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Tablet gifts for the whole family

By Jean Parks

Until now, most tablets have been viewed as single-user devices, i.e. they are designed with one owner in mind rather than a shared device that the whole family can use. That leaves parents with the awkward choice of letting their kids use their own tablets – and accounts – or buying each child his or her own device.

Both options have significant drawbacks in terms of security and cost, particularly if the family’s tablet of choice is the iPad. Fortunately there are other tablets on the market that combine a multi-user experience with a lower price tag. Here are a few of the best:

Google Nexus 10

Priced at just $399 for the 16GB WiFi model, the Google Nexus 10 offers a complete tablet experience. The Nexus 10 runs Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean), sports a 10-inch Corning Gorilla Glass scratch-resistant 2560 x 1600 high-resolution display, 2GB of memory, a 5 megapixel rear-facing camera with LED flash, and a 1.9 megapixel front-facing camera for video chat. Weighing just 603 grams, the Nexus 10 provides high definition support for TV shows and movies, photo editing and sharing, and full support for the Google Play store, Chrome, Gmail, Maps, YouTube and Google+.

Google Nexus 7

If you do want to get each child his or her own device, then the Google Nexus 7 powered by the NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core processor might be just what you are looking for. Starting at just $199 for the 16GB WiFi model, the Nexus 7 offers a great educational and entertainment experience.

Multiple users and family safety
Both Nexus tablets run the Android Jelly Bean operating system. In setting up the Nexus for use by children, parents can establish a primary account, which will retain control over the adding, deleting or editing additional users. Multiple secondary accounts can be set up by tapping on ‘Settings’ and then ‘Add New User.’ Each family member then logs on using his or her unique Gmail account.

The result is a set of virtual sandboxes where children can store their own apps, pics and personal data. No information is shared across accounts and switching users is easy; just pull down the Settings shade, go back to the lock screen, and select the appropriate user icon.

Check out additional safety hints and tips from other parents at the Google Family Safety Center.

Parental controls to filter out inappropriate web content, monitor device use and set time limits for apps, games, media player and YouTube are available through Funamo. This feature-rich app offers peace of mind for parents, including the ability to alter device settings from the Web. There is a one-time license fee of $19.99, which is due after a 2-day trial period.

Microsoft Surface RT

Starting at $499 for the 32GB model, Microsoft Surface RT is powered by the Quad-core NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor and features a 10.6 inch ClearType HD Display, front and rear-facing 720p HD cameras, a full-size USB 2.0 port, and a microSDXC card reader.

Surface RT runs the Windows RT operating system, with Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013 RT Preview (Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote). Built-in apps include Windows Mail and Messaging, SkyDrive, IE 10, the Bing search engine, Xbox Music, Video, and Games.

You can further enrich the Surface experience with the addition of a spill resistant, dual keyboard/Touch Cover for $119.99 or a traditional Type Cover with a full row of function keys for $129.99.

Things to know
The Windows App Store is still relatively new and does not yet offer the range of content of Google Play or the Amazon App Store but new content is being developed and added daily.

Multiple users and family safety
Like the Nexus tablets, the first account set up on the Surface is the administrator account, with control to install apps, change system settings and manage users. It is recommended that you create user accounts for each family member to facilitate buying apps, sharing content and syncing personal preferences with other Windows 8 devices.

Microsoft Family Safety features allow you to monitor your kids' user accounts, set up age ranges for games, control when your kids use the Internet, and more. (Also see the Kurtsh blog for how to set up a Microsoft account for your child, and how to add apps and games to your child's profile.)

Kindle Fire

Based on value for money, the $199 7-inch Kindle Fire HD is my editor's pick for a budget tablet solution this Holiday season. The 1280 x 800 HD display is stunning for this price point and the Dolby audio and dual-driver stereo speakers deliver a sound quality that will really impress. The Fire HD weighs a bit more than the Nexus 7 but it's built to last and is ideal for young hands.

Things to know
The Kindle Fire runs a special version of Android adapted for the Amazon ecosystem, which means you can access the Amazon App Store but there is no native support for Google Play. Gaining access to free Amazon movies and TV shows will require a paid Amazon Prime account, which also gives you free two-day Prime shipping. Fire HD owners will also be able to borrow one book per month free from the Kindle library.

Multiple users and family safety
While the kindle Fire doesn't grant the ability to create totally separate user accounts, the new Kindle FreeTime feature allows parents to set up user profiles for each of their kids. Instead of restricting content, Freetime lets you select the books, apps, videos and games you want your kids to see. Best of all, FreeTime puts parents in control of when kids can use the device and for how long. You also have the ability to restrict games but allow reading.

In the end, your choice of tablet will come down to your budget and your preference for a particular operating system. However, each tablet gives you a way for the entire family to share a single device, while affording a certain level of protection for younger users.

What tablet options are most important for your family?

Jean Parks, aka Geekbabe, is a contributing editor for The Online Mom. Follow Jean on Twitter.

Comment by Ellen Dolgen, posted 12/19/2012, 11:45 AM:

I know nothing about technology… Loved this blog! Thanks for the info….
Comment by Maria, posted 12/19/2012, 6:17 AM:

My daughter loves her Kindle and does the job for her. I like the Nexus 7 and that different users can use it similar to a desktop. It is around the same price range too. Something to consider when we make another tablet purchase. Thank you for the information. It's a big help!!
Comment by christy, posted 12/19/2012, 1:13 AM:

the tablet is one thing I am looking into for the new year, besides being practical they are also very handy for little ones on the go.
Comment by Chloe Jeffreys, posted 12/18/2012, 8:29 PM:

Thanks for this information, Jean. I want to get my husband a device for Christmas and this really helped me make a decision.
Comment by Connie McLeod, posted 12/18/2012, 7:20 PM:

Thanks for confirming that the Kindle Fire was the right choice for my family!
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