Top critical review
Quite limited without significant extra investment
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 9 September 2018
I'm not hugely impressed by this educational toy or the value for money it represents. The LeapStart3D looks a bit like a children's laptop, and opens a bit like a book - you press a golden yellow button on the side to release a catch and then open this in portrait orientation. It's packaged in mainly cardboard materials (with a thin foam protective cover), so better than many children's toys in terms of avoiding single use, non-recyclable plastics.
The power demand, in requiring 2AA batteries, seems relatively low. In order to use this properly you need to connect it via USB cable, install software, register with LeapFrog (creating a parent account if you don't already have one), and download what is described as 'companion data' for the included sampler book. This description is not entirely accurate. If you try to use the LeapStart without what is suggested to be extra content, you'll find that only the first two pages of the sampler, featuring an introductory page and then Leapfrog dog characters Scout and Violet, work at all without downloading extra data. I'm not a big fan of toys that require an online registration and me handing over my personal data before they will work. This seems unnecessarily intrusive.
Although the box shows a bright green USB cable, this is supplied with a white cable - it's a regular micro USB lead, so easy enough to replace if lost or damaged. The booklet included at the time of purchasing is really an advertising flier, working across the 2-7 age/stage range and promoting extra books such as Disney Princess and Paw Patrol themed offerings. And herein lies the big catch with this one. The box promotes the fact that there are 400+ replayable activities to grow with your child across the LeapStart library. If you don't know what the LeapStart library is, you might think this toy comes with 400+ activities. It doesn't. That's not 400+ replayable activities on this fairly pricey starter item, that's 400+ replayable activities if you buy all of the extra workbooks. This represents a significant financial commitment, and one that perhaps isn't merited. The average RRP on a compatible book seems to be £9.99. This very quickly adds up to a significant commitment. I'm left unconvinced about the value this represents versus a computer/children's edition tablet.
The LeapStart system is undoubtedly very, very cute. There is a little pop up screen at the top of the right hand side that includes animations. Children in the 2-7 year age range will love this part. However, it's worth bearing in mind that not all of the books in the LeapStart range include animations - only those that are 3D enhanced. At the time of writing, these seem to be priced on average between £15 and £17 per book.
The stylus is awkward and cumbersome. Although the activities are enjoyable for children, the stylus seems a poor implementation of something designed to help promote early writing skills. The stylus is attached by a short, stiff cable that doesn't flex or move well, and actually gets in the way of turning the pages of a properly docked book. The chunky, oval profile shape of the stylus is awkward and does little to promote the tripod grip pencil that's recommended for gaining the best control over a pencil in writing, and the design does seem to favour right-handers.
The box carries an assurance that this was recommended by 97% of teachers. Which seems hugely reassuring. Until you look at the small print. The really, really small print on this acknowledges that this was a study of 200 teachers conducted by iChild who were given LeapStart AND THE ACCOMPANYING PRODUCTS to use with children in their schools in the 2 month period between June 2016 and August 2016. I have many questions about this. Was this study based on this newly-released 3D product, or are LeapFrog reusing the statistics they obtained from earlier releases? Were the teachers using this informed of the use to which their data would be put? Were the teachers informed of the cost of the system and its add-ons? Who are iChild? They seem to be a private company, rather than an independent body.