LeapPad3 and LeapPad Ultra XDi full review

The Leapfrog LeapPad is one of the most popular tablets for kids, being a top seller for the past three Christmases. The latest models include the LeapPad3 and LeapPad Ultra XDi.

The Ultra is a larger, higher-resolution screen 7-inch tablet, but in terms of functionality there isn’t a huge difference any more between the five-inch entry-level and top models of LeapPad. Its main competitors in the kids tablet battle are the VTech InnoTab Max and InnoTab 3s.

The LeapPad3’s smaller screen is still ample space for Leapfrog’s large range of fun, educational apps and games. It might even suit smaller hands better than the larger and slightly heavier Ultra model. Later on in this review we look at the differences between the two LeapPads and compare to suggest which might be best for you. For the best LeapPad deals online see the prices bottom of this review.

LeapPad Ultra XDi and LeapPad3 kids tablets

The new LeapPads build on the success of the original LeapPad Explorer and later LeapPad 2 and LeapPad Ultra, which won multiple toy awards and were Christmas bestsellers. Its principal rival in the kids tablet battle is Vtech's InnoTab 3S tablet.

See also: What's the best tablet computer for children?

LeapPad Ultra XDi and LeapPad3 kids tablets green

LeapPad or iPad, Android tablet?

The LeapPads differ from normal tablets – such as the iPad or Androids – as they are built specially for kids; Leapfrog recommends them for children aged 3-9. We think 3-7 is a more realistic age range, although our 8-year-old tester still enjoyed using them. Any older than 7 and we think children would prefer a more mature tablet, such as Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD, which has decent parental controls such as screen-time limits.

LeapPads are also more robust than fragile adult tablets.

The LeapPads, and compatible software, are tailor made for learning while having fun. They are not iPads that you can use for email and play dumb-but-fun arcade games on. You buy a LeapPad not only to entertain your child but principally to help their education from reading and writing to maths and logic puzzles. They are child proof (well as much as anything can be) and child safe as they are closed devices compared to other tablets that aren't configured to child-only environments.

The LeapPads are much cheaper than other tablets, although the educational software is certainly more expensive than from iTunes or Google Play; see below for more on LeapPad software.

Some don’t like the fact you can’t load a LeapPad with movies or properly browse the Internet; see below for an explanation of the limited internet capability. Again this misses the point of them as safe, fun, educational devices that teach kids learning skills in a fun and child-safe environment. If you just want a movie player for long car journeys then consider buying an iPad mini, iPod touch, Kindle Fire, Nexus, Tesco Hudl or other Android tablet.

LeapPad Ultra XDi green

LeapPad3 and Ultra XDi design

Thankfully both tablets are not overly childish in design, unlike some of their competitors, and are rather stylish in their own way. It is available in green and the inevitable pink.

Unlike your screen-shattering iPad or Android tablets the LeapPads are built to survive clumsy and/or destructive kids and their friends, with impact zones to protect the screen and tablet innards.

The LeapPad3’s 5-inch capacitive touchscreen is responsive to a child’s touch, and also comes with a soft-tipped stylus – as does the larger 7-inch backlit touchscreen of the Ultra XDi.

LeapPad Ultra XDi pink

Weighing just under 0.4kg the tablet isn’t too heavy for kids as young as three. The larger Ultra XDi (0.65kg) probably requires a little more strength than the youngest users might have. Indeed, Leapfrog recommends the Ultra for 4-9, as opposed to the LeapPad3’s 3-9 age range.

Both weigh a little less than an Apple iPad Air.

LeapPad3 children tablet green

LeapPad3 and Ultra XDi setup

The LeapPads are easy to set up, and link via your computer to the Leapfrog App Centre, which holds over 500 purchasable apps and games.

Parents set up the LeapPad for their children by starting a free Parent Account at Leapfrog.com.

You can set up to three profiles so one LeapPad can be used by more than one child – although parents will know that this isn’t so easy to control at the same time! But it does mean that children of different ages or abilities will have the apps and games set to their profile rather than one-size fits all.

Having more than one LeapPad can also be fun as there are peer-to-peer games that can be played between tablets.

Once set up all the apps are easy for kids to get to grips with, being walked through game play – so parents shouldn’t need to sit with their child all the time they are playing. In fact, the children don’t want you cramping their play, and as all the software is kid friendly you don’t have to worry about anything inappropriate – unlike with most tablets that can have less appropriate apps downloaded.

