Review: LeapBand activity tracker for kids
Getting kids who are immersed in mobile devices to get up and start moving can be a bit of challenge, which is where an activity tracker for kids just might help. Leapfrog's LeapBand is a virtual pet gaming device merged with a fitness tracker that motivates kids to move using activity challenges and rewards. The more active they are, the more rewards they get to unlock cool new features. Is it enough to get them to be more physically active though? Read on to find out.
Build and setup
The watch-like LeapBand has a simple interface, with four buttons and a front-facing speaker. At 2.5 x 1.8 x 2 in (6.4 x 4.4 x 5.1 cm), it's a bit on the chunky side, but its colorful design stands out next to minimalistic adult fitness bracelets like Jawbone's UP3. One look is all it takes to realize this is made for kids.
The LeapBand is lightweight enough (7 oz/200 g) to be worn without any discomfort, has a flexible strap and seems pretty tough. We liked the bright 1.4-inch screen with its vibrant colors and good image quality. The virtual pets don't seem overly small or crowded on the screen. One potential drawback, though, is that it isn't a touchscreen, which could be confusing to today's kids.
The controls are intuitive, while the loud audio offers both easy to understand instructions and encouragement in the form of rousing cheers. Kids should be able to operate it easily without a parent's help. However there are no volume controls on the LeapBand or in the Leapfrog Connect application, which is a bit of a shame as the volume can be a bit jarring at times.
Initially it does take a little time to set up the tracker. You need to connect the LeapBand to your computer using a USB cable, download the Leapfrog Connect application onto your computer's storage and use it to set the parental controls or upload more challenges onto the device. It can get annoying to have to tether the device to the computer every time you need to access the controls to change something, as there's no native or mobile-based way to tweak its settings.
We found the controls within the software to be a tad limited too, as parents can't set the device to shut down at different times on different days. For example, on weekends you'll have to access the PC software and change the settings to allow kids to play with the LeapBand during school hours.
We did like how you're able to see a kid's activity levels for the entire week through the software though, with parents able to make use of the data to organize more play time on specific days.
One potential advantage with the PC tethering is that there are no batteries to replace. You can easily charge the tracker's built-in battery through your computer via a USB cable, or with a USB wall charger. With normal use the LeapBand lasts for around 3 days once charged.
Experience and controls
When you initially start the LeapBand (by pressing down on the activity challenges button), you go directly into the Player mode where kids can play games with a customizable pet. There's an onscreen energy bar that changes color to reflect the kid's activity level, and is tracked by the LeapBand's accelerometer.
It's a smart feature, as children can instantly view their progress (or lack of it), and we can see how kids might play and compete with each other to get a higher bar. Kids can also see how many joules (jewels) they've earned and they're prompted to complete activity challenges to unlock new pets. Getting new pets can be frustrating, however, as there's no clear indication of how much more activity they need to engage in to unlock a new furry friend.
The games kids can play here are more entertaining than educational: Pet Play rewards kids with new toys, Pet Boogie has them teach their pets dance moves and in Pet Salon they wash and groom their pets. The Pet Chef game does teach them basic nutrition though. They can collect fruits, vegetables and more, to learn what a balanced meal looks like. Earning more rewards allows them to do more fun things with their pets, like give them their favorite foods or new toys.
If the child isn't playing with the LeapBand for a few seconds, it defaults into the Move mode, where the screen turns off (like you'd see on many adult smartwatches). If you want to activate a Silent mode, where audio, gameplay etc. are completely disabled, you can do that by holding down on the left arrow button for 5 seconds.
School time mode, as you might expect, keeps the device locked during set hours, and it automatically unlocks once the school day is over. And, of course, the LeapBand still tracks movements in any mode.
Every step, hop and jump counts in the LeapBand's many activity challenges, which kids can initiate any time via a button. Once a challenge is triggered, there's a 10 second countdown that asks kids to do crazy things to get rewards and work up some sweat. We're talking activities like dancing like a chicken, hopping like popping popcorn or "wiggling like a worm until you giggle."
The LeapBand could also be great for group play, where children can compete with each other to do the physical activity challenges and compare how fast their energy bars move.
It comes pre-loaded with 14 challenges in several different categories, and parents can add another 36 to the device via LeapFrog's PC app. Unfortunately the tracker doesn't give you the option to add challenges that you make up.
Petathlon, a companion app for the LeapBand, extends the fun onto Android, iOS and LeapFrog's own tablets. Kids can play six mini-games in the app to win cool accessories like new tracksuits or medals, which they can put on their pets after transferring the data onto the LeapBand.
The LeapBand has some engaging games, is easy to use, kid-tough and offers up lots of varied physical challenges. But it's also a bit of a mixed bag as an activity tracker.
While it tracks movements like jumping, dancing and walking, the child's progress is only indicated via the energy bar. There's no way to know, for instance, exactly how many steps they took that day, which can be a disappointment for kids familiar with devices like the Fitbit.
Doing the activity challenges by pressing the activity button is what gives kids a little workout, as they're asked to crawl like a turtle or hop in a straight line, for example, to earn joules to unlock new pets. However children could potentially get bored with these challenges over time, after they've played through all those available, and simply not trigger the button.
Since kids can also earn joules by sitting in one place and playing the pet-oriented video games on the LeapBand, they could end up using it just for gaming. It would have been nicer if the device linked earning rewards in these games with moving about physically too.
If you add the lack of an interactive touchscreen and volume controls, it feels like the LeapBand needs more work. LeapFrog has the start of a good idea here. We hope that future versions will be more exciting and challenging.
However, for the price of US$29.99, this is already a fun and basic tracker that should get your youngsters moving.
Product page: LeapBand