Friday, October 24, 2014

Resource Review! VTech Innotab 3S

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Okay, so this seems a little weird for a resource review, but hey. It's getting to be giftsy-buying season, and top of the list seems to be things like handheld quasi-educational games for kids.  VTech, and their major competitor LeapFrog, are generally top-of-the-line when it comes to these types of kiddie entertainment, so it seems a fitting subject for review, especially when thinking of younger gifted children and the durability versus usability of tablets and handhelds.

First off, let me say that Mad Natter has had his InnoTab 3S for just shy of a year now. He got it in January, and is up to seven or eight games. We got it with a gift card he'd gotten for the holiday, and figured that with the amount of time we spend in the car (usually in 8 hour blocks), this would be an ideal first tablet experience - both for Mad Natter, in terms of handling a tablet, and for us, in terms of understanding what sorts of protections a tablet for him might need.

Now with that understanding in mind, this was an excellent purchase. The problem is that, given Mad Natter's capabilities, he should have been trying out a first tablet several years earlier.  The InnoTab 3S is rated for children ages 3-9, which, with Mad Natter still being five, seemed like a reasonable spread. Some things would be below his abilities, sure, but there would still be things there for challenge.  I was astoundingly incorrect on this. By the time his birthday came around in August, I started window shopping for a real tablet for Mad Natter. Or something he could learn to code on, or something we could put his ebooks on, and download games to... Something, anything, with a little more growth room. You see, for the games he has (which would be all but one of the highest-age-rated-games), he has maxed out the skills. Both easy and difficult levels, and on all the cartridges. All there is for him to do is to grow beans on the magic beanstalk, and replay games to get better scores.

Speaking of the Magic Beanstalk, I both love and loathe this game. It is preloaded on the unit, and is, essentially, a means of driving the kids back to the unit day after day. Like FarmVille, if you don't come harvest your beans within 12 hours, they die, and the poor little elf has to clean up the mess, fretting all the while.  The other thing I didn't like was that it came loaded with an icon labeled "New from VTech!" which is exactly what it sounds like - advertising, direct from unit to child. NOPE. If there is one thing I hate in children's devices, it's "Ask your parents to buy..." I hate that even more than I do the pink and blue versions of toys like it makes a difference, and a lot more than I hate that a device the size of an ereader has a functional screen the size of my cell phone.

But, I digress.  The games, in and of themselves are really rather good for edutainment. They're engaging, and keep Mad Natter occupied while we make the trek to and from Hammie's house several times a year, and the availability of an A/C adapter has saved a small fortune in AA batteries. I think that, for Mad Natter, this wasn't the wisest possible purchase. But, for a similarly gifted child of 3, it would be spectacular. The below age content wouldn't be too below, and the above age content would be enough to give a good amount of stretch. I would not recommend purchasing this for a gifted child anywhere older than four, however, as the time the child is interested in the game, versus the amount of money spent on it, the accessories, the cartridges... not worth it.

All in all, VTech puts together a resilient device capable of handling a large number of car trips, including being left in the car in the winter for several days (same for summer, actually), and while the selection of games at the upper end is lacking, their overall selection is surprisingly good. For a young gifted child, I would absolutely recommend this, though I would caution the parent to remember that advertising thing. It's a pain in the butt.  For a school-aged gifted child, however, this ends up being a waste of money, which is a shame because it's so sturdy I don't have to worry about it like I will a genuine tablet or gameboy!