FIRST LOOK

LeapFrog LeapTV brings video gaming to the very young crowd

This new game console is geared just right for kids 3 to 8

Published: November 06, 2014 04:15 PM
The LeapTV's morphable controller

LeapFrog is known for its learning-oriented tech products for children, notably the LeapPad tablets. The company is taking a slightly different tack with the introduction of the LeapTV, a video-game console aimed at children who are a bit too young for the big-three consoles (the Microsoft Xbox One, Sony PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Wii U). It should also appeal to parents who are looking for a more educational gaming experience for their children. The LeapTV costs $150; game cartridges cost $30 each.

How the LeapTV works

The LeapTV offers three ways for kids to interact with games: a handheld game controller, a motion controller, and body movements. The handheld controller and the motion controller are actually the same device: Just press a button to unlock it, and it turns from a traditional controller into a wand-type motion controller (see the top photo).

A camera that senses the controller’s movements as well as your child’s body motion comes with the LeapTV. The body tracking is not as advanced as that of Microsoft’s Kinect: It isn’t used to control an onscreen avatar but simply shows a live image of the player on the TV screen and lets her interact with in-game objects by virtually “touching” them. The LeapTV also allows for multiplayer gaming, with two controllers, or two players onscreen. 

So after playing on the LeapTV, what did we think? Here's a breakdown.

For more tips, reviews, and news, visit our guide to video game consoles, tech toys, and kid tablets and our video-game console buying guide.

LeapTV with controller and camera

Pros

  • The versatile console can quickly change control options, to hold children’s interest.
  • The small buttons and thumbstick on the controller are great for tiny hands.
  • Games are based on popular kid-friendly characters such as Sofia the First, Spider-man, and Bubble Guppies.
  • Educational content including basic math problems and letter identification is worked into games.
  • An Ethernet port and built-in Wi-Fi let you download games and videos (this feature was not yet available when we tested).
  • The controller comes with a wrist strap (so inadvertent tossing is less likely).
  • Some games adapt their educational content based on a child’s age.
  • Comes with a TV mount for the camera.
  • Pet Play World game is free (it's available after you register the LeapTV).
  • Audio instructions help children who aren't yet reading.

Cons

  • The thumbstick should be textured, to prevent slipping.
  • There's a limited number of games (just eight) available. And downloadable content wasn't yet available.
  • Motion tracking of the controller was inconsistent: When we moved the controller quickly, the onscreen cursor could not keep up.
  • Body tracking was also inconsistent. Occasionally, when we hit an object onscreen, it was not recognized.
  • If you don’t already have a LeapFrog account, setting up the console can take some time. You may want to do it without your child present, if he or she is impatient. (This reviewer had first-hand experience.)
  • It has HDMI output only: New TVs have at least one HDMI port, but for kids' gaming, people tend to use older TVs that may not have HDMI ports.

Find plenty of festive inspiration in our Holiday Gift Guide.

Photo: LeapFrog

Bottom line

In terms of graphics and performance, the LeapTV can’t compete with the PlayStation, Xbox, or Nintendo consoles—but it isn’t intended to. This console is made (and sized) especially for younger children (ages 3 to 8) who don’t currently have a lot of games suitable for their age. For them, the LeapTV is a good choice, especially if educational content is important to parents.

The LeapTV’s shortcomings are things that young children simply won’t care about. With its voice instructions and simple interface, a child can navigate and play games on the LeapTV without needing much grown-up help. Just be aware that if your child is on the older end of the recommended age spectrum, she or he may quickly outgrow the console.

If you’re looking for another gaming option in a similar price range, consider the Nintendo Wii mini. For $100, you get a stripped-down version of the original Wii console with no Internet connectivity. Child-friendly games available for the Wii mini include Sesame Street and Dora the Explorer, and it has a large catalog of games that will appeal to older children, too.

—Matt Ferretti


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