Customer Review

1,455 of 1,491 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hands down the best choice for a child-friendly tablet, October 22, 2012
= Durability:5.0 out of 5 stars  = Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars  = Educational:3.0 out of 5 stars 
This review is from: LeapFrog LeapPad2 Explorer Kids' Learning Tablet, Pink (Toy)
If you want a child-friendly tablet-style device, this is the best one on the market as of October 2012. But you have to understand what you're getting and why this is desirable. There are a lot of positive reviews that are a bit inflated, and many negative reviews that are simply unfair in their expectations. Here's my realistic parent-friendly review...

First, the LeapPad is more rugged and more child-friendly compared to an iPad, iPod, or Android tablet. I know parents who prefer to let their kids play apps on those more sophisticated devices, but if you go that route, you're taking a risk with a more expensive and more fragile device. You're also opening up a potential can of worms since those devices usually include unrestricted access to the internet (which may expose your child to inappropriate material or allow him/her to accidentally make purchases, etc.). The LeapPad's more durable casing allows young children to hold and carry it with less likelihood of damage. Since it has a fairly wide bezel all the way around the screen, it also offers space for a child to rest his/her palm when writing with the stylus, with fewer "false taps" that can occur when their palm or fingers touch the screen instead of the stylus. And, of course, since it is not wireless-connectivity enabled, you don't have to worry about your child stumbling across objectionable content or making accidental purchases. You control the content on the device by syncing to your computer and deciding what to install (the sync cable is included, and plugs into a standard USB slot on your computer).

Second, the LeapPad is much more responsive than any of the other child tablets we've tested. We bought our 2.5-year-old daughter a FisherPrice iXL, which was cheaper and came with 6 very basic apps that we thought would be plenty sufficient. However, after a few weeks, she was still struggling to learn how to use the apps due to noticeable lag/unresponsiveness during screen taps. The inconsistent results when she interacted with the screen made it hard for her to learn the interface. Sometimes tapping an icon would do what she wanted, but often, multiple taps would not produce the desired effect. Often, she had to ask "Daddy can you help me draw?" or "Daddy can you help me play music?" in order to access or use a program. When she tried a friend's LeapPad1, however, it was noticeably more responsive, allowing her to understand the interface MUCH better. When we purchased a LeapPad2 we were delighted to find that it's even snappier than the LeapPad1. Within a few hours, our daughter had mastered how to access all of the applications and she also understood about 50 - 60% of the more advanced functions within each program (such as choosing the small, medium, or large eraser in the Art Studio drawing program). I'm certain she learned it so quickly because the screen and stylus respond faster and more consistently (about 95% of all taps register correctly, even in the hands of our 2.5-year old).

Third, the LeapPad has a decent array of basic apps/features already included. When you unbox it, you'll need to install four AA batteries, create a new "profile" for your child, then connect to an Internet-connected computer to load on some of the apps and register the device. The applications included are:
1. CARTRIDGE: which accesses the content on a cartridge, which must be purchased separately
2. PETPAD: allows you to customize the type, color, and features of a small electronic pet, who can then be fed, bathed, or used to learn how to draw upper- and lower-case letters.
3. CAMERA: allows you to use the front- or rear-facing lenses to capture photos or videos of decent quality under ideal lighting conditions (decent enough to delight a young child, that is).
4. MYSTUFF: a consolidated inventory of MyPhotos, MyArt, MyVideos, and MyStories, all of which are created in other apps.
5. MYBOOKS: a bookshelf-style interface that links to eBooks which must be purchased separately
6. MUSIC: a jukebox-style interface that includes one album with five songs about topics like punctuation, vowels, the alphabet, etc.
7. SNEAKPEEKS: a link to various advertisements for add-on content including downloadable and cartridge-style eBooks, games, etc. (Some parents may feel annoyed to have a link to advertisements at all, but I appreciate that they've been confined to an app you must click on to launch. Thankfully, the ads are NOT displayed elsewhere on the device and do NOT intrude upon the functionality or appearance of other apps.)
8. ARTSTUDIO: a simple but decently-featured drawing program much like the basic Paint program on most computers.
9. CREATIVITY: allows you to make short 3-, 4-, or 5-section animated cartoons that include your own photos and voice if desired (this is the most complex app, but plenty accessible for children 4 and older, or with adult assistance).
10. One FREE APP of your choosing from a list of three provided when you sync and register the device. The three options were a game, an eBook, or a video. I had assumed there would already be eBooks on the device, so I chose the free video (a 38-minute tour of the "Letter Factory" that teaches the sounds each letter of the alphabet makes). Had I known the MYBOOKS app would not include an eBook, I would've selected the eBook instead.

