The original Vinci Tab was one of the earliest kid-centric tablets to hit the market. Since then, there’s been no shortage of options for parents, from dedicated devices like the Fuhu Nabi 2 to Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD with their top-notch FreeTime mode for kids. The Vinci Tab III M ($169.99 direct, 8GB) has all the trappings of a child-centric-friendly device, with a kid-size 5-inch screen, a protective rubber bumper, and a strong focus on educational content, but it’s not nearly as versatile as the aforementioned tablets, and additional educational content must be purchased separately for a steep price. It is, at least, a better buy than the larger Tab II for those sold on Vinci’s educational content.
Design and Features
The Vinci Tab III M’s biggest selling point is likely its small build. Designed around a 5-inch screen, it’s a bit more manageable for the younger crowd. The M measures 5.8 by 3.5 by 0.6 inches (HWD) and weighs 8.48 ounces, which is almost a third of the weight of the Nabi 2. Wrapped around the edges is a protective rubber bumper with a handle at one end. Power and Volume buttons are built into the bumper’s edge, while cut-outs allow access to the micro USB port, microSD card slot, and 3.5mm headphone jack. The protective bumper is glued onto the edges of the tablet, but leaves the back panel exposed. I was able to dislodge part of the bumper simply by picking at it.
The 5-inch, 800-by-480-pixel display leaves a lot to be desired. Given the small size, the lower resolution isn’t as huge of an issue as it might be on a 7-inch tablet, but it’s noticeably grainy and colors look a bit muted. There’s also a layer over the glass screen that gives it a foggy, almost speckled quality.
Below the display are physical Menu, Home, and Back buttons with a front-facing camera of unspecified resolution next to them. On the back are a small speaker grille and a 3-megapixel rear-facing camera. The cameras here are lackluster and the speaker is a tinny mess, but that shouldn’t be a dealbreaker for tablets in this category.
The Tab III M is Wi-Fi only tablet that connects to 802.11b/g/n networks on the 2.4GHz band. On a few occasions, however, I noticed the Wi-Fi would cut out and take a restart to reconnect. There’s no Bluetooth or GPS here. The M comes in a single 8GB model and our 32 and 64GB SanDisk microSD cards worked fine to expand the tablet’s storage.
Android and Content
This tablet isn’t going to blow anyone away with its specs or performance, but it doesn’t have to. Unlike the Nabi 2, which is powered by a quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor, the M runs on a modest single-core 1.2GHz Cortex A8 processor. I noticed a few minor performance hiccups like app hang-ups, jerky scrolling, and slow Web page loads, but nothing serious. The Vinci-produced content ran very smoothly in my tests.
Vinci’s implementation of a kid-safe, sandboxed version of Android is a bit different than, say, Fuhu or Amazon’s. Parent and Kid modes look very similar, instead of large, colorful cartoonish icons for the latter on the aforementioned systems. It’s all built on Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich” and the kid-mode simply strips access to apps not placed on the home screen. And there are some glaring holes and easy workarounds for smart kids. For example, holding the Home button in Kid mode opens up the app switcher, allowing access to restricted apps that parents may have left running. Pulling down the notification bar also allows full access to the system settings, which curious kids can use to, say, connect to unknown Wi-Fi networks. Both Fuhu and Amazon offer more comprehensive protection that lock out features more effectively, while Amazon’s FreeTime even lets you set time limits on usage.
As far as content goes, Vinci’s original apps are very polished compared with those of competitors. Vinci packages its content in curriculums and the M is preloaded with preschool levels 1 through 3. Also included are three Vinci story books and 20 music videos. The apps are almost all educational, teaching skills through voice prompts and touch interaction. My biggest complaint is that it’s not always completely obvious what you’re supposed to do. For example, in a number of apps, if you happen to miss the short voice prompt in the beginning, you get little additional guidance. Where other kid-friendly models preload a bunch of games and entertainment-focused content, the Vinci is decidedly focused on educating children, which many parents will likely prefer. Amazon doesn’t include any educational content, while Fuhu includes some decent educational content, but it’s not quite as polished as Vinci’s. The Vinci curriculum targets kids as young as one-and-a-half years old, and introductory apps teach language skills. For example, the first level shows a typical child’s bedroom with various items and toys scattered about. Touching an item activates a voice prompt that identifies the item.
Another issue with the content is the price. The original Vinci Tab had a subscription style content distribution system, and since it lacked Wi-Fi, you had to buy through Vinci to get anything on your tablet. Luckily, the M is not subscription based, but adding curriculums can cost anywhere from $89.99 on the low end to $179.99 at the top end. Ouch.
Thankfully, the M also offers access to the Google Play app store and its selection of hundreds of thousands of apps. Vinci’s focus is on education, so if you want to add some entertaining games you can do so through Google Play. Keep in mind, however, that most graphic-intensive games, like say, racing titles, will trip the III M up.
When it comes to kid-centric tablets, parents have a lot of choices right now. But there are only two reasons to choose the III M over the Nabi 2 or simply using FreeTime on a Kindle Fire: The child-size 5-inch screen, which isn’t of great quality, and the Vinci educational content, which, unfortunately, is astronomically priced. Aside from those two factors, that each come with major caveats, the Vinci Tab III M falls short.
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|Screen Resolution||800 x 480 pixels|
|Operating System||Google Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich)|
|Dimensions||5.8 x 3.5 x 0.6 inches|
|Processor Speed||1.2 GHz|
|Screen Size||5 inches|
|CPU||ARM Cortex A8|
|Storage Capacity (as Tested)||8 GB|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc