LeapPad2 and LeapsterGS Are Great Pieces of Kid-Friendly Tech

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New LeapFrog DevicesNew LeapFrog Devices

Last year I wrote about my (then) 4-year-old son’s experiences with LeapFrog’s take on the tablet — the LeapPad. I’m happy to report that now, a year later, that LeapPad is still going strong and in the hands of my 2-year-old. I’ve lost one of the back panels that covers two of the four batteries, but despite numerous drops, spills, and bumps (against sides of tables, cars, and heads), that little tablet has held up nicely. I still have to occasionally put on my referee hat when the two boys both want to play with the LeapPad (and this is typically only when one of them picks up the tablet in front of the other), but the squabbles really slowed down once my 5-year-old gained proficiency with the more advanced Nabi tablet. Still, he’s got quite a few favorite games on the LeapPad, including a Scooby Doo game that teaches spelling at a speed and level that he enjoys and matches the words that he’s learning in school.

I saw a bit of jealousy on the oldest’s face just recently as I pulled the LeapPad2 out of a box that the folks over at LeapFrog sent over for testing. I handed the box to my 2 year old — I thought he was going to gnaw through the box once he realized what was inside — and my 5 year old began to fuss. Loudly. All that stopped when I pulled out the Leapster GS and put the box in his lap. (LeapFrog gets 5,000 GeekDad Points for that bit of kindness!)

The next thirty minutes of my life is a complete blank, as I rushed to find rechargeable batteries to fill both devices AND get them configured. Unfortunately, my wife wasn’t at home at the time, so I was expecting to have to bounce back and forth between boys to show them how to use the devices. I was completely wrong on that point. My youngest’s experiences with the LeapPad (1) were immediately transferable to the LeapPad2. He was using the stylus and opening the apps that the LeapPad2 shared with the previous version, having a blast and jumping between games as only toddlers can do. My 5 year old was also impressing me with how fast he picked up on the physical A and B buttons. (With the LeapPad or LeapPad 2, you turn the tablet to Portrait view and the thumbpad, combined with on-screen buttons for A and B, simulates the look and feel of the LeapsterGS.)

Rather than put all the tech specs up on the devices, I’m going to point you to the official website pages for the LeapPad2 and Leapster GS and then offer up some observations about these two devices that I’ve made over the last few weeks.

First, let me talk about the LeapPad2. In terms of upgrades to the product, it’s a short list but a good one:

1. The LeapPad2 now has a front-facing camera — a big deal for kids wanting to take pictures of themselves. With the previous version, you had to flip the LeapPad around and either have someone else take your picture or hope you had yourself lined up properly.

2. The new version offers a rechargeable battery pack for purchase. I’ve got a ton of Enerloop rechargeables, so this was never an issue for me, but if you don’t want to purchase rechargeables and also don’t want to spend a fortune on alkaline batteries, this is definitely the way to go. The LeapPad chewed through 4 AA batteries at an astonishing rate, but there have apparently been improvements in the LeapPad2 in terms of battery consumption. I don’t have any hard-and-fast stats to give you, but it does seem like I haven’t had to replace the rechargeables in the LeapPad2 near as often.

3. The LeapPad2 has double the internal memory — 4GB instead of 2GB. This may not sound like a lot, but the apps that you can purchase online and download to the LeapPad2 are just not that large in size. I downloaded 8 or 9 apps for the first version, and I didn’t even come close to 1GB of usage. That said, videos and photos and artwork that your child creates are all stored locally, so your experience here may vary. Also, because most of the more advanced apps for the LeapPad2 come in cartridge format, these don’t chew up your storage.

4. A faster processor is now available, and that’s one of the more noticeable improvements. With the original LeapPad, there was some latency at times. It was most noticeable in the ebook apps where pages would turn or in games where new screens would need to be loaded. That’s definitely been fixed in the new version, and I was quite impressed with how fast apps would open and close.

Screen size, resolution, and other features such as headphone jack and USB port all remain the same. The main unit itself is also the same size in terms of height and width, although they did change the color scheme; the original version has mainly white with green corners and the new version is mainly green with white corners. (The green is also semi-metallic and has a nice look to it — I don’t think my 2 year old cares, but I was secretly wishing for a metallic green finish for my iPad… oh, well.)

The LeapPad2 functions the same as the earlier version — you can insert cartridges (averaging around $20-25 each) or use downloaded apps (most of them are between $3 and $10). I was quite happy to see that cartridges I purchased for the LeapPad are compatible with the LeapPad2; kudos must be given to LeapFrog for ensuring that this compatibility has continued not only between LeapPad versions but also with the LeapPadGS that I’ll cover shortly.

My 2 year old absolutely loves the LeapPad2. I don’t allow him to use my iPad by himself, so he’s quite impressed with himself when he’s allowed to pick it up and walk around with it. We even let him take it with him in the car, although I’ve lost track of the number of times my wife has had to unbuckle to reach back and pick it off the floor after he’s dropped it. The key point here is that the thing is not only rock solid and tough, but that’s its extremely engaging for a two year old. When he first turns it on, he sees a picture of himself (and his name) that he’s since learned to tap on with the stylus to open up access to his apps. And even though he doesn’t understand most of the rules of the games available or some of the more advanced drawing and animation tools (such as those found in the really cool Disney drawing app), he still has a blast playing with it.

The LeapFrog Connect service is also still available; you can connect the LeapPad2 to your computer and upload data from the various apps that track your child’s progress with spelling, math, reading, and more. It’s not that useful for me right now with my 2 year old, but I imagine it won’t be much longer before I can actually start making sense of some of the results. Until then, I’m just pleased when my youngest hops up on the couch with me to watch him flip ebook pages and do sketches and take photos. He’s also just discovered Pet Pals 2, and he’s got a little digital puppy dog that he’s feeding, walking, training, and more. It won’t be too much longer before he’s starting to write letters, read along with some ebooks, and figure out some of the more complex games.

And while I still find my 5 year old occasionally playing with the new LeapPad2 (mainly when the 2 year old isn’t anywhere around), it’s the new LeapsterGS that has grabbed his attention. I’m not sure if it’s because it has a form factor similar to handheld gaming units like the Nintendo DS family, but he sure does like to hunker down on the couch with it.

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