Guide to the LeapPad Ultra XDi and early learning devices

Described as the ‘iPad for kids’, the LeapPad Ultra by Leapfrog became a hugely popular gift for children, owing to its usability, durable design and extra parental settings. The 2014 edition, LeapPad Ultra XDi brings a newer update with all the features that made the Ultra such a success.
Featuring important safety controls, whether you use the Ultra XDi for car journeys or making homework that bit more fun, young kids can play music, watch videos, tackle built-in games or download apps within secure limits set up by you.
Before buying any tablet for children, it’s good to know about details such as safety, screen quality and app options to help you choose the best one for your child. If you have young kids, read on to find out about the benefits of electronic learning devices, before comparing the LeapPad Ultra XDi to Leapfrog’s other offerings and alternative devices on the market.

Why buy a learning tablet for kids?

Electronic devices for children are increasingly used both in the home and the classroom because of their versatility as a both a fun toy and a learning device. The benefits of electronic learning are potentially limitless, owing to the fact that you can keep expanding the educational games and apps you have on your child’s tablet.

The difference between learning about the world’s geography or natural history in a picture book and on a moving, interactive screen is a big one, and kids’ tablets can get children engaged in subjects from maths to foreign languages, all in a few taps and swipes on a tablet screen.

In some cases, organisations like Tablets for Schools believe that the use of tablets for school-age children can even help with things like behavioural problems and creative thinking, as well as learning engagement.

Deciding on a tablet for your child

First decide if your child needs a tablet made specifically for kids, like those in the LeapPad range, or if they’re old enough to use a simple all-rounder. The iPad mini and the hudl are two examples of great choices for slightly older children. Generally speaking, most kids’ tablets are designed for three to nine year olds, with secondary school-age children (11 upwards) benefiting more from a ‘grown-up’ tablet.

If you’re looking for something at a more basic level for very young kids, there’s also a range of more simplistic tablets and learning toys that you can look at. Both LeapFrog and VTech do a range of early years devices focusing on number and word games, as well as features like pianos and virtual cameras. Toddlers might find more physical models, such as electronic houses, picnic sets and animal characters more engaging to interact with. Because these are more toys than tablets, they will usually take standard AA batteries rather than rechargeable, and are not usually Wi-Fi connected.

The LeapPad Ultra XDi

Find out how the LeapPad Ultra XDi works with our closer look at the main features and comparing them with other major tablets for kids.

Safety and security

The most important function in any tablet for kids is the safety features.

The LeapPad Ultra XDi allows you to set up a four-digit pin code in order to control parental settings relating to Wi-Fi access, apps and updates. Parent Mode operates separately to the three children’s profiles and guest profiles available on the tablet. You’ll find the Settings menu from a shortcut on the bottom of the home page.

More specifically, the ‘Web-safe Wi-Fi’ software means that experts have already sorted through the apps and sites that are safe for young kids to access and have collated a hub called ‘LeapSearch’ where your children can happily browse a suitable selection of videos, pictures and websites without coming across any inappropriate material. The web browser icon can even be removed from the home screen.

You can either lock the custom LeapPad App Centre completely with a password or just disable the buy button, so you don’t end up with thousands of downloaded tracks to pay for on the Music Player! This also means that you can allow older kids to choose or buy apps themselves.

Elsewhere, you should find similar innovations in all learning devices for kids. The VTech Innotab range operates VTech Kid as a child-safe online service in much the same way as the LeapPad, providing password controls over kids’ usage and pre-reviewing content so that only recommended content is accessible.

Play

There are over 1000 educational and fun games to choose from in the App Centre on LeapPad Ultra XDi. Since the tablet comes with Wi-Fi, you don’t need to connect to a home computer to browse and download them. From official Disney games like Disney Planes: Dusty’s Big Dream to eBooks, videos and ‘learning games’ like ‘Get Ready for Preschool’, and The Human Body: Captain Plasma’s Adventure, which introduces kids to biology in a fun, interactive way. There’s a real mix of entertainment here and prices range from £3.50 up to £20.