Certainly, the LeapPad is a larger investment up front ($99) than many other similar kid-friendly electronics; however, I was pleased to find that the add-ons are lower in price that many competitors. For example, the add-ons for the FisherPrice iXL averaged $25 per title. Although each title included 6 features, the main lure was the eBook and the rest were mainly re-skinned options with very little added content for the built-in programs. That's exactly why we never bought any add-ons for the iXL. With the LeapPad, however, I was delighted to learn that you can buy an eBook alone for approximately $5 - $7.50. So we can buy our daughter three nice eBooks for the price of one add-on title for her FisherPrice iXL. There are also other apps, such as a story creator that allows you to use your own photos and voice to create your own stories, for $20 or less. Although the costs could add up quickly, keep in mind that for a young child like ours, you won't need to buy ANY additional content to keep him/her occupied for many dozens (probably hundreds) of hours. The included apps--especially the PETPAD, ARTSTUDIO, and CAMERA--will keep a lot of three year olds happy for a LONG time. Our daughter spent three hours just walking around the house snapping photos and giggling.

Fourth, the LeapPad interface is very child friendly. The physical buttons are minimalist and positioned well out of the way. They include a POWER button for turning the device on/off, an INCREASE and a DECREASE button for controlling the volume, a four-way NAVIGATION button (presumably for games or navigating menus, but we haven't had to use it at all yet), and a HOME button for returning to the main page. The buttons are sufficiently recessed or placed so that accidental button-presses are very rare. This is important because few things are more frustrating for a child than having their e-activity interrupted because they leaned on a button that returned them to the home screen, or some other such issue. Instead, most of the buttons they'll actually use are on-screen and controlled with the stylus. There are very few redundant buttons (some apps have a virtual home button, despite the device already having a physical button for that purpose) and many response options are standardized (to "accept" an option is always a green checkmark, and to "reject" or "close" an option is always a red X). This is good because it minimizes confusion related to the interface, and it also shows that Leap Frog has invested a lot of care and thought in the design of the apps. The LeapPad also has a built-in gyro to reorient the screen as you tilt/turn the device, as well as to play certain motion-sensitive games.

Fifth, the LeapPad has a very large (2.5"W x 4.5"L), bright, colorful screen. The one major shortcoming here is that it really isn't very suitable for use outdoors in bright sunlight, which washes it out so badly it can't really be used. If you're in shade or normal room-level brightness, however, it is very clear and colorful. Although it is not incredibly high resolution or high contrast, it is definitely crisp enough to provide a very pleasant user experience. Shapes, animations, and videos all render very clearly, without annoying jagged lines or pixelation. Watching the letter factory video we installed for free, there was a slightly muted color cast, much like streaming a video at mid-resolution on Netflix, but the animation was still very colorful and impressively smooth. I don't know if the slight lack of crispness was due to the limitations of the screen or the quality of the video file, but either way it did not detract from the viewing experience.

Sixth, the sound is quite good. Since the front-mounted speaker is aimed directly at the user, the lowest volume setting is still quite audible without being likely to annoy others nearby (It could be fairly described as "airplane friendly" even without the use of headphones!) At the highest volume level, it projects sound well enough to fill a small room, which is great if your child likes to turn on music for a "dance party" with friends or family. There are eight steps in the volume besides mute, so finding an appropriate sound level should not be a problem. One of my greatest complaints about children's electronic toys is usually the lack of sound control, but not so here. Well done Leap Frog!

DOWNSIDES? There are few things to complain about here because, compared to other toys in the $99 range, I suspect this will be one of the best investments (in "dollars per hour of enjoyment") you can make, and it should prove modestly educational as well. However, here are the shortcomings most likely to annoy parents...

