LeapFrog's LeapPads have been on many children's holiday wish lists ever since they first came out a few years ago. Is LeapFrog's latest offering, the Leappad 3, worth a look this holiday season? Read on for our full review.
Build and Display
The first thing you'll notice about the LeapPad 3 is that it's built to handle the kind of abuse a child can dish out. It has a solid casing, a shatter-proof screen and feels durable. It's easy for little kids to hold, weighing around 0.85 lbs (385 g): slightly heavier than a 331 g (0.73 lb) iPad mini 3.
Next to the home button, the power and volume buttons have all been shifted to the side, making it harder for little kids to switch off the device inadvertently. The crayon-sized stylus slides in easily on the back and comes with a mesh tip, so there's less of a chance kids will damage the screen by smashing the stylus against it.
The 5-inch capacitive touch screen responds well to both the stylus and touch and easily registers your movements; it's a significant upgrade compared to the the older LeapPads that sported less responsive resistive touch screens. However the low resolution (480 x 268) hasn't changed – some of the graphics can seem a bit pixelated or grainy at times.
While older LeapPads needed four AA batteries, the Leappad 3 comes with a built-in lithium ion battery, along with a USB cable and charger; there's no more hassle of having to haul around spare batteries or a rechargeable battery charger.
LeapFrog has outfitted the LeapPad 3 with a 1 GHz quad-core processor, and while it's fast enough to play videos seamlessly, we did notice a loading alert popping up for a few seconds every time we started or exited an app. While this might not matter much to the target age group, it's a far cry from the speed you'd get from an adult tablet.
The tablet has a front-facing speaker and 2 MP cameras on the front and back. Given the low resolution you only get acceptable-quality images, but they're good enough for kids to play around with in the pre-loaded photo app.
In tests, we found the battery life to be quite impressive, with an average life of 7 hours when playing around with apps, listening to songs and watching videos.
The LeapPad 3 only lets you set up three user profiles, which children can personalize with their own photos and backgrounds. The menu bar gives you direct access to the camera, photo gallery, rewards and the settings. Overall, the interface is very simple and easy to navigate.
Voice instructions are available for every app (they play automatically). It's a thoughtful feature, as children won't need to consult anyone if they have any questions about what to do next. Parents can set up the tablet, hand it over and leave it to them.
If you're looking for loads of pre-loaded content that's going to keep a child occupied for a long time, unfortunately you aren't going to find it with the LeapPad 3. It comes with 10 apps – some of them quite basic, like a calendar, clock, notepad and calculator. There's a music player with 10 songs and a voice memo app, which lets you record up to 16 tracks.
The three noteworthy apps that come pre-loaded are the Pet Pad Party, Photo Fun and Pet Chat. Photo Fun lives up to its name, as it's very entertaining. Kids can click pictures with funny masks, blend photos, apply filters and even blow into the microphone or shake the tablet to get cool effects.
The Pet apps allow peer-to-peer play over nearby Wi-Fi-enabled LeapFrog devices. That means if two kids are in the same room with the latest LeapPads, they can either chat with each other in Pet Chat (using emoticons and pre-typed statements) or play with each other's pets through the Pet Pad Party app. Some other games like Go Gopher Go, LeapFrog Kart Racing and Arturo's Bug Adventures (sold separately) also have the same social functionality.
The tablet also has built-in Wi-Fi, but it's extremely limited. Kids can "browse" using the LeapSearch app, but they only have access to pre-screened pictures and videos of animals, pets, cats, dogs, toys and a few more categories. That said, there's a lot for them to see within each category; there are 10 screens of videos on cats alone. The downside is that you can't approve and add any sites for them to visit. There's no option to watch Netflix or upload Youtube videos.
While you can shop for apps by age, skill or category from the LeapFrog Learning Library, do expect to shell out a lot of money over time, as the apps cost anywhere from US$7.50 to $25. LeapFrog's selling point is that all of its apps and games are truly learning apps developed in-house, with educational content that teaches various skills.
We checked out the "Kat's Math-errific Math Show" game and it was both fun and educational – the player controls a little girl who has to fill magic hats with frogs by solving math problems. While Leapfrog's apps and games make use of their own research-based curriculum, you'll still find plenty of content to download that feature characters, kids know and love, from Nickelodeon, Sesame Street, Hasbro and more.
Additionally any content that you download is yours in your Leapfrog account and can be uploaded on up to three other Leapfrog devices. Overall, it's more economical to buy apps than get cartridges.
Once you get into the parental settings by entering a four digit code, you can turn the wireless on or off, or manage and browse app in the apps center. The parental controls are quite basic and nothing to write home about. There aren't any options, for example, to limit tablet usage.
Parents can manage a child's profile by adjusting their learning levels based on age and enable or disable both peer-to-peer gaming and LeapSearch. Children can't buy anything directly through the app center, but they can put content on their wish lists for parents to buy.
Do we recommend the Leappad 3? It depends on your child's age and what you're looking for.
If you're on the lookout for a children's tablet that offers loads of pre-loaded content, with extensive parental controls, the ability to really browse the web or want to put your favorite movies and games on it, then you're better off looking at a different tablet.
The recommended age for the Leappad 3 is 3-9 years and we think that it can be a good starter tablet for really young kids, below six years of age. Children above six might find the content a little ... young. If your kids are used to playing with your tablets then they are likely to still ask for them, just to watch videos on a higher resolution screen or play their favorite games.
However it does have its own advantages. There are no worries about getting a kid-proof case to avoid breakage as the tablet itself is sturdy enough to be simply handed over. It also relieves busy parents from having to help or supervise their child's time on the device as it's easy for them to operate on their own, thanks to the instructions and simple interface.
There's no way for kids to get into trouble with the in-built Wi-Fi, as they can only browse pre-approved content. Since LeapFrog has a strong focus on all their apps and games being educational, you can be sure that they're learning something as much as they're having fun and getting comfortable using a tablet.
At $100, it's inexpensive, but if that's your major criteria for choosing it over a regular tablet, then beware that the price of apps and games will quickly add up to equal, if not exceed, a more expensive tablet – especially if you want your kids to stay engaged with the device.
Cartridges for the LeapPad 3 start at $9.99 and external content is also expensive when you buy it through the app store. For instance Disney's Frozen soundtrack is available for a steep $15 through the LeapPad's app store, compared to $7 on Amazon or $4 in the Google Play store.
We think the LeapPad 3 is a solid choice if you'd like to provide very young kids with a completely safe, albeit limited, tablet experience. For more on the latest children's slates, you can check out our Kids' Tablet Buyer's Guide.