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LeapFrog LeapPad: a tablet just for kids

Consumer Reports News: June 30, 2011 09:08 AM

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LeapFrog yesterday unveiled a new tablet that’s just for kids, ages 4 to 9. It’s called the LeapPad, and kids can use it in many of the same ways their parents use Apple iPads and other tablet computers. Fortunately, the LeapPad costs a lot less than tablets for grownups—it’ll sell for $100, starting on August 15 (though you can pre-order now). I saw an early demo of the LeapPad today, and I was impressed with what I saw: The device and its screen look very good, navigation and overall use is intuitive, and the apps are appealing.

First, some specs: The rugged-looking LeapPad tablet has a 5-inch color touchscreen (480 by 272 resolution) as well as a stylus, if kids prefer to use one. It has a built-in camera that takes still photos (in the JPG format) as well as video. The tablet comes with 2GB of storage; you can’t expand that, but you can move content on and off the tablet—as well as download new apps—when you connect it to your personal computer. It has no wireless connectivity, though.

There’s an accelerometer inside the LeapPad for motion gaming. The tablet works in portrait or landscape orientation. And parents who have already invested in LeapFrog toys will be happy to know that the LeapPad is backward-compatible with older game and video cartridges.

For multi-kid families, you can create up to three profiles on a LeapPad, and each can be personalized. The LeapPad will come with four free apps—one built in and three that are downloadable from LeapFrog’s online story. By year's end, you can expect around 100 apps to be available for the tablet; they’ll cost probably range of $5 to $20.

One of the free apps is called Story Studio, and it looked like a lot of fun: Kids can write their own multimedia e-books, using different templates for each page. They can import photos and use another free app, Art Studio, to edit and morph the photos and add drawings, stamps, and other graphics. And they can record audio snippets for specific pages. Once the story is created, it can be loaded and read on PCs and Macs and even uploaded to Facebook—which, of course, a parent would handle.

The LeapPad is also a kid-focused e-book reader. LeapFrog’s reading apps will read stories aloud, but kids can also click on individual words to hear them sounded out. Parts of each story are animated, and certain visual elements on each page will be clickable, too. As the story progresses, kids encounter mini-games to unlock more story.

Everything LeapFrog develops is educationally oriented, even the games. The learning activities scale dynamically, adjusting to each kid’s abilities while keeping things challenging. And the LeapPad will connect with LeapFrog’s Learning Path website, so a kid’s learning progress can be tracked by parents.

We plan to get one of these tablets in when they are available and try it out, hopefully by the on-sale date of August 15, so check back for more details.

If you’ve been following LeapFrog, you may have a sense of déjà vu; its first product, a touch-based reading device, was also called the LeapPad. LeapFrog discontinued the first LeapPad a few years ago when it developed the Tag reading system. But as it turns out, the name was prescient; why not bring it back for the company’s new tablet?

LeapPad2_electronics.jpg

Carol Mangis

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