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The Power of PowerTouch (and How it Stacks Up Against LeapPad)
Written: Feb 7, 2004 (Updated Feb 8, 2004)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:Interactive books make learning fun. Touch-sensitive technology and automatic page recognition.
Cons:Not many books from which to choose. Curriculum not as varied as the LeapPad's.
The Bottom Line: Because it is easier to use, I recommend the PowerTouch for younger kids. The LeapPad is better for older kids (due to volume of books and curriculum).
My 2 year has many loves, but two of his favorite things are books and Blue's Clues. Last year my son encountered the Fisher Price Learn Through Music System, which you can buy with a Blue's Clues cartridge, and it was love at first sight. Because I was so impressed with that toy, which is geared toward children 18-months of age and up, I decided to purchase Fisher Price's other new learning toy for older children, the PowerTouch Learning System, as a Christmas gift for my little guy.
What is the PowerTouch, and how is it different from the LeapPad?
The PowerTouch Learning System is a notebook-like plastic console that, when used with the special PowerTouch books, allows your child to interact with the stories and play games on the pages. Two books come with the system, and additional books can be purchased that feature many popular children's characters (Blue's Clues, Dora, Sesame Street, Clifford, Dragon Tales, and Arthur).
The unit is purple with yellow and gray trim. When opened, the alphabet is printed inside where the books go, and your child can interact and play games with those letters (even without a book). The on/off switch and volume control are located on the top-right side, and a headphone jack is also on the side of the unit (headphones are not included). A master-reset switch is also located on back. You insert the books when the unit is closed, popping the spiral bindings into place at the top and bottom of the unit, and the accompanying software cartridge slot is located at the top. 4 "AA" batteries are required (not included).
Fisher Price's PowerTouch Learning System is indeed very similar to LeapFrog's popular LeapPad Learning System (similar enough that LeapFrog is now suing Fisher Price over patent infringement). There are advantages and disadvantage to both systems.
The first big difference is how your child interacts with the pages. The LeapPad requires the use of their NearTouch pen to interact, whereas to interact with the PowerTouch you only need your finger (termed "Capacitive" technology by Fisher Price). How does it work? The system creates an electrical field that gets broken when you touch the book, allowing the system to detect exactly where the finger is touching it. I thought that using a finger rather than a pen sounded more intuitive (for younger children) than using a pen, so at first I thought that was a big plus for the PowerTouch -- however our experience turned out to be a bit different than I expected. My son never really had any trouble using the pen on his LeapPad (and he got it when he was only 1 year old), however when he is using his PowerTouch he invariably wants to rest his other, non-pointing hand somewhere on the page, or rest the wrist of his pointing-finger on the page. This, of course, drives the book nuts -- causing many little sound-bytes to battle it out with each other. He also has a similar problem when trying to turn the page -- the PowerTouch pages are more paper-like and flimsier than the LeapPad pages, so he tends to put his hand down on the page and press-while-sliding to get the page to turn, again causing tons of sounds to play. As much as I love the fact that you only need a finger to interact, I hate the fact that my son has to be careful of where he puts his free hand while using the books, and that he often triggers much more than he was expecting. That's one problem we don't have with the LeapPad. In fact, my son is such a coloring/drawing nut that I think he actually prefers using the pen!
One area where I do think the PowerTouch has a huge advantage over the LeapPad is the automatic page recognition. On the LeapPad you have to touch the green "Go Circle" with the pen so that the system knows which page you are on. My son did eventually get the hang of this, but still forgets it every so often (or gets overzealous and triggers a different page to load) -- which means he starts interacting but the system is on the wrong page so the sounds don't match what you see. The PowerTouch solved this problem by having holes and small metal pieces embedded at the top of each page. The system uses them to automatically determine which page you are on, which is a great improvement.
