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Last Christmas we decided to get my eldest daughter a more advanced gift, and as 2012's holiday season is looming towards us now, I thought it would be good to share my thoughts about this nifty little device. She was always wanting to play with the girlfriends Nintendo DS or our smartphones, so we bought her her own handheld console designed specifically for young children. This is not only for games, it's also education and provides an excellent alternative to damaged mobile phones or destroyed adult consoles. Here are my thoughts about Leap Frog's Leapster Explorer handheld console, the PSP equivalent for toddlers.
--Leap Frog, 21st Century Style!--
Gone were the days when Leap Frog meant jumping over your friends back in the playground. Today's ridiculous H&S rules would more than likely prevent that simple innocent fun anyway. The modern day brings a new Leap Frog, a US based educational entertainment company that produce specially designed interactive books, consoles and tablet computers for children aged 3 to 9. These systems mirror the adult counterparts and thus make your children feel more involved with the common household technology. During the early years, Leap Frog merged with various technology and educational firms, and in 1999 released the Leap Pad educational computer book which became their flagship product. They have also developed strong connections with reputable entertainment companies like SEGA and Macromedia, and develop the machines and software together. After several more successful handheld machines, they released the Leapster Explorer in 2010.
In an obvious attempt to emulate the feeling of holding a Playstation Portable or Nintendo Gameboy, the Leapster Explorer is designed to feel and look like the fun games machine a child's parents or siblings may have. It has game cartridges, downloadable media, e-book compatible and video and picture facilities. All the current Leap Frog interactive machines are compatible with each other, the games for the Explorer work with the newer Explorer GS for example. Although this model is green coloured, there is also a purple coloured on too (Pictured), both can be used for both girls and boys, Leap Frog not using the typical Blue/Pink choices.
--Price and Packaging--
With a nice sturdy folding box matching the colour scheme, bubble bags and a card insert protect unit inside. It's all rather exciting for a child opening it up, like a treasure chest of sorts. The included guide tells you in straight terms how to operate and connect to the computer for updates, downloaded software and such like. It's high quality packaging and gives a good impression of the quality of the machine itself. The box should be kept really, but it is recyclable of course.
Since this is the older model, the newer Explorer GS replacing it, the prices can vary from different retailers, normally between the £35 up to £60 mark. We paid £39.99 for it from Argos last year, so shop around. It's cheaper than the GS model due to it's age, but all the released cartridge software and downloads are compatible anyway. The cartridge games start from £9.99 and the downloadable games and storybooks start from as little as 99 pence.
--Looks and Durability--
In outward appearance, the Leapster Explorer's shape has a lot in common with the old SEGA Game Gear. It has rounded edges, smooth surfaces, chunky control buttons and a large stylus that tucks neatly away in a slot on the back. Unlike the Nintendo DS, the stylus as attached via short cord so misplacing it isn't a possibility. The major operational buttons are smaller and set into the unit to avoid accidentally switching it off or turning the backlight off. The screen is heavily bordered by the body of the console, and thusly is not as large as you would expect, but still enough to view things clearly. The game cartridge socket in on the top edge, and leaves the game flush with a lip to pull free, again making sure it doesn't fall out whilst playing. The power input and headphone jacks are on the bottom, and oddly so is the expansion socket for additional peripherals such as a camera. It is annoying that a camera is not built in, an so has to plug into the bottom, making the handling of the machine a little trickier for smaller hands. The two tone colours of green and white plastics is appealing for a child, and gives it it's fun-toy qualities (remember, this is an educational toy). On the back is the battery housing, which unfortunately protrudes out quite predominantly, again effecting the weight and handling. That said, rechargeable battery packs and power adapters can be bought, negating the use of standard AA batteries.
Since this kind of device can be delicate, Leap Frog have done a good job on making it as hard as nails. The plastic is thick and well put together, the screen protection good without losing sensitivity, and stylus' cord is strong and even the sockets secure the plug in's tightly. Since we have the external camera, I was suspicious that it would brake off the moment the console was dropped. However, after many a tumble, it still works perfectly if a little loose in the socket, and the main body of the unit is undamaged, nothing cracked and no buttons have popped out. I find this quite impressive, since is has had a hard life in the hands of my eldest. It's fallen on carpet, wood flooring and even street concrete, the only evidence of the drop being slight superficial scratches to the green parts. It is very durable indeed.
