LeapFrog debuted their LeapPad Explorer in 2011. The LeapPad Explorer toy for kids, is a fun, educational tablet toy. Using either their finger, a pen stylus, the d-pad or tilting the tablet children can access a variety of apps, e-books and games with an educational focus. The LeapPad Explorer tablet is recommended for kids ages 4-9. Most recently I’ve had the opportunity to review 2 of the newest Ultra eBooks for the LeapPad Explorer, Cars 2 Project Undercover and Disney Princesses Cinderella. The LeaPad Explorer won the coveted Toy of the Year Award in 2012.
Ultra eBook Features
The Ultra eBooks retail for $19.99, are available as digital downloads or purchased cartridges, and are recommended for children in preschool and Kindergarten.
The Disney Princess Cinderella eBook teaches children the story of Cinderella while she plans for the ball. Cars 2 follows Mater, Lightning McQueen, and friends internationally on their spy mission.
With both of the Ultra eBooks I reviewed, they have the same general formatting so if a child is familiar with how to use 1 eBook, they should be able to easily access a different one as the menu and general structure is the same.
After tapping the eBook icon from the home page (if it's a cartridge it will be the first icon on the top left), the eBook will automatically start based on the preferences that are set for each individual child.
To access the menu and change the preferences, by tapping in the bottom middle of the screen, a plus icon will appear. Once tapped it will access the eBook menu. The reading level (2,3,4) can be changed, as well as whether the e-book is read aloud to the child, read in conjunction with the child, or whether the child wants to read on their own. There is even a unique feature where either a parent or a child can record themselves reading the eBook. From the menu, different pages of the book can be accessed, as well as the mini-games.
If a child leaves the eBook by pushing the home button on the LeapPad Explorer to play an additional game, once they return to it again, it will remember where the child left off.
Based upon the reading level selected, the print size, sentence structure and use of vocabulary is modified. Therefore, for a child at a reading level 2, the words are larger and the sentences are short. For a child at a reading level 4, the words are in smaller print with lengthier sentences and more complex vocabulary. The reading level will automatically adjust based on the child's performance in reading comprehension questions.
When accessing the eBook, children can tap on various pictures in the story for animations and sound effects. They are also able to tap on underlined words, which provides an understandable dictionary meaning. In various modes, if children tap on individual words, the book will say the word and sound it out, providing pre-reading and phonics skills. As a parent this is a feature I love, given that it was about 25 years since I learned to read, it can be challenging to remember all the phonetic rules to sounding out silent letters.
Children can maneuver through the eBook turning pages by using either their fingers or the stylus. In many of the apps, games, and eBooks, I have had some difficulty accessing some of the smaller pictures and menu prompts as the LeapPad itself does not always register the touch of the finger or stylus. This can be frustrating at times. Every few pages, in either eBook, there is often a “loading” page causing a delay for a few seconds while the next part of the book loads, which definitely impacts the flow of the user experience.
These Ultra eBooks also help to develop reading comprehension skills and throughout the book there is an icon that will ask children various questions and allow them to win awards and badges based on correct answers.
Included in each eBook are 3 different mini-games. The games vary from eBook to eBook but often include 1 game that has a drag and drop feature. For example, in Disney Princesses, children can design their own dress for Cinderella complete with gloves, shoes, necklaces, bows, and sleeves. In the Cars 2 eBook, children can help disguise Mater undercover by changing his color, teeth, and giving him a hat. Some of the other games included in the eBooks also involve some type of racing game, either tilting the device from left to right or using the d-pad to avoid obstacles.
In addition to Cars 2 and Disney Princesses Cinderella, other Ultra eBook titles include LeapSchool: How Not To Clean Your Room, and Pet Pals.