Sep 2, 2014

LeapFrog LeapBand: Putting the Active into Interactive

Product Review

Faced with such awesome entertainment opportunities today's kids have, is there any wonder they love exercising only with their thumbs or index finger... and on a comfortable spot on the sofa?

If only there was an interactive electronic gadget with all the entertainment value that a game console or tablet has, BUT which demands that kids get off the sofa and MOVE. And earn points while moving. And learn why exercising is important. And learn why a good diet is essential.

What do you know? There really is something that does all that... and more

The LeapFrog LeapBand Activity Tracker (for kids aged 4-7) is a wearable activity tracker that encourages active play and healthy habits while nurturing a personalized virtual pet. Instead of just tracking steps, this band gets kids moving and having fun with 50 different activities and challenges to track a child’s physical moves. So the more active a child is, the more points they earn with their virtual pet. It is like the old Tamagotchi craze but with the added incentive to move your butt!

The LeapBand comes in green, blue, orange and pink, making it suitable for boys and girls. But with Ale, it was only always going to be pink. And the moment I ripped off the packaging, there was only one place that the LeapBand is going to find itself plastered - on Ale's wrist.

Before using the LeapBand though, there was the small task of setting it up via the computer (with the provided USB cable). The set-up process is painless and fairly quick - around 10 minutes, although it felt like forever if you asked Ale!

Soon, the set-up was complete and it was time for some physical fun! Impressively, the LeapBand has a built-in accelerometer, high-resolution colour screen, rechargeable battery and water-resistant (but you can't take it for swimming!) design and the device also doubles up as both an analogue watch too.

By default, every kids starts off with a virtual pet that comes in the the form of a cute kitty. To level up the pet, as well as to unlock more virtual pets (dog, dragon, monkey, panda, penguin, robot and unicorn), there are 50 activities and challenges that kids can do to earn more Jewels (or Joules, geddit?).

Parents will be able to issue these physical challenges through the LeapFrog Connect programme on the computer, ranging from relatively obvious ones like 'Walk like a duck' to the more abstract 'Pretend to swim in a pool filled with honey'. Some even involve simple spelling, which is brilliant for my 3-year-old.

With a friendly voice giving instructions over the built-in speaker, and only four buttons on the LeapBand, it is easy for kids to who cannot read yet to figure out what to do. And the best part? Ale did not even realise she was exercising and using up some joules!

And because kids need a little quiet time between running around shrieking, the watch has some calmer activities too. Just like a Tamagotchi, the pet needs to be nurtured and cared for - feeding, sleeping or taking a bath - which is great for teaching about responsibility too. There are also some mini games that teach healthy living concepts, like eating fruits and vegetables.

But the one thing that I really loved from a parent's point of view is that I can set times when the LeapBand is strictly off-limits such as during school time, homework time, or sleep time so that my kids will not be able to play with the device during those hours!

Yes, notice I mentioned kidS in the above paragraph. Plural, because although the LeapBand is designed primarily for children aged between 4 and 7, that didn't stop both Ash and Ayd from using it too. In fact, they had such a kick out of leveling up the virtual pets and unlocking new ones in process that poor Ale filed multiple complaints with the wifey and me!

Oh, the LeapBand doubles up as a watch too when not playing or when it is in 'locked' mode. The watch face uses a pet's arms to point out the time, like a Mickey Mouse watch, which is perfect for teaching kids how to tell the time in a fun way.

At the end of it all, parents check out the Joules and pets the kid has earned over the past 7 days, along with graphs of their activity levels.

The fun can also be extended to include a free downloadable companion app called the Pentathlon Games where kids can compete as their virtual pet in six mini-games to win extra rewards.

Suffice to say, Ale has barely taken the LeapBand off since we got it. It's hilarious watching her (or the boys) hopping round my living room over and over again while giggling away at the challenges at the same time.

The LeapBand is such a great way to help kids be more active, and learn more about a healthy lifestyle at the same time... all these without really thinking about it. Definitely putting the active into interactive!

The LeapFrog LeaBand is retailing for S$49.90 at Toys 'R' Us and major departmental stores.

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