Buying a Tablet for Your Teen
Choosing a tablet for your teen has never been so tempting, nor has there ever been so much choice. Count on your teen wanting to use their tablet at school as well as at home, for searching the internet, socializing, playing games, and even doing homework.
The good news is that they’ll be able to do all of that on any tablet. When it comes to the basics, you can’t really go wrong. In fact, though I’ll share some exceptions below, most apps can be used on any Android tablet as well as on an iPad.
If you do have money on your hands and aren’t looking to draw with pixel precision, the Windows 8 / RT Microsoft Surface Tablet may be the best for your teenager. It’s the only tablet around that I would consider a laptop replacement.
Tips: Picking the Right Tablet for Your Teen
- Trust Your Teen’s Judgment
For most teens—except perhaps very naive young teens—it’s okay to let the world be their playground. It’s wiser to give them the tools to explore than to close their world and expect them to play safe in the garden. Keep your teen involved in the tablet-buying process from the beginning. Listen to his opinions, and once the tablet is bought, don’t try to censor his learning. Your teen probably already knows quite a lot about navigating the Internet already. Let him know you trust him to figure things out, but that you’re available to talk if he has questions or issues.
- All Tablets Foster Learning
The Internet is the biggest library out there. Confining a teen to specific learning apps no longer makes a lot of sense. A tablet, on the other hand, offers access to thousands of books, movies, lectures, applications and games that your teen can choose for herself. The learning opportunities available range from studying a new language to video editing to programming her own games and apps. This is a great opportunity for your teen to explore her interests on her own terms.
- State Clear Boundaries
Some teens can handle the necessity of budgeting when it comes to the Internet. Many teens can’t. Make sure there are clear boundaries in place to stop your teen from buying out the whole Amazon or iTunes store.
Parental controlls are built into most tablet OS’s these days. Android 4.3 (Jellybean) and up, Kindle Fire, Windows 8.1 and iPad. If you feel your teen is likely to get out of control, this definitely necessary. It will involve setting up their own account within the tablet. This will enable you to install apps from the master account and give your kids access to specific apps while not giving them the ability to buy apps on their own.
- Choose: WiFi or WiFi + 3G / 4G?
I recommend sticking with the cheaper option: a tablet with only WiFi access to the Internet. This gets rid of the whole hassle of dealing with download limits and maxing out mobile accounts. However, if your teen is likely to spend a lot of time in places without WiFi but will still need access to the Internet, consider getting a tablet with 3G or 4G while being very clear about the download limits in place. Do realize that this will involve an extra mobile subscription. It will basically turn the tablet into a phone.
- A Tablet is Not a Laptop Replacement
If you’re looking to get a tablet OR a laptop for your teen and expect them to do serious homework on the machine, I would advise getting a laptop. The only tablet option that may be as good as a laptop in functionality is a Windows RT (aka Windows 8) tablet. It’s early to tell at this point, as user reviews so far are mixed. However, unlike on Android and iPad, you can actually edit Excel documents on a Windows 8 tablet.
- Games / Gaming
Your teen will thank you if you pick a tablet with access to their favorite games. At this point the Microsoft tablet has the fewest games on offer, so you might want to go for Android or iPad if you want your teen to have a wide choice of games. Developers are eager to get into the Windows app store, so this is not likely to be a long-term consideration unless your teen has very specific gaming taste. In that case, you should probably ask them which operating system they’d most prefer.
1. Kindle Fire
Here are my top four recommended tablets for teens. All of these tablets are great options, but some are better than others depending on what your teen is likely to need.
What is the best tablet for teenagers? Honestly, it kind of depends on how much you are willing to spend on a kid who still can’t take care of their stuff very well. Since these tablets are an investment with most families, you want to get the best bang for your buck so to speak. By far the best priced tablet is the Kindle Fire.
When it comes to your best-value tablet, I have only one thing to say: if you’re in the US, the best tablet for your teen is undoubtedly the Kindle Fire HD 6. Gizmodo calls it “The penny pinching tablet buyer’s dream” because of its incredibly cheap price ($100) coupled with features that rival tablets several times its price. Because it’s marketed as an e-reader, it’s much cheaper than most other tablets on the market, despite having all the functionality of an Android tablet. Most Android apps can be installed on it. However, it does have some limitations and I’ll share those below.
