Holiday Home Run Gifts: iPad Minis, Apps, and More

Holiday Home Run Gifts: iPad Minis, Apps, and More

If you and your kids are dreaming of a tech-filled holiday season, you probably have questions about tablets, iDevices, and the like. Should you get the brand-new iPad Mini? What makes it a better choice than the larger iPad or the smaller iPod Touch? Do you need accessories, like cases and styluses? Which ones? And what are the best apps for kids of all abilities? iPad Mini iPod

The iPad Mini is this season's It Girl. According to my 13-year-old technophile daughter (whom I now consult instead of Gizmodo or Engadget), people prefer the size of the Mini for portability/stashability, and because it's friendlier for holding and reading. It's also less expensive than an iPad: the entry level 16 GB wifi-only version is $329 -- $70 less than the most basic iPad 2, and $170 less than Retina diplay iPads. Plus the Mini has Siri, which lets your kids taunt proto-AI and lay foundation for the pissed-off Skynets of the future. But I digress.

My 12-year-old autistic son is already a huge iPad fan, in part because of the iPad's large screen -- his fine motor challenges means it's difficult for him to use his fingers to manipulate objects on the teeny iPod Touch screen. So I took him on an iPad Mini test drive at the local Apple store, to see what he thought. He was unfazed by the Mini's scale reduction -- he launched right into several of his favorite apps without even a brow wrinkle, and I could see no difference in the way he used the Mini compared to his larger traditional iPad. From Leo's perspective, the Mini appears to be a solid option -- even though I'm sure our boy has no intention of trading in his beloved iPad 2.

Regardless of the tablet option you choose -- even if you choose a non-iDevice (we are also a Xoom Android tablet family, shhh) -- you're going to want a good case. Trust me on this, because my denial was expensive. Leo has always been thoughtful and careful with his iPad, but even so has cracked three tablet screens: one irreparably, two cosmetically, all three unintentionally. Do you research, consider your child's outlook on and history with expensive gadgets, and choose wisely. Of all the companies that make protective cases for tablets, readers, and smart phones, I think the Trident series does the best job in balancing affordability and protection. And they already have a Mini version available. Leo uses the Kraken, the sturdiest Trident of them all, as seen in the red iPad case pictured above.

As adept as Leo is at using his iPad, he still finds writing or drawing on it with a stylus less than motivating. Or he did, when the only options available to him were skinny, pen- or pencil-width, and made of cold hard metal. But Emma Apple helped Leo discover the soft, wide, grippable Chubby StylusChubby stylus from Lunatik ($19.95), and it transformed his tablet writing and drawing experience. The Chubby is easy to hold, and holding it feels good. What more could a 12-year-old boy ask for?

Once you've found your kid a tablet, you'll likely want to start filling it with apps. You can even take the tablet out of its box, register it, put apps and other content on it, and wrap it back up in its original trappings and box so it's ready to go upon being unwrapped by its giftee. As there are approximately five bajillion apps available on the iTunes store, Amazon.com, and Google Play store, I help maintain a recommended apps spreadsheet with an autistic friend, Corina Becker, and an SLP friend, Jordan Sadler, to help make the selection process easier for folks like you -- especially if you're looking for apps for kids with autism or other special needs. Here are a few recent and/or seasonal favorites, all prices accurate as of this writing:

  • Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer ($1.99)
    A lively interactive book based on the classic Christmastime movie. Would have been nice to have back when Rudolph was only broadcast once per year, and before VCRs (#getoffofmylawn). My kids, who watch their Rudolph DVD whenever they like, are delighted to have this expanded experience available -- especially Leo, who gets a kick out of touching Rudolph's nose and making it squeak.

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