Look carefully because this toy is going to be on an awful lot of letters to Santa this year ! Having seen how much 2-year-old Pierre and 6-year-old Juliette love playing on my iPad, I think it's an absolutely brilliant idea to have come up with what is essentially a kids' version of the famous tablet. Created by LeapFrog, who have a solid reputation for creating fun but educational toys, it's called the LeapPad Explorer (although V-Tech have released a similar product too).
As you can see, the packaging promises "limitless learning" and "endless play" and I have to say, my head whirls just reading all the things that the LeapPad Explorer offers : e-Books, Learning Games, Art & Animation, Camera & Video Recorder, Music, Writing, Videos, Flash Cards, Motion-Based Play and a Brilliant Touch Screen.
One thing to be aware of is the number of apps (that's games, if you don't know the first thing about iPads) that actually come with the toy when you buy it. The box proudly states "100+ games and apps" but most of these need to be bought separately and may not be available in all countries. You only get the Pet Writing App, Story Studio App, Art Studio App and one free App download of your choice and even for these, you need to install the LeapFrog Connect Application and complete your registration to be able to download them. That's still a lot to be playing with though and plenty to keep your kids occupied initially. Other apps can be downloaded and added to the tablet at a later date, with prices starting from about £3.50.
As well as the LeapPad Explorer Learning Tablet (which has a 2GB storage capacity), you get a built-in camera and video recorder, a USB cable, a Connect CD with a Quick Start Guide, and an extra stylus. For it all to work properly, you need a high-speed internet connection, a monitor resolution of 1024 x 768, minimum 512MB of RAM (1GB recommended), 500MB free disk space, the latest version of Adobe Flash Player and (for a PC) Windows 7, XP or Vista as operating system. All of that should be pretty standard anyway.
I was expecting the Explorer to made out of some sort of rubberised material, like the unbreakable Kidizoom cameras, but it's made of rigid plastic so I'm not sure how well this would withstand being dropped on the floor (something I'm always worried about with my iPad when the kids play on it). The smaller size makes it more kid-friendly though because it's easier to hold so this should be less of an issue.
The games that we have discovered so far have just the right balance of learning and fun and the kids particularly like the apps where you have to tilt the screen to play. The stories and animations where you can add your child's photo so that (s)he pops up as one of the characters also go down very well. The camera and video recorder are also in constant use so remember to check through and delete unwanted photos every now and then so that it doesn't use up all the memory.
Unlike the iPad, which you charge at the mains, you will need 4 AA batteries, but these are supplied with the toy. Be prepared and buy some extras though because if the batteries go flat on Christmas Day after all the grown-ups have been having a sneaky play (and you will, trust me !), there will be tears and tantrums before bedtime !
It's not cheap but it is a toy that will get lots and lots of use and that you can constantly add to by buying new apps. The library of downloads that you can purchase will be added to too so the possibilities really are pretty much limitless.
I love it to bits because it means I can actually get my hands on the iPad from time to time now too ! Hearing Juliette practising her reading, writing, maths and other skills while giggling is also, obviously, another huge plus point ! Santa, if you're listening, put in a huge order now or this will be sold out in December for sure !
star rating : 5/5
RRP : £79.99
for more information : http://www.leapfrogstore.co.uk/leappad.html
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