KidsBrowser 3.2 and BumperCar 2.0
It may not be the Wild West, but the Web can still be a dangerous place for kids. Most Web browsers are designed for the broadest audience possible, with little thought to the needs of specific age groups. Two browsers made especially for kids, App4Mac’s KidsBrowser 3.2 and Freeverse Software’s BumperCar 2.0 make the Web more fun (for kids) and safe (for parents). Both have their merits, depending on a child’s age and the amount of supervision they need to avoid questionable content.
Guardians need to be able to set up black lists (Web sites that can never be viewed) and white lists (Web sites that can always be viewed), as well as decide on words to block. In addition, the browser needs to limit how the child interacts with sites, preventing them from giving out information that might be improperly used. Both browsers offer these basic safety features for parents to set up. The main difference between them is in their user interface and experience.
KidsBrowser 3.2 takes over the entire screen to give kids an immersive Web experience complete with multiple, kid-friendly interface themes (space, trucks, technology, and more) using large, easy-to-click buttons. Though the themes were cartoonish, they all integrated smoothly with the sites my daughter and I visited.
One of our favourite features in KidsBrowser was the large preview image that accompanies each link on the Favorites page. Rather than simply listing the name of the Web site, KidsBrowser takes a snapshot of the page when an adult sets up a bookmark using the parental controls. This allows children to see which page they’re about to access, making it especially useful for those still learning to read. However, the preview is not created when kids use the F7 key to add a favourite Web site. Another limitation in KidsBrowser is that it doesn’t let kids organize their favourites into different categories, so they may end up with a very long list of Web pages.
KidsBrowser avoids cluttering its interface by hiding the URL entry field, although clicking a button will make it slide out when needed. This makes a lot of sense, as most kids do not need to constantly know their URL. One feature that is noticeably lacking is a quick search field that would allow a search without the need to travel to Google (or other search engine).
Both browsers provide standard safety controls, but BumperCar 2.0’s offers more options. BumperCar lets adults block Web sites based on the sites’ own content ratings. Adults also can filter search results, block ads and cookies, set the number of hours per day allowed for browsing, and set what time of day kids can browse (so no sneaking over to the computer after bedtime).
One nice feature in BumperCar 2.0 is the ability to set the start page for three age levels: Young Children, Older Children, and Preschool. Each age level has a slightly different design and links tailored to that group. In addition, the Education design allows you to customize the start page with a school name. BumperCar 2.0 includes a Google search field in the control bar. However, younger kids may not always know what to do after typing a search term, so an obvious Go button would be helpful.
One odd quirk to BumperCar is the adversarial tone it takes in many of its messages. For example, when trying to access blocked content, kids may be presented with the message “Curses! Foiled Again,” or a BumperCar icon wagging its finger at them. While adults may think this is cute, the patronizing attitude may turn off kids who got to the problematic content by mistake, make them feel guilty and ashamed, or simply serve as a challenge to those trying to break through.