Sunday, 7 August 2011

Toyologist Review: Leapfrog LeapPad Explorer

£79.99 at Toys R Us.

We have a lot to thank Star Trek for. Geeky people everywhere would have spent their lives lost and confused with nothing to do in an evening - they might have tried to interact with regular folk instead of staying home in front of the TV (it's ok to make fun of geeks - I am one). Whoopi Goldberg would never have taken up acting. The Boy and Me would never have had a crush on Wesley. No one would know that Hamlet was originally written in Klingon. And I would have had to wear normal clothes at my wedding.

We would also have been without the mobile phone and the tablet computer.


Tablet computers first showed up on Star Trek in the 60s (or 23rd Century, depending upon whether you view 'Star Trek' as a documentary or not) and were large clipboard-like devices worked with a stylus. When The Next Generation started in the 80s (/24th Century) tablet computers were everywhere. And had been named Personal Access Data Devices.


So then...the iPad - which almost definitely doesn't owe its name or look to the object carried round by Captain Picard. As every parent who owns an iPad knows, you can't have it out for long before your child wants a go. Not that I have an iPad, but Granddad does.

Once upon a time my children used to get excited when Granddad came to visit. Now they get excited when Granddad's iPad comes to visit.

My kids love playing games like Cover Orange, Cut the Rope and the infamous Angry Birds. The problem with the iPad and children, however (besides the fact that they never let you have it back), is that it's incredibly easy for them to start clicking and suddenly they've bought a million apps.

A solution was needed. And that solution is the LeapPad!

Apparently the LeapPad is tipped to be this Christmas's Top Toy and there are lots of people excited about it. I even found a website that has a clock counting down to release day. I have expected a punch-up between the Toyologists over who get to review one.

I wasn't excited. At all. I had serious doubts that the Pad would be as good as people were claiming it was going to be, or that my children - who've spent a lot of time on Granddad's iPad - would have any interest at all after having played on the Big Person version.

Turns out, it's pretty darn good piece of kit.

There's nothing here that hasn't been seen before - nothing has really 'wowed' me about it. It's more or less a mini iPad without the web browser. The display is more or less the same, you can download apps the same. It has a camera & videoing capabilities. It can display books. It has games. The hard drive space is huge...

The only real difference is that 100% of the apps for it are geared towards children.

My 4 year old loves it.

The only way to get him to put it down was to tear it away from his little hands as he screamed at us (only a slight exaggeration). It was like taking latinum away from a Ferengi, or Sisko away from his baseball.

The Pad is solidly built. It's heavier that I thought it would be - the weight helped, I'd imagine, by the 4 AA batteries it takes to run it. The camera in the back is set well back in the case, so there shouldn't be any problem with accidental messing up of the lens.

The camera & video bit is entertaining on its own. You can play about adjusting the photos and making Dad look even more funny that he does in real life. Ultimately, however fantastic the hardware is, it's the apps that are going to make or break this product. We only had a few things to test out (and they weren't finalised versions) but they seemed very good and I would imagine future ones will be even better. With the final product you get three included in the price of the Pad (included, I imagine, so you can practise downloading apps), which ought to be more than enough for a child to get started with.

It's worth nothing that a lot of the advertising states '100 games available'. This does not mean the LeapPad comes with 100 games when you hand over your £80. There will be 100 apps available to download (at additional cost) when the Pad is launched.

You can also plug Leapster Explorer games into the top. My son spent ages playing with the Mr Pencil game. Actually, that and the camera are almost all he's used so far. You can read a lot into the fact that he hasn't been getting bored and rapidly switching through all the different games.

According to Leapfrog -
To buy the apps customers need to buy an app card worth £15. They then go to our app centre store and select the app they want. Our apps are priced from £5 to £15. Our cartridge games are priced at £19.99. 
I haven't been able to test any of the options that involve connecting the Pad to a PC - such as uploading the photos taken with the camera, downloading apps - because since the Pad hasn't launched yet there's a chance it'd wipe everything that had been pre-installed by Leapster.

On to the niggles...

I find it odd that there are no rubbery sections on the corners of the Pad to provide some protection for when children inevitably drop it. From pictures, I thought the green sections would be rubber, but they're just regular plastic.

For similar dropping reasons, I think it would have been a good idea to have some kind of strap that could attach to the Pad and then go round the child's wrist. If it'd just been a games machine, then children might have sat quietly when using it and this wouldn't have been an issue. But since it has a camera, children will be holding the Pad up and moving it (and them) around and dropping will happen.

Drop. Fall. Crack. Screen broken. £80 gone.

It's not super fast at loading up apps, but I think its fast enough - especially for a child.

The Pad eats batteries like a Starfleet captain knocks back tea, which makes me wonder why Leapster haven't included a rechargable battery like adult tablet computers/mobile phones. This isn't to stop little Kirayoshi sticking things into 240v of mains electricity as Toys R Us will be selling an adapter plug from the end of the year (the price for which has yet to be set). While an adapter will help with the battery-eatage problem, it has its limitations since the child will have to be sat next to a wall socket to use the LeapPad. A rechargeable battery would have been better.

Oh, and there's no Humuhumunukunukuapua'a :(

If you've been eagerly awaiting the LeapPad I doubt you'll be disappointed. I mean, it even managed to convince me, the hardened cynic, that it was good. I'd suggest the Pad is best suited towards the lower end of the 4-9 years target audience. For an 8 or 9 year old I'd maybe get a cheap laptop instead (you can get them for ~£45).

LeapPads are supposed to be in great demand for Christmas. If you're thinking of getting one for this purpose, I'd actually hold off for a while until some reviews of the different apps begin to appear online (and see what you get for a £5 or £15 app) and then make the decision. 

Other Toyology reviews can by found in the Toys R Us Toy Box on Facebook.

1 comment:

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