Kids' tablets have often trailed their grownup counterparts with inferior screens, feeble processors and chunky bodies, but that's about to change. LeapFrog's $99 LeapPad 3 (for kids aged 3 to 9) is the company's most powerful slate yet, thanks to a quad-core processor and capacitive touch screen. It will retail in August in green and pink.
The device's ARM Cortex-A9 processor provided smooth performance as we navigated around LeapFrog's proprietary, non-Android operating system. Previous LeapPad's used annoying resistive touch screens which limited accuracy, but the new tablet's capacitive display allowed me to swipe through web pages easily, and games such as "Human Body" started within seconds. Of course, for a better sense of its performance, we'll have to put the tablet through our suite of tests.
LeapFrog went to great lengths to make sure the device is safe for kids. Inside the tablet is a reinforced steel chassis that holds internal components together, so it can withstand bumps and drops. During a demo, a rep passed around a LeapPad 3 with a shattered screen, asking us to run our fingers over it. The broken display's front was smooth to the touch despite the broken glass. This is because, according to LeapFrog, the screen is sealed with a silicone gasket and prevents glass from coming loose.
It definitely isn't as handsome as an iPad mini and, although LeapFrog touted the tablet's sleek profile, we still found it a tad chunky. The LeapPad 3 only has a 5-inch display, but its body is a relatively hefty 7.5 x 5.2 x 1 inches -- presumably to accommodate its larger durable parts and cartridge input system.
To teach and encourage kids to write, LeapFrog also included a stylus with the LeapPad 3 that's attached with a string. The tablet also comes with built-in Wi-Fi and access to LeapFrog's Zui - a curated database of more than 1,000 websites, videos and images from all over the Internet. This powers the LeapSearch app to let kids explore web content without venturing into unsafe waters.
LeapPad 3 comes with 10 apps preinstalled, and you can download more games, apps, eBooks, videos and music from LeapFrog's Learning Library, which has more than 1,000 titles. The LeapPad 3 is not the first child-friendly tablet to pack a quad-core processor (see the Fuhu Nabi XD and Fuhu Nabi 2), but it's certainly one of the first in the market with a sub-$100 price tag.