Seven years after introducing kids to the world of handheld digital learning, LeapFrog is back with a new device designed to educate and entertain tots on the go. The Leapster Explorer ($70) starts where the groundbreaking Leapster left off, adding e-Books, videos, a high-resolution touchscreen, and a forthcoming camera capability to the traditional gaming console. The company sent us an Explorer to try out.
Who is this toy designed for? Children 4 to 9 years old.
What sets it apart? Like most LeapFrog products, the Explorer's educational basis distinguishes it from other handheld gaming systems. The new, larger high-resolution screen sharply displays graphics, making the new Flash-based games more vivid than ever. The system's e-Book capability – which connects to the Tag reading system library – brings the books to life while the video function taps into LeapFrog's already existing series, including Letter Factory. Like other LeapFrog products, the Explorer connects to the online Learning Path, allowing parents to track their tots' progress and identify areas requiring additional support.
What could be better? The cost. The console comes in at $70 (including one pre-loaded pet care application and a code to download another app of the buyer's choice). Additional app download cards (called Leaplets) are sold in packs of two for $15, while game cartridges are $25 each, pricey when compared to $1 and $5 apps in the iTunes store. Unlike previous upgrades, the Explorer is not compatible with Leapster games so all games will need to be repurchased.
How long did it entertain my child? My son toyed with it for hours. Unlike his Leapster (which he could take or leave), I had to pry this console out of his hands.
Would I buy it? Possibly. In my dream world, I would purchase an iPod Touch ($199) and download educational apps to expand my tot's learning. But given the iPod Touch's price point, and its lack of casing to protect it from a normal kid's wear and tear that isn't a practical option. The Explorer is definitely the next best thing currently on the market.