Both Fisher Price and LeapPad market different toys for different age groups. From LeapPad there's the My First LeapPad for ages 2-5, the "LeapPad" for 4-8, and the "Quantum LeapPad" for 8-11 (it should be noted that LeapPad and Quantum books play on either system, so the "LeapPad" can be used from ages 4-11). This year they also came out with the "LittleTouch LeapPad" (which we have not used) that is geared for kids 6 months to 3 years and is finger-activated rather than pen-activated. Fisher Price has the Learn Through Music system for ages 18 months and up, then the PowerTouch for ages 3 and up. The PowerTouch books are divided into sub-categories: beginners (3-5 years), intermediate (5-8 years), and school skills (8 and up). Both systems' books for older kids are also sub-categorized by grade-level and then further divided by skills (reading, math, science, history, etc) -- although LeapPad's books for even the youngest of kids are also sub-divided by skill set (something I prefer). So basically, the regular LeapPad supports kids from age 3 to the fifth grade and focuses on particular skill sets, whereas the PowerTouch supports kids from age 3 to the second grade, and has a more general curriculum.
There are other minor things about the PowerTouch that I like. It has a built-in carrying handle (so does the My First LeapPad, but not the others). The volume control is at the top of the unit on a little switch, rather than on each individual page like the LeapPad. Even when empty, the PowerTouch has the alphabet built into the inside of the unit, so you can play even without a book.
Advantages of the LeapPad over the PowerTouch include the fact that the books are made of thicker paper so they don't get torn/wrinkled as easily. The LeapPad units are lighter than Fisher Price's, making them easier for little ones to carry. LeapFrog has a much larger variety of LeapPad books than there are PowerTouch books (there are currently only 10 PowerTouch books available, with 16 more to be released in 2004). The LeapPad books also denote which skills are focused upon in the book, so if your child isn't good at a particular skill (math, reading, etc) you can find a book that focuses on that skill (and LeapPad books go up through the fifth grade, whereas the PowerTouch only goes to the second grade).
Both have headphone jacks (headphones are not included), have optional accessories (such as carry-cases and the like), and are full of educational fun. Both systems require cartridges to accompany the books that did not come packaged with the system (so don't lose the cartridges). Both companies boast books featuring popular characters -- LeapFrog books include Winnie the Pooh and lots of other Disney characters (Nemo, Toy Story, Monsters Inc., etc), Bob the Builder, Dora the Explorer, SpongeBob, Scooby Doo, Jay Jay, Bear in the Big Blue House, and Thomas the Tank Engine, among many others. PowerTouch books are more limited but include favorites like Blue's Clues, Dora the Explorer, Sesame Street, Clifford, Dragon Tales, and Arthur. PowerTouch books retail for around $16, LeapFrog books retail for around $15.
Some specifics on the PowerTouch books/games:
Two books come packaged with the PowerTouch. "Ernie's Neighborhood" is a "Beginner Readers" book (for ages 3-5) that focuses on professions various people can have in a neighborhood, and uses the Sesame Street characters to teach shapes, colors, occupations, and farm animals. The other is a "School Skills Starter Book" that devotes two pages (or one opening) to each skill level. The "Grade K" page is a jumble of numbers, colors, and shapes. The "Grade 1" page teaches music, with a variety of instruments, notes of the scale, beats, and simple melodies. The "Grade 2" page focuses on teaching time-reading skills, featuring a large number of cute analog and digital clocks.
The books that come with the system are a bit thin compared to the books you can buy separately. The additional books have lots more pages and much more varied activities. For example, the Sesame Street book that comes with the PowerTouch has 16 pages, the School Skills book has a meager 6 pages, but the Blue's Clues book we purchased separately has a whopping 26 pages.
The various games and special activities for each page are listed on icons across the top of every page.
