More than a dozen young testers played with tablets from Fisher-Price, LeapFrog, VTech, and one from Vinci, which most resembles an adult tablet. The kids read books, took pictures and played with the tablets for several days.
"They do mimic tablet computers, but they don't have nearly as many features," said Consumer Reports' Carol Mangis. "They also don't have access to the Internet. Now, that's a good thing because they're for such young children. But that means parents will have to help with downloading content."
Back in the lab, testers got serious with their evaluation. They used this device to make the tablets stay on in order to measure battery life.
They also evaluated display quality and how easy a tablet is to use. The Vinci - for ages 4 and younger - has the best display, touch-screen interface, and the largest hard drive at 8 gigabytes. But that's not the only reason it stood out.
"The Vinci has a large screen, and it did well in our tests. But our model cost $480! That's a lot of money to spend on a device for a toddler," said Mangis.
For far less, testers recommend the $80 InnoTab by VTech for ages 4 to 9. It has a smaller screen and hard drive, but it's loaded with features like an art studio, e-reader, and MP3 player.
The crowd pleaser with the children turned out to be the $100 LeapPad Explorer also for ages 4 to 9. Its camera, photo-editing feature, and art studio had kids beaming.
The fourth tablet tested was the $80 Fisher-Price iXL Learning System. It doesn't have as many fans, but one aspect of it was a standout. Consumer Reports says it has an especially long battery life, about 13 hours. The battery life for the other three kids' tablets was three to seven hours.