LeapFrog has a new version of its LeapPad Explorer tablet for children, the LeapPad Ultra, available now.
The new-look LeapFrog LeadPad Ultra costs £119.99 ($149 in the US) and features a child-safe web browser, wi-fi, 7-inch touchscreen, rechargeable battery, and 8GB of internal storage. We got a hands-on preview of the new LeapPad Ultra at a special press event in New York on launch day, and have since had the kids' tablet in the hands of our child testers – the offspring of our trained adult test centre crew. See: Best, cheapest place to buy LeapPad
We set our crack team of young reviewers on the new device, and you can their LeapPad Ultra video review on our sister site Tech Advisor.
The LeapPad Ultra is the successor to the phenomenally successful LeapPad 2 tablet for kids. The LeapPad 2 remains for sale alongside the Ultra for £69.99, and a new combination £89.99 LeapPad 2 Power that includes the handy recharger pack. Watch our LeapPad 2 video review with our 6-year-old reviewer Lexi showing off the tablet. Read our LeapPad 2 review. At the end of this review we look at a comparison between all three leapPad models.
The LeapPad Ultra feels robust – a lot more so than adult tablets. One of the reasons parents fear giving their child their iPad or Kindle Fire, for example, is that kids have a habit of breaking things. A dedicated tablet for children should negate that concern, and the Ultra should be able to withstand even the clumsiest – or should we say careless – kid. See also: Tested! Best headphones for kids
LeapPad Ultra vs LeapPad 2
The new LeapPad Ultra is larger than the LeapPad 2 – closer to the dimensions of rival kids tablet VTech InnoTab but with a larger screen. The LeapPad 2 becomes, if you like, the LeapPad mini. See: Best place to buy a LeapPad.
Screen: The LeapPad Ultra features a 7-inch screen, compared to the 5-inch screens of the earlier LeapPads and the InnoTab. This makes the new tablet physically larger. It weighs about the same as an iPad 2. While I liked the compact size and lighter weight of the LeapPad 2 the extra screen size is welcome, especially for watching movies and game play. LeapFrog hopes these features will keep its attraction for a slightly older age range.
The Ultra boasts a 7-inch light-touch screen that swipes from page to page more like an iPad or high-end Android tablet than the earlier LeapPads did with their more basic resistive touch screens. LeapFrog calls this Duo Tech, as it’s resistive for stylus use and also finger-swipe friendly
Those 7 inches pack a screen resolution of 1,024-x-600 pixels compared to the LeapPad 2’s 480-x-272 – a significant jump.
Storage: The LeapPad Ultra has twice the internal storage of its predecessor – 8GB compared to 4GB. This is great when kids use the video and photo capabilities a lot.
Cameras: The Ultra features front- and rear-facing 2-megapixel cameras just like the LeapPad 2. But they are capable of higher-quality 480p video recording, compared to the earlier 240p.
MP3 player: The LeapPad Ultra includes an MP3 player. Previously this functionality was sold separately.
Battery: Battery life remains at a claimed “up to 9 hours” for the Ultra and 2. What’s improved is the built-in lithium ion battery is rechargeable. Battery life in any tablet is going to be a gripe with users, and no one wants their child to unexpectedly have a drained toy in their hands, so top marks to LeapFrog for including the rechargeable battery built-in rather than as an add-on.
The new LeapPad 2 Power includes a separate NiMh battery pack, previously an extra £30. Both the LeapPad Ultra and Power include an AC adaptor – otherwise £10.
Processor: The LeapPad Ultra packs an 800MHz processor that’s faster than the older 550MHz chip in the LeapPad 2.
Software: The Ultra comes with 11 apps compared to the LeapPad 2’s five apps. LeapPad Ultra comes with a music player with ten LeapFrog Learning Songs, Art Studio Ultra and Photo Fun Ultra apps, the newly improved popular Pet Pad app, the Pet Chat app, a Utility suite with calculator, notepad, calendar, voice memo and clock with stopwatch, as well as choice of an additional download from the LeapFrog App Center.
As standard the Ultra comes with 11 included apps: Art Studio, Photo Fun, Pet Pad Party, Pet Chat, an MP3 player, a Utility Suite that includes a calculator, note pad, calendar, voice memo and a clock with a stopwatch.
In addition, you have the choice of one free app download. Free app choices include: Sugar Bugs, Scaredy Cat and Ozzie and Mack eBook.
LeapPad Ultra Wi-Fi and child-safe web browsing
All the above enhancements are great, but the big news with the LeapPad Ultra is the addition of wi-fi, peer-to-peer gaming, and kid-safe web browsing.
LeapFrog has used Zui technology as its backbone technology and together built LeapSearch, a proprietary kid-safe web browser that parents should be able to trust.