The "Reading Activities" are:
~ Story - listen to the story as it is read aloud
~ Words - touch a word or picture to hear it identified
~ Phonics - touch a word to hear it sounded out
~ Spelling - touch a word to hear how it is spelled
The "Interactive Games" are:
~ Find - a question is asked, and you find the matching object on the page
~ Count - count the occurrences of an object on the page
~ Surprise - the "catch-all" category, it represents a variety of games
~ Music - hear songs or play notes/music on the page
When you first turn the page the book automatically sets to "Story" mode and the text is read aloud. When the narrator is done the book automatically switches to "Words" mode, so if your child starts poking around it will trigger various characters to talk or for items to be identified. You can always tell which mode it is in because a little light above the icon for that mode/game will shine (a nice feature).
The two books that come with the system do not require cartridges, however additional books you purchase separately do have cartridges. One nice touch is that the cartridge is built to clip onto the book's spine when not in-use, which definitely helps us keep the books and cartridges together.
Our Thoughts & Experiences:
Even though LeapPad has a much larger array of characters from which to choose when purchasing books, my son's very favorite is Blue's Clues, and only the PowerTouch has a Blue's Clues book. My son really loves being able to interact with Blue and Joe, and I'm for anything that encourages educational play. I'm very impressed with the Blue's Clues book (which is in the "Beginner Readers" group for children ages 3-5), as it teaches tons of topics and has a variety of educational-yet-fun games that keep my little guy occupied. As I mentioned above, his biggest problems with it are his never-ending desire to rest a wrist or free-hand on the page, as well as having some difficulty turning the pages.
My son is currently only 2½ so he is still too young to get the most benefit from many of the games/lessons both the PowerTouch and the LeapPad have to offer, however he really loves them both. He never ceases to amaze me, learning new things every day and surprising me by correctly solving games that I thought were well above his skill level. If I had to choose which system he likes best I would have a very hard time deciding -- although I think his love of his PowerTouch is really an extension of his love for Blue's Clues.
I would recommend storing PowerTouch books lying down flat. I had put the School Skills book standing upright on his bookshelf, however when he became interested in it and we tried putting it in the system, the spiral spine had become curved and would not stay put properly in the system.
So far, the same female narrator narrates each book. Her voice is soothing and very pleasant to listen to, and the recordings are very crisp and clear.
It should be noted that LeapFrog is suing Fisher Price over this toy. If they win, depending upon the ruling, Fisher Price might not be able to release further books for the PowerTouch system. That's definitely something to bear in mind when purchasing this system -- especially if you are hoping to buy age-appropriate books for it as your child grows.
+) Educational fun that promotes reading skills and learning
+) Can interact directly by using touch (no pen needed)
+) System automatically detects which page you are on
+) Easy-access on/off switch and volume control
+) A variety of games/lessons are available in each book
+) Excellent sound recordings, with very clear speech
+) Fun even without a book (due to built-in alphabet and games)
+) Comes with 2 books (one for 3-5 year olds, and one for Kindergarten-Grade 2)
+) Additional books available featuring many popular characters
+) Fun for a wide variety of ages (from 3 years old to 2nd Grade level)
-) Currently there are only 10 books available (with 16 more to be released in 2004)
-) Easy for a stray wrist or finger to trigger other sounds
-) Lighter-weight, flimsier pages than the LeapPad books
-) Books don't feature as many characters as LeapPad books
-) Books don't focus on as many individual skills as LeapPad books
-) Currently being sued by LeapFrog -- if they lose that might be the end for this system
I love both the PowerTouch and the LeapPad, and think both systems are wonderfully educational toys. In my opinion, because it is indeed easier to use than the LeapPad, the PowerTouch is probably the better system for younger children (pre-schoolers). However when they get older, the sheer number of books, the depth of their content, and focus on particular skills puts LeapPad far in the lead for older children.
My Other Learning System Reviews:
Fisher Price Learn Through Music System
Fisher Price Learn Through Music: Elmo Software
Leap Frog My First Leap Pad
Pooh's Honey Tree (LeapPad book)
Leap to the Moon (LeapPad book)
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Amount Paid (US$): 39.99
Type of Toy: Educational
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