V-Tech InnoTab Tablet for children review

As any self-respecting gadgeteer parent, I put a lot of thought towards the appropriate gadgets for my son. As Christmas approached last year I had decided to get him a tablet, and had my list down to the V-Tech and LeapPad Tablets when V-Tech offered one for a review. Unfortunately (for me) last Christmas was a hot season for this gadget, and they were unable to get a review unit to us until well after the first of the year, so I actually had to brave the stores and buy one myself. I still ended up with the InnoTab, and this has been a main stay in our house since Christmas. With all the tablets out there, is there really a need for a kid’s tablet? Let’s explore.

In The Box

Specs

  • 5″ color touch screen
  • Tilt-sensor
  • Cartridge slot for additional cartridges
  • 64MB onboard memory and SD card slot for memory expansion (SD memory card not included. InnoTab supports SD/SDHC memory cards between the sizes of 2GB and 16GB.)
  • 4 different media players: E-Book reader, MP3 music player, photo viewer and video player
  • Mini-USB connector (cable included)
  • Speaker and Headphone Jack
  • Requires 4 AA batteries or AC Adapter (not included)

I liked that it supports an SD card, and quickly added one I had so that I could download applications and photos. I also like that it uses a standard USB cable, but at this stage in the gadget world, I wish they used micro-USB instead of Mini. Not a difference in function, but I have a lot of Micro-USB cables for gadgets now, and have to dig up the mini every time I want to connect. I was disappointed that it did not come with rechargeable batteries that could be recharged in the tablet, but there is always the trade off of being able to quickly buy some AA batteries in a pinch. I bought 8 rechargeable AAs, and keep them in a cycle.

Expectation Management

When looking at a kid’s gadget you need to keep in mind what is important for this use. I consider the following:

  1. Safety. No hard edges, no small pieces.
  2. Durability. This goes hand in hand with #1. If it easily breaks, those pieces could cause harm. Also, kids are not the most careful with their toys, so it needs to absorb some abuse.
  3. Ease of Use. This is somewhat subjective, but if it is not accessible to the kid, it’s going to end up gathering dust.
  4. Low maintenance. What I mean by that is how much time you as a parent need to change batteries, update software, or get the child started.

Notice, I did not include fast processor, tons of storage, high-resolution screen, or many other things I would look for in a tablet. If you go into this review seeing how this stacks up performance wise against the iPad, or the Nexus tablet, or any other mainstream tablet you can stop right now. It doesn’t. Not in the performance we as adults care about. But on the four items I listed, it stands a chance.

Quick Tour

The tablet is nicely designed with a kid in mind. The corners are rubberized for the inevitable fall, and while I like my gadgets with less and less bezel, but this is a kids’ tablet, and  it had a nice bezel for them to grab. On one side, you have a slot for cartridges. There is also a stylus and a USB port. I was suspicious of the stylus. How useful would my son find it, and how soon would he lose it were top of mind. Turns out, he liked it and has never misplaced it. He doesn’t use it every time, but does enjoy using it with the drawing application. I have not bought any cartridges. You will find a number of branded games and activities, including Disney titles, but I stick with the downloaded applications. Many of those applications can be as little as $1.99. The cartridges are typically $20-25. The corner contains the headphone and AC Adapter ports. I have used the headphone jack for testing, but I am still a little concerned with getting my son plugged into headphones. The AC Adapter does not come with the tablet, so I did not test that. It won’t recharge the batteries, as they are standard AA cells. On the other side you the screen lock button. The back of the device has the cover for the batteries and a pull out stand. The stand is easy to pull out and collapse. My son uses it periodically, without any prompting, or much demonstration from dad. Inside the battery compartment, you have spots for the 4 AA cells, a standard watch battery to retain settings between battery changes, and a slot for a standard SD card.

Usability

This tablet quickly became one of my son’s favorite things. He brings it many places, and it is fun to watch him explain its use to other kids. I am not crazy about the response of the touch screen (being used to capacitive touch screens), but my son has no issues, and I have even watched him suggest to a friend how to use his fingernail to get a better response – a technique I long ago forgot with newer touch screens. There is a pleasant voice that guides your child through the use of the tablet. Instead of a simple dialog that simply asks “are you sure?”, you get a voice asking your child if they are sure they want to do something (like delete a picture) and what the implication is.

The tablet also lets you set up multiple users, not an issue for our 1-child household, but helpful for tablets that will be shared. When I finally received the unit for testing, I gave it to some friends that conveniently have four children in the 3-9 range. I’m told it is quite the hot item in the household. She did observe that with her youngest, she thought adding an avatar to the name list would be an aid in sharing the tablet.

