This new Leapster Explorer is more than just an educational video gaming device. While it does gaming quite well, it also serves as an eReader, video player, and a device that can download apps called "Leaplets." Plus, it allows kids to create a pet that lives inside the device. And this fall, an add-on camera will be available. All of this for $69.99.
As with previous Leapsters, this is a handheld device that is all about delivering educational material in a fun and entertaining manner. At launch on July 15, 2010, there will be 12 games available with six more arriving before the end of the year. The games, which are labeled for ages "4-7 years" or "6-9 years," come as a cartridge that snaps into the top of the Leapster Explorer and cost $24.99 each.
In addition to the games, LeapFrog will also have 18 downloadable apps at launch and then add an additional three by year end. The apps take the format of ebooks from LeapFrog's Tag library, movies, flash cards, and game apps (smaller gaming segments than those found in the cartridge games). The latter will cover music, health, logic puzzles and more.
By connecting the Leapster Explorer to a computer, parents can swap out the content that they want the Leapster Explorer to carry, kind of like what you can do with an iPhone or an iPod Touch. Kids can use it to connect to Leapworld, an online virtual playground where kids and their Leapster pet can play. In addition, the device connects to the LeapFrog Learning Path, an advice service to parents which provides feedback about how their child is doing, using both the device as well as playing in Leapworld.
The Leapster Explorer keeps most of the old layout of buttons found on the earlier Leapsters, but adds right and left buttons on top. However, what is most exciting is its larger (3.2 inches), higher resolution (320 x 240) touch-sensitive screen with a faster processor and larger memory. And while there is a stylus attached to the device, all content can be played by using your finger.
Another exciting aspect of this newest Leapster is its ability to automatically adjust content to meet the needs of the kids playing on it. The Leapster Explorer can keep track of three children and remember where they left off. Parents can set the age for each, and the device then uses that age to present age-appropriate educational content within the games played on the device. For example, when playing the Disney Princess game, a preschooler will be asked to match letters to help the animals sew the ball gown for Cinderella. But if a first grader is playing the game, she will be asked to spell simple words. In addition, the device watches to see how kids are doing and adjusts the presentation of the educational material on the fly to get easier or harder as needed. With some of the games, you can customize which spelling words and math facts to practice.
An unfortunate thing about this new Leapster is that it is not backward compatible. Families who have lots of older Leapster game cartridges won't be able to play those games on this new device. Also, it runs on four AA batteries and isn't rechargeable unless you spend an additional $39.99 for the recharging system.
The bottom line is this: The Leapster Explore is a great new digital delivery device for kids. We reviewed several new games, apps and videos and they all were high quality, with crisp clean graphics and engaging content. We built train tracks to pick up cargo with the Jewel Train app, explored musical parts of songs in the Harmonies app, and played games with Woody and Buzz on an interactive game board in the Disney Pixar Toy Story 3 game cartridge. While reading the Ozzie & Mack ebook, we liked how the words highlighted as they were read and found that finger-swiping to turn pages worked well. It is very impressive that this device does so much, and makes adding more content so easy.
All tech products are judged on a five star scale by looking at the following factors: fun, education, ease of use, value, and technical.