VTech’s tablets and other kids’ gadgets have always focused on creating a child-safe walled garden, but it’s fallen far short of having an ecosystem like what children can get on an iPad or Amazon Fire Kids Edition. Its new Android tablet for children four and older opens things up a bit by allowing app downloads from outside the VTech ecosystem, as well as messaging with iOS and Android devices — all with a parent’s supervision.
The unnamed handset is being billed as a “smart communication and gaming device,” and that’s what the 40 included apps generally focus on. There are learning games for subjects like math, spelling and music in keeping with VTech’s general product line. But there’s also a web browser with parental controls so a child can do a little surfing over WiFi in their downtime.
The included messaging app, KidiCom, allows kids to send text, pictures and small animations to people on their contact list, even if they’re not using a VTech device. Anyone with an Android or iOS can download the program and request permission to chat — but first, they have to be approved by the child’s guardian, who can also review all communications to make sure things are on the up and up.
If a kid gets tired of learning and chatting, or just wants to check out some hot new app, parents have the ability to download new programs onto the device via the Amazon app store. It’s not quite Amazon’s robust Freetime Unlimited service — parents will have to pick out content à la carte and pay for some apps, but it’s definitely a much larger selection of content than VTech can provide on its own.
The 5-inch touchscreen isn’t exactly Gorilla Glass but it is shatter resistant, and the device is chunky thanks to the generous bumpers on each side. A 2MP camera at the top does double duty as both a front and back shooter thanks to the ability to swivel. And if your kid fills up the 8GB tablet with apps or photos, no need to worry — the device takes microSD cards up to 32GB.
The tablet might not have a name yet, but it’ll run you $100 when it’s released this fall. That’s the same amount a Fire Kids Edition costs, which at this point offers you a lot of the same features and content along with a two-year protection plan. The inter-device messaging is certainly intriguing though, and hopefully won’t suffer from any privacy breaches like the one that plagued the company a few years ago.