LeapPad Ultra driving game

LeapPad3 and Ultra XDi Wi-Fi and browsing

Last year’s LeapPad Ultra added wi-fi, peer-to-peer gaming, and kid-safe web browsing to the platform. This has now been extended across the whole range of LeapPads – making the LeapPad3 almost feature identical to its big brother; see below for full comparison.

LeapFrog uses Zui technology as its backbone technology for web browsing. Together they built LeapSearch, a proprietary kid-safe web browser that parents can trust.

Parents often don’t consider that other tablets are just a click away from all the dangers of the Internet, although there are ways of adding parental controls and internet-safe features to normal tablets.

Give your child unrestrained access to an iPad or Android tablet (as many parents do) and you can’t guarantee that little Jonny or Jane won’t browse into the web’s rough stuff. With LeapSearch's parental tools, including a four-digit security code, parents are in control of what their child is able to access using their LeapPad.

LeapSearch is very much a closed environment of pre-approved, white-list YouTube video and site content. An example of an approved website is PBS Kids. Over 200 parents and teachers review the content available on Zui, and LeapFrog’s team of learning experts have to review and approve all web and video content available on the Ultra. It is updated on a weekly basis to ensure content is kept fresh.

But if you’re expecting thousands of web pages to browse you’ll likely be disappointed. You can’t access Ceebeebies or the Disney sites, for instance. And the videos on offer, although either educational or fun, aren’t the best that you’d find on an unconstrained Internet.

Most of the content right now is photos or videos of animals, and there's no search – which makes the LeapSearch name somewhat irrelevant. Clearly this is a tiny fraction of what we'd expect of the Internet but most kids can stare at cat video and photos for longer than cats can stare at each other. Some of the web categories are too American – yes, "football" is NFL but there is at least a "Football soccer" section; albeit again American. There is a lot of great educational content in there and some neat "How to Draw" video tutorials, but it’s definitely limited to some parents’ browsing wish lists.

LeapSearch works well but seemed a little slow, although this may have been our wi-fi connection at the time. On other supposedly child-friendly web browsers we were quite quickly able to browse to inappropriate content. LeapFrog’s closed-environment approach removes this element of parental worry, and is a major benefit of choosing a closed system rather than the iPad or Android. But don’t expect a huge amount to browse. It’s a great idea but need expansion to be truly useful.

The addition of Wi-Fi gives parents and children extra benefits, too. Parents can now directly sync content to their child’s LeapPad Ultra. And the kids can play peer-to-peer games with their LeapPad Ultra pals.

 LeapPad 3 and LeapPad Ultra XDi portrait

LeapPad3 and Ultra XDi specs

Battery: Now both LeapPads feature more cost-efficient rechargeable batteries. The older LeapPad2 used to rely on endless AA batteries. Battery life is around six hours for the LeapPad3 and 8 hours for the Ultra XDi.

Storage: The LeapPad3 has 4GB of storage for apps, photos, videos and music. The Ultra XDi has twice this at 8GB. If making videos is going to be an important part of your LeapPad activity the extra storage makes sense, although you can of course transfer photos and videos taken with the tablet to your laptop or PC.

Leapfrog says 4GB is enough to store 20,000 photos, which sounds like more than enough, even for a tap-and-snap crazy child.

Screen: The LeapPad3’s five-inch touchscreen has a resolution of 480-x-272 pixels. The larger Ultra XDi has a seven-inch backlit screen measuring 1,024-x-600 pixels, and offers easier game play – although the smaller screen is not cramped. Imagine the difference like that of the iPad mini to the full-size iPad.

Processor: Other technical specifications you probably don’t need to bother too much about include processor speed. Weirdly the Ultra’s 800MHz chip speed is slower than the LeapPad3’s 1,000MHz. We could notice the difference, but it’s not a deal breaker.

Audio: All the games and apps come with some quite annoying (to adults) music and sound effects so the volume controls are a godsend, as is the headphone jack. The best kids headphones we’ve seen are Griffin’s volume-limiting MyPhones, available in several models.

Both LeapPads have the same 2-megapixel front and back cameras as the previous LeapPad 2.

LeapPad3 dimensions: 19cm long, 13cm wide and 2.5cm deep (7.5-x-5.2-x-1 inches); 0.4kg.

LeapPad Ultra XDi dimensions: 23cm long, 15.5cm wide and 2.3cm deep (9.05-x-6.1-x-0.92 inches); 0.65kg.

