(Pocket-lint) - Everyone needs to be online these days. Look around you on the high street, on a bus, on a plane: chances are the majority of people will have their head down looking at a phone or tablet. The ability to have instant access to all the information in the world, message friends or play games has become second nature.
But while portable media devices are brilliant, there's a key demographic that's often overlooked, and that's kids. Sure, parents can put an iPad in front of their children while they're eating breakfast or in the car, but an iPad hasn't been designed to be manhandled by a child and the inevitable drops, bumps and slaps. Mobile operator EE has noticed this and has designed the Robin tablet, designed specifically for the younger generation.
This second-generation model has been on the receiving end of a number of performance upgrades to keep up with the most demanding of tykes and has security features to keep them safe and secure online.
With only one real major rival in Amazon, can EE's toddler-tablet do enough to be king of the sandpit?
EE Robin review: Design
- 191 x 109 x 9.25mm; 257g
- Buy outright or on contract
Remove the included EE branded silicone case and you'll see the Robin is an Alcatel OneTouch Pixi 7 tablet. It's relatively slim, just 9.25mm at its thickest point, and even with the case on it can easily be placed in a bag or in a pocket behind a seat in the car.
It's incredibly light too at 257 grams, which is good considering its main audience will be children, so they'll need something that's easy to carry around and withstand long playing sessions.
There's no front-mounted physical buttons. Controls for home, back and app switching is achieved using on-screen controls, just like with most Android-based devices.
The Robin can be used horizontally or vertically, depending on what app you have open. In either form, the power and volume buttons are easy to reach, being on the right-hand side when vertical or top-left edge when horizontal.
The Micro USB charging port and 3.5mm headphone jack are on the top and there are micro-SIM card and microSD card slots for on-the-go browsing and storage expansion. There's 16GB of internal storage on the Robin, but it can be expanded using an extra card.
The supplied case has an integrated kickstand which makes it ideal for plonking in front of your children on a table or highchair.
Overall, the Robin feels well made and ideally suited for children. The supplied case adds an extra layer of protection that's vital for withstanding the inevitable knocks from younger users.
EE Robin review: Display
- 7-inch screen
- 540 x 960 resolution
At 7-inches diagonally, the Robin's screen is an ideal size for smaller hands, but with a resolution of 540 x 960 pixels (157ppi) it won't win the contest for crispest visuals.
Nevertheless, colours are still vibrant without being overdone, plus there's a decent amount of detail in darker areas of scenes. Viewing angles are decent and brightness levels are commendable, so your kids should have no problems using the tablet outside in sunlight with brightness turned up to its fullest.
Motion in games such as Subway Surfers is smooth and stable too, and considering the Robin will be used for gaming and apps much of the time, motion control is a key factor in the Robin's success.
Your child is unlikely to throw the Robin back at you if they don't think the level of detail is up to scratch, but it's good to know they'll be getting a good visual experience.
EE Robin review: Parent supervision
- Password-protected parent profile
- Adjust settings for child's profile
- Android 5.1, running Kurio software
The EE Robin runs on Android 5.1, but has two separate areas: one for parents and one for kids. In the parents section, you can set a passcode to keep your child locked out, and it's in this section that you can adjust settings for the kid's section of the pre-installed Kurio software.
You can adjust the age range of your child or children who will be using the tablet, which determines what content is offered as well as select what web content can and can't be shown. You can also activate or deactivate Google Play Store privileges for purchase and content restrictions.
You can further control how your young one uses the Robin by setting authorised hours that the tablet can be used between, so you can be sure your youngster won't be up all night playing games and you can make sure they do their homework.
It's also in the parent profile that the Robin functions as a regular Android tablet, with the full selection of Google apps: YouTube, Play Movies, Play Music et al. All the same apps and games tailored for children are on the parent's section too, so you could theoretically leave it on this profile for them to play, but then they'll be exposed to less strict privacy controls.
EE Robin review: Thinking about the children
- 40 pre-installed games, books and educational tools
- Hopster for TV shows and more games
The child-friendly section is an entirely secure ecosystem that only has access to age-appropriate content. There are 40 games, eBooks and educational tools pre-installed, but more can be downloaded from the Play Store (as long as the parent has given permission).
One app, Hopster, has an extensive range of kid's TV shows and educational games. Some of these are free-to-watch and play right away, but for the rest you'll need a Hopster account. EE will give you 24 months free access to Hopster when you buy the Robin tablet on a 24 month Tablet or Max plan, or provide three free months with an Essential plan.
There's a mixture of games aimed at boys and girls, all of which are easy to pick up and learn the controls. Some games have tutorials or on-screen instructions, while others leave you to it, but are simple enough to work out what's happening.
EE Robin review: Performance
- 1.1GHz quad-core processor, 2GB RAM
- 2820mAh battery; 10 hours use / four hours heavy use
While the Robin might not have the latest or fastest processor around, we found little to no problems during use. Although it does take a little while to power up, once on you can scroll through menus and load games relatively quickly. Considering the Robin is going to be used for gaming a lot of the time, it's a good job the processor is up to the task for what's on offer.
Where the EE Robin does fall down slightly is in the battery department. It features a 2820mAh cell, rechargeable via Micro USB, but we only managed to get around four hours of life from it when streaming a two hour movie on repeat. If you wanted to put the Robin in front of your child on a long car journey to watch TV shows or films, you'll need to make sure you've got the means to keep it charged.
For everyday use, EE says the Robin is good for 10 hours of use, which we'd agree with, but you'll still probably find yourself charging it every night.
EE Robin review: Camera
- 2-megapixel rear-facing, VGA front-facing
- Used for motion control games
Not every device can be perfect, and the camera is the Robin's kryptonite. The rear camera is 2-megapixels and the front-facing is VGA (640 x 480 pixels), so neither cut the mustard when it comes to taking good quality photos.
We had our reservations about the front-facing camera too, as it can be used to play motion control games. However, we loaded up Motion Extreme and tried our hand at virtual paragliding. While the image quality of ourselves was pretty shocking, the camera and game were still able to track our movements accurately, even when the tablet was placed lower than the recommended height.
We like the idea of motion gaming, it provides an extra level of involvement as opposed to just tapping on the screen, and with the paragliding game it even got us moving in a way that could be considered exercise!
As a tablet, the EE Robin wouldn't win many contests as there's simply too much competition out there that blows it out the water. But as an affordable kids tablet with pre-installed games and educational content to keep children amused and occupied, the Robin is a surefire success.
There are three plans available for the Robin, all with a £30 upfront cost. You can get 2GB data for £17 per month, 10GB for £19.50 or 20GB for for £22 on a 4GEE Max plan.
The relatively low prices only add to the Robin's appeal and with only one real competitor in the form of the Amazon Fire tablet kid's edition - older devices such as the Tesco Hudl are no more - the EE Robin can more than hold its own.
EE Robin: The alternative to consider
Amazon Fire HD Kids Edition
- from £119
Amazon offers higher-resolution and a slightly smaller price tag, but it's Wi-Fi only - so no on-the-go frills as per EE's SIM-based offering.