As tablet technology has become mainstream it was inevitable that manufacturers of educational toys would embrace this technology and do more than just create apps. Not every parent is willing to entrust their young kids with their expensive tablet computer. In fact, most parents (myself included) will watch on in horror as their kids run across the living room with an iPad to the chorus line, “no running with the iPad!”
My family has had several months to evaluate two Vinci Tab Android tablets pre-loaded with a wide spectrum of educational apps created by Vinci. I’d like to share my first-hand observations of use by a toddler, kindergartner, and a 3rd grader.
First Impressions – The Adult Perspective
Durability: The Vinci tablet is a sturdy device built on the Android operating system (2.3 and 4.0). The devices come in two sizes: the Vinci Tab II is the larger of the two models and the second, the Vinci Tab III M, is the smaller 5-inch screen model. They both are built to withstand the abuse you’d expect from a young energetic child. My kids inevitably put the durability of the tablet to the test by dropping it from a variety of heights (floor, couch, tablet, and one incident involving the top bunk).
Security: The device has a feature that allows a parent to lock-down the device, preventing access to system settings and restricting access to pre-selected apps. A feature like this is missing from our family iPad and generally leads to a significant amount of operator error on our children’s part, or access to apps that are not age-appropriate (sorry, girls, the zombie shooter games are only for daddy). The Vinci tablet has a parental code that unlocks the device into a fully-functional Android tablet that includes access to the Google Play store.
Pre-Installed Software: My final impressions of the Vinci learning curriculum software are purely based off my kids’ reaction which has thus far been very positive. The software was specifically created with the developmental milestones for kids in mind. This use of developmental science is a key factor to the success of the Vinci products. The wide variety of applications included with the tablet has had my kids using their 45 minutes of screen time while happily entertained.
First Impressions – Toddler
Our family friend has a toddler that already understands how to operate iPad tablets, a Nexus 7, and the Kindle Fire – which when you think about it, it is a little frightening how easily it all comes to them. The Vinci was just as straightforward but without the worry of getting lost in the midst of non-kid apps, settings menus, and system notifications. Once we showed the toddler which button accessed the youngest tier of learning apps they were off to the races drawing, listening to songs, and exploring 3D landscapes.
We found that an adult is needed as a guide for when the child’s attention span inevitably wavers or when instruction is needed. Other than listening to nursery rhymes, children’s songs, or using the painting app, toddlers will need guidance to extract value from time with a tablet device. Without parental supervision the Vinci tablet is relegated to being a shiny noise-making device that can handle some rough play.
First Impressions – Kindergartner
My 4-year-old and 6-year-old daughters love playing on the Vinci tablet because mom and dad don’t hover like when playing with the family iPad. But other than a higher perceived trust-factor, the software pre-loaded on the Vinci is engaging. The Vinci apps are developmentally appropriate and each game or activity has voice instructions throughout the entire activity – which works great since my girls are only now starting to learn a few words. I was impressed with the curriculum of apps and their consistency in user-interface and consistent animated characters.
My daughters love two specific types of game that came on the Vinci devices. The first category is the exploration games, whether exploring the African safari or the jungle. The games allow the user to look around in a 360-degree view by swiping left and right. Throughout the 3D landscape, users can interact with objects and animals within each scene. The app explains fun facts about the objects and animals within the digital environment. The game prompts the user with an interactive quiz about objects and animals they learned about within the game. Through exploration, repetition, and instruction my daughters learned and retained the lesson information about geography, animal factoids, and other interesting lessons.
My daughters’ second favorite type of app was the size and weight experiments. The games would have different objects and numbers of objects appear on a set of large scales. The user then attempts to balance out the other side of the scales by adding additional objects to the scales with a touch gesture. The users get to learn about balancing out weight and spacial objects. The players keep working at the same puzzle until they can identify the correct answer. The puzzle narrator is both encouraging and engaging for the users.
Throughout the exploring process my wife and I would check in with our daughters to quiz them on what they had been learning. Surprisingly we would get a decent amount of information they learned about animals from the jungle, what they like to eat, and crazy stories that they made up in the process. My wife specializes in the science of early child development and had to remind me that it would be unlikely that adults would be entertained by the games, but for young children the content of the games was incredibly appropriate. Their little brains are making many of the same cause and effect associations from the world around them and the game curriculum mirrors much of those life experiences to stimulate learning.
Our daughters give the Vinci their approval of this learning tool.
First Impressions – 3rd Grader
Several weeks ago our friends came over to visit for the evening and their 9-year-old boy asked to play some games on the Vinci. His initial commentary about the games was in large part about how it didn’t meet his expectations of a game. Apparently the games were too kid-appropriate because none of them had any violence in them. He was a bit disappointed to learn that the Vinci was not full of high speed chases and fights with monsters or aliens. This is because the Vinci Tab is not a hand-held entertainment console like your DS, PSP, or traditional iOS/Android gaming device (although it can access the Google Play store to buy those games if need be). The Vinci Tab is an educational device with educational content and doesn’t have the right hardware specs to be a serious gaming device.
Although the 9-year-old was grumbling to start, he still spent over an hour engrossed in edutainment. He was playing puzzle games that required working through both spacial and logic exercises.
After asking him a number of questions, he begrudgingly admitted that it wasn’t that bad. In fact, when it was time to go it was hard for him to stop playing. He was enjoying some of the puzzle games that has the player using different sized rocks to help ants roll apples down into their ant hill on a smooth slope by filling in the gaps.
The final verdict from the 3rd grader leads me to believe that the Vinci would have a short lifespan in a household that only had older kids. But this device could easily be shared between a mix of ages as the app curriculum spans a wide range of ages (18 months to 9 years).
Wired: The tablets can handle the rough and tumble of young children and comes loaded with a lot of pre-loaded apps. Serious scholarship has been used in the creation of the Vinci game content in order to be developmentally appropriate.
Tired: The tablet is marketed as a fully functional android tablet for parents, but the hardware specs are just too slow to be anything other than a kids’ tablet. Buying games off the Google Play store will work, but the hardware specs would struggle with some of the higher-grade game titles for Android devices.
Disclosure: GeekDad received a sample for review.