Give your child unrestrained access to an iPad or Android tablet and you can’t guarantee that little Jonny or Jane won’t browse into the web’s rough stuff. With LeapSearch's new parental tools, including a four-digit security code, parents are in control of what their child is able to access using the LeapPad Ultra.
LeapSearch is a closed environment of pre-approved, white-list YouTube video and site content. An example of an approved website is PBS Kids. Over 200 parents and teachers review the content available on Zui, and LeapFrog’s team of learning experts have to review and approve all web and video content available on the Ultra.
Most of the content right now is photos or videos of animals, and there's no search – which makes the LeapSearch name somewhat irrelevant. Clearly this is a tiny fraction of what we'd expect of the Internet but most kids can stare at cat video and photos for longer than cats can stare at each other. Some of the web categories are too American – yes, "football" is NFL but there is at least a "Fottball soccer" section. But there's a lot of great educational content in there and some neat "How to Draw" video tutorials.
LeapSearch works well but seemed a little slow, although this may have been our wi-fi connection at the time. On other supposedly child-friendly web browsers we were quite quickly able to browse to inappropriate content. LeapFrog’s closed-environment approach removes this element of parental worry, and is a major benefit of choosing a closed system rather than the iPad or Android.
The addition of Wi-Fi gives parents and children extra benefits, too. Parents can now directly sync content to their child’s LeapPad Ultra. And the kids can play peer-to-peer games with their LeapPad Ultra pals.
There’s a texting app called Pet Chat – included with the LeapPad Ultra – where kids can chat with each other, although using only supplied salutations, questions and replies. LeapFrog explains that not allowing typed chat protects the children from inappropriate or hurtful language – as well as aiding correct spelling and grammar.
We also played a maths app that turns into a motion-sensitive car-racing game, where kids can race against each other over the Bluetooth-like wireless connection having completed the educational game that has been served up at each child's appropriate level/skill set.
LeapPad Ultra software
As with the earlier LeapPads parents can easily browse, purchase and download apps from LeapFrog’s library of 500 learning games, apps, eBooks, videos, music and more – which was the number-one selling toy at retail in the US in 2012.
All LeapFrog software is educational and fun, and personalized to each child’s learning ability, and is built against a proprietary curriculum of 2,600 skills across maths, reading, science and creativity.
The LeapPad software automatically adjusts the learning to each child, asking more challenging questions as children’s skills develop, and most games feature different playing difficulty levels.
This year LeapFrog has launched new games with children’s favourite characters, from Disney-Pixar’s Monsters University to Sesame Street and Disney Jr’s Doc McStuffins, in addition to new original LeapFrog properties such as the Get Ready for Kindergarten app series. The Monsters University app was a big hit with our testing crew, aged 5-7.
LeapPad Ultra age range
The LeapPad 2 was aimed at kids aged 3-9, but, as we stated when we reviewed that model, we thought 3-7 was a more likely age range – as children become more sophisticated and demand less “kiddy” devices.
The LeapPad Ultra’s – albeit limited – web access, wi-fi, peer-to-peer gaming and bundled MP3 player should make it a little cooler for the seven to eight year olds, and so stretch the tablet’s catchment group somewhat.
LeapPad Ultra availability
LeapPad Ultra is priced at £119.99 – $149.99 in the US. Downloadable apps are priced at from £3.50 and game cartridges cost from £14.99 to £19.99. These games are a lot more expensive than what you'll find at the App Store or Google Play but each has been vetted by the educators at LeapFrog.
LeapPad Ultra will also be available in select countries such as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Hong Kong, Singapore, Philippines, Korea, Thailand and other Asian countries later in the autumn.
The LeapPad Ultra is available in green and pink. Luckily the pink is more of a purple and so won't turn off boys or girls who find pink too girly.
LeapPad Ultra or LeapPad 2 or LeapPad 2 Power
Leapfrog sells threee version of the LeapPad.
The £119 Ultra is the top-end, wi-fi-enabled model with child-safe internet browsing, larger screen, rechargebale battery and 8GB of storage.
If you just want a cheaper kids tablet without the Internet functions then consider the entry-level LeapPad 2.
The LeapPad 2 is like a mini version of the Ultra but without the wi-fi or internet capabilities. It is available as the LeapPad 2 Power for £89.99 or without rechargeable batteries as just the LeapPad 2 for £69.99.
If you already have rechargeable AA batteries then the non-Power version is the best deal for the LeapPad 2. If you don't then we recommend you either buy some (handy all round the house) or invest the extra £20 in the Power version as you don't want to be running out buying batteries in the middle of your child's tablet play time. Indeed you don't want to be buying expensive new batteries all the time anyway.
We like the Energizer Universal Battery Charger that can handle not just AA batteries (up to an impressive 2,650mAh) but also AAA, C, D and 9V. There's also a good Duracell battery charger that's worth considering.
Both the Ultra and the Power have their rechargeable batteries pre-built in.