Product Type: LeapFrog Child Development
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Leap Into Learning
Leapfrog LeapPad Explorer Tablet
Member Name: savvyshopper6476
Leapfrog LeapPad Explorer Tablet
Date: 10/06/12, updated on 10/06/12 (168 review reads)
Advantages: Fun, educational, engaging, tough and durable
Disadvantages: Cost of the apps and cartridges, camera and video quality is poor, eats batteries, slow response
I don't believe children should spend their spare time playing electronic games but I do appreciate technology has a greater role in their lives than mine when I was their age and if they must use electronic toys then they should at least have an education value. After much research, Hubby and I decided to buy the LeapFrog LeapPad Explorer, an electronic child friendly tablet suitable for children aged between four and nine years old. We brought ours from Argos for £79.99 which doesn't include any accessories such as a carry case or headphones.
~~~ What Is The LeapPad ~~~
The LeapPad is a multi functional, portable device and much more than just a handheld gamer. It offers 2GB memory and combines a stills camera, video recorder, microphone, digital reading library, art studio, diary, interactive dictionary and progress chart all roiled into one. It's also a progress chart that records your childs learning achievements within the various apps although this is an element of the device that I have yet to fully explore.
The LeapPad looks like a cross between between an iPad and iPod. The design of which is basic but functional. Rather than being slim, sleek and fragile it's chunky and child friendly and works in much the same way as a standard tablet.
I was particularly impressed when we removed the LeapPad from the packaging because it was immediately clear it would be incredibly durable. The entire device is made from thick, toughened plastic and has a gentle curve towards the bottom to provide a firm but comfortable grip which is essential as some games are motion activated. To date it's managed to withstand the usual abuse children inflict on toys. Even the touch screen is toughened plastic so there's no need to worry the device will be too delicate to cope with rough handling.
The menu and applications are navigated and controlled using either a stylus (two of which are included) or by finger tapping and dragging across the screen whilst others can be controlled using the the round toggle button at the front of the unit.
Powered by either four AA batteries (you will need plenty of them) or a 9v power cable (neither of which are included when purchased) the device itself is smaller than a standard tablet measuring just 2.4 x 13 x 17.9cm. Because the dimensions are quite chunky it's perfect for little hands. The touch screen measures 14 x 18cm and any reservations we initially had that it would be too small to adequately display text was short lived. All writing is clearly visible meaning there is no need to strain when reading.
The LeapPad comes with pre installed software but to really get the most from the device it needs to be registered and synced to Leapfrog Connect which is basically a media centre that doubles as both an online shop for the downloadable apps and storage center to back up all the data stored on the device.
Registering an account is a simple procedure of connecting the LeapPad to a laptop/pc via the USB cable and following the on screen instructions. Here some of the software will be downloaded to the device and at any time the LeapPad can be reconnected to either purchase new apps, exchange rewards or back up data. It's all password controlled and because the device has no built in wi-fi children will not (unless you allow) be able to access the account online.
~~~ A Parents Perspective ~~~
The LeapPad's interface is incredibly child friendly, using bold, bright colours, cartoon graphics and poppy sound effects all of which are appealing and engaging to a small child. The only downside to the audio elements of the LeapPad is the American accent which often confuses my children. Likewise some of the terminology is American and not relevant to us Brits. However, I fail to see how any of this will capture the imagination of a nine year old. Personally, I think older children may find this approach a little immature and I don't imagine many nine year olds being interested in a device of this nature.
All the content we have downloaded offer children to develop a range of leaning skills including fine motor, language and cognitive and although each game has it's own skills target all require an element of discipline and concentration from the child. Some games are memory based whilst others require more hand to eye co-ordination and some are more motivational offering rewards that can be exchanged for treats to be used in Pet Pad. I think this is a great way for children to learn as all the games and eBooks have a degree of personal interaction with the child and offer an element of fun, so most children won't even realise they're learning whilst playing.
Whilst I was impressed with visual animation I find myself less impressed with some of the technology. For example, the camera takes pictures at 640x480 and without bright, natural day light the pictures are pretty grainy and dark and it's much the same story with the video which records for a limited time at 320x240. Again the footage is murky and dark and although I appreciate a children don't need to capture high resolution images, I do think they deserve better than this.
I also think that although the touch screen is quite intuitive, at times it's response can be slow. It's not enough to impede on my children's fun with the LeapPad but when a child has to tap the screen several times just to be able to draw a line it can become tedious. It doesn't seem to bother my children apart from when there in the middle of a timed game.
