Hands-on with Oregon Scientific’s Meep: a tablet for kids with parental controls

Christmas is coming up, and you know what that means: succumbing to the desires of your children and ponying up the cash so that Santa gives them everything they want. Outside of the usual toys and video games, tablets are the hot ticket item this year, and Oregon Scientific has been working on one for the little people that will grow with them.

Heading to stores in November, the “Meep!” is a new tablet that takes Android and gives it a twist, producing a tablet that has kids in mind more than their parents.

“Historically we made laptops because kids want to emulate their parents,” said Oregon Scientific’s Shibily Moidy. “Now we’re reaching an era that’s all about smart devices. Our answer is a rugged, interactive, fun tablet for kids.”

The seven inch form factor is what this thing has been designed around, with an 800×480 screen, 1GHz processor, Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich,” WiFi, HDMI out, 4GB of internal storage, and a microSD slot, but more interesting than the specifications is the concept itself.

Instead of just having a tablet that the kids can operate – complete with games, web browsing, YouTube, talking eBooks, music playback, and more – parents can keep a watchful eye on what the children are doing with an online interface that lets them not only monitor exactly what’s being played or browsed, but also set restrictions.

For instance, if the kids have been bad and need to be punished, rather than take the tablet away from them, you can simply stop them from accessing the web and games, or limit their time on it through the interface.

Oregon Scientific has devised a backend for parents to monitor, control, and in essence, be parents, but in a digital medium, looking over what the kids are doing and requiring adult approval for some things, such as buying games, something which could stop the in-app purchase problems affecting the games on the Apple iPad.

Play games with lots of physical accessories.

Kids, meanwhile, will have a touchscreen tablet of their own to play with, supporting games such as Rovio’s “Angry Birds” and 2D Boy’s “World of Goo,” as well as a whole bunch of titles from popular mobile game developer Gameloft.

Interestingly, games that support multiplayer through Android – such as “Uno” – can actually be played against other people with different devices, so your kids could play a game on the Meep at home while you play against them on a Samsung Galaxy S3 while at work.

More than the typical range of arcade games, there are also edutainment titles developed by Oregon Scientific that will come with a bunch of accessories priced from $29 to $59, all designed to survive the sort of punishment your kids can throw at them.

There’s a long foldable and rollable piano that you can plug into the tablet and play, a drum kit on a pad made from similar material, a microphone, game pad case, and even a quiz-show controller inside what looks like an orange binder, and to get them to work, all you need to do is plug the tablet into the accessories.

“We did a focus group on kids, and that’s how its been developed,” said Mr. Moidy. “Kids want to be engaged, want to watch movies, want to browse the World Wide Web. Kids want to have fun.”

The accessories are pretty easy to use, and your kids should be entertained for a while, at least before they move on.

Blow on the microphone to push the bubble over obstacles.

Moving on is one area where Oregon Scientific has taken note of children, realising that it’s quite common for a child to just drop something when they’re done, so because we’re talking about a tablet here, the company has wrapped the tablet in rubber and made it reasonably damage proof.

We played with the Meep tablet today and found that it’s pretty resistant, lending itself to serious damage only when you beat the screen against something hard and sharp, which you probably shouldn’t be doing anyway.

Regardless, the tablet feels like it’s been designed to take the brunt of what most children could throw at it, and with a host of games, could be a neat present idea for the holiday season.

The Oregon Scientific Meep is heading to stores in early November, and will be priced at $199 RRP.