If you've been anywhere near a Toys "R" Us this season, you'll notice that the LeapFrog LeapPad is everywhere, and for good reason. At $99, it looks like a great, cheap alternative to the iPad, and it runs lots of fun games including titles featuring Disney and Pixar characters.
The LeapPad is a small tablet designed for kids and has a number of kid-friendly features including a rugged case, big, bold buttons, and an easy-to-use interface. Aimed at 4- to 9-year-olds, the LeapPad seems to be just what parents are looking for when it comes to kids electronics. But is it?
I put the LeapPad head-to-head with a similarly outfitted iPad, and what I found may surprise you.
If the LeapPad is anything, it's durable. LeapFrog devices are great for younger gamers, and we've beaten up plenty of other LeapFrog systems to know that the LeapPad is plenty tough. Don't dunk it in the bath, but otherwise you're good to go.
The iPad? Not so much. You can always buy the iGuy iPad case from Speck, but this thing isn't surviving many glasses of spilled milk or sticky fingers.
If you've used an iPad, you know how much fun it can be. Even Android tablets are more enticing than a single-purpose educational device made just for kids. But if you know that junior will get a kick out of the LeapPad's various characters and apps, there's no reason he or she can't spend a few minutes a day tapping away at this thing.
More important, the LeapPad is just for kids. They don't have to share it with Mom and Dad, it's not easily breakable, and it can hit the bottom of a toy bin without shattering. That definitely makes it more fun for the youngsters, especially when they come to consider it their own device rather than something they have to cage from Mom and Dad.
There are so many apps available for the iPad -- for kids of all ages -- that it's hard to compare the two. However, when it comes to dedicated learning apps, the LeapPad is neck-and-neck with the iPad. However, the richness of many of the ebooks and the excellent tutoring apps available for iOS still bring the iPad ahead. The LeapPad is great for kids 4 to 9, while the iPad is great for kids of all ages (provided you don't mind the smallest ones slobbering on the screen).
$99 vs. $499? No contest. However, if you already have one, the question could be whether the LeapPad is worth picking up as a dedicated kids' device: It is, with some caveats. Most kids games on the iPad run $0.99 to $4.99 while extra content for the LeapPad costs anywhere from a few dollars to $24.99 for game cartridges. Out of the box, you get a fairly nice experience and collection of apps but anything else will cost you.
If you're buying the LeapPad just to keep junior off your iPad, you need to rethink your strategy. This will not replace the visceral thrills of Angry Birds and the iPad's built-in kids' ebook reader. The LeapPad is a stealth educational tool built to look like Mom and Dad's iPad. My own son, who has far too many games in the first place, considers LeapFrog devices as a last resort when our phones, iPads, or Nintendo 3DSes aren't available. It's fair to say, as the kids of a gadget reviewer, my little ones are spoiled, but I worry that this will be the case even in single-iPad families.
That said, if you want a simple, easy-to-use kids' device that won't break the bank (and your kids haven't yet fallen in love with Crash Kart on your phone), the LeapPad is definitely for you. For $99, younger users will have a blast playing games and watching videos, while older gamers will learn important math and reading skills. All of these things can be done on the iPad, but the LeapPad can withstand drops, falls, spills, and smashes while the iPad needs constant supervision.
When it comes to kids, LeapFrog knows their stuff. The LeapPad is a lot of fun and a great device and, if you can find it, will make a great Christmas gift.
Are you buying a tablet this holiday season?