Although the body is tough and rugged, the printed labels, numbers and letters on the various buttons is not quite so hard wearing. The A and B lettering has almost completely worn off, and the pause and play symbols on the smaller buttons have been totally washed clean. Speaking of washing, the unit should only be cleaned with a wipe or damp cloths. It is not water proof and irreversible damage will occur if submerged for any length of time. It's also a bit heavy for small hands. Picking up and general handling of course is not a problem, but dropping it on small toes and fingers will result in a few tears I would guess, but leave no permanent damage.
As robust as it is, if the games and activities it runs are no good then it's all rather pointless. However, from the games I have seen, it's pretty great stuff. Firstly, the main interface is set out very simply, and took very little time for my 4 year old to learn how to load and play the games, set up a profile, take pictures and make drawings. It's all very colourful, vibrant and engaging, with nice bright cheery sounds too, even for an adults eyes and ears. The screen has a good level of responsiveness, it's not too sensitive, just right. The physical buttons on the console match this too. It has included help screens too, which are spoken to the user. As this is an American product, you do have a rather irritating american voice, and this applies for most of the games as well. It loads quickly, but does have a habit of crashing now and then for no reason. This is not common, but it is frustrating for your child, especially if it's mid-game before the game state has been saved.
Included with the console before anything else it put in is a Virtual Pet, which can be personalized by your child, on-board storage memory of about 2GB and software for pairing the device with your computer. This is handy, because you can store downloaded games and books on the computer, and transfer to the explorer as and when required. Parents of course have control of its connections to the computer, and also can set the age and skill levels for your child, which then automatically adjust as your child plays and progresses using the machine. Clever.
The games are all different, and can vary in educational merit. We have one called Mr Pencil, a creative drawing based game which my daughter finds extremely fun and challenging at time. Also, we have puzzle games such as a train track one where you have to lay the track in the right places for the train to complete it's journey. Again, this is popular which my little girl, and is far different from the drawing game. This adds diversity to the fun and learning in equal balance, and for me that's the best and most effective way for children to learn. This machine also does have the effect of your child feeling part of the technology used in a modern household.
Other good points about this system would be the amount of games available, and the fact that story books can be downloaded onto it. It's easy to create a video and take pictures, which can be edited in crazy ways for extra fun. It's a really like a all-in-one entertainment package. Yes, is does have limitations, but all in all it performs to an excellent level. It does however suck the life out of regular AA batteries rather quickly, only about 2 hours playing with heavy usage, which can become very expensive. Investing in the power pack or adapter could prove cheaper in the long run.
Height - 90 mm
Width - 168 mm
Depth - 42 mm
Weight - 794g
Colour - Green/White
Item model number - 39100
Batteries - 4 x AA
Power Input - 9v DC
Storage Memory - 2GB
ASIN - B0038APBDA
Number of Game Players - 1
Although when I initially purchased this console I was skeptical about the longevity of it as well as the appeal to my daughter. I didn't want it to be like a V-tech system with strictly set parameters and big limitations. I was also wary of the fat that it may get destroyed before a month had passed. Thankfully, I was wrong and my daughter has loved it the moment she first switched it on. It stands out for several good reasons, and is no wonder it was awarded with many accolades for educational and playtime aspects. It's built to last, well designed with a simple but easy interface. It has the classic look of many an adult handheld console, with and excellent software catalogue to back it up. More importantly, it is fun and educational at the same time and provides great interaction with your child. For those reasons, I fully recommend this neat little machine.
Thanks for Reading. © Novabug
Create your own spelling lists, Explore tailored learning recommendations Build letter-writing skill, step by step, Suitable for children between 4-9years Find help with hundreds of tutorials Nurture life skills and passion topics Increase the challenge-skill levels adjust to your child, Manufacturer: Leapfrog