Educational toys work very well, and it has been shown time and again over the past couple of decades that video games in particular are able to excel at engaging young mind with retainable knowledge and skills.
Kids don’t know the difference between educational games and mindless fun. Often, if the game is well made, children will have even more fun with educational titles because the pacing of the challenge and reward is set by their own minds, and their feelings of accomplishment are real and lasting.
LeapFrog products have been very strong, and as I take a look at the LeapFrogLeapPad Explorer, I am primarily interested in two things:
1. Will kids want to use it because it is fun?
2. Will kids get a sense of accomplishment and responsibility out of using a product which emulates the more grown-up concept of a tablet computer?
Let’s have a look at the hardware first, and then the software.
Because this is a product for children, it has to be very solidly built and durable, but it also has to be attractive and appeal to kids in the full recommended age range of 4-9 years.
Looking at the form of the tablet, it is obvious that it’s a toy, but it doesn’t have an overly kiddy feel, which I was initially worried it might. It really is geared towards quite young kids, who should see it as fun and exciting, but also as a real tablet of their very own, especially for the nine-year-olds.
The screen looks a bit small compared to the full body of the tablet, but it’s really more than big enough, larger than that of a smartphone or handheld gaming system, and it’s of quite good quality for a child’s toy in this price range.
Importantly, the screen and tablet seem very durable, able to withstand a bit of abuse and carelessness at the hands of a child who perhaps does not take the best care of his or her toys.
The LeapPad Explorer comes complete with modern tablet features, such as a camera capable of recording video, a touch screen, and even motion detection. All of these features are used by different applications in various ways.
There is one large button on the face of the tablet, which functions as a directional pad for some applications.
The device takes four AA batteries, which are not included. One set of four batteries should last approximately eight hours, and the machine will shut itself off when not in use to save battery life.
It’s a very well built device, with a surprisingly rich set of features.
As with a real tablet, the apps are what is really important here. The system comes with only a few, but there are more than 50 available online at LeapFrog’s app store.
LeapFrog’s reading apps are most highly regarded, and that is a real strength for the system. Many will buy the tablet for this one aspect alone.
Aside from educational tools, but continuing with the LeapPad Express’ focus on reading, there are a number of ebooks available for kids which are interactive and fun, and will help them to build an interest in reading.
There are a lot of fun and highly interactive apps and games as well, of course. In one, kids learn about physics with the powers of a Jedi knight. In another, they can animate Disney characters.
There are tons of different apps, and different types of apps, for the platform, so kids are unlikely to get bored with it or grow out of it very quickly.
Apps are however not free. You can buy online, or pay for gift cards in order to purchase more apps for the system. The value here is quite good, and you may not find yourself needing to purchase apps at all if your kids enjoy what comes preloaded.
The LeapFrogLeapPad Express Learning Tablet is a solidly built, surprisingly feature-rich, fun and interesting device for kids aged 4-9. The games and applications available are quite good and very educational, especially the reading apps.
Since almost all kids are interested in games and computers, this is a very easy recommendation.