LeapFrog LeapStart full review
The LeapStart is the latest in LeapFrog’s innovative range of technology products for children, and this one is aimed at building not just educational skills but life skills too. The LeapStart interactive learning system is designed to equip kids not just with their ABCs and 123s, but also to help them solve problems – and have fun at the same time.
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Leapfrog is known for its award-winning LeapPad tablets for kids, but the LeapStart is closer to the company's older LeapReader products rather than being a fully functioning tablet.
Essentially, the LeapStart is a folding plastic case, into which you insert one of a range of 16 books – each helping the child progress with maths, literacy, phonics, science, problem-solving and more. It joins an increasing list of kid-tech gadgets that aim to enhance a child's learning; see also Best tablet for kids.
Connected to the case by a cable is the stylus that the child uses to touch the book, activating buttons that trigger games and activities, or give them hints and clues. The stylus reads invisible dots on every page, triggering engaging audio, by which the LeapStart ‘talks’ to the child, asking them questions, setting puzzles and encouraging them forwards in their learning.
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The LeapStart is available for two different age ranges – the Preschool system for 2-4 year olds, and the Primary School system for ages 5-7. It aims to prepare children for these school stages, as well as helping them solve puzzles in daily life.
The Preschool LeapStart (above) features an easy-grip handle, and looks rather like Apple’s original iBook. The Primary School model has a storage pocket for an extra book.
At At 0.95kg the Primary School model (below) is slightly heavier than the Preschool model (0.9kg).
Both are compatible with all LeapStart books, so you needn’t buy a new LeapStart when your child progresses to the older books. Both have enough memory (256MB) to hold eight books. Books and LeapStart devices are available from Amazon (Preschool and Primary School models), as well as Toys R Us, Argos and Tesco.
Each features stereo speakers, with a 3.5mm headphone jack. Remember to read our Best Headphones For Kids round up and safe-hearing advice.
The Preschool LeapStart aims to teaches ABCs, counting, problem solving, creativity, health, shapes, colours and music for nursey children, and introduces reading, writing, early maths, and school routines as well as teamwork, communication and social skills for preschool.
The Primary School LeapStart starts at Reception level, Introducing phonics, addition, subtraction and global awareness as well as animals, conservation, logic and reasoning. For Year 1 it teaches vocabulary and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths), plus problem solving and communication.
Leapfrog LeapStart review: real-world testing
We tested the Preschool system with the help of a 3-and-a-half year old – one who’s well used to navigating his way around electronic devices, but who’s happier with Netflix and Milkshake than he is yet with the ins and outs of phonics and numeracy.
First impressions of the LeapStart were very positive. It feels robust, and the chunky plastic case looks like it could cope with some rough treatment around the house, like being dropped on a wooden floor or bouncing down stairs.
The stylus has a similarly reassuring feel: a fat plastic pen that Leapfrog say is ergonomically designed for smaller hands. Weight wise, it shouldn’t trouble a young child but you wouldn’t call it light – perhaps it’s been designed as an introduction to PE lessons as well as the classroom.
Set-up straight out of the box was a doddle. Simply pop some AA batteries (not included) in the device, download the LeapFrog Connect software to your PC or Mac, download some audio files, and you’re up and running in a matter of minutes (a blessing when an excited toddler is waiting to get his hands on it.)
Included in the box is a sampler book that is primarily there to showcase some of the types of activities that are contained in the 16-book library that’s available for the device. The Primary School model’s Sampler book is for Reception and Year 1 pupils.
Our tester was gripped from the start. He quickly learned to use the stylus on the page to find named items (“I need things that begin with ‘A’…Find the alligator”) and enjoyed tracing numbers and letters – for the very first time in his life – and hearing the sounds made by various animals as he touched their pictures.
He did, however, find the power button similarly tantalizing, accompanied as it was by a jaunty jingle – leading to a slightly frustrating session of turning it on and off, and on and off, and on and off etc. Leapfrog might think about introducing a delay to the Off button in future, saving parents from shredded nerves.
The sampler is a good introduction to the LeapStart, but we’d recommend picking up at least a couple of the other activity books to begin with, as a typical toddler’s attention span is soon exhausted by a ten-page sampler.
Bear in mind also that the device is intended as a progressive system of teaching children, with the activity books bringing them on as they get further into the series.
That means that the RRP of £34.99 (US£39.99) is to be taken with a hefty pinch of salt. If you really want to get the most out of the LeapStart for your child, you’ll need to think of it as a learning system – and one that requires deep parental pockets.
The device itself, plus the 16 books that are available for it, would tot up to just under £195 (US£249) if you bought the whole lot.
Whether you do that will depend on your child’s level of engagement with the LeapStart from the start. Judging by the reaction of our tester, we think there’s a good chance that you’ll more likely be spending a three-figure sum than a two-figure sum. But with our tester now being able to write his first numbers and letters as a result of an hour or so’s activity, we’re inclined to think it might be worth it.
LeapFrog LeapStart: Specs
- LeapStart Preschool Interactive Learning System: 2-4 years old, Includes Preschool Sampler Book, Easy to hold stylus for little hands, Grip handle for easy carrying, Works with all LeapStart Activity Books
- LeapStart Primary School Interactive Learning System: 5-7 years old, Includes Reception & Year 1 Sampler Book, Sleek stylus supports proper writing grip, Storage pocket for extra book (Book sold separately), Works with all LeapStart Activity Books