 less, the more powerful Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7-inch tablet also comes with some helpful parental controls. It doesn't have the educational bent of the DreamTab, but many will find its simplicity more appealing. Plus, 3 more hours of battery life is tough to scoff at. While the parental controls are impressive and we appreciated the high-resolution screen and peppy performance, the plethora of apps on the DreamTab that do the same thing was too confusing.