Alas, I have no spawn of my own. So when LeapFrog mailed their new Tag Junior, a handheld device that reads special LeapFrog books to children, I had to call in the big guns for the review. Err...little guns.
My 18 month old niece Rysa (with the help of her mother Katharyn Wheeler) put the Tag Junior through the paces. Their collaboration:
Tag Junior 'book pal'
Let's just say that the Tag Junior looks a bit like an alien, a happy alien, but an alien nonetheless. It was actually difficult to keep the reviewer interested in the book because the Tag Junior book pal was so interesting in comparison.
By touching the pal to pictures throughout the pages, everything from animal sounds to the specific names of colors play back on the pal's speaker. The audio quality is pretty decent for such a small device, and all voices are clearly audible.
The biggest problem with the book pal is that the power button is available to the child. The second biggest problem is that the power button makes noise when it is turned on and off. Subsequently, the reviewer was far more interested in turning the button on and off than touching the Tag Junior to the page.
The third biggest problem is that the pal is set to read through a whole passage when touched to any word on a page. This feature is great in the entry-level Curious George Color Fun book where there is one word a page, but proves detrimental in more advanced books that hold up to four lines of text on each page.
Beyond the one bundled book you get with the Tag Junior, each additional book requires you to update the Tag's software via a PC/Mac and USB. This is a simple process, but it requires some preplanning. The reviewer that was so excited seeing the Curious George book was disappointed in having to wait to look at it with the book pal since it wasn't preinstalled. Luckily, once all these books are installed to the pal, the reviewer was able to switch between books at will—every book is loaded at once.
LeapFrog makes use of PC syncing in one other notable way: Once the book pal has been connected it uploads information onto LeapFrog's site to help you monitor your child's activity. The site shows the amount of time spent with the Tag, which books were read, and which skills accomplished. These tools are far beyond what any other toy/learning tool manufacturer is doing right now.
And by far the cutest function is that you can personalize the book pal so that it uses the name of the child each time it powers on (and for names not available you can set a nickname such as "little monkey").
Overall, the reviewer liked the book pal and loved the books themselves. She cried when they were taken away from her.
Formfactor Fits Perfectly In Little Hands
Online Progress Monitoring Is Excellent
The Books Themselves Are Entertaining
You Need to Sync Every Book to PC
Power Button Too Prominent/Enticing
Children Might Cry When Pal Is Taken Away