Tablets for kids have come a long way in the past few years and are now much-improved over their low-resolution, slow and clunky predecessors. The LeapFrog LeapPad Platinum looks set to be one of the most popular tablets for children this year, so we decided to spend a bit of time with one to see whether it would make a good first tablet for your little one.

The LeapPad Platinum doesn’t set out to rival the likes of the iPad Air 2 in the svelteness or style stakes. It’s unashamedly chunky with a big bezel. In fact, it’s sized more like the Wii U Gamepad than most modern tablets. However, prioritizing sturdiness over style with features like a rubber bumper, is a good thing in a device which is going to spend most of its time in the destructive little hands of a toddler, as all-too-many broken iPads can attest to.

In terms of specifications, the LeapPad Platinum is more powerful than its toy-like looks would suggest. It boasts a respectable 1 GHz processor, and a 7-inch capacitive touchscreen with a 1024 x 600 resolution which can be controlled with a finger or the included squidgy-ended stylus. There’s also a D-pad and home button on the front. This adds up to a smooth-running set-up which doesn’t feel sluggish in the way previous generations of LeapPad and InnoTab have. In fact, our little tester, who is more used to an aging iPad 2, observed that the LeapPad Platinum felt faster.

The LeapPad Platinum is very much a child-specific tablet. It runs a proprietary operating system and is only compatible with apps and games from its maker, LeapFrog, unlike child-focused Android devices like the Amazon Fire HD Kids Edition. While this means you don’t have access to some popular apps and games, it arguably also allows it to be safer and better suited to younger users. It also means the 8 GB of internal storage goes further than it would on an Android or iOS device. A built-in rechargeable battery will keep it going for around five hours, which should get you through most car journeys.

The tablet is billed as being suitable for 3 to 9-year-olds, though we’d suggest it’s optimistic to think children older than five or six would opt for it over rival devices. However, if you have a younger child it could be a good option thanks to robust parental controls and the knowledge that everything which can be accessed on the device is kid-safe.

During the simple set-up process, parents can create user profiles for children which include details about their ages, educational levels, and what services they should each have access to. This means parents can limit access to certain apps, disable wireless connectivity, or set time restrictions, such as the tablet only being able to be used for one hour every day. Time limits can also be set each time the tablet is turned on, using a Parental Lock Code.

While the tablet comes loaded with a number of apps and games, there are over 800 more on offer as paid downloads in the LeapFrog App Center, or if you fancy going old-school many are also available on cartridges. Though you’re not going to find Candy Crush or Clash of Clans, games on offer include characters from Nickelodeon and Disney, meaning your little one’s favorites are probably represented. These LeapFrog offerings also have the benefit (for parents at least) of being designed or approved by educators.

A nice touch is also the ability to let a child browse App Center content, and add items to a wish list for a parent to (hopefully) buy them at a later time. Users of iOS and Android might be shocked by the price of some apps, which can be up to US$25 (£25), but have to remind themselves they are educational, and don’t include any nasty in-app adverts or purchases.

The LeapFrog LeapPad Platinum also comes pre-installed with the sort of apps you’d expect of a tablet, but with a kid twist. Users can take photographs with 2-megapixel cameras front and back (children are the only people with a good excuse for using a tablet as a camera) and the PhotoFun app lets them add filters, effects and masks. A music app can also be used to listen to pre-loaded songs or MP3s added via a computer, while a Pet Chat app, lets young users text chat with a friend, though only if they are in the same room and have an equally capable LeapPad tablet.

There’s also LeapFrog’s LeapSearch internet browser which gives kids access to pre-approved web content which includes kid-safe viral videos, information about perennial search term faves like Dinosaurs and Robots, and safe websites like Time Kids. In our tests this wasn’t as popular as we thought it might be, in fact our four-year-old tester was disappointed both with the content on offer (not his favorite kid websites or YouTube videos) and the clicking to browse topics. The question "Why can’t we just ask Google by talking, like on your phone?" was heard on more than one occasion.

Luckily, he’d been more impressed by the other apps on offer. In particular, an Octonauts game was a big hit and the thing he constantly wanted to return to. This goes to show the strength of brands represented in the LeapFrog titles – he’s a big fan of these sea-faring animal explorers, and here he was able to play them in a full game not available on iOS or Android.

Other games he enjoyed included The Human Body with Captain Plasma, where you complete in-body missions while learning about anatomy, and Cooking Recipes on the Road where you take control of a food van preparing meals, while learning about maths. Obviously games which involved shaking the tablet around and shouting into the microphone were also enjoyed.

LeapFrog’s Imagicards – cards which come to life on screen when scanned using the camera – were also popular. The cards, which come as optional sets, can be used to answer questions, a bit like OSMO, or bring characters into games, like Nintendo’s Animal Crossing Amiibo Cards for the New 3DS.

While our young tester was generally positive about the LeapPad Platinum, one criticism was the inability to use it with any of his connected toys. Unlike an Android tablet or the iPad he usually uses, he wasn’t able to control his Sphero, or play his favorite OSMO games. This is a concern for parents too as it means you’ll still be handing over one of your devices whenever your child wants to play with their favorite tech toys.

From a parent’s perspective, apps and games can feel pricey compared to iOS or Android offerings, but the reassurance about their quality (just about) makes up for that. The bigger concern is how long your child will be satisfied with the LeapFrog games rather than the iOS, Android and Nintendo 3DS alternatives their friends might be playing and talking about at school.

For older children (six and up) we’d probably recommend something like the Amazon Fire HD Kids Edition, which has more of the apps and games children that age will want, it will work with other connected toys, and also includes a "worry free" guarantee.

There’s also the LeapFrog Epic which combines LeapFrog apps with select Android ones, and those that made it to our 2014 best kids' tablets buying guide. However, for younger children, the LeapFrog LeapPad Platinum is an ideal first tablet, and one that parents don’t have to worry about letting their child use.

The $129.99 (£99.99) LeapPad Platinum feels like a significant upgrade to previously available kids tablets, though this isn’t the sort of product that you upgrade from one iteration to the next. If you accept the cost of adding new apps and games, and that it’s unlikely to hold a child’s interest beyond a couple of years, this tablet will give you a safe and secure device your child will enjoy.

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