Saturday, November 7, 2009

Comparing Portable Gaming Systems for Kids

Reader Aimee at Smiling Mama had an excellent question for me the other day about whether a DSi would be appropriate for a four-year-old. She writes:
"...Someone recommended that Lucas would be a great age to get a DS and that it would be an uber-helpful distraction to have when the new baby arrives. He'll be 4 in December so this could be a birthday or Christmas present. He hasn't played any video or computer games except some find this letter/number/shape apps on Abel's iphone. So my questions he too young? Are there games he could play, etc. Would you recommend it?"
I've reviewed several kids' portable gaming systems, so thought I would take this opportunity to compare them to each other. You can always read my original reviews for the Leapster2, the V.Smile CyberPocket, and the LeapFrog Didj. Although I haven't officially reviewed it, I've also included information in this post about the Nintendo DSi.

Because we've tried so many, I'm frequently asked which gaming system I would recommend for kids. I'm going the easy route here and saying that I think it depends on your child and what you want from the system. But I will give you some pertinent information and pros and cons of each of the systems below.

V.Smile Cyber Pocket

This is a great little system that my kids have really enjoyed. It is simple for small children to use and the game cartridges are compatible with their console game systems if you already have one of those.

There is a good number and variety of game cartridges for this system, many of which feature much loved characters. Our favorites are Thomas the Tank Engine, the Wonder Pets, and Kung Fu Panda.

I've found V.Smile's customer service to be wonderful too. At one point, our Cyber Pocket just stopped working. I called the customer service line and the tech ran me through some troubleshooting. When nothing fixed the problem, he put a return label in the mail to me and they replaced it for free. You can't beat that.

I like this system because the games are educational, but not too hard. My four-year-old has really liked this system a whole lot, but it might be too young for the older set. My now eight-year-old will still play it sometimes, but he is far more likely to chose one of the other systems. I would say that you could get a good, solid two to three years of enjoyment out of this.

LeapFrog Leapster2 ($69.99)

The Leapster2 is the LeapFrog equivelent of the Cyber Pocket. Its games are also educational, and it has some nice features such as a drawing program that you don't even need a cartridge for.

Many of the people whom I've advised on the gaming system for kids dilemma has gone with the Leapster2 and been very happy with it. As with V.Smile, there are many games you can play with it that feature familiar characters. My kids have loved Jedi Math more than any other game.

One nice feature of this system is that there is room to create four different gamer profiles, so that multiple kids can play their own games and keep track of their own rewards. LeapFrog lets you upload your kids' progress to your computer in order to see what they've been learning, and also to download printable rewards.

I've found the Leapster2 to be slightly less intuitive than the Cyber Pocket. Your kids will pretty easily figure out how to operate it and work the different controls, but things like the volume control are easier on the V.Smile system.

LeapFrog Didj ($89.99)

The Didj is intended for a slightly older child. I don't think I would buy it for a child younger than seven. The games are more challenging and are still educational. If you want a system that a pre-tween will accept, but you're not ready to go to a system that offers fewer learning benefits, the Didj is a good way to go.

We've enjoyed Clone Wars and Indiana Jones games on this, and have mostly played math games. The math is definitely too hard for my 4- and 6-year-olds, and is challenging for my very bright 8-year-old. The games have age suggestions on them, which are pretty accurate.

My younger children have been able to play the action parts of the game, but have to hand the Didj to my eldest to have him unlock doors and gates by doing the math. We've also tried out a Hannah Montana reading game that my son sorta liked (you know, it was pink), but you had to have the sound turned up for it, which could be a problem in places like waiting rooms. As with the other games, however, there is a plug-in spot for headphones.

Nintendo DSi ($169.99)

The Nintendo DSi is pretty much the be-all-end-all of hand-held gaming systems. (I don't have, nor have I tried the Sony PSP, so I can't speak to how it compares.) This is a system that will grow with your child and will keep him or her happy until the day that it breaks. I have one, and I've been enjoying it as well.

There are literally hundreds of DS games, so if you're looking for young child-friendly or learning games, you will be able to find them. But there will also be games your child will want to play that have absolutely no educational value. (My son's copy of Math Blaster is sitting idle in its case while Lego Indiana Jones is getting a super workout.)

The DSi has so many other features as well, including a camera, online play, and more. Thus far, we've only explored the camera and games options. All three of my kids, ages 4-8, love the DSi and compete to play it. It is definitely the favored system at my house.

The downsides to me are that it is not inherently education based and that it is much more expensive than the other systems. (You can find games that are comparably priced to the other systems, and more expensive ones as well.) Although if you are looking for a system to grow with your kids for years to come, this just might be the one.


So, Aimee (and everyone else), I hope that helps. I really think that all of these systems are good options if you're interested in a portable gaming platform for your child. To decide which one you want, I would definitely think about what it is you want your child to get out of such a system.

Let me know in the comments if you know of any other pros or cons of these systems or if there is another gaming platform that you think is great.

Honesty Clause: I received the Cyber Pocket, Leapster2, and DSi for free from the companies. (I am also a "Nintendo Brand Enthusiast.") I won the Didj from a blog giveaway. The prices you see listed above are the suggested retail prices, but you can generally find them for cheaper if you do a little bit of shopping around.


Tech Savvy Mama said...

You are totally kicking my tech savvy mama rear! What an awesome post! Going to link to it right now!

Thien-Kim aka Kim said...

Thanks for the comparisons! We love the Leapster2. I was given a DSi for myself and got bored pretty quickly. I gave it to DH.

Aimee @ Smiling Mama said...

Thanks SO much for this great comparison!!! It is very, very helpful. I'll let you know what we eventually decide to get for Lucas.

Rita Brown said...

How were you able to get free items from the companies? I have 3 boys so buying these gaming systems can get expensive.

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