Applications

The tablet comes with a number of nice applications. The e-reader application is really nice; my son loved the book What’s That Noise. Again, the tablet walks them through how to use the application, and there are a number of hot spots they can tap and explore. There is the Art Studio application with lots of tools and colors to explore as well as a very cool Color & Pop application that lets them color a picture. We have downloaded a couple of e-books and games to add the tablet, and they have been mostly high quality and engaging. It can be difficult to determine the quality ahead of time, but I have only downloaded two bad ones, and they are very inexpensive. You can download applications by loading the Windows or OSX application on your PC and hooking the tablet up. It is a very simple process. If, however, you don’t want to go that route, you can always purchase cartridges.

Batteries

I understand the cost savings involved in using standard AA batteries over some sort of rechargeable system, but I would have liked that as an option. Also, the ability to check the charge would be an added benefit. It does warn you when it is getting low, but heading off on a car trip it would be nice to do a quick check to see if you are better off changing now. In a one child household, I find the battery life very acceptable. From my friend, I hear they go through batteries fairly quick. I think and investment in rechargeables would yield a nice payback on this.

Conclusion

Whenever I review a product, whether I paid for it, or received review copy, I have to ask myself if it is worth it or not. I can unequivocally say that this is worth it, and I would buy it again.

This exact model has been discontinued, but I can still use the InnoTab applications. They have upgraded the tablet with a camera, and a model with Wi-Fi for this season. I can see no reason why those updates won’t improve on the experience. If you don’t care about the camera and Wi-Fi, you may find the original on clearance.

 

Product Information

Price:69.95 for 2 (with Camera), 99.95 for 2S (with Camera and Wi-Fi)
Manufacturer:VTech
Pros:
  • Durable, Kid-Friendly Design
  • Nicely designed applications
  • Downloadable apps
Cons:
  • No built-in rechargeable batteries
Posted in: eBook Readers, Kid Gadgets, Reviews, Tablets, Ultra Portables

{ 4 comments… add one }

  • Alan December 9, 2012, 11:47 am

    I agree with this review, we are finding the battery drain the only real problem, we will need to buy some rechargeables at some point. Our daughter only uses it occassionally, but she is only 2.5yrs and has had it since last Xmas (The recommended age is 4yrs+).
    As she grows she uses it more, and will understand the software, but at the moment I sit with her when she uses it.
    I have transferred family photgraphs for her to look at and converted some videos from Sesame Street for her to watch.
    She loves the Ebooks and the interaction also the Penguin game.
    So far all we have on it are the built in apps and some items we got with our free “coins” for registering. When she is older I will buy some of the other programs/games so that I can track her abilities with the PC software.
    (Wish I waited for version2 but how were we supposed to know, she would have loved the camera).

  • Duncan December 10, 2012, 4:03 am

    My kids had one of these each for christmas last year. I’d twigged the battery issue and picked up a pile of AA nimh batteries and a 30 minute charger before the big day. Mine use theirs a lot … helped in no small part by me figuring out putting movies on there so they use them as a video player as well as for the games and mini-apps on there. Video format support is poor, I use various file sourced and then use Avidemux with info that I found online which has proven to be invaluable – M-jpeg video, Mplayer resize 480 272, 15fps, Pcm Mono 22050 Hz audio, gain set to 10.

  • Jenny Jones December 11, 2012, 4:05 am

    I prefer the Kindle Fire HD. The interface is just amazing and it’s very easy to use. We just downloaded some kid’s apps and books onto it and it was good to go. We can use it while hte kids are asleep as well so it was a great deal in my opinion. Check out the Amazon page of the Kindle Fire HD(http://bit.ly/S1CzWe) if you want to compare what they bring to the table.

  • Bryan Sherman December 11, 2012, 8:09 am

    You know, I’ve always wanted a Porsche 911, it’s my dream car, but in the end, I have to be satisfied with my Jetta TDI. Why? Because of price and functionality. That’s where I fall out on tablets for my five year old. For $70 I get a tablet designed for him, that is sturdy and meets his needs. That’s a pretty good bargain. Does it do as much as a Kindle Fire, or my Nexus 7? No, but it fully meets his needs, and frankly does kids stuff a little better than those (can’t get lost in my apps).

    So as I mentioned in the article, I think comparing the V-Tech to something like the Kindle Fire let alone an iPad or Nexus tablet is not a very helpful comparison. Even if money was no object, I would actually still prefer giving my son the V-Tech. Obviously, YMMV.

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