Q: Are one of the cheaper tablets a good choice for my 10-year old to use for games and watching videos?
A: The explosion of the tablet computing market is creating a lot of confusion in the marketplace and a lot of parents are perplexed with all of the choices.
My primary concern with any tablet for a younger child is the fragile nature of these devices, so unless you are very sure that your child is capable of caring for one, I'd consider some alternatives first.
Having raised two veracious consumers of digital content myself, I think the best choice for a 10-year old would actually be an iPod Touch because of its size, access to content and parental controls.
You can find numerous rubberized cases for an iPod Touch to help protect it from the inevitable ‘drops' that will occur, and the selection of apps, games, video and music are second to none.
You can also easily restrict use of apps like Safari (web browsing) and YouTube and lock the device down so nothing can be installed without your code.
Another important feature is the ability to restrict the ‘in-app' purchases that some sneaky game companies are using to trick kids into loading up on virtual goods that cost real money (all of the restrictions can be set by going to Settings>General> Restrictions).
The current generation of iPods start at $199 (8 GB) and even include cameras, so this could double as a digital camera for your child.
If you don't want your child to have a camera and you want to save money, you can buy an older generation refurbished iPod Touch directly from Apple starting at $149 (http://goo.gl/fwGdr) or check eBay or Craigslist for even cheaper options (be sure to do your homework on the seller before buying something you can't examine first).
Another option is to check with your friends and family to see if someone has an older iPod Touch or an older iPhone that's been deactivated, which can be used just like an iPod Touch.
If you feel that your child is capable of caring for a larger format device like a tablet, you have a few options in the under $300 range, but you really need to do your homework.
Most of the devices in the class will be in the 7" range and just about all of them run some flavor of the Android operating system.
Amazon's Kindle Fire at $199 is probably the ‘best bang for the buck' but it limits what can be installed on it (versus wide-open Android tablets) and has no parental control features.
Amazon uses the ‘walled garden' approach that Apple employs to guide you to purchase content and services from them only, which also simplifies the process, especially if you are already an Amazon customer. It is a bit on the heavy side and I would strongly recommend getting some sort of protective case for it that can double as a stand so it doesn't have to be held to watch.
Barnes and Noble's Nook Tablet at $249 is a solid device with a slightly better display that is more responsive, but it lacks the depth of content and apps available from Amazon so I'm not sure why you would want to spend the extra money for use by a child interested in games and movies.
There are a number of completely open Android-based tablets from companies like Acer, HTC, Lenovo, Samsung and Vizio that allow you a lot more flexibility, but they are also going to require you to do more work to find what you want and to control what your child can do.
If your child is extremely tech savvy and is a big tinkerer, this class of device may be a good fit if you want to fuel their curiosity, but it will require you to do more work as a parent to keep on top of what they are doing with it.
• Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the Data Doctors Radio Program, noon Saturdays on KTAR 92.3 FM or at www.datadoctors.com/radio. Readers may send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.