[UPDATE: Fuhu has told us that our review unit was buggy, and that no one else has experienced these problems. We're currently waiting for a new, updated Nabi 2 and will update this review when we've had a chance to do more playtesting.]
Kids are notoriously rough on technology, but that doesn’t stop them wanting use mom’s iPhone to play Angry Birds. Fuhu, a child-friendly software and hardware developer based in El Segundo CaliF., might have a soultion for parents looking for a rough-and-touble touchscreen device designed for children.
The blobby-looking device pictured above is the Nabi 2. On paper, it’s technically more powerful than an iPad 2 and designed to help parents provide a safe digital interface for their kids as well as incentives for them to learn and behave. In practice, it’s a sturdy and certainly child-proof 7-inch tablet running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. It isn’t the most capable device for adults, but we’re not really the audience.
WHAT YOU’LL LIKE
The Nabi 2 feels like it can take a beating. It’s made from resilient plastic, and each tablet ships with the red rubber bumper pictured above. While you probably wouldn’t want to submerge it in water, the Nabi 2 feels like it can survive children’s tendencies to spill drinks, smear candy, and drop things out of their backpacks without taking too much damage.
The Nabi 2 also uses Nvidia’s Tegra 3 A9 processor. While called a quad-core, the Tegra 3 actually has five processors, but the fifth just monitors power consumption.
Since the tablet is for kids ranging from 4 to 12 years old, such controls feature prominently in the design. The Nabi 2 runs primarily in Kidz Mode, which is a stripped-down interface with bright, cheery buttons. Parents can access the rest of the device through the separate Mommy Mode. From here, mom (or dad) can select what content kids can use or build weekly chore lists.
When a child completes an assignment from his list of duties, he’s awarded Nabi Points, which unlock new games, videos, and even music in the parent-controlled Treasure Box app store.
This is where gamification comes into play. The chore list is completely customizable so that moms and dads can tailor the reward program around their children’s interests and responsibilities, which turns the most hum-drum activities into goals.
WHAT YOU WON’T LIKE
The Nabi 2′s built-in educational programs work fantastically well, but the same isn’t true of popular titles like Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja. The test unit Nabi provided frequently locked up during high-action moments in games that run well on most popular mobile devices.
The tablet never crashed completely, but getting a large combo in Fruit Ninja often meant setting the Nabi aside for a few minutes while it struggled to catch up. Fuhu bills the Nabi 2 as the most powerful tablet targeted at kids, and that’s probably true, but it won’t replace iPads and Kindle Fires for game support any time soon.
Playing games for any amount of time also makes the Nabi very hot. A 15-minute Angry Birds session made the back, bottom-right corner of the device noticeably warm — even through the protective bumper.
For a tablet boasting such an impressive processor and twice as much random-access memory (RAM) than an iPad 2 (1 GB compared to the iPad’s 512 MB), it doesn’t really flex its muscles outside of Internet surfing and switching between Kidz and Mommy modes.
The Nabi 2 is a tablet for children. Despite the beefy processor, it likely won’t find much traction with anyone over the age of 12 looking for a multipurposed Android device. But for parents looking for something to keep kids away from their smartphones and iPads, the Nabi is a decent alternative and provides access to educational software and games. It’s just a shame it doesn’t feel as powerful as the term “quad-core processor” leads people to think.
The Nabi 2 retails for $199 and releases July 2012. Fuhu provided GamesBeat with a preview tablet for the purpose of this review.