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134 of 141 people found the following review helpful
on January 28, 2008
Electronics are evolving into pretty much every area of life, and that includes Early Learning. Apart from PC software, and stand-alone toys, a new approach follows the `games console' line: a console that you can hook up to your television so your little one can play games that will teach him or her counting, the alphabet, and the basic reading/writing/'rithmetic. Whether this approach actually `works', in terms of teaching children the basics, remains to be seen - it's too early for any useful research evidence.

Two of the front-runners in this evolution are the V.Smile from VTech, and the Clickstart `First Computer' from Leapfrog. Both are fairly cheap plastic battery-powered consoles pitched at 3- to 6/8-year-olds; both come with initial free software, and have a range of additional software available as cartridges, mostly themed on popular cartoon/comic characters (Disney, Thomas the Tank Engine, Superman etc). Unable to decide which (if either) of these might be helpful for our three-year-old boy, we decided to buy both and try them out. This is what we found.

The V.Smile is slightly more expensive (AU$119 for the console, plus AU$40 per software cartridge). It seems like the better machine in a lot of respects. There is a much wider range of software (about 30 cartridges available), catering from 3-to-5-year-olds up to 6-to-8-year-olds. It looks better engineered: sound output can be in stereo; there is a built-in compartment for storing your cartridges; there is a microphone (which we haven't used yet); and, although battery-powered (4 x AA), you can also run it off the mains - though, somewhat annoyingly, you have to buy a separate AC adapter. The user manual leaflet is somewhat better than that of its competitor, though both are adequate and both systems were quite easy to set-up without the manual.

However, its appearance gives the game away for the V.Smile: it looks like a cartoon version of a Playstation, and the interface is joystick-based (one supplied, with the option to add a second). It is first and foremost a games console, and the software confirms this: the activities are essentially `platform games' (think Donkey Kong or Super Mario), with a fairly thin serving of word/number/pattern/colour recognition thrown in. It was readily apparent that the main entertainment lay in manoeuvring, jumping, and evading hazards, and the basics of this were beyond our three-year-old at his first sitting; in contrast, the puzzles shown (`which one is the apple?' `pick the red circle' etc) posed little or no challenge to him at all. Although he had great fun (with Daddy's help), I'm not sure he learnt anything at all in an hour's test run.

The Clickstart got off to a poorer start, despite being a bit cheaper (AU$98 for the console, and AU$31.50 per cartridge). For openers, it's packaged in that annoying wire-and-sticky-tape fashion that takes at least half-an-hour to get out of the box and generally requires destroying a substantial amount of the packaging. There seem to be only six software cartridges available, aiming up to 6-year-olds. It does have the big advantage of being cordless, relying on an infra-red transmitter rather like your remote. We thought this might be a problem for our projector (being behind the child, as opposed to a TV screen in front of them), but it proved to be no problem at all unless someone stood in front of the IR receiver - presumably the IR signal is reflected from the wall. However, this does also mean that there are two components each requiring batteries (4 x AA and 4 x C), with no option for an AC adapter.

But - and it's a big but - the Clickstart is quite clearly based on a computer, not a games console. The interface is a QWERTY keyboard, with a simple one-button mouse; it can register different `users', if you have more than one child; and the home screen is a simplistic `point-and-click' GUI. A cute puppy called Scout is your guide to the system (and our boy LOVES puppies). The built-in games are more varied in format, and richer in content, than those of the V.Smile; they focus on developing both conceptual skills (numbers, letters, shapes, colours etc) and interface skills (how to use a keyboard and mouse). Even with no keyboard skills at all, our three-year-old could still have a grand time pressing random keys to collect alphabetical fruit or bring up phonetic-linked pictures. But by the end of an hour or so, he was starting to recognise individual digits (`press the 8 key'), and was getting the hang of the mouse. The cartridge games we tried were somewhat more `platform'-like, but with less emphasis on tricky manoeuvring and more emphasis on picking the right shape/number/colour, and some counting. The cartridge graphics seem to have come from the 1980s, but our three-year-old could recognise Buzz and Woody and Emperor Zurg and that was good enough for him! And whereas the V.Smile cartridges are each pitched at a specific age range, the Clickstart games and cartridges each contain different levels for different age groups - making up to some degree for the fact that there are fewer of them.

