LeapFrog has long been a major player in the children’s electronics segment, having released a series of gaming consoles with a focus on ease of use and educational value. The company extended their reach to the tablet market in the summer of 2011 with the LeapPad. By combining a rugged design, child-friendly interface and low price, LeapFrog was able to offer parents a way to let their kids play with a tablet without dealing with the loss of an expensive device or the high cost of kid-purchased add-ons from “freemium” apps. These features combined with an exclusive software deal with Disney helped it become the best selling device in its segment.
That success was followed by a new version of the tablet called the LeapPad 2 about a year later. Rather than creating an all new device, the company tweaked the original to improve upon the platform. With LeapFrog’s dominance of the educational tablet market, it isn’t a matter of the LeapPad vs other devices, it’s a question of LeapPad 1 vs LeapPad 2. Are the improvements enough to justify the higher price of the LeapPad 2, or should parents opt for a cheaper, less refined LeapPad 1?
The most noticeable difference between the two devices is the camera. The Leappad 1 only has a 0.3 megapixel camera on the back, while the LeapPad 2 gets a pair of 2 megapixel cameras, one mounted on the front, and one on the back. This makes it easier for kids to take pictures of themselves which can be used in apps and the device’s profile page.
With the redesign, processing speed has increased from 397 mhz to 550 mhz, reducing load times. Memory has increased from 2GB to 4GB, but this extra space is mostly needed to store the larger photos from the cameras. In practice, both of these improvements have an almost negligible impact on the user experience.
Battery life is quoted as being 8 hours for the 1 and 9 hours for the 2; this is almost spot on with real world experience. Both devices are powered by 4 AA batteries.
At first glance, it’s hard to tell the difference between the two models. Both use the same basic case design, but the LeapPad 2 gets some minor tweaks.
The stylus on the 2 is fixed to the device using a string which can be mounted on either side to accommodate left handed and right handed users. The original model uses unanchored styluses; two are included in the box since they’re easy to lose.
LeapFrog recommends the new model for children 3-9 years old, whereas the old version was recommended for children at least four years of age. This is largely due to a new battery cover design that’s harder for small hands to pry off.
All of the tablet accessories LeapFrog offers can be used with either model except for the 2′s rechargeable battery pack, owing to the redesigned covers, and early LeapPad 1 protective sleeves.
Despite the difference in processing power, the software library is identical between the two models. Both can use an app store with over 300 apps or Leapster Explorer cartridges. Apps are purchased using a PC or Mac through LeapFrog’s App Center: New apps must be transferred to the tablet by connecting it to a computer via a USB cable, letting parents control purchases. Videos and ebooks are also available through the service.
Software is tied to the user account, not a specific device: Owners of the LeapPad 1 looking to upgrade will be able to transfer all of their purchases to the LeafPad 2, and if the tablet is lost, a replacement can be updated with all of the user’s previous purchases.
In the LeapPad 1 vs LeapPad 2 battle, there isn’t a clear winner. The option of a rechargeable battery pack makes the LeapPad 2 the best pick for kids on the go, and the new cameras make the device easier to use with photo-based apps. The LeapPad 1 loses a few features to the new model, but it can run the same software library. While the LeapPad 2 currently retails for around $100 and the LeapPad 1 for about $80, the older model frequently goes on sale, making it well worth the design’s minor inconveniences.