LeapFrog LeapPad hands-on

You’ve got an iPad, you love that iPad, trouble is your kids want your iPad too. If that sounds familiar then LeapFrog wants you to be interested in a new toy that’s due out in August and costs £80.

Called the LeapPad it’s a tablet just for your little ones, you know, for kids.

Sporting specs that are more akin to grown-up tablets on the market at the moment, the child-friendly tablet will come with a 5-inch TFT resistive touch screen with 480x272 resolution, stylus, 2GB of storage, a webcam around the back for stills and video, and an accelerometer for games. There will also be a mic, and the ability to play LeapFrog Leapster Explorer games if you already own them thanks to a cartridge slot.

The design is simple, robust and looks like it good take a beating from a 5 year old. That’s handy as it’s aimed at 4 to 9 year olds looking to emulate mum and dad.

While it doesn’t have an iPad minimalist industrial design – it’s for kids remember – everything is laid out nicely giving little room for confusion. Unlike the HTC Flyer that doesn’t have a slot for the stylus on its tablet, here there’s a small indent where it fits snuggly on the side. Yep LeapFrog has included the option to have it tethered with a bit a string so it’s not lost within the first 3 seconds. Phew.

Powered up and we were surprisingly impressed. The graphics are decent, the touchscreen responsive, and the overall experience good fun. There is normally a tendency to skimp and save on quality or aesthetics when it comes to kids electronics and that just isn’t the case here.

Like the iPad, you are presented with a grid of apps. Further apps can be sideloaded to the device via dedicated PC or Mac software from LeapFrog.

That software is the same as currently used for other products from the company – like the Tag Reader for example - and it not only serves to act as a hub – similar to iTunes – to manage the content on the device, but lets parents see how their child is interacting with the new LeapPad, what pictures they are taking, as well as any other bits and bobs like collage books they’ve created.

Proud parents will even be able to share those photos through a Facebook plugin within the desktop software so all your friends and family get to see those works of art too (mum jumping out of the shower no doubt).

With no Wi-Fi or any connectivity options on board there’s no threat to your kids venturing off into the unknown or seedier sides of the web. Instead they are left to play with a handful of apps that come pre-installed.

The camera app for example will let you take pictures and video before allowing you to then edit those shots with rubber stamps, or stretching tools or coloured pencils for example.

You can then put your finish work into a book which rather like Apple’s Photo Book service lets you drop images and art work into designated templates. The end result can then be saved as a jpeg so you can print it for granny come Christmas and Birthdays. Arh sweet.

When they aren’t generating content, your little tablet loving kids can read interactive ebooks, or simply play games – all with an educational and entertainment focus of course.

We read a bit of Cars 2, an interactive ebook that lets you sound out letters, change the reading age dynamically, and play games within the pages – nouns will fall out of where they are and you have to put them back.

It’s all about teaching kids to understand what’s being said rather than just knowing that e-x-c-i-t-e-d is excited.

On the games front we played Roly Poly. It’s a game that uses the LeapPad’s accelerometer to move around a bug that needs to collect food for a picnic. Along the way you’ll have to spell words and solve puzzles. The more you play the more you unlock and the more you learn. Suckers.

Kids think they are playing, you know they are learning.

With around fives apps being made available at launch in August and the promise of lots more in the run to Christmas it’s clear LeapFrog have high hopes for their new iPad challenger.

From what we’ve seen, if you really want to keep your iPad to yourself, this might be the perfect way to give them what they want, and get them learning at the same time.



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