oung children may be smart enough to know how to use a tablet, but how much better if it is it made with the child in mind? And is designed to better suit small hands? That’s where the FunTab Pro comes in. This 7-inch Android-based tablet has an ergonomic shape with “bumps” on the back for easy gripping, comes with a range of ports at the bottom beneath the bezel hidden from view and includes a speaker and front/rear camera.
The adult, in this case me, had to do some basic setup functions before turning it over to a friend’s 6 year old to play with. This consisted of setting the clock and configuring to the wireless home network using WPA2. Then an icon to represent the child was selected, her age entered and the Zoodles kids mode that is layered on top of the interface activated (this can be disabled at any time).
The six year old “signed in” by touching her icon, although we could have taken a picture of her to use instead. We looked at the initial “Home” screen together — tabs run across the top for gaming, art, books and favorites. A press of each tab brought up large and colorful icons that relate to the tab; all being age appropriate. The FunTab Pro comes preinstalled with a wide assortment of games and books, some of them requiring a download when chosen and many are the “free” versions, although in some cases in-game purchases will be needed to go beyond the unlocked levels. Small icons at the bottom left of the screen bring the user back to the “Home” screen along with going back one step or accessing a list of options such as going to the video section, which has a few animated videos preloaded (playback didn’t didn’t stutter or slow down when I tried it, but “stair-casing” of lines was evident at times due to the low resolution). Two can view together, but moving off of center to the sides of the screen will lose brightness rapidly.
The biggest consideration for the FunTab Pro, as I see it, is whether the touch screen functions efficiently and has a rapid response, since children and patience don’t go together. The tablet was responsive to the girl’s taps and there wasn’t any lag to speak of when playing a game where animation was key (or when accessing the onscreen keyboard). I verified this by bringing up the art program — basically it’s finger painting — and drew squiggly lines across the screen which weren’t so far behind that it would try a child’s patience. The tablet has auto save functions so that creations don’t get lost. This also works in conjunction with the camera (both still and video) which has decent resolution for the rear and mild for the front-facing camera. The “shutter button” is large and easy to press. But if any real shooting is to be done, especially if its video (the digital zoom is useful but degrades the standard-def image rapidly), having an SD card connected for storage becomes vital. The front camera can be used for a video mail function for chosen friends and family, should the adult be willing to set it up.
I was also pleased to see how the interface handled the storybooks: they can be read by a female voice that is pleasant and natural-sounding, but it’s also possible for the child or adult to record themselves reading. The resolution of the large text and the pictures were clear and easily discernible. This was less true of the kid-safe web browser as the 800 x 480 resolution of the screen made text a little bit fuzzy looking.
The child can decide on apps to download — but the adult must do this outside of the Zoodles interface. Ematic offers a “premium” mode that adds to and enhances the options of the tablet, but there is a monthly charge for this. Whether this has value or not is up to the parent to decide. But getting progress reports as to how the child is using the tablet is built-in, as is customization ability through the Zoodle’s website. I also found I was able to keep the tablet going for more than 4 hours at a clip (Ematic says it’s good for up to 8). So under normal circumstances, like a moderate car ride or afternoon play date, the FunTab Pro will not run out of power.
Bottom line: At $149.99 retail, the 7 inch FunTab Pro tablet may not be the cheapest choice, but it does run Android’s 4.0 OS (Ice Cream Sandwich) for general use, with the Zoodle kid interface providing a safe and stable platform for children to play with. It’s a good way to give the child a tablet she can call her own.