Pros: Quad-core performance for under $200, loaded with kid-friendly software but also runs stock ICS out of the box, removable bumper is colorful and adds protection, future accessories promise extensibility.

Cons: A little thick and heavy compared to competitors, no Google Play access, pre-production software a bit unstable, lacks rear-facing camera.

Bottom Line: For under two hundred bucks, a tablet the whole family can share – so long as you don’t mind the chunky, colorful styling.

The Details

Less than a week ahead of Google’s expected unveiling of the Nexus Tablet, Fuhu has beaten Google to the $199 punch in unveiling Nabi 2. Fuhu? Nabi 2? You heard right: The first 7″, Tegra 3 powered tablet on the scene features a kid-safe browser and comes wrapped in a bright red rubber bumper. Southern California’s Fuhu, Inc. released the kid-friendly, parent-approved Nabi last November and has followed it up with Nabi 2, which will hit Best Buy and Walmart at the magic $200 price point (To be fair, since Nabi2 won’t actually ship until July, Nexus Tablet may well beat it to consumers’ hands. But still…).

I had a few days with an almost-final Nabi 2, and in general I came away impressed. Jim Mitchell, the company’s CEO, calls his new baby, “the fastest, most powerful seven-inch tablet in the category,” and company PR touts a handful of big name partnerships with technology, entertainment and education companies. Along with a chunky, colorful industrial design, Nabi 2′s calling card is its kid-optimized mode. Kids mode consists of a cartoonish launcher with large icons, a parent-configurable Apps whitelist (the better to keep junior away from gaming during homework time), and Maxthon’s kid-safe browser. The browser literally locks users out of unapproved URLs while offering a button-based bookmarks list on launch. Additionally, Nabi 2 comes pre-loaded with a plethora of content and links deemed okay for the youngin’s, ranging from standardized core curriculum activities from Sunburst Education to Cookie Jar Entertainment’s “kid-safe” streaming video portal (accessible for $2.99/month). An integrated mini-HDMI port makes it easy to turn Nabi 2 into a media center capable of playing all that video on a big screen HDTV.

All of the child-oriented software and content on Nabi 2 is bright, easy to read, and driven by large, easily targeted UI elements. If you’re going to give your kid a tablet, Nabi 2 certainly seems like a solid choice in terms of both ease of use and parental controls. No other tablet I’ve seen in recent memory comes right out of the box with a kid safe mode, let alone a “Chore List” app to keep your familial laborers on task. And while I didn’t have nearly enough time with my review sample to thoroughly evaluate the Fooz Kids University, “mom-approved” App Zone 2.0, or hours upon hours of available music, video, and animated content, it definitely seems to tend more towards “potentially useful” than “bloatware.” The possible exceptions I noticed are the perplexing inclusions of Moron Test and the controversial animated series, Veggie Tales.

Take Nabi 2 back from your offspring and a password is all that separates you from “Mommy/Daddy Mode,” aka stock Android – minus access to the Google Play store (apps are instead available via AppZone). My device came with ICS 4.0 pre installed, and its Tegra 3-fueled performance was generally top-notch. The 7″, 1024 x 600 display was crisp and responsive – if not quite state of the art – and the 4-plus-1 core CPU and 1GB of onboard RAM was plenty to keep graphics, transitions, and video playback generally smooth. I did experience a few stutters while playing the demo version of Hockey Nations 2011, but all was smooth sailing during Riptide (pardon the pun). Crashes were a bit more frequent in kid mode, but I’ll chalk that up to the pre-production software.

Battery life is a minor concern, as Nabi 2′s 3,850 mAh battery isn’t quite as big as those found in the similarly sized Kindle Fire or much larger iPad 2 and Galaxy Tab 10.1. That said, I got just under five hours of constant use out of the device, which is far longer than any kid should spend in front of a tablet in one sitting (not that anyone asked me). Also, while the included rubber bumper provides some protection against bumps and drops, it won’t do much to prevent the inevitable water, juice, and milk spills associated with kids of a certain age.

Fuhu says a line of Nabi 2 accessories is coming in short order, including themed bumpers and an array of Nabi Grid-compatible gizmos. Nabi Grid is a rear panel for the tablet that’s outfitted with an array of slotted connectors meant to accommodate accessories ranging from car mounts to external cameras. I’ve yet to see any Grid gear, but it’s an interesting concept that no doubt let Fuhu keep Nabi 2′s price down by making the aforementioned rear camera an optional add-on.

All in all, Nabi 2 is a compelling idea that combines top-shelf Android specs with a user experience that’s tailored to whole-family use right out of the box. If you’re looking for an Android device you can share with the kids – or have the cash to buy the little ones their own tablet – Nabi 2 is worth a look. Just remember that Nexus Tablet promises even better performance at the same price point, minus the kid stuff, and should be unveiled this coming week at Google I/O.

Nabi 2 Gallery