Should You Buy a Toddler a Tablet? How About a $480 Tablet?

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This year’s “it” gift for the holidays seems to the tablet. Apple‘s iPad has remained in strong demand from the get-go, and the rest of the tablet and e-reader market has gotten hot because so many affordable options have hit the marketplace. Another reason tablets are hot: They appeal to all age groups, even kids.

Should a child be given an expensive gadget to mess around with, though? Relatively speaking, a tablet at the lower end of the price spectrum actually isn’t that expensive. The cheaper models cost less than a typical gaming system.

When the craze over the $99 HP TouchPad took place over the summer, one of the suggested uses for the newly cheap tablet was to hand it over to a child. You wouldn’t do that with a $500 iPad, let alone an $800 version. But for a gadget that’s $100 or under? Go nuts, many parents would say.

Instead of giving a child a cheap tablet that’s designed for adults, you could consider a tablet made specifically for kids. There are a handful of such devices, and they range in price from around the price of the cheaper adult tablets, up to the iPad price stratosphere.

(MORE: Holiday Price Wars: Hot Market for e-Readers Under $100, Tablets Under $200)

Consumer Reports recently did its typical job on the child tablet marketing, offering in-depth analysis and reviews—with the help of some volunteers in the target market (kids). The most eye-popping model (in good and bad ways) reviewed was the Vinci Tab VH-2001. It had the “best display and touch screen interface” of the bunch, but it also cost $480—about five times as much as the other models.

Not only is the Vinci tablet the most expensive model reviewed, it also is recommended for the youngest age group: ages 1, 2, and 3, primarily. Accordingly, all of CR’s volunteer reviewers were 4 or under.

Needless to say, the CR review concludes that the Vinci probably isn’t worth the money, especially given that several parents weren’t impressed with it:

Some parents with children who used the other tablets in addition to the Vinci noted that, by comparison, the Vinci was less intuitive. One said the ViNCi was “definitely not as intuitive or user friendly for a smaller child.” Another with several children said a 7-month-old tester “tried to eat it several times.”

Based on my fairly extensive experience with 7-month-olds, that sounds about right.

(RealSimple.comOne-Day Holiday and Christmas Shopping Plan)

But, if a child is old enough to know that a tablet isn’t food, and if a parent is comfortable with a child having a tablet all to him or herself, which tablet is best? Overall, the strongest case can be made for the LeapPad LeapFrog ($100):

For our child testers, the LeapPad was the easiest tablet to use and also the most fun. Eighty percent of our young testers said they would like to own it. One tester’s parent said, “He really enjoyed it and now asked me to buy one.”

Based on my fairly extensive experience with children, that too sounds about right: “That’s cool! Buy me one.”

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.
MORE: Why Some Experts Say the Best Toys Are Free

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