Kids these days… you only have to walk 100m down the street to see some nipper with an iPhone. If you have a child pleading for an iPad or iPhone, Archos's new Arnova ChildPad may be of interest. It's a sub-£100 Android tablet, making it a potential low-cost rival to Apple's tab.
What is the simplest way to make something seem kid-friendly? Make it colourful. The Archos Arnova ChildPad waves goodbye to the tablet-standard black body, swapping it for a much brighter combo of blue and white.
It's an all-plastic body tablet, but the rear has a pleasant soft-touch finish - kinder on those little hands. However, aside from these small differences, the ChildPad is a dead spit for the Arnova 7b G2. It's predictable, then, that this tablet isn't any lighter than the 7in norm.
It weighs 341g, which is likely to be too heavy for very small children. A sticker on the back suggests the tablet isn't for 0-3 year olds, and as teenagers are likely to want to migrate to something more serious, we've slotted this one into a mental 4-10 year olds category. The question is - what has Archos done to make the tablet kiddie-friendly in use?
There are few clues on its body. As with all of Archos's current tablets, the connections are slotted-into one side, the right one. There's a 3.5mm headphone jack, microUSB data and charging slot, and a microSD memory card slot just below. A dead giveaway that this is just a colourful version of an existing design, there's a plugged-in port where a video output would be on another model.
Wireless connectivity is similarly stripped-back. There's Wi-Fi, but no Bluetooth, no GPS and no NFC.
Other on-body features include the standard pinhole microphone, mono internal speaker and a kiddie-facing VGA camera. So far, Archos isn't really convincing us that much effort has been put into making the ChildPad kid-friendly.
That said, we can't complain too much about the specs Archos has packed-in, given the £99 price. The Archos Arnova ChildPad has a single-core 1GHz processor, 1GB of RAM, and a capacitive multi-touch touchscreen. It's obviously not a patch on the Google Nexus 7, available for £60 more, but then this tablet is aimed at those trying to spend as little as possible, as well as those buying for kids. But do the savings pay off?
Interface, Apps and Games
This is the cheapest tablet we've seen to use Android Ice Cream Sandwich, version 4.0. It's not the very latest version of the Google OS, but it's not an old dog either.
If this was a tablet designed for adults rather than kids, we'd be a little impressed. The problem is that the learning curve of the OS is actually tricker than the older versions, and no big UI changes have been made here to help out.
Ice Cream Sandwich brings hints of a desktop computer OSs, like Windows or Mac OS, to what was traditionally a smartphone system. That means more intricate menus, designed for larger screens. When first using the system last year, it took us long enough to realise you have to tap the top right of the home screen to access the main apps menu. We're honestly not sure how a 5-year-old would fare.
Menus like these don't seem nipper-friendly to us
The beauty of an iPad is that its largely one-layer OS is accessible to just about everyone, from tech novices to grans, to babies, to curious cats. Android is a whole different game of "prod the screen".
To try and get you started, Archos has installed a bunch of simple games and "edutainment" apps. There are more than 20 in total, ranging from virtual pianos to counting apps and the Mario Kart-like game Tiki Kart 3D. However, Archos shouldn't get too much credit for any of these, as they're all readily available to download for free.
But not from the Google Play app store, not here at least. The Archos Arnova ChildPad is not fully Google-certified, meaning it misses out on official Google apps like Google Maps and Mail, and Google Play store access. In its place, Archos has installed AppsLib.
A glimpse at AppsLib
This is a third-party effort that supports a wide range of budget tablets of the last few years. It's not as good as Google Play, with a poorer app selection and user interface. But it will let you grab favourites like Angry Birds, and has more than 30,000 apps in total.
Worried about what your kid might find when trawling the web in general? Mobile Parental Filter comes pre-installed too, blocking adult content from the Android browser. The Arnova ChildPad comes with six months' use of the app, which is more than the 30-day trial offered by the standard Google Play download.
It's only worth a fiver though - a year's subscription costs £9.99. And it'll be pretty useless in stopping any vaguely tech-savvy older kids as it won't stop naughty content from loading on third-party internet browsers, and can be uninstalled easily enough.