- Access to the Amazon market for books, video, and games. If your teen has access to an Amazon Prime account, they’ll also have access to one of the largest online markets available, with free music, TV, movies, games, and books.
- Excellent HD screen and long battery life make the Fire great for reading and watching videos throughout a school day or on trips.
- Your teen will appreciate the variety of colors available outside of the typical black. The Fire HD 6 and HD 7 come in five different colors: black, white, magenta, citron, and cobalt.
- Processing speed is surprisingly good, especially for the price. Video download, game play, and web-browsing speed all rival much more expensive tablets.
- Small enough to fit comfortably in the hand but large enough to watch movies.
- Price: at just under $100, the price is unbeatable.
- The Kindle Fire doesn’t run Android, and depends on the Amazon marketplace for apps. You won’t be able to access Google Play and so there are fewer apps available.
- Access to videos on Amazon Prime and Netflix will be limited if you live outside of the US.
- Style is a little sloppier-looking than some of the more expensive alternatives.
- This is a small tablet with a small screen. If you want a larger tablet and don’t mind shelling out just a little bit more money, go for the Kindle Fire HD 7.
A Little History Of The Kindle
Amazon has been innovative and forward thinking since they introduced the first Kindle back in 2007. That first Kindle was only an ereader and was kind of heavy compared to the lightweight models today and it cost a whopping $400. That is more expensive than Kindle Fire HD 8.9 inch model available today. The original sold out completely within just a few hours of its release and it took months for it to be available again.
As the years have progressed the company improved the digital reader with several new models each having more features than the last and becoming thinner and more lightweight with each new roll out.
In the last couple of years the tablet form of a Kindle has been available which took the device beyond being a digital reader and into the realm of technology that allows for a full featured experience for not just reading but accessing the internet and to watch videos, movies, tv shows and listen to music or play games. They currently have the fastest wi-fi download time available on the market and they are continuing to make improvements as we speak.
Choosing one of these newer tablet forms of Kindle for a teen or any member of the family is a wise choice with all of their functions.
2. Best Laptop Replacement: Microsoft Surface
It looks like Windows 8 tablets will change the tablet game a LOT. With Windows 8, tablet makers have stopped pretending that tablets are anything other than touch-screen computers. In fact, TechRadar claims the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablet heralds the start of a “laptop-free future,” in which these laptop-tablet hybrids start to replace PCs entirely. So why not get a jump on that future and replace your teen’s laptop with this little guy? On a Windows 8 tablet you’ll be able to edit all your MS Office files and use any other programs that work with a regular Windows PC. That makes a big difference for homework.
Don’t get me wrong: you can edit text and Excel files on Android and iPad as well. However, in both cases, there are severe limitations. The Windows 8 operating system is designed to work on both PC computers and Microsoft tablets, giving the tablet all the same functionality as a computer. The tablet even includes its own keyboard, so it may well replace your teen’s laptop.
- Windows OS allows for all the functionality of a computer. You can use it to edit MS Office files, play games, and use any other program available on a Windows computer.
- The new external keyboard has been significantly upgraded, with a glass trackpad, comfortable keys, and a much more stable hinge connecting it to the tablet (PC World).
- Larger screen allows for a bigger workspace than other tablets.
- Battery life is advertised at 8 hours, but in testing is closer to 6.
- Price: at $799, buying this tablet is not much cheaper than buying a computer.
Note on Operating Systems: Windows 8 Tablet or Windows RT?
There are two varieties of Windows 8: the full Windows 8 that is also loaded on laptops and PCs and a dumbed-down version, called Windows RT, that only has core functionality. The main difference is that on RT you can only install apps, not ordinary Windows programs. On the full Windows, you can install programs like you would on any other PC.
Which one do you need? That really depends on how you use your tablet. Windows RT comes with the full MS Office Suite and if that is all you use aside from some common games and the Internet, you really don’t need the full Windows OS. However, if you play hardcore PC games or have image software on your pc that you want to be able to use on your tablet, Windows RT may not be enough.
3. Best Educational Programs: The iPad Mini
Honestly, Apple has been getting on my bad side lately. Not only did they botch their maps application, they also had the gall to patent rounded corners! The fact that they won the court case doesn’t make it any better in my opinion.
However, you may want to buy your teen an iPad Mini. It’s an excellent tablet, and is just as good as Apple’s most recent model, but at a lower price. CNET recommends it as the current best-value iPad, because it has all the features of a full sized iPad in a smaller, cheaper form, and it’s now less expensive since the arrival of the Mini 3 (which is nearly identical to the Mini 2). Like the Kindle Fire, at present it doesn’t have a good maps application. However, you do get access to the whole iPad App store. Most importantly, this includes the iTunes U app.
iTunes U has great free educational videos and books available from the top universities. TED videos are also available on iTunes U. This makes the iPad a great tool for homeschooling smart kids. Looking through the latest content today, I think most of it is aimed at adults and college students. However, as I said, it’s a great resource for smart teens.
The library is immense. Lecture topics include: “Early Middle Ages” from Yale; “Calculus 1” from The Saylor Foundation; “Machine Learning” from Stanford; “Cities” from Open University; “Press and Society” from La Trobe University; “On a Pedestal: Celebrity Throughout the Ages” from Open University; “Creative Problem Solving” by TED; and “Rights, Remixes and Respect” by Common Sense Media.
iTunes U may sound like THE reason to go for an iPad for your teen. However, there’s an Android app called Tunesviewer which allows you to download any educational content available through iTunes U on your Android device. It does not seem to work on Kindle, but works on other Android tablets.
- Access to educational material through iTunes U.
- Apple store has a huge variety of available apps and games.
- Amazing CPU with fast processing speed (TechRadar).
- High resolution screen, especially compared to the original iPad mini.
- Great battery life.
- Doesn’t have a good maps application.
- Only 16 MB worth of storage.
4. Best for Art or Math Students: Samsung Galaxy Note Pro
I have an original iPad, but these days I use it mostly to play music. My 10-inch Galaxy Note does everything else. I recommend Galaxy Note for your teen if he or she is artistic or really into math.
In my opinion, the Galaxy Note 10-inch is the only tablet to get if you want to draw and paint. The stylus with the Wacom-style screen simply can’t be beat in terms of drawing with pixel precision on a touch device. The Galaxy Note S Note app also makes it easy to write complex mathematical formulas. It’s the only app that converts handwritten mathematical formulas into text, and is essential for a teen who’s serious about their math. Check out my full review here.
The 5 inch Galaxy Note phone is—as the name suggests—somewhere between a phone and a tablet. Again: great for taking notes, as the name suggests.
- Great apps for art, drawing, and math.
- Access to Google Maps and other apps in Google Play.
- Fantastic screen resolution and battery life.
- Slower, less powerful operating system than the iPad.
- Price: At over $400 for even the older models, this is one of the priciest tablets out there.
For additional ideas about the Kindle or other tablet choices for a teen you might find this Gift Guide page of Tablet and Laptop reviews handy.
More great gadgets for teens.
Teenagers are embracing the tablet devices in a huge way. These touch screen mobile devices offer them all of the computing needs that they have plus give better mobility to them. They are much lighter in weight than having a laptop to carry around and will perform all of the tasks that they want. They can connect with their friends on the different social media sites. Play games, read books, watch movies and research homework.
The devices are run under touch screen technology and in most cases, except for the Kindle Fire, can be attached to a small keyboard that is purchased separately.
With several different options out there in tablets you might be wondering what the best tablet for a teenager might be. As with any piece of technology the first thing to look at is how the device will be used. Age will, often times, determine what the expectations might be when it comes to using a tablet. Children are going to use a tablet much differently than an adult will and teenagers probably have the largest list of functions they will want on their tablet. They are going to want all of the features that an adult will want and in some cases even more because they are often more aware of the latest and greatest bells and whistles that come along in the world of technology.
They are going to want their tablet to be able to surf the web, gather their emails, and help them stay connected with the pals on Facebook. They are also going to want to be able to play games, watch videos and listen to music. A teen is going to be very interested in the ability to download and use all kinds of different apps. They will also want it to have the ability to connect with ease no matter where they are and they will want it to be fast.
On a previous version of this page, I asked: What do you think is the best option for a tablet for teens?
- 25% iPad
- 12% Galaxy Note
- 29% Kindle Fire
- 21% Any Android tablet
- 13% Windows 8 tablet
535 people have voted in this poll.