If you’ve got kids and you’ve got a smartphone, chances are they’ve asked to borrow it. Sure, there are a number of kid-friendly tablets out there, like the Fuhu Nabi 2, but they won’t fit into a pocket. That’s where the PlayMG MG ($169.99 direct) comes in, as a portable, handheld Android gaming device. The MG delivers a full range of Android games for kids, but it lacks some parent-friendly features like safe browsing and automatic time limits for use. It’s also up against some tough competition including the $199 fourth-generation iPod touch, with its superior app store, and the $159 Amazon Kindle Fire tablet, which has a more comprehensive child-safe mode called FreeTime.
Design and Features
The MG looks and feels like an egg-shaped Android smartphone, with rounded ends that extend from the top and bottom. It measures 5.8 by 2.6 by 0.5 inches (HWD) and weighs 4.5 ounces, which means it will fit in a coat pocket.
The MG is made from two-tone plastic, and while it’s not the most premium-feeling device, it feels sturdy enough to handle a few bumps and bruises. When held in landscape orientation, you’ll find Volume buttons along the top edge, with Power and Brightness buttons flanking a microUSB port along the bottom edge. The 3.5mm headphone jack is on the bottom, and you can remove half of the back panel to reach a microSD card slot.
Though many made-for-kids devices feature tepid screens, the 4-inch 800-by-480-pixel display on the MG is surprisingly nice. It gets plenty bright, and detail looks crisp and clear, but what struck me most was the excellent viewing angle and vivid color reproduction—both of which are usually lacking on low-cost devices like the MG. Below the screen are three capacitive buttons for Back, Home, and Menu.
This is a Wi-Fi only device that connects to 802.11b/g/n networks on the 2.4GHz band. You get a single 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera, but no Bluetooth or GPS support. The base $169.99 model comes with 4GB of internal storage and includes an 8GB microSD card. My 64GB SanDisk microSD card worked fine too. There are two pricier bundles, for $174.99 and $179.99, which have the same exact specs, but come with protective cases.
Performance and Software
The MG is powered by a single-core 1GHz TCC8925 ARM Cortex-A5 processor with 1GB RAM. The specs aren’t anything to write home about. The MG scored similarly in our benchmarks to the Samsung Galaxy Player 4.2 and various prepaid smartphones, but I actually found the MG to run very fluidly, belying its uninspiring components.
Unlike most kid-focused Android devices, the MG runs a relatively close to stock version of Android 4.0.4 “Ice Cream Sandwich,” which gives it a bit of a leg up on the Galaxy Player 4.2, a similar Android powered non-smartphone that’s stuck on version 2.3 (“Gingerbread”). You won’t find big, bold icons or a dumbed-down interface. You get the power and customizability of full-on Android, but you’ll have to work a bit harder to get it the way you like it, which some older kids might actually prefer.
The MG ran apps surprisingly well, with fluid animations and quick app load times. Gaming, which is one of the major draws of the MG, is solid. It’s not going to match up with the Nvidia Tegra 3-powered Nexus 7, but games are perfectly playable. Even a graphically intensive game like Riptide GP ran relatively smoothly, though I did notice intermittent framerate stutters and some pixelated textures. The MG is not without problems, however, as I found it routinely balked when attempting to update multiple apps at a time, and the back got noticeably hot during extended gaming sessions.
The MG comes pre-loaded with 11 games, ranging from big names like EA’s NBA Jam and Need for Speed Hot Pursuit to knock-offs like Slice It. It’s a nice selection that will likely entertain your kids for a while. The MG also has access to the Google Play app store, which has over 600,000 apps. That gives it an advantage over the Kindle Fire, which only has access to the Amazon App Store, but it still loses out to the quality and selection of children’s apps on the iPod touch.
The MG was able to play AVI, DivX, H.264, and MPEG4 video files, but only the last one played at 1080p resolution, with the rest topping out at 720p. For audio, the MG supports MP3, AAC, FLAC, OGG, WAV, and WMA files.
In our battery rundown test, which loops a video with screen brightness set to max and Wi-Fi on, the MG lasted only 2 hours, 25 minutes. That’s far shorter than the 6 hours, 57 minutes turned in by the Galaxy Player 4.2 and shorter than the 5-plus hours of the iPod touch.
The MG has two main forms of parental controls: an app spending allowance and usage monitoring. The app spending allowance is handled through a SpendSmart prepaid Mastercard that you can sign up for through PlayMG. It’s not exclusive to the MG, but it does have some nice features like remote locking and spending allowance that you can access online. PlayMG also matches the first $10 you load onto your SpendSmart card. Otherwise, it works like any other credit card you link to a Google Play account.
App usage monitoring works pretty well on the MG. Through the Family Collaboration app you can see what apps were launched, when they were launched, and how long they were used. You can also see what apps they’ve downloaded and set up a weekly report if you’d like regular updates via email. However, it stops short of the time limit features found in the Kindle Fire’s FreeTime mode, and there’s also no way to set up safe web-browsing without downloading a separate app like Zoodles.
If you’re tired of handing off your smartphone to game-hungry kids, the PlayMG MG offers a compelling solution. It’s affordable at $169, but for $30 more you can get a full-on tablet like the Nexus 7 or Fuhu Nabi 2, and for $10 less you can get a Kindle Fire. You should also consider the $199 Samsung Galaxy Player 4.2, though it’s stuck on the aging Android 2.3 OS. If you have money to spend and trust your kids, you should probably just go with a fourth-gen iPod touch. The iPod touch is available for $199, and while it lacks parental controls, it offers a simpler interface and a higher-quality app selection. But if you want a level of control over how your kids use their smart device, the PlayMG MG is a capable Android performer at a very reasonable price.
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|Screen Resolution||800 x 480 pixels|
|Operating System||Google Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich)|
|Dimensions||5.8 x 2.6 x 0.5 inches|
|Processor Speed||1 GHz|
|CPU||ARM Cortex A5|
|Storage Capacity (as Tested)||4 GB|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc