Kid-friendly models were already a floundering subsection of the tablet market, but things just got more difficult with Amazon’s new Kindle Fire lineup. Not only did the retail giant drop the price of the refreshed original Kindle Fire to $159 , but the addition of Kindle FreeTime parental controls, makes it tough not to recommend—especially if you’re looking for a tablet you can share with your kids. The Kurio 7 ($199.99 list) caters to children by offering kid-specific content, a child-safe Android environment, and a rubber bumper that helps protect the tablet from, well, kids. It offers better performance and reliability than older options like the Fuhu Nabi Kids Tablet, but it lacks enough compelling child-safe content to make it really worthwhile. The Kurio 7 isn’t bad, but it’s caught in a gray area between more content-rich and easy-to-use options like the LeapFrog LeapPad and more feature-packed and versatile options like the Kindle Fire.
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Design and Features
At 7.5 by 4.8 by 0.5 inches (HWD) and 12.1 ounces, the Kurio is roughly the same size and weight as the Kindle Fire, but its two-tone white and glossy blue plastic body has a lot more flex to it. The tablet feels a bit flimsy, but that’s typical of kids’ tablets and, like the Nabi, the Kurio 7 should spend most of its time encased in the included protective rubber bumper. The blue bumper is thick at the edges, with exaggerated corners and appropriate cutouts for accessing all the tablet’s ports and buttons. It’s also more rigid than the bumper on the Nabi, meaning it’ll be harder for your kids to pry off. On the right side of the bezel, when held in landscape mode, is a front-facing camera and three capacitive buttons: Back, Home, and Options. Along the right edge are a single speaker grille, a microSD card slot, a DC power connector, mini USB and mini HDMI ports, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a microphone. You get a nice collection of connectivity options, but the speaker is too easy to cover with your hand during use.
Front and center is the 7-inch 800-by-480-pixel screen, which is very low resolution by today’s 7-inch tablet standards. The Kindle Fire’s 1,024-by-600-pixel screen is significantly sharper and brighter. Text on the Kurio’s screen looks somewhat pixelated, colors are dull, and the viewing angle is fairly narrow. The screen also flexes under moderate pressure, causing ripples in the LCD.
The 0.3-megapixel front-facing and 2.1-megapixel rear-facing camera both take grainy, poorly exposed, and often blurry pictures. Your kids probably wont mind the subpar image quality though, and the front-facing camera works for Skype video calls.
The Kurio Wi-Fi-only tablet that connects to 802.11b/g/n networks on the 2GHz band. You only get 4GB of built-in storage, but the microSD card slot accepts cards up to 32GB. The Kurio 7 was able to play Xvid, DivX, MPEG4, H.264, and AVI video files at resolutions up to 1080p in my tests. MP3, AAC, FLAC, OGG, WAV, and WMA audio files all played fine.
The 1.2GHz Cortex A8 processor and 1GB RAM are low-end by current standards, but are perfectly adequate for running Android 4.0.3 on the Kurio 7. It’s not going to blow anyone away with its speed, but it’s responsive and reliable. In our battery rundown test, which loops a video with screen brightness set to maximum and Wi-Fi switched on, the Kurio 7 was able to last an unimpressive 4 hours and 12 minutes. To compare, the original Kindle Fire lasted 4 hours, 55 minutes on the same test. Amazon promises improved battery life for its refreshed model.
Child Safety and Content
The big draw here is the sandboxed child-safe mode. Much like the Nabi, you have a full featured Adult Mode, and a limited, but customizable, Child Mode. You can set up multiple accounts for children of varying ages, and also customize which apps are available and the level of Web filtering. Parents also have control over how long a child can use the tablet for, and how many times they can use it in a single day.
Child Mode provides a simple layout with access to parent-approved apps and content. Kurio pre-loaded its tablet with some great third-party games, including Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, DoodleJump, Fruit Ninja, World of Goo, and Where’s My Water. Then there are some Kurio branded educational apps, games, and content. Most of these are pretty underwhelming. Kurio’s educational apps feature pixelated and simplistic graphics, with nearly illegibly jagged fonts. It’s also not immediately apparent how to interact with the some of the apps. For instance, a math problem will appear, with no keyboard or directions for how to input an answer. The Kurio-limited Web browser was slow to load and buggy in my tests, but the Web filtering worked well, easily thwarting my search for “boobies.” Instead I got an “Oops! This page has been blocked by Kurio” message.
The Adult Mode is stock Android, but lacks Google apps, including the Google Play app market. Instead you have the Kurio Store, which has a small, unexciting selection of apps. You’ll find staples like Skype, Pandora, and Facebook, but it pales in comparison with Google Play app store. Navigating the store is cumbersome due to tiny fonts and poor layout, and installing apps from the Kurio app store isn’t particularly straightforward or intuitive. First you must find the apps in the store, initiate download, then click the notification bar along the bottom and click on the download dialogue. Even then, you have to wait a few minutes before the standard Android app installation dialogue appears. If the parent controlling the tablet isn’t familiar with Android, they might have a hard time finding, installing, and then placing those apps onto the safe environment. There’s also no auto-lock feature, so if you forget to enter back into Child mode, the tablet will be completely open to the next user.
Though the Kindle FreeTime feature wasn’t yet available when we completed this review, its promise of an easy-to-use interface, multiple user accounts, customizable content, and usage limits, coupled with superior hardware and lower list price makes choosing the Kindle Fire over the Kurio a no-brainer. With the Kindle Fire, you’ll also get access to Amazon’s Appstore, which dwarfs Kurio’s, and you’ll have a tablet that’s powerful and versatile enough to grow with your child. If you want durability, but a rubberized case, there are plenty of them available. Overall, the Kurio 7 doesn’t offer enough compelling features to distinguish it from a less-specialized tablet like the Kindle Fire. It also carries the same list price as the better equipped Kindle Fire HD, so really the choice is clear here—just go with one of the Kindle Fires.