1. No batteries or included charger. Right out of the box, you'll need four AA batteries. You can expect about 10 hours of use out of a set of batteries (my estimate based on actual use), which is certainly respectable; however, that will go quicker than you think if your child uses the device often. It would be nice if Leap Frog included rechargeable batteries and a charging cable, which would've made this a killer value. As it stands, you'll have to purchase those separately--and I definitely recommend doing so.

2. No included eBooks. Given Leap Frog's reputation and marketing as an education-centered company, I really think the LeapPad ought to include one or two eBooks, which would further justify the $99 price tag, but also send a powerful message about the importance of reading (a message getting increasingly lost in our digital-tool obsessed society, which includes people likely to buy this kind of device). It's sad how many kids' parents don't read to them consistently, but Leap Frog could at least make sure those kids have one or two books that they can have this device read to them. I'm a college professor and I will tell you, hands down, there is no more cognitively beneficial experience in early childhood than to be read aloud to by, and to read with, parents (or some other guide) as often as possible.

3. On-device advertisements. As I noted above, I respect Leap Frog for at least confining the included advertisements to an app that must be launched in order to view the ads. That is infinitely more preferable than having ads that intrude onto the rest of the user experience. So I'm fine with this, even though I know my daughter will watch the ads on her own and then ask me to purchase some of the add-ons. (If she asks for eBooks, I'll probably say yes.) Nonetheless, I mention it as a negative here because I know many parents will wish that no advertisements appeared anywhere on the device. They will also be frustrated to learn that a very few features (in particular, the "treats" and "supplies" for the virtual pet in the PETPAD app) are designed to run out so that you need to sync to the computer to replenish them. I suspect this allows Leap Frog to update the advertisements and to retrieve usage statistics about the device. Again, I realize this could be annoying, but I am grateful that it is not entirely mandatory. If you do NOT sync to a computer, the apps all remain usable, and about once every three days, some of the pet supplies will naturally reappear. However, if your daughter is dead set on having a strawberry to feed to her virtual dragon-dog-sheep pet, you should expect to be asked repeatedly until you sync to the computer to replenish the supplies sooner. :)

[4. Some add-ons, such as the Ultra-eBooks we've tried, are high in production value, but designed in a way that seriously detracts from their educational benefits. See my review of the "Ultra eBook Learn to Read Collection: Fairy Tales" for a detailed explanation that wouldn't fit here. --ADDED 10/29/2012.]

All in all, the LeapPad2 is an outstanding device for its intended niche. More affordable, more durable, and more child-friendly than more sophisticated Apple or Android tablets, considerably more responsive and enjoyable than competing kid tablets, and richly featured enough to provide a tremendous amount of entertainment and education for the cost.

A final word of CAUTION: As someone who has taught college for over a decade and is extremely well read on the cultural and cognitive impact of digital technology, let me warn parents that, despite what they've undoubtedly been told by marketers and educators, it is NOT healthy to allow too frequent use of digital screen devices. Mountains of data show that frequent use of screen-equipped devices like the LeapPad (phones, iPods, computers, etc.) has a very detrimental impact on concentration, memory, precision of thought, patience, and other vital aspects of intellectual growth. In fact, the average teenager of the digital generation is likely to experience withdrawal-like symptoms (akin to substance abusers!) when denied access to some kind of screen for more than 20 minutes! Let your child enjoy the LeapPad, but do NOT let it become a replacement for a LOT of other, traditional developmentally-vital activities, including a LOT of traditional book reading, outdoor play, socialization events, engaging conversations with older peers (including parents), slow-paced board and strategy games, and even an occasional long, boring car ride on vacation. (Yes, I know screens are the easiest way to keep a child quiet and content on a long trip, but allowing them to get bored and be forced to entertain themselves in other, imaginative ways--without the quick fix of a screen to distract them--is immensely important to their cognitive development, especially their capacity to concentrate for prolonged periods, which is a vital ability for most successful people.) I don't mean to seem preachy at the end of my (very positive) review of the screen-equipped LeapPad2; however, an astonishing majority of parents are disturbingly uninformed about how detrimental constant, repeated exposure to digital screens can be. It's not that digital screens are evil; it's that they literally train the brain to follow shorter and shorter attention cycles, as well as to depend on lights, color, sounds, and other superficially stimulating cues. This needs to be offset with at least as many hours spent on quiet reading, which is still the only known way to effectively improve the brain's ability to recognize the subtle nuances of different arguments and perspectives, to develop one's own line of reasoning, to concentrate for an extended period of time, and other indispensable elements of advanced reasoning.
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Tracked by 6 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 34 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 28, 2012 3:51:47 PM PDT
Extremely helpful review - thank you!

Posted on Oct 29, 2012 2:14:51 PM PDT
MIA says:
Thank you for taking the time to write this review. It was extremely helpful!

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 1, 2012 6:11:32 AM PDT
My pleasure MIA and Nichole. I'm glad the reviewed helped you both.

Posted on Nov 2, 2012 10:58:15 PM PDT
zeksar says:
Thanks for adding the final word of caution. It is good to be reminded of the value of screen free time!

Posted on Nov 3, 2012 3:40:45 AM PDT
Zico says:
Awesome review...thank you!!!

Posted on Nov 9, 2012 7:03:03 AM PST
jdawnb920 says:
Thanks for this review, and based on your review, I will probably be getting this for my 5 year old. She absolutely loves my Kindle Fire, but I am SO afraid she is going to break it! I like that you broke your review down like this and was very informative! (On a side note, I'm glad someone else is concerned about the lack of reading to children done these days!! My kids LOVE to be read to and my 5 yr old is now even helping me read small words (she was just 5 two weeks ago)!! ) Again, thanks for the helpful review!

Posted on Nov 11, 2012 9:35:02 PM PST
Thank you! Your final word of caution summed up my concerns nicely. My daughter, who will be 3 next month, loves to learn and I love to teach her. While I know she would love something like this, I am on the fence when it comes to children and screen time on things such as this for the exact reasons you wrote about. You just helped me solidify in my mind my reasoning for not buying this. So thank you.

I have to ask, what are your feelings on the leapfrog Tag system that helps them learn how to read? I have already taught her letters and phonetics, I'm wondering if those books will be a good device in helping her put it all together and keep her attention longer.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 12, 2012 7:57:38 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 12, 2012 8:58:43 AM PST
The Tag system is a lot less problematic because it eliminates the screen/game distraction problem. Frankly, anything can be useful/healthy in moderation; the real problem with electronic devices is that so many parents use them as a replacement for quiet reading, interactive discussion, and patience-building activities (like having to sit still without the distraction of a screen for a prolonged period of time). Parents see electronics as a quick and easy way to keep a child content and quiet, but that means the child isn't getting the practice at learning to entertain him/herself without the 'quick fix' of screens. Fast forward into the future and the many places where that skill is needed (classroom learning, waiting rooms, job interviews, romantic dates, etc. -- a lot of places where you need to be able to wait, focus, listen, and be quietly attentive), and suddenly the child is wholly unable to focus or sit still. (Think about the last time you held a long conversation with someone, even an adult, who didn't routinely pull out his/her cellphone to check for texts/e-mails/tweets/etc. It's getting rarer and rarer because people are clinically addicted to screens, even to the point of flat out anti-social or socially rude behaviors. For a child the damage is worse though because it also interrupts developmental learning.)

The positive of electronics is their assistance in helping the child sound out words, recognize letters and shapes, practice handwriting, etc. They're good at that, but it is always better to have a parent instead of an electronic device. So if the electronic device is supplementing time when the parent/teacher is not available, it can be helpful. If it is REPLACING those kinds of interactions at all, it is most certainly harming. There is simply no substitute for the traditional book, read together with a parent and later (after the child can read independently) read quietly to oneself. The cognitive benefits far surpass any other kind of learning known to mankind.

Posted on Nov 18, 2012 9:01:55 AM PST
Thank you for the review. And the info at the end about continued use of electronic devices. I am buying one for my 2 yr old grandson, because he likes to play with our smartphones. But I agree with you about normal play and creativity without electronic help. Thank you very much, it was very helpful

Posted on Nov 26, 2012 10:25:40 AM PST
Jordi Amaya says:
Thank you so much for taking the time to write a well thought out, helpful, and very informative review. Your insight regarding digital screens and child development at the end of the review was also much appreciated. Parenthood is such a challenge but I'm always trying to do the best by my son. Have a great day!
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