~~~ A Childs Perspective ~~~
I found I didn't need to intervene too much to set up my children's accounts and assist them with navigating the menus. Both my children opted to plunge feet first, finding their own way around the menu using trial and error. The great thing about this device is you can allow children loose reins safe in the knowledge that any settings they alter can be easily rectified. Both my children were happy to adopt this method because it allowed them to familiarise themselves with the LeapPad in their own time as well as work out the best ways to control it.
The first thing both my children wanted to do was personalise their own accounts by taking photos and creating their own backgrounds and wallpapers. Their diaries allow them to input their own data, just simple things like their birthday, things they like, the mood their in etc. This section is a bit like a scrap book and is a great way for them too really put their own stamp on their accounts which gives them a sense of ownership. Certainly from my perspective, personalising their own accounts seems to add an element of healthy competition as both my children want to impress both me and hubby with the best drawings, writing, pictures etc and it's much the same with the games as each one wants to complete levels first or with highest scores.
My daughter particularly enjoys the language apps and since I have been teaching her basic Spanish since she first started learning to talk, the Spanish learning app has proved very useful. I have noticed an improvement in both her pronunciation and understanding of the language. Spanish, like most of the word apps teaches children visually but also with phonics, a method she is already familiar with from school so I find she picks things up very quickly. She is certainly more confident and motivated and this method of teaching has also been helpful to my son who is just beginng to read and write.
Now my son is beginning to write his own name, something he has been learning at nursery, he finds the LeapPad a far more interesting concept than plain old pen and paper. The LeapPad offers exercises that help him utilise the stylus in the same way he would a pen, visually demonstrating how to co-ordinate the stylus to write individual letters whilst the audio encourages his efforts. At times I feel my role is a temporarily redundant however, I can see why the cute little characters offer him a greater interest.
~~~ Apps And Software ~~~
The LeapPad comes with pre installed software including an art studio and Pet Pad, an interactive pet similar to a Tamagotchi but without purchasing additional apps the LeapPad has limited use. Thankfully, if you do own cartridges for other Leapfrog devices such as the Leapster they are compatible with this LeapPad otherwise you need to download apps through the app centre.
LeapFrog boast more than one hundred apps can be found online consisting of eBooks, games and language courses. Each app has it's own targeted age range so there is plenty of variation to suit pre schoolers and older children and the apps have an educational value. Some to familiarise with letters, colours, shapes and numbers whilst others are more game based for co-ordination and memory.
A disappointing aspect of the LeapPad is the ongoing expense of the apps. Basic apps start at £5.00 which I think is reasonable whilst others are more expensive at £10.00 - £15.00. In our experience the basic and cheaper apps have limited use. I was impressed with the quality of the apps although some of the cheaper ones do lack content.
The content of the higher priced apps is extensive and they provide a valuable learning experience but I can't get my head around the prices. after all, I can buy educational games from Apple's app store that offer fantastic graphics, sounds and longevity of play for just 69pence and download eBooks for my kindle substantially cheaper than LeapFrog's offerings.
For anyone looking for free games it is worth occasionally doing a Google search for free codes which can be submitted at the online store and downloaded directly to the LeapPad. Back in January I downloaded the following two apps. 5813 1140 1518 1413 (The book of super awesome stuff) and 5810 0790 4610 4973 (alphabet soup game). I'm not sure if either code is still valid but they are definitely worth a try, particularly the alphabet soup word game.
~~~ Final Thoughts ~~~
To date, I don't think we've utilised the LeapPad to it's full potential as there are so many elements to be explored and certainly for the money it's content is extensive. Both my children enjoy the LeapPad immensely but without the option of new apps they do lose interest quickly, particularly when they have fully completed a task or game.
So far we have spent an additional £60 in apps (2 x £15 and 6 x £5) which I think is horrendous, especially considering apps have only been purchased as a reward. From a financial aspect, I'm disappointed at the amount of money that needs to be spent after the initial purchase of the device. I do feel, impressive as the apps are they are too expensive and unless you are prepared to buy the apps, a child is not going to use the LeapPad to it's full potential and will quickly become bored. It's a catch twenty two situation.
I should also point out that the LeapPad consumes battery power like it's going out of fashion. We invested in good quality rechargable batteries and we still only get four hours of continual play if we are lucky. The only other option is to power from mains electric which means the LeapPad is no longer portable. It's annoying that the LeapPad can't be recharged any other way. It's another example of the ongoing expense of this device.
I do think overall the LeapPad is worth the money but I do wonder if the manufactures have been a little optimistic with their age range. I certainly can't see either of my children being interested in the device when they are nine but overall the LeapPad has been a hit with the children and has been used consistently so the use has, to a certain degree justified the money we spent.
I think the LeapPad is a great little tablet for children and if a few minor adjustments to the software I would easily award it five stars. As it stands the LeapPad receives four stars from me.
Summary: Child friendly introduction to technology
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