I’m always on the lookout for new educational content and tools for my two sons. They are curious kids, and I’m always happy to help fuel their inquisitive nature with games, books, videos, and anything else I believe has something of value to offer. I try to keep up with the debates on kids and technology, and I firmly believe there is a happy medium for parents looking to find a way to use technology as a learning tool. My iPad 3 is a very important tool for me when it comes to my job, and I’m very hesitant to hand it over to two boys with a solid history of dropping anything with a value exceeding $10. That said, I cannot ignore the draw of the device to young kids — touch sensitive, colors and sounds, portable, tons of games, and much more. Still, my iPad is off-limits 90% of the time, and only available to them when they’re pretty much sitting right next to me. My six-year-old is getting a bit more trustworthy, but the three-year-old has no concept of money or the fragile nature of electronics. Still… I know there’s value in giving them both hands-on time with today’s technology.
I’ve reviewed the Nabi and Nabi 2 in the past. These two tablets are recommended for kids age 4 and up, and my oldest son still loves to play on his Nabi. He focuses mainly on games, but I still manage to hook him on the occasional educational app. His Nabi 2 has taken some abuse… drops, spills, and even a couple of instances of being stepped on. It’s survived and continues to offer him some great activities. I’m going to discuss a bit more about the Wings Learning System in a bit, as this is something new from Fuhu, the makers of the Nabi systems, but right now I want to discuss Fuhu’s latest release that’s geared to a younger audience — the Nabi Jr — ages 3 and up.
Before I provide some tech specs, let me just tell you that my three-year-old is VERY protective of his Nabi Jr. It’s a smaller device than the Nabi 2 (the current version of the Nabi being sold), with a smaller screen and a slightly different protective shell. My three-year-old looks at the larger Nabi 2 in my six-year-old’s hands and it doesn’t surprise me that he absolutely will NOT let big brother hold it. The big brother has managed to get some hands-on time with the Nabi Jr., but he has since returned to the larger Nabi 2 screen and the games he knows. I have two happy boys right now, each with a Nabi that is perfectly suited to their level of activity.
Nabi Jr. Tech Overview
The Nabi Jr. is obviously smaller in size — 7 inches wide, 4.5 inches tall, and 1.4 inches thick. Looking at how my youngest holds it tells me that this is a perfect size for little hands to properly maintain possession. The outer shell is rubberized and “grippy,” with larger rounded bumps on each corner that are designed both for holding and for protection in case of a drop. And drop it he has. A few times in front of me… many more when I probably haven’t been looking. The screen is still in one piece!
The Nabi Jr. is an Android tablet at heart. There are two versions, 4GB (512MB RAM) and 16GB (1GB RAM), with each running Android 4.0.4 (Ice Cream Sandwich) and 4.1 (Jelly Bean) respectively. Each version offers a micro-SD card slot capable of supporting an extra 32GB memory card, and you’re definitely going to want to consider purchasing one if you find yourself loading up on apps. Both versions also come with a 720p rotating 2megapixel camera. Screen resolution is 800×480 (for both versions) on the multi-touch 5 inch screen. You can read the remainder of the tech specs here, but you’ll find that, for the most part, both models are fairly close in specs with the exception of processor, operating system, and internal memory.
Here’s a photo showing a size comparison between the Nabi Jr. (on left) and the Nabi 2.
Now let me talk about the included apps. There are over 30 apps pre-installed on the Nabi Jr. These include an mp3 player, a chores app, the camera app, a photo gallery app, and apps that teach your child how to tell time, recognize letters of the alphabet, and draw fun little images of castles, vehicles, and animals. My son has quite a few favorites, too. He loves the puzzles app that is perfect for beginners and not too complicated. There are two apps that teach young children to recognize over 30 animals and dozens of types of vehicles by sight. There’s a first words app (very simple spelling) and a counting app that I’m working on with him right now that is awesome — he taps objects on the screen to hear the associated number, and the repetitive nature of the app has really helped him. There are also a handful of coloring apps that he chooses from depending on his mood — dinosaurs, ABCs, fairies, and free coloring. We also play the matching game (over and over and over…) and I can almost hear the neurons firing in that little brain of his.
Note — this bit of information regarding the apps comes straight from Fuhu and may be of interest to many parents: “Fuhu is the first tablet provider to partner with TRUSTe, to help ensure COPPA compliance with a new category of devices: children’s tablets. TRUSTe is the leading FTC-approved children’s COPPA Safe Harbor certification provider. TRUSTe certified nabi Jr. is COPPA compliant because all pre-loaded apps in nabi Jr. contain no advertisements, no links to an outside party, and requests verifiable parental consent prior to collecting any personal information. Parents are also fully notified of where the children’s personal information is stored and how it is used.” (More details here.)
All of the apps function similarly in terms of the user interface. My son knows to tap apps once to open them, but he also quickly figured out that the big blue Home button on the front of the Jr was used to go back one page… so if he’s a few pages into an app and wants to go back to the previous page, he knows to tap it once. He’s also figured out that tapping and holding the Home button for two or more seconds and then releasing takes him all the way back to the home screen.
And speaking of the homescreen, this is one non-intimidating interface. Each page holds six apps, one each in a primary-color box. A swipe of the finger lets you move from page to page, and I find it humorous to watch him as he swipes that finger fast-fast-fast as he tries to hunt down an app that he wishes to use. He’ll get going so fast he’ll overshoot a page and then he’ll overshoot going back. (It’s often the small things that make us parents laugh, right?)
If my son accidentally taps the green Power button, it doesn’t shut off the Nabi but just puts it to sleep. He sometimes presses it instead of the Home button, so not having to power up the Nabi Jr every time he accidentally hit the Power button is nice. The volume controls are along the top of the Nabi Jr. (when held in landscape mode and green Power button in upper-left corner) and he figured those out fast enough, too. The camera swivels from front to back, and he’s enjoyed snapping photos of his parents and big brother — it took him a few minutes to figure out that the swivel camera had to be pointing AWAY from him instead of AT him in order to take a photo of someone else, but once he understood, away he went taking photos of the TV, his room, my truck, his toes…
He hasn’t exhausted all the pre-loaded apps yet, namely because some of them are definitely a bit more complicated and he’s just not ready yet. The slider puzzle app, for example, that requires you to move small squares up/down/left/right in order to figure out the image on the front still eludes him. And The Wings Challenge app (which I’ll be covering in more detail shortly) is still a bit more challenging as is the Tell Time app. Still, there’s plenty of pre-installed apps for him to discover as he grows.
But what happens when he’s exhausted the pre-installed apps? Not a problem. First, there is the App Zone that contains over 600 apps in categories such as Create, Entertain, Learn, Play, and Read. These apps run $0.99 and up, with many being free to download and play. The App Zone is an easy to navigate tool, complete with Featured Apps and a search feature. Every app has an information page that offers the price, the download size, customer reviews, videos and/or screenshots, and a “Similar App” recommendation area. Also, when you tap a category (such as Create), you’ll also be given sub-categories that let you filter apps with filters such as Shop by Age, Top Rated and What’s New. I am absolutely amazed at the number of apps as well as the variety of topics. (One of my main complaints about the Apple App Store is the feeling of looking for a needle in a haystack. Yes, there are fewer apps in the App Zone, but the categories and the ability to filter by age makes it so much easier to find apps that my youngest will enjoy.)
One final thing — you’re not limited to apps just from the App Zone. The Nabi and Nabi Jr also allow for sideloading — this means that almost any app you can purchase for an Android device can be imported into the tablet and used. If this is of interest to you, you can read more instructions for how to do that here. (Parents might want to have a Kindle app, for example, installed and available via Mommy/Daddy Mode — more on that next.)
I mentioned earlier that the Nabi Jr has a simplified user interface, and it’s definitely not overwhelming to my three-year-old. But there are two other viewing modes available, one for a child and one for a parent. If your child prefers more apps displayed per screen, all they have to do is tap the small icon (six small squares) in the upper-right corner of the screen and the six colored boxes will disappear. In its place will be 15 apps displayed per screen, smaller in size and without the color background. If you’ve got a LOT of apps installed on your Nabi Jr, you may find that your child will be less frustrated using this view and having to swipe through less screens.
Now, the two viewing modes for kids are called Nabi Mode. That’s because if you tap the Menu button that always appears on the homepage in the upper-middle of the screen, you’ll be given an option to enter Daddy/Mommy Mode. (This Menu also allows you to switch between different users if you have more than one child using the Nabi Jr as well as access the Android settings to configure things like WiFi/Bluetooth or the screen’s brightness or to disable the auto-rotate feature.)
Accessing Mommy/Daddy Mode or Settings requires a password, but once you’ve entered that password, the Nabi Jr. changes to a more traditional tablet look and feel, with up to 16 apps being displayed per screen. It’s in this parent mode that you can access the App Zone, run diagnostics (using the Nabi MD app), add or take away apps that appear in Nabi Mode, and install apps that might not be suitable for kids. There’s also a Parent Dashboard app that lets you access statistics on your child’s work as they use many of the educational apps. One special app I’d like to mention is the Treasure Box app where parents can assign Nabi Coin values to obtain new apps. Kids earn these Nabi Coins by performing chores and using the Chores app to track their work. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to use this for my youngest (he doesn’t get the concept yet), but I do believe the day is fast approaching where this will be a useful app for motivating him to spend time in some educational apps.
Available to parents (while in Parent Mode) are also a bunch of tablet widgets — calculator, email, calendar, etc. Yes, the Nabi Jr can be configured as a standard tablet, so feel free to add your email account. You might get some raised eyebrows when you pull out the Nabi Jr to check your email, but hey… whatever works!
By the way — if you’d like to take a more detailed look at the Nabi Jr, point a web browser to https://www.nabitablet.com/support/products/nabijr/get-to-know and you can click on a number of small tutorials that show you how some of the key features on the Nabi Jr work. It’s got a left-right scrolling list of icons that you can click and select various questions and view short How-To instructions.
Note: While in Parent Mode, all apps, including your kids apps, are available to be used. This means you can leave the Nabi Jr in Parent Mode if you like, but do be aware it opens up all the other stuff to your inquisitive child.
Wings Learning System
I’ve mentioned Wings a few times earlier in this post, and now I’d like to tell you a bit more about it. It’s full name is the Wings Learning System, and in terms of an educational “app,” I think it has to be one of the biggest selling points for the Nabi system. It’s designed for Pre-K through 6th grade, and it’s designed to adapt to each child’s speed and mastery of a variety of subjects that include math, reading, and writing. It includes over 3000 lessons and 50,000 questions, and parents can use the N-Site Parental Dashboard service included with the Nabi tablets (and accessed online via a web browser) to monitor their child’s progress and view A-F grades by subject.
The Wings system will be available for Nabi and Nabi Jr in July, and my oldest son was given a first-hand look at it on the Nabi 2. Here are my thoughts:
* Wings supports the reward feature built into some of the other apps. Kids can earn Nabi Coins that can be applied to “purchasing” other apps or rewards that parents have created. This is a HUGE deal for me, as my son is always wanting new apps and this is a great way to motivate him to spend time in the educational apps.
* The Wings content is designed to match up with Common Core State Standards (CCSS). I live in Georgia and these standards have already been adopted, so it’s nice to know I can see how my son is doing in terms of mastering content in the same format that he’ll eventually be tested on. I understand the arguments for and against standardized testing, but my sons getting extra hands-on time with Wings in the formats that they’ll be tested can’t hurt.
* Wings uses three island settings with various building/structures scattered across them for the various subjects. You tap a location to visit that spot and play small educational games to be awarded badges and stars. For example, the Math island (Reading and Writing islands are the other two) has five buildings and two sea creatures that you tap to choose from 2 to 3 different types of games. One game tests you on shape recognition, the ability to trace and draw shapes, counting, and matching shapes (like inserting puzzle pieces). Another location uses graphs and asks questions such as “How many sheep are there?” — the student must examine the graph and find the row that corresponds to sheep (versus cow and horse). Then, the student must count how many columns are filled in (from 1 to 10). Another game uses the More/Fewer concept where a student must visually choose which group has fewer or more of an object than the group displayed in the center of the display.
* Each game in Wings has three levels indicated by 1, 2, or 3 stars. My oldest quickly figured out that the 3 star games were the most fun and challenging for him. Meanwhile, my three-year-old is perfect happy playing the 1 and 2 star games. I am VERY impressed that both of my boys can enjoy Wings; I honestly didn’t expect that. After selecting your game and level (1,2, or 3 stars), you are shown a winding path that ends in a Boss building. You tackle various mini-games by tapping on key markers along the path. Finish a marker and you can continue to the next one. Finish all markers and the Boss building unlocks and lets you enter. Once inside, you get a master group of games that test you on everything you learned on the outside path markers. Finishing the master group of games leads you to one final test that mixes everything up. As a parent, I could not help but observe just how sneaky Wings is in building mastery of a subject through the smaller mini games… once my oldest son figured out the Boss building would gain him some more badges and stars, he never left a location unfinished.
* Here’s a big one — I believe my three-year-old may actually be getting more benefit from his time with Wings due to the fact he has 1 and 2 star games to play versus my oldest just tackling the 3 star games. Sitting with me, I help him figure out the rules of each game and then let him go. The music and colorful characters hold his attention. He’s not concerned with scoring right now, and neither am I. I’m just enjoying watching him master new things like tracing shapes and getting better at counting and identifying larger and smaller groups. He’s definitely more comfortable on the Math island than the reading and writing, obviously, but when he reaches that point in school where he begins to learn to read and write, I can totally see us returning to Wings. The added benefit will be he’ll already be familiar with the format and know how to navigate between islands on his own, allowing him to play Wings by himself.
* Badges, badges, badges — My oldest loves badges, and there are four categories of badges that your child can call up at any time to show off to friends — Mastery of Fundamentals, Time Spent, Volume of Lessons, and Fun Quests. There are over 50 colorful looking badges that have an embroidered look to them. I’m discovering these badges to be quite motivational, and my son loves it when a scroll appears with a drumroll on the screen and unrolls to reveal a new badge.
We’ve yet to play every mini-game on the three islands, but I can already tell I won’t need to be sitting with my oldest boy to encourage him to play with Wings. My youngest still needs me to sit with him and help with instructions, but that’s okay — it’s time well spent. I can definitely see Wings being a great asset to both my boys as they grow. Wings is designed to follow a child up to grade 6, so I’m making a note to myself to do a follow-up post in a year or two to talk more about our experiences with Wings. As I stated earlier, I think Wings is one of the strongest tools that the Nabi brings to the table — it’s fun, colorful, has great music and sound, and it’s definitely appealing to kids. As for parents, what’s appealing is the sheer volume of content that Wings provides. My family has only used the Pre-K and Kindergarten Grade selection, so I’m blown away thinking about how much more content is available for my boys to explore and learn.
Wings will be pre-loaded with Pre-K and K on the Nabi Jr. Nick Jr (a special 16GB version of the Nabi Jr that offers up a number of Nickelodeon specialty apps as well) and will also be ready for sale via retailers at the beginning of September — just in time for back to school. I don’t have any information on pricing plans yet, but the Wings trial versions will be pre-loaded on all Nabi tablets. If you’re looking for Wings for Grades 1-6, this upgrade will become available in the fall for purchase, and each curriculum (Reading, Math, Writing) can be purchased as a bundle or a la carte via the Wings University (similar to the App Zone) and downloaded to your Nabi.
Both the Nabi and Nabi Jr tablets have a number of accessories for sale. My oldest doesn’t really care about the Kinabis, small rubber letters and icons that can be stuck to the rear of a Nabi as a means to customize the look, but my youngest has his name spelled out on the back of his Nabi Jr (see photo). When he first saw that, his eyes lit up (he recognizes the spelling of his name) and I think it helped cement the fact that this was HIS tablet. Unfortunately he has a six letter name and there are only six spaces on the back of the Nabi Jr. He loves the football and soccer ball Kinabis, but I’ve not yet been able to get through to him that there’s not enough spaces to include both his name and his favorite sports icons. (Of course, my oldest still grabbed the baseball Kinabi for the back of his; it’s his favorite sport.) Kinabis are available in letters, a Sports Pack, a Desserts Pack, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Pack (also sold individually), and an Animal Pack.
Both Nabi and Nabi Jr have excellent battery life, especially if you teach your children to power down the tablet rather than put it to sleep. (Putting to sleep is fine, especially if you’re child is going to return to it in a few minutes or so, but anything longer than a 10-15 minute period, power it down completely — it really makes a difference.) But on long trips, you’ll be happy to know that there’s a Nabi Power Bank. It’s marketed as “The 14 Hour Plane Ride Solution” and although I haven’t had a chance to test it for that length of time, I can tell you that it easily powered the Nabi Jr for almost 7 straight hours after the built-in batteries gave up. At that point the LEDs on the front were halfway gone, so 14 hours is quite possible. (The last LED will blink to alert you when it’s down to less than 20% power.)
I’ve gotten in a habit of keeping the Power Bank charged and in my kids Activity Bag so I don’t leave it behind. We’ve taken two 5-hour road trips over the last month, and the Power Bank was a lifesaver on more than one occasion.
I also tested the Stand, but my son prefers to hold his Nabi Jr so the Stand hasn’t gotten much usage. It’s still a nice small solution if you’d prefer to have the Nabi/Jr stand on a table for displaying a movie or video. (The Accessories page is a bit light on Nabi Jr stuff, but I imagine that will change soon.)
If you invest in a Nabi Jr, you’ll be happy to know that the case is included (Red). These rubber bumper shells are a lifesaver, and I’ve already seen the Nabi Jr fall from a few feet onto the edges (thankfully not on the screen) and survive.
Given the good protection the rubber case offers, the only likely point of breakage is the screen. Thankfully Fuhu is now offering a No-Questions-Asked screen replacement warranty that covers (from the website):
Drops, spills, water damage, breakdowns, malfunctions, normal wear and tear
Fires, floods, hurricanes and earthquakes
Alien invasions, zombies and bigfoot
Nabis come with a standard Warranty — details here. But at $79.00 for two years of extra coverage, if you live in an area where Bigfoot has been spotted or you just have “a child,” it’s a reasonable amount for peace of mind.
I am continually surprised and delighted by the Nabi products. Ultimately, however, it’s not my satisfaction that counts. I’ve watched my boys play and play and play on these devices. More importantly, I’ve watched them learn and learn and learn. I’ve never used a tablet as a substitute for one-on-one teaching time (whether for reading, learning letters and shapes, etc.) with my children, but I will admit that the Nabi and Nabi Jr. devices make me feel better when I need to sit them on the couch for some quiet time. Both devices are locked in Nabi Mode, so I never worry that they’ll be stumbling onto any non-kid-friendly videos or games. I like the reward system (that both boys understand) because I can assign points/coins and let them “do the time” to get their rewards.
As for the Nabi Jr, specifically, my three-year-old keeps discovering new apps that he’s not yet opened. He has a short attention span, of course, but I’ll take what I can get. Just sitting down with him and helping him figure out a new app or learn a new skill is amazing to watch. The Jr is definitely a tablet he can grow into, and with a bit of luck and good care, I think it’ll give him at least a few more years of content before he wants to graduate up to the larger Nabi. Regarding Wings… I just cannot recommend it enough. It’s well done, and the age-related content has definitely been well-selected. (I’m very curious to see how my oldest does with the 1st grade Wings content, and will do a follow-up later this year or next after he’s had some hands-on time with it.)
The Nabi Jr. retails for $100 (4GB) and $140 (16GB) — 1/5 or more of the price of a full blown iPad. And it’s loaded with over 30 apps that are guaranteed to appeal to kids 3 and up. Toss in the included protective sleeve/cover, charger, built-in camera, and the PreK and K Wings content, and you’ve got a great little digital solution for your young child. (If you’d like some more reviews of the Nabi Jr, be sure to check out its “In the News” page here.)
Note: I’d like to thank Grace, Lisa, and the rest of the crew at Fuhu for not only providing me with test units of the Nabi and Nabi Jr, but also for being so helpful with answering my questions, demonstrating various features, and helping me understand the Wings Learning System better.
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