LeapPad peer to peer gaming

LeapPad3 and Ultra XDi software: apps and games

The LeapPad3 comes with ten free apps: Five basic Utility Apps: Calculator, Notepad, Clock, Calendar and Voice Memo.

Music Player plus 10 learning songs: You can also add your own music tracks to LeapPad, as long as they are in MP3 format. It’s still not possible to add your own video, unfortunately. We can see the child-safety reasons for this, but believe parents should be given some control over the media content that their child's tablet can carry.

Pet Pad Party and Pet Chat: For peer-to-peer fun children can take advantage of a local WiFi network and communicate and play with their friends and siblings in a kid-safe environment with their own personalised pets and pre-selected conversation. 

Photo Fun Ultra: This updated app lets kids customise and edit their photos with new special carnival, mirror and blender effects, nine-colour tint filters and different silly masks that turn an ordinary picture into a personalised creative masterpiece. The effects are fun but pretty basic. We'd like to see a more sophisticated photo app on the LeapPads.

You also get a choice of one extra app download from the Leapfrog App Store.

The LeapPad Ultra XDi comes with 11 free apps: Pet Pad Party, Pet Chat, Photo Fun Ultra, Music Player, Calculator, Calendar, Clock, Note Pad and Voice Memo, and the choice of an extra app to download, as with the LeapPad3.

LeapPad Ultra XDi art

The Ultra XDi also ships with two games worth £12.50: Art Studio Ultra: Kids can draw and colour masterpieces, then bring them to life with fun effects and animations, using a variety of pattern brushes, backgrounds and frames, plus tool colours, sizes and options. And Roly Poly World, where kids tilt and turn the tablet to collect gold coins, find gems, herd cowbugs and battle bandit and pirate bugs, as well as pick up spelling skills. Children can play against friends with LeapPads over the Wi-Fi connection. Our tester was a big fan of Roly Poly.

The App Store is stuffed with games and apps, all of which aim to merge learning with fun. You can buy more learning games and videos, interactive storybooks, eBooks and music, based on subjects such as reading and writing, maths, science and creativity.

There are Disney-themed games – including Ben 10, Monsters Inc, and of course the dreaded, I mean wonderful, Frozen. Other brands include Octonauts and Moshi Monsters. Wallace & Gromit and Peppa Pig. Basically all the child brand favourites are here, which might make up for the lack of Angry Birds, Temple Run and other absent mobile apps.

There aren't any third-party games so that the Leapfrog educationists retain complete control and parents needn’t worry about inappropriate content. You can’t get Angry Birds and other phone apps on the LeapPad, so parents might still have to hand over their own smart device on occasion.

Children have the chance to watch trailers and create a wish list of new apps at the App Centre. Parents can choose whether children may view pricing and buy buttons.

Parents used to 69p smartphone apps will likely choke on the prices, which range from £3.50 to as much as £20, although most are in the £5 to £7.50 bracket. To be fair to Leapfrog all the software is thoroughly tested by educational PhDs and is aimed at encouraging structured learning so the value should be higher than an arcade app on your iPhone. There are also no nasty in-app purchases to be worried about.

The LeapPads also combine well with Leapfrog’s LeapBand kids activity tracker.

LeapPad Ultra XDi and LeapPad3 kids tablets green

LeapPad3 or Ultra XDi – comparison

Now that both LeapPads have Wi-Fi and LeapSearch there’s not a huge difference between the two tablets, apart from size. The 5-inch LeapPad3 is smaller and lighter than the Ultra XDi and its 7-inch screen.

The tech specs as shown in the table below show that the differences are outweighed by similarities. The cameras and video capabilities are identical, as are most of the settings.

LeapPads compared

The Ultra XDi does have twice the storage as the LeapPad3, which you may find appealing if you want to load the tablet with videos, music and photos.

Leapfrog LeapPad3 kids tablet Pink

LeapPad3 and LeapPad Ulta XDi best prices

The LeapPad3 costs £89.99, and the Ultra XDi is priced at £119.99. Online retailers will likely offer both at a discount in the busy run up to Christmas.

We’ve seen the LP3 as low as £80, and the Ultra XDi a bargain at under £90 on Amazon, so it’s worth shopping around. Spend your savings on some new apps and games when you’re assured your child is hooked on either tablet.

LeapPad Ultra XDi back

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