So my vote goes to the Clickstart, simply because it aims to be an educational toy computer rather than an educational games console; and (on the basis of a short test run), it actually seems to achieve some education. On the other hand, for an older child who's already hooked on video games, the V.Smile probably stands a better chance of getting their attention, and perhaps keeping it with the older-age-group cartridges and two-player options. I'm still not convinced that either of these systems is really the best way to teach children their numbers and letters; and I realise that nothing will take the place of hours of input from an enthusiastic adult. But I'd much rather see my toddler having fun with a keyboard than a joystick, particularly if that's going to set any sort of pattern for the future.
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37 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on May 8, 2008
I purchased two V-Smile units for my grandchildren at Christmas in 2007, plus several games. Since then I also added a hand-held unit for them to use on long plane or car rides.

If only this toy would keep working!!! We have had SO MANY PROBLEMS with power. The adapter units have to be manipulated over and over to get power to the units. Then the games will just quit playing.

I have written to V-Tech and explained the problems and told them of my grandchildren's frustrations when the unit or game quits working.

Although it was great fun, it didn't last. No more money will go into this product.

Antelope, CA
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on November 19, 2008
Overall, my son (just shy of 4) is very pleased with this product. He has been enjoying it ever since it came out of the box today.

Just a warning to purchasers: As of right now and at the time of my purchase, the product description on Amazon says: "Includes 1 Smartridge, joystick, microphone holder, A/V adaptor, and manual" and "3 C batteries required".

It states clearly on the package that arrived that there is no A/V adapter included and it actually takes 4 AA batteries, not 3 C batteries. Fortunately, I had some AA batteries available here at home. But, I'm still stuck with the package of 12 C batteries I ordered at the same time.

I've been back and forth with Amazon customer service all day about this issue and, hopefully, they will correct the description so other purchasers won't be disappointed.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on July 28, 2010
We've had ours for almost 2 years, and for a while we had the same problems with it as a lot of the other reviewers. We were doing some spring cleaning this year and decided to give it one more try before tossing it. I plugged it in and got the same thing - nothing. Well, I hate being defeated by dumb gadgets, so I started looking it over. It powered up and ran the boot screens with no cartridge inserted, so I assumed the hardware was more or less okay. I then picked up one of the cartridges and slid back the plastic piece covering the contacts. The contacts were *filthy*. I looked at a couple more and they were all the same, so I got some cotton swabs and rubbing alcohol, and cleaned the contacts front and back. The swab was nearly black with grime when I was finished. I let it dry (~15 seconds), put it in the system, and bingo! It fired right up. I cleaned the other games and they all worked as well. It's been working perfectly ever since, and whenever a game won't run, we just give it a quick cleaning and it's back in business. It hasn't failed us once.

I don't know what kind of cheap alloy they make those contacts from, but it clearly tarnishes pretty quickly, and I'm sure little fingers poking around don't help, either. It may not fix every problem, but it's a cheap, quick experiment to try. Give it a shot before throwing out the whole package in frustration, like I almost did.

Oh yeah - My kids (5 and 3) really enjoy this system, and there are some good learning games available. I'm happy I could get it running again. I hope this might help somebody else with theirs.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on January 28, 2008
I have gone through two vsmile consoles and one vsmile pocket. They have all broken down and stopped working within two months despite new batteries and and an adapter (which only worked once). In fact the vsmile pocket had only been played a few times and it stopped working within four weeks. The temptation is to buy another one because you bought the games. Well I am here to tell you, DON'T DO IT. It is money down the drain. Cut your ties and move on. It is a BIG waste of money.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on February 5, 2008
I love Vsmile and my kids do too but, the unit will just STOP working! The first time, we had it almost a year and we took great care of it but it'd stop working where the power button would be on but nothing on the screen, then you couldn't turn it off. Sent it back to Vtech and they sent us a new one. About a year later, SAME THING! What is going on? Now they tell me we are out of luck. I'm torn becuase when it works, we love it! I'm thinking of buying the newer version with the microphone and hope that's better as we have 7 games and 2 from the holiday not open yet (in case). I say NO on the older vsmile...just wish I knew with the newer one, we'd have more warranty on it!!!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on June 30, 2008
My 3 year old recently received this as a birthday gift. I was excited for him to try it out as we have already enjoyed LeapFrog's ClickStart (to a limited degree because my son still has trouble figuring out how to manipulate the mouse appropriately) and LeapFrog's Little Leaps computer/TV system (so easy to use!). It was simple to set up and get started. Just plug it in and go, go, go. But I had to turn the awful carnival music off right away. Then I found myself getting more and more irritated because of the 1980s type resolution. We were using this on a 2007 LCD 50 inch screen TV. I'm not sure if that affects how the game looks or not, so I thought I'd include that detail. After 20 minutes, I had to turn it off because it was giving me an awful headache. I grew up playing Intellivision, Atari and the like, plus played Sega and computer games later on. Screen media has never triggered such a reaction! So we made it about 20 minutes or so. What we learned in those 20 minutes? Using the Alphabet park program that comes with the unit, we learned the following: The Learning Adventures section was way above my child's experience level since he doesn't know how to use a joystick or a stylus. He also didn't get the whole Sonic the Hedgehog type jumping and pounding that every game in that area required. The Learning Zone area was more appealing since he knows all his colors, shapes, letters and numbers and is always eager to practice with those concepts. But the equipment got in the way of his play because he couldn't use it yet. So I did the controlling of the joystick and pen while he told me what to select. We did try the sing-a-long part but it seemed like the microphone didn't actually amplify his voice, or mine, so that was a waste, too.

I would have LOVED for this to work out. I was all set to buy the art studio. But it's going back. LeapFrog's ClickStart has much better resolution (a big plus for me) and it gives younger kids a chance to use the keyboard as standard equipment(yes, I know there's an attachment for this, too. If the video quality didn't trigger a headache for me we would have bought that, too). I think we will buy the LeapFrog cartridges we don't have with the money we get taking this back. Also, I second other reviewers about the difficulty in changing cartridges (which could be good or bad, depending on the kid).
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on December 6, 2007
Our 3 year old son loves the V-smile. There is a lot of variance on the quality of graphics amongst games. Also, we hooked up our V-Smile to our big-screen TV and the picture sometimes looks fuzzy -- worse than old-school 1990s Ninetndo. I hear that the picture quality improves if you hook it up to a smaller screen TV. Many of the games say they are for ages 3+, but I think they are mixed bag and don't seem to have accurate / age-appropriate ratings. Some of the games like "Elmo" are great for a 3 year old. Other games, like a "Backyardigan" game are too hard and better suited for 5 year old kids.

Our son really likes the V-Smile, however, and he would probably give it 5 stars.
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20 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on November 28, 2007
My son enjoys playing the games that go with this system. Very easy for kids to manipulate, however, the games really are meant for older children. I think to change the age range starting at 5 or 6 years old. The games are a bit challenging for younger children, but overall a good buy.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2008
Granted, it only cost $50 at Toys-R-Us, but that money would have been better spent on a toy or game that actually worked.

We got this because of the dearth of educational games for another game console that we own. Seeing the strictly educational offerings for this was very intriguing.

This thing had been out of the box for something like two weeks before it stopped working entirely. With only fairly regular use from my 6-year-old, who loved it, I thought it an untimely demise.

When it was working, it was a satisfactory game system. The "educational" value of the games seems a little suspect, but at least they're not "run-and-gun" first person shooters.

We're testing out the Toys-R-Us Replacement Program. Pay extra for the "insurance" because you'll need it. There's nothing less fun than an orange box with cords everywhere that doesn't work!
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