The interface is laid out over several home screens with large icons so kids can easily locate their favourite games. Where the original LeapPad had five built-in apps, the Ultra XDi comes pre-loaded with 11, including two games: Art Studio Ultra and Roly Poly World. Once you’ve logged into the App Store, this free offering also includes one download of your choice. The tablet has its own MP3 player for downloadable music, which comes with 10 bonus songs to kick-start their collection.

Compared to the 650+ download options in the VTech library, there’s a lot of choice from the LeapFrog App Centre, however VTech also gives access to over 200 Android games in addition and there are 17 apps included in the tablet. Parents might like the handy search function in which you can browse by curriculum, as well as type of content. One of the key extra features of the InnoTab Max is a sweet ‘wish-list’ function where children can request apps from their parents.

Handling

Durability is a major factor when buying a tablet for your child. Leaving your kids with their own tablet means that your shiny new iPad or Samsung Galaxy Tab will be safe from small handprints, but that means their own tablet must withstand bumps and knocks, not to mention the potential for being stepped on!

The LeapPad Ultra XDi is robust enough to let young kids handle without fear of damage. The Ultra XDi has a chunky plastic casing and a raised plastic bezel around the screen, meaning it can easily survive being dropped. The function and home buttons are matte and the central toggle large enough for little fingers to hold comfortably.

You’ll find other learning devices have a similar ergonomic design, though examples like the VTech InnoTab Max have a more curved shape for easy grip. Both the VTech and LeapFrog models come with stylus pen accessories attached by a cord. Whatever device you go for, look for a thick rubber casing and good outer grip, and consider a waterproof protective cover if you have toddlers.

Power

All the 2014 generation LeapPads come with a rechargeable Lithium-ion battery, which lasts up to nine hours on full charge.

The Ultra XDi processor runs at a speedy 800MHz and there’s also twice as much capacity (8GB) as the LeapPad 2 to download, save and store with. With 8GB memory, the VTech InnoTab equals the LeapPad Ultra XDi and can be expanded to 40GB with a micro SD card.

Display and sound

The touchscreen display in the LeapPad Ultra XDi is extended from previous versions, at roughly 7 inches. Pixel dimensions reach 1024 x 600 for greater resolution and you’ll find the colours sharp and bright, equalling that of the Innotab Max.

There’s a 2MP camera on the VTech model, while the Ultra XDi has back and front-facing 2MP cameras, with an improved 480p video recording facility as well.

LeapPad 3

So how does the LeapPad Ultra XDi compare to LeapFrog’s other 2014 offering, the LeapPad 3?

The next generation on from LeapPad 2, the LeapPad 3 is lightweight, weighing under a pound with smaller dimensions of 7.5 x 5.2 inches, which may suit the youngest members of the family a little better. It also has a larger bezel, protecting the 5-inch screen and making it easier for toddlers to hold.

LeapPad 3’s small screen is fully capacitive, as oppose to the resistive display on the LeapPad 2. This basically means better accuracy – it will be harder for your child to accidentally tap or knock apps, as the new touchscreen only responds to electro-static charge from a fingertip.

LeapPad 3 has the same capacity as the LeapPad 2 but at 1000MHz, the processing speed is nearly double that of the LeapPad 2, also trumping the Ultra XDi for fast response times.

This Leapfrog model comes with 10 free apps, with basic Notepad and Calculator features balanced with more interactive games like ‘Photo Fun Ultra’ and ‘Pet Chat’.

The good news is that, if you’ve already bought apps on previous LeapPad models for your kids, you don’t need to buy them again – you can transfer them over to your new XDi or LeapPad 3 as long as they’ve been purchased via the same email address in the App Centre.

LeapTV

LeapTV is not actually a tablet, but the first gaming platform from LeapFrog. Like the LeapPad tablets it has both educational and fun, physical elements plus LeapTV is only compatible with a closed range of games, so parents don’t have to worry about unsuitable content. It’s aimed at four to eight year olds and, much like a junior version of the Nintendo Wii, features body motion gaming, as well as traditional hand-eye play. Get cartridge games or choose from over 100 downloads and videos geared towards improving maths, problem solving and reading skills.

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