Leapfrog LeapPad Explorer review

You’ve got your iPad or Android tablet, but what about your kids? According to toy company Leapfrog, your children want a tablet too. But does the LeapPad Explorer, a tablet designed especially for 4-9-year-olds fit the bill, or will they still want your iPad or Android tablet instead? 

We gave the LeapPad to Pocket-lint test subjects William, aged three and three quarters, and Emily five and a half, to see whether or not the kids tablet could impress.

Design

Designed for kids, this isn’t a single sheet of glass and metal affair that you’ll find on grown-up tablets. Instead it's green and while plastic one with a 5-inch TFT resistive touchscreen display in the centre surrounded by buttons to access the home screen, change the volume, toggle the power, and a d-pad for use in some of the games.

In an attempt to make the touchscreen even easier to use, you also get a stylus that slots into a slot at the side of the device. Around the back are the camera and the device’s two battery compartments that hide four AA batteries in total.

You’ll be pleased to hear there is a headphones socket, a USB socket so you can connect it to your computer, very important, and a cartridge slot to load up additional games or educational apps. The slot can accommodate Leapfrog Leapster Explorer and the Leapfrog Explorer cartridges too. 

Compared to the iPad 2 or Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 the LeapPad is big, heavy, and very bulky, but then it is also not designed for you. And it's not £400 either. It is, however, designed to take the abuse that all children's toys endure, and to have a miniature price too, 

Of course in a perfect ode to Apple it says “Designed in California, made in China” on the back.

Games and Apps

Turn the LeapPad Explorer on and you are presented with login page that allows multiple kids to play on the same tablet, and allows you to manage those accounts and track progress. You get three logins in total and a guest one so others can play.

Like your iPad or Android tablet, the LeapPad’s software layout and design is focused around apps and they're displayed on the homescreen for you select. You get Pet Pad, My Stuff, My Books, Sneak Peaks, eBook, Art Studio, and Story Studio, and you can add more as well.

Pet Pad for example is an educational game that lets you look after a pet. It’s a Tamagotchi type affair where you’ve got to keep your pet happy by playing with it, or keeping it clean by washing it. Within the game there are also challenges, like asking you to write letters or numbers. It’s great stuff and if you catch your kids at the right age it is really going to help with getting them ready for school.

My Stuff is where you keep everything you’ve been working on and likewise with My Books - again think Kindle bookstore or the iBooks book shelf.

The Art Studio is obviously where the fun starts. You get a blank canvas on which to paint and draw on with the ability to change the pens, brushes, and colours. There is plenty here, although it is basic and if you want you can work on your own pictures you’ve either imported on to the LeapPad or photos you’ve snapped with the camera.

Story Studio allows you to create a story with the picture and video you’ve made.

More apps

Just like your grown up tablet, the LeapPad only has limited appeal based on the pre-installed apps. They are designed to be a teaser rather than a complete offering, so it will be no surprise that Leapfrog has its own App store within the PC and Mac software that you install on your computer, allowing you to buy more apps and download them to your device.

Rather more expensive than the 69p offerings in the App Store, the apps range from eBooks to games and are priced between £5 and £15.

It is worth pointing out though that all the apps are very good, rather than something that won’t work or just not very educational, as they are all made by Leapfrog and follow their usual high standards.

No email or Internet, but that's a good thing

Because there is no wireless connectivity, you aren’t going to go and make a cup of tea only to come back and find that your child has bought more stuff on Amazon, emailed your boss, or started a Skype call with Grandma by mistake.

Camera and Video recorder

Press the camera icon and you or your little one can start taking pictures. The camera is basic and is controlled by tapping on the screen. Your kids will love it. There is no zoom, and pictures can’t be shared directly from the tablet, meaning you’ll have to connect the LeapPad to your computer. That’s handy if you’ve just been snapped stepping out of the shower, for example, or worse still, sitting on the loo.

Once you’ve snapped a shot you can then manipulate it on screen with the camera software. That means drawing extra bits, or stretching on the photos, rather than anything considered Photoshop standard. It is for kids after all.

Connect the LeapPad to the computer and images can be downloaded or instantly shared via Facebook. Very social.

Verdict

If you are fed up of your young kids stealing your tablet all the time, for £80 this is a great purchase that will let them learn from apps that have been specifically designed for that task. Our test subjects William and Emily really liked the LeapPad, however soon tired of the device, preferring our iPad, with the bigger selection of games and movies to watch.

Of course if you don’t have a tablet then that won’t be an issue, and at £80 its considerably cheaper than an Android offering and certainly the iPad 2. Kids being kids will always want the latest, greatest and most expensive though. So, however much they enjoy this terrific little tablet, be prepared for them to yearn for the iPad anyway. 

Oh, and there is no Angry Birds.