Is the LeapPad Ultra Worth It?
And How Does it Compare to the Alternatives?
The LeapPad Ultra is the new learning tablet for 2013 from childrens educational electronics manufacturer LeapFrog. The earlier generations of this tablet range have proved hugely popular with parents who want their kids to have access to an affordable gadget that has strong educational content and offers reliability, durability and safety.
My four year old son has a well used LeapPad and I also have a six year old son who loves using tablets. I have a computer science PhD and a career in IT and I've naturally developed a strong interest in technology for kids. I closely follow what's available and how the various devices on the market compare with each other.
In this article I'll take you through the features of the LeapPad Ultra and what you get for its higher price tag compared with previous models and also compare with the alternative tablets that are available for 2013.
Image: Promotional Image
The LeapPad Ultra still supports the same titles as the previous generation of the learning tablet, it's still part of the same product range. This means that there's a sizeable library of interactive eBooks, educational apps and other content available to buy for the device.
You'll still find the D-pad physical controller, front and rear cameras and a stylus on a cord.
But, this is a fairly major upgrade to the product line. It's not just a little bit faster that the previous models (though it does have an upgraded tech spec) it does add some significant new features.
- A bigger 7" screen. This pretty significant. The earlier versions have a smaller 5" screen. I'm always torn between a smaller device being easier for little kids to hold and early readers preferring a larger font size on the screen. We've never found the 5" screen to be a particular problem, but my kids are also fine holding a 7" tablet as long as it's not too heavy. I don't know what the weight of the LeapPad Ultra is yet, but that will be an important factor.
- Pincode protected parental controls and the ability to sync content and download new apps and eBooks wirelessly. This is definitely convenient. The previous wired approach was fine but I do like the idea of being able to quickly upload photos that kids have taken or choose and immediately buy an app that they're really excited about.
- Access to controlled internet content via Wifi. This is another very big change. The LeapPad Ultra has Wifi support. It will enable access to specific curated education and child-friendly content including videos and images. A team of LeapFrog learning experts will be curating content from the web that kids will be able to search and access from the tablet. This could be a very good feature to enable kids to access a much broader range of content than has previously been available while preventing access to inappropriate material.
- A built-in rechargeable battery and charger. I know a lot of parents really wanted this feature. (I think I'm one of the few who was happy with using batteries, we always have plenty of rechargeables ready to go and don't have to worry about forgetting to plug the tablet in to charge.)
- Peer to peer play over the local network. When multiple kids have a LeapPad Ultra. Kids will be able to interact with their friends and brothers or sisters in the updated Pet Pad Party (where you get to look after a customized pet as you learn.) This sounds like fun for siblings who are close in age and each have the tablet.
- Utility suite. Previously this has been one of the features that made the VTech InnoTab stand out (my older son has the InnoTab 2 and love the note taking app and other utilities.) These utilities will appeal to slightly older kids and do extend the usefulness of the tablet.
And is it worth it?
The LeapPad Ultra has a recommended retail price of $149.99. Now this puts it into a higher price bracket than earlier generations of the device. This is perhaps to be expected with the larger screen and Wifi capability.
Techie types will be quick to point out that you can get a cheap Android tablet for less than this and it will have a higher tech spec and access to loads of content. This misses the point of the value of the LeapPad - it's designed specifically for little kids and a lot of effort goes into the development and curation of educational content. The added features of the new model are very useful additions too. You're paying for a top of the range tablet that is specifically made for little children.
If you can only afford one tablet for the whole household to share then an Android tablet might be a better choice, but if you can afford a tablet specifically for a child then a learning tablet makes lots of sense. The LeapPad helped my son a lot with his letters and he uses it most days, he will occasionally ask for a go on the Kindle Fire, but there's plenty of time for that when he's older.
Available in Green or Pink
The green color appeals to boys and also works as a unisex color if siblings will be sharing or if the tablet will be handed down.
Some girls just love pink and this color way is designed for them. There's also a coordinating purple case.
Announcement Video - For the LeapFrog LeapPad Ultra
Here's the announcement video where you can see the updated design of the tablet. It looks modern and a little more grown up that the previous models.
LeapPad 2 vs Ultra
The LeapPad 2 was last year's model and it's still a viable choice if you want access to LeapFrog's educational content at a lower cost. You won't get the new extra features but you'll get a solid reliable platform with access to new titles like Monsters University.
You might even find that the LeapPad 2 gets discounted. It's also worth checking for used deals as families upgrade to the newer model.
This LeapPad2 Monsters University bundle ships in July 2013 demonstrating that LeapFrog still sees this as a current model.
InnoTab vs LeapPad Ultra
The VTech InnoTab is the most direct competitor to the LeapPad Ultra. Their top of the range model is currently the InnoTab 2S which has Wifi support for downloading and syncing and also allows you to store your own videos and music on an SD card. My older son has the InnoTab 2 and it's a good device, the LeapPad educational content wins for children who are learning to read and write though.
VTech have also announced the InnoTab 3 which is a smaller (4.3" screen) and cheaper device.
The price of the InnoTab 2S has been dropping so you may be able to find this tablet at a discount. It's considerably cheaper than the LeapPad Ultra but has a smaller screen.
Kindle Fire or LeapPad Ultra
This is where things get very interesting. At a $149.99 recommended retail price the LeapPad Ultra is very close in price to the entry level Kindle Fire tablet from Amazon which also has a 7" screen.
The Kindle Fire is a full featured tablet which now has a good parental controls. There's a lot of good educational content for the Kindle Fire, but you don't get the consistency that you have with the LeapFrog platform - you have to discover and pull together the right apps for your child from a range of great to poor apps.
For young kids who are learning to read and write I prefer the LeapPad but once a child is a competent reader then the Kindle Fire makes a great next tablet. We have a Kindle Fire HD which my 6.5 year old uses a lot and he has asked for one of his own for his next birthday or Christmas. He still uses his brother's LeapPad occasionally but he's past the age where he can get the most benefit from it.