We’ve seen and tested out virtually every kids’ tablet out there and the bad news is that few are very good. In general, most are under-powered or have a poor screen, despite their relatively high prices. See all kids' tablet reviews
Others, such as the LeapFrog LeapPad and VTech InnoTab are cheaper, but don’t provide the full Android experience which older kids (and adults) can benefit from. The Galaxy Tab 3 Kids looks promising, but a couple of niggles – and stiff competition from the new FreeTime feature on Amazon Kindle Fires – mean it falls short of our recommendation. See also: 2013 Kindle Fire HD review
Galaxy Tab 3 Kids: Design and build
The Galaxy Tab 3 Kids is the same as the Galaxy Tab 3 7.0, but finished in bright yellow instead of white. It also comes with an orange silicone bumper case and – in a separate package which is often bundled free – a combined case and stand with built-in stylus, the Kids Grip Cover Kit.
It charges over microUSB and – unlike older Samsung tablets – isn’t picky about which USB charger you use. There’s a headphone socket at the top and buttons for volume and power on the right.
There are front and rear cameras (see below), a microphone and stereo speakers. Unlike other Samsung devices such as the Galaxy Note, the rear plastic cover isn’t removable, so the battery isn’t replaceable.
The physical home button is flanked by two touch-sensitive buttons for the usual Android functions: back and menu.
The 7in screen is an IPS panel which is bright, vibrant and has great viewing angles. The low 1024x768 resolution is the only slight disappointment, but your kids certainly aren’t going to complain.
At just over 300g, the tablet on its own feels sturdy, yet even with either case attached, it’s not too heavy for kids to handle. We’re certain both cases offer decent protection from low drops, but you might want to invest in a screen protector.
In terms of storage, there’s 8GB internally (with roughly half of that free for you to use) and a microSD card slot so you can add up to 32GB more.
Galaxy Tab 3 Kids: Software
In both looks and simplicity, Samsung’s child-friendly interface is excellent. Once set up by a parent, a swipe anywhere on the screen unlocks the tablet and a series of scrollable ‘cards’ makes it easy for even young kids to launch the app they want.
Using the simple options, you can reorder the cards, choose which ones will appear (or not) and disable the menu and back buttons.
The avatar, lock screen and (animated) home screen images can all be changed easily, and there’s even a choice of animated character if you long-press on the default dog.
A parental area, which is protected by a PIN, lets you set limits on screen time, but the options are currently too basic.
You can set a timer between 10 minutes and 2 hours, after which the tablet will be unusable until a parent or guardian enters the PIN code. Alternatively you can set start and end times between which the tablet is usable. We’d prefer to see a total screen time per day restriction, which differentiates between games and reading.
A useful option is to automatically add any apps you download to the Kids mode, and you can choose which media folders are accessible in Kids mode. By default, there’s a separate camera roll (Kids’ Camera) from the main Android account, which is sensible.
The final option in the parental area – Standard home screen – takes you to the usual Jelly Bean interface, so you can use the Galaxy Tab 3 as a normal Android tablet. You get all the usual Samsung tweaks to the keyboard, notification bar, camera app and more.
Back in Kids mode, the pre-installed apps are generally good. A couple of Toca Boca apps will keep most children amused for several hours (there’s Toca Train and the brilliant Hair Salon 2) and some interactive e-books (complete with American voiceover).
Samsung’s Kids’ Store is populated with UK-centric apps including Peppa Pig titles and Fireman Sam as well as LEGO and Disney games. It’s considerably better than the stores on other kids’ tablets, and prices are reasonable, too (and you can browse by free titles, too).
You have to tap the Buy button and enter your PIN code to see a description and user ratings, which is a bit counter-intuitive, but it does stop little ones from spending your money.
One feature that’s missing is user profiles. This could be added in future, but it means that each child can’t personalise the tablet with their wallpaper and avatar, and parents can’t restrict or choose apps separately for each child.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that Samsung has decided the easiest way to filter internet content is to have none: there’s no internet access whatsoever in Kids mode.
The good news is that, since the Google Play store can be found in the main Android interface, you can download any app you like and make it available in Kids mode. That means it’s simple to add YouTube, but it wouldn’t be a good idea to allow children to use this unsupervised.
For a modern tablet, the Galaxy Tab 3 Kids has diabolical cameras. The rear one is a 3-megapixel snapper and the front a 1.3-megapixel webcam. The kids’ camera app is easy to use, but photo quality is poor. The same goes for videos – it’s a real shame as Samsung could have installed the cameras from the Galaxy S4, which are great.
This is a photo from the rear camera - click to enlarge:
This is a 100 percent crop showing the lack of detail and blurriness caused by the lens - not our shaky hands.
Here's an example video from the rear camera, at the maximum 720p quality:
Galaxy Tab 3 Kids: Performance and battery life
Saying the 1.2GHz dual-core processor isn’t particularly quick is an understatement, and it’s our third gripe about the Galaxy Tab 3 Kids. It’s not a deal-breaker, but sometimes apps take an age to load which leads to frustrated children, and that’s the last thing you want when you’ve just shelled out this much money.
If you’re planning to use the tablet yourself when the kids are asleep, you will probably also be frustrated at the sluggish pace at which everything happens. Scrolling around Google Maps is jerky, and loading web pages is foot-tappingly slow.
Fortunately, gaming performance is fine, so once a Peppa Pig or Toca Boca app has launched, things run smoothly. Video playback is also good, with even HD videos on YouTube playing fine.
Battery life could have been a deal-breaker, but this is one of the longest-lasting kids’ tablet we’ve tested. Playing a video on loop, the Galaxy Tab 3 Kids lasted almost eight hours. That’s great news for long flights or any other time when you can’t simply plug it in to the mains. We also saw around four or five days’ of intermittent use.
Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids: Bottom line
This is one of the better kids’ Android tablets we’ve seen but with a street price of £150, it’s not cheap. Yes, you get Android Jelly Bean and access to Google Play, but the sluggish performance and poor cameras combine with the missing user profiles and imperfect screen-time management to outweigh those advantages.
The new Kindle Fire HD costs £119 (or £139 if you want 16GB of storage) and has a much better kids’ mode with user profiles and great screen-time management. The price doesn’t include a child-friendly case, but these are sure to appear now that the FreeTime feature has been added.
Buying Advice This is one of the better kids’ Android tablets we’ve seen but with a street price of £150, it’s not cheap. Yes, you get Android Jelly Bean and access to Google Play, but the sluggish performance and poor cameras combine with the missing user profiles and imperfect screen-time management to outweigh those advantages. The new Kindle Fire HD costs £119 (or £139 if you want 16GB of storage) and has a much better kids’ mode with user profiles and great screen-time management. The price doesn’t include a child-friendly case, but these are sure to appear now that the FreeTime feature has been added.