Curt Brandao reviews some ¿toy tablets¿ that can help toddlers prepare for their high-tech futures.
Technophile: Tablet trainers
InnoTab Touchscreen Tablet
The lesson Some may question the need for "toy iPads" at all in an age when full-featured tablets often precede full-sized toilets on the early childhood development time line, but don't discount the InnoTab's educational power, nor its potential appeal to the four to five year olds in your life.
The sandbox The InnoTab features a five-inch touchscreen, which allows it to engage kids in interactive e-books and learning games, complete with animated characters that help them along the way. It can also play music and videos and syncs with Macs or PCs if you'd like to download the latest software products (added fees apply). Actual game cartridges (remember those?) can also be bought separately. It runs on four AA batteries.
The quality time The InnoTab is a good, durable, multi-use educational and entertainment option that kids will enjoy for hours, days and weeks on end - until one day the iPad seizes their attention seemingly overnight.
LeapFrog LeapPad Explorer
The lesson Much like the InnoTab, the LeapPad is built for fun learning and works with dozens of sold-separately cartridge games, books and videos. It runs on four AA batteries. It also has a five-inch touchscreen and comes with a handy stylus and a considerable 2GB of internal memory - but no expandable SD slot.
The sandbox What sets the LeapPad apart is its built-in camera and video recorder, which can give your household's miniature would-be shutterbugs and movie directors a real head start.
The quality time While more expensive than the InnoTab, the added photo and video features could mean the LeapFrog will enjoy a longer life before being relegated to a box in the attic surrounded by Shrek and Toy Story action figures.
Fisher-Price iXL 6-in-1 Learning System
The lesson For a slightly younger group (three to seven year olds), the Fisher-Price iXL also features an interactive digital reader, educational games and an MP3 player. Plus, its thick plastic casing means it can endure the sort of occasional abuse and high-velocity collisions that only a raging, red-faced toddler can dole out.
The sandbox Once parents install four AA batteries, their kids need only punch one button to get their interactive party started on the small, but nevertheless, functional touchscreen.
The quality time For parents with several children in a household committed to the iPad hand-me-down process, the relatively low-cost iXL should keep your youngest one occupied until one of your old iPads eventually trickles down to them.