Mom & dad have their high-priced tablets, but what about the little ones?  The solