HolidayBuyer's Guide

Hey, kids! Verizon's got a tablet just for you

It's play or learn -- or both, as the GizmoTab turns the whole tablet experience into a game.

The GizmoTab home screen is a series of islands instead of rows of apps.

Photo by Photo by Alfred Ng/CNET

At first glance, it looks like a game. But it's actually the home screen of a kids' tablet.

Instead of rows of app icons, Verizon's new GizmoTab has kids navigating applications by putting them in themed islands. Children can go to Doodle Town to get the Crayola Color, Draw & Sing app or Safari Island for Nat Geo Puzzle Explorer.

Verizon unveiled the interface, along with 300 preloaded kid-friendly apps, on its latest children's tablet on Thursday. It's a part of the carrier's Gizmo lineup, which includes smartwatches for children that come with monitoring tools for parents. The telecommunications giant started working on the GizmoTab immediately after its Ellipsis Kids tablet, released last November.

The tablet for rugrats is available for $80 with a Verizon data plan, and $250 on its own.

Tech for kids is a thriving market, as parents search for inexpensive ways to give their children gadgets without having to worry about the devices being misused.

As the designated child among the CNET staff, I decided to dive into the digital ball pit and explore the tyke apps on the Android device.

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The tablet boots up into the playful map interface, which functions more like a game than an operating system. You control it all through an avatar that has the feel of a Sims character. The map shows eight islands, each with a different theme for apps.

It's what a tablet experience would feel like if everything was turned into a game. Your child's character has to go to the school in a 3D town to get to educational apps and books, or warp over to the arcade to play minigames.

Parents can adjust settings so that kids have to learn to earn playtime, with GizmoTab tracking how much time is spent on educational apps versus games. You can also limit how much tablet time each kid gets.

"Parents are just constantly trying to manage screen time," said Kimberly Verbonitz, the chief revenue officer for app maker Fingerprint.

GizmoTab also comes with a bumper case to protect it from drops.

Photo by Verizon

Verizon partnered with Fingerprint to curate its kids apps, which were approved by education and parenting experts. With Ellipsis, Verizon's first kids' tablet, parents were left in the dark about what apps were appropriate to download for their child, the company noted on its feedback.

Fingerprint selected its apps based on three criteria, Verbonitz said: its educational value, engaging gameplay and storytelling.

"Kids are like little scientists. They like to explore and discover and play," she said. "They learn best when they don't really know that they're learning."

The children's experience is pretty limited, though. You can either play or learn -- that's it. There's no web browsing or YouTube unless parents add it in, so your kids are stuck in the game world without an adult around. It means not having to worry about your child racking up charges on your bill with in-app purchases, but it makes it harder for kids to keep themselves entertained, even with hundreds of apps.

To break free, you'll have to go into parent mode, which is protected by a PIN. You can download apps from the Google Play store there and put them on the kid-friendly map through the feature.

You can also turn the GizmoTab into a fully functional tablet, with 3GB RAM running on Android Marshmallow. The feature comes in handy for the day your tyke outgrows the kiddy apps and wants to take off the tablet training wheels.

First published November 30 at 9:01 p.m. PT.
Update, December 1 at 5:11 a.m. PT: Adds quote from Kimberly Verbonitz.
Update, December 1 at 9:32 a.m. PT
: Adds clarification on ability to download third-party apps.