If you have a tablet and a small child, i'm willing to bet that they have some sort of inbuilt attraction to using it. Not only that, when they do get hold of it they'll instinctively know how to use it and start doing all sorts of things on it, including things you don't really want them to (let alone leaving goodness knows what all over the screen). Right? The best solution of course is to get them their own, low cost tablet... but ideally you want it to be half decent to use as well as robust enough to stand up to the challenges of use by a little person.
This is where the Fuhu Nabi 2 comes in - it's a tablet designed for kids but with internals that exceed what we normally find in this kind of device.
My 9 year old daughter and I have tested the Nabi... and we're ready with our verdict!
I have reviewed a full retail boxed device, from Box UK, where the Nabi 2 is currently £149.99 with a free letter pack or a free additional bumper.
In the box
In the box you'll find the device itself, a USB charging cable and a USB to mains adaptor (rated at 2A for speedy charging).
Hardware - overview
The Nabi might be aimed at kids, but the specifications would be perfectly acceptable on a grown up's tablet! Often tablets targeting specific niches skimp on the specs and somehow think they can get away with it, but not this time.
The specifications include...
- NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad core process with 5th battery saver core
- Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich
- 7" 1024 x 600 screen
- 8GB internal storage expandable via MicroSD
- 1GB RAM
- 2MP Front Facing Camera
- 802.11 b/g/n WiFi
- Bluetooth 3.0
- Mini HDMI
- 3,850 mAh battery
- 220.8 mm x 153.7 mm x 29.08 mm
See what I mean? OK so Ice Cream Sandwich is getting a little old now, but let's be realistic - there's not much you can't do on ICS. This is a kids tablet with grown up hardware.
Hardware - around the device
The whole device is surrounded of course by it's silicon bumper for awesome shock protection and kid proofing. The bumper can be removed completely if desired (useful for giving the device a cleanup) and it can also be replaced with colours other than the stock red (the glow in the dark option is particularly cool). The bumper - as you would expect - has cut outs in all the right places for the various ports around the device.
The front of the device is dominated by the 7" LCD (non IPS) screen, above which sits the 2 Megapixel camera. This is the only camera on the device - there's no rear camera on the Nabi. A charging LED is on the top right of the front.
The top of the device is home to the volume and power buttons, which press with a nice convincing action, even through the silicon case. The bottom of the device is home to the microphone, the left of the device is clear and the right of the device is home to the various ports - a charging socket, a microSD slot (which supports SD cards up to 64GB), a microUSB connector (for data connectivity only), the mini HDMI connector and the 3.5mm headphone socket.
On the back of the device you'll find 15 unusual 'pegs' in 3 rows of 5 - these can be used for mounting a number of different accessories or with the KINABIS letter pack shown here, which allows children to spell out their name or a message on the back of the device. Note that only 1 of each letter is provided in the pack - fine for 'LUCIE' or even 'PAUL' but not so good for 'EMMA' or 'STEVEN'.
Careless kids? Bring them on!
Before we get into what the device is actually like to use, let's talk about what the solid construction and the big silicon bumper bring to the tablet. This thing is SERIOUSLY tough. You can pick it up, drop it, roll it around, bounce it and it survives. Really. A good place to start is to check out Nabi's own drop test...
Now, let me say that having seen the video I was extremely sceptical and it was one of the reasons I wanted to give the device a try for myself. Having had it a while now, abused it, had my daughter use it and generally not looked after it at all... it is in as good condition as the day it was delivered. Very impressive indeed, and so vitally important if the Nabi is going to be the ultimate kids tablet it sets out to be.
Software - daddy mode
Yes, the Nabi has built in kid friendly software... but worth mentioning first too is what the device calls 'Daddy Mode' (or Mummy Mode if a GIRL sets it up). By loading up the tablet, hitting the menu button and selecting this mode, you are prompted for a password. After entering that password you drop into regular Ice Cream Sandwich - a pleasant surprise! From here you can manage which applications that are installed on the device and which applications your child has access to but you can also do all the things you'd usually do on a 'grown up tablet'.
That happens to include rooting, tweaking and hacking the device which is actually quite important. Out of the box the Nabi isn't a GED (Google Experience Device), which means no Play Store, YouTube etc., which I find rather limiting. Thankfully getting Play Store on there was a very simple process that for me, made the tablet infinitely more useful.
The provided app store out of the box is called 'App Zone' which has a reasonable selection of apps, but it really is just that - reasonable and not a patch on the Google store.
When you first power up the device you are greeted with a simplified setup wizard and an optional introductory video on how to set up the device. Of course, you're going to skip that... so after accepting the terms and conditions you're straight into configuring your WiFi connection and getting started. At this point you'll probably note that the screen is not one of the fabulous IPS types in that the image can disappear if you hold it at just the wrong angle, but it is at least bright and sharp. Note that there is no auto brightness on the Nabi. After connecting to WiFi you are prompted to create or log in with an existing 'Nabi ID', a parent ID - this is where you specify if you are a mum or dad. :D The keyboard is the standard Android one (good!) and the device responds extremely quickly to your keypresses.
After creating your Nabi ID, that's it - you're in!
So, you've bought this tablet for your child to use... what's the kid UI like?
Colourful, easy to use and very intuitive. A conventional launcher button is available in the top right corner of the screen that gives the child access to all the applications you have decreed that they be able to see, both from the pre-installed content and anything you may have installed manually from an APK or from the hacked on Play Store.
On the 9 available homescreens (accessed by sweeping left and right) you're presented with the standard apps which is a very mixed bag. It's heavy on the games of course with Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, Burn the Rope, Bag It and other classics but also some rather questionable items like 'Moron Test'. Hmmm... thankfully you can hide apps you don't like the look of from Daddy mode.
Also on the main screen you'll see a camera shortcut (for self portraits), a gallery (for viewing said portraits) and the pencil camera app for adding cool effects.
The third page holds less game-centric content including the meegenius app for the children's book service of the same name, a web browser (Maxthon Kid Safe), nabi Cloud for cloud photo and video storage (2GB is included), a rather neat chore recording app, Spinlets+Music - a 7digital powered kids music store, Spinlets+TV, - a subscription based children's TV streaming service (with a decent amount of free content), a music player (actually the regular Android music app) and 'Treasure Box', where you buy additional content using 'Nabi coins', which cost real money. It says 'Ask dad' - I say 'don't bother'. ;)
A 'FoozKids' page shows icons for Websites, Books, Math, English, Videos, Crafts, Social Studies and Science links - the more educational content. It's not bad and there's a decent amount of content included free of charge to keep your child interested but it's also quite Americanised in places, with lessons organised by 'grades', something that doesn't really translate to the UK. A Wifi connection is required to use this content. Exactly what is available in this section can be configured using the 'Parent Dashboard' app in Daddy mode.
There are quite a few trial version apps on the device - a lot of the games and some of the more stimulating content, including, sadly, the colouring app - which is sure to be a big hit amongst younger kids particularly. The free version only includes 6 pictures.
In general use, as you'd expect from a Tegra 3 machine the tablet feels snappy, responsive and a pleasure to use. The screen isn't quite as responsive as the best up there and as a 1024x600 panel it is bested by the likes of the Nexus 7 but again, as kids tablets go, it's a very nice package.
The Daddy mode is genuinely useful if you need to use the kids tablet for your own e-mail or similar and the children's side of the system is well thought out, particularly the ability to set up multiple users (although you might have to stop your kids fighting over it!).
Over and above the standard included software I added Archos Video for playing back movies from 64GB microSD, Skype for calling up granny and a number of games from the Play Store. All worked perfectly from the kid side of things when enabled for access from Daddy mode.
What's good and what's not so good
Given the great value price and the target audience, there's very little to criticise with the Nabi. The proprietary charger is a bit of a shame and it's a pity the screen isn't IPS but they are certainy not show stopping problems. The inclusion of a mini HDMI port is a real boon if you are staying in a hotel or similar - the videos loaded on the device could easily be played on a hotel TV just by bringing the right cable. The things that really matter, the kid friendly UI and most of all the fantastic build quality, are spot on.
It's all very well me saying whether I think the Nabi is good or not... but much better to ask my daughter who has been using it. I asked her... "Can I send the Nabi back now?"... and the answer? A resounding no! If I asked her same about most of her other tech (and she has a few bits, of course) she probably wouldn't protest less loudly... but she really likes the Nabi, and I suspect your child would too.
You might be able to pick up a Nexus 7 for the same price or any number of lesser-know tablets, but i'd struggle to find one i'd recommend over the Nabi for this specific use case. It's a great gaming tool, music player, video viewer and much more. The only caveat I would add to that is that out of the box the app ecosystem is a little poor, so if you want to get the most from your tablet, be prepared to get yours hands dirty hacking on the Play Store.
But you're reading MoDaCo, you wouldn't expect anything less... right? :)
Head on over to Nabi at Box to see the latest available offers.