(Pocket-lint) - The internet is a place of knowledge, entertainment, and more - but it isn't always a safe place. When it comes to kids spending time online a simple search for one thing can lead to something else, or playing a game could lead to dozens of in-app purchases that soon add up.
With Apple and Google seemingly uninterested in fully protecting - although there are age restrictions that can be placed on user accounts - it takes other companies, such as LeapFrog and its Epic tablet, to step in and offer added peace of mind.
LeapFrog is a name long associated with "edutainment" devices (education meets entertainment). The Epic is an Android-based tablet that is more capable than its previous line-up, one that promises to adapt and change as your child gets older. We've been testing it out on the kids to see whether it delivers on its promise.
LeapFrog Epic review: Specs and design
The Epic is just as you would expect a kid's tablet to be in this price range. Its 7-inch screen has a large bezel and is housed within a plastic shell, plus there's a large removable silicon bumper to protect it from knocks and bashes - and although we've not put it through any rigorous lab tests, it's coped with three children under 10 using it (perfect for its ages 3-9 target range).
There are the usual array of buttons, which you won't see most of the time thanks to that bumper, and in addition to a touchscreen there's also an in-built stylus pen (the LeapFrog special). Parents will also be pleased to know there is a headphones jack so they can keep the noise to themselves.
In terms of specs, you will find none of it exciting - but that doesn't really matter. The LeapFrog Epic features an unnamed 1.3GHz quad-core processor, 1GB RAM, 16GB of on-board storage (there's a microSD slot for expansion too), and Bluetooth and 8012.11b/g/n Wi-Fi connectivity.
That makes it okay, but not exactly speedy. We found that apps took time to load, the tablet took some time to turn on, and overall things moved fairly slowly. But hey, kids need to know all good things come to those that wait, don't they?
In use we found the battery to last for around 6 hours, or less if you are constantly interacting with the device. Although we suspect (hope) you will have told your kids to get off the Epic long before that.
LeapFrog Epic review: Replacement babysitter?
The Epic comes with 20 apps included in the price, including a handful of demos, and the ability to choose a further app to get you stated. The apps range from pure fun to hidden maths, English, or other subjects, and are all designed to get your children engaged without them realising it. Yep, it's that "edutainment" word again.
So when the kids aren't having fun with covert learning there are other games, apps, or things for them to do - including art-based experiences using the stylus or even just ways for them to takes notes or pictures (the Epic comes with 2-megapixel cameras, both front and rear). As an app spread it's pretty good covering most bases.
But it is not just about apps. Realising that many kids today turn to the internet for help with their homework LeapFrog has created LeapSearch. It is a kid-safe web browser that gives access to the web, albeit a wall-garden curated experience.
You'll notice we're not talking about Google Play here, which is the usual store front you'd find on normal Android tablets. Nope, LeapFrog has intervened to hide such access away by default - which is part of the point of this tablet. However, when you feel your kids are old enough you have the power to unlock the full browser experience.
LeapFrog Epic review: Parental controls
Like other LeapFrog devices, parental controls are at the forefront of the experience. That means there are plenty of parental controls so you can not only monitor what your kids are up to, but also limit and manage their tablet time without feeling like the bad cop all the time.
You can control up to three profiles at a time, and set a number of parameters for each. We especially like the screen time option which means you can set 45-minutes for fun learning apps, but restrict video playback to 30-minutes, for example.
In practice this screen time feature is really handy as it gives your kids boundaries without you having to get involved. You can set it so once their time is up they can't come back to it for a set period of time. No more, "just five more minutes" or "just one more go please".
LeapFrog Epic review: Apps and games
If there is one compliant it's that the apps can be fairly expensive compared to counterparts that aren't LeapFrog approved, as found on other devices. The company's focus on buying into licences and brands from Disney and Nickelodeon has seemingly driven up prices, but does ensure your children have the chance to engage with their favourite TV characters. LeapFrog does have its own character alternatives, but convincing a 5-year-old that the LeapFrog frog is just as fun as Dora the Explorer might prove difficult.
When you do enter the world of apps via the accompanying app store there is plenty of choice regardless of age (up to 12 years old). The good news is, those expensive price tags mean an advert-free experience with no in-app purchases. You can be assured there are no hidden costs.
The apps themselves are all very approachable, and you can easily tell they've all had educational thought put into them. Not one of the apps we've tested felt that it was a waste of time or wouldn't be anything but beneficial to our kids.
Like many, our children live in a house where there are other tablets, including iPads. One of the greatest issues with previous LeapFrog tablets was convincing the kids that their tablet was just as exciting as their parents'. The LeapFrog Epic goes a step further in making that white lie a reality.
We love that the Epic has the ability to grow with them - not only in terms of apps, but that the protective bumper can be removed, so as they get older they aren't left with something only Peppa Pig would be excited to own.
The kids tablet market is tough though. EE, Kurio, Amazon and others all want a piece of the pie, but the LeapFrog Epic stands its ground against the competition. It's a tablet that parents will be more than happy for their children to use and, more importantly, that most kids will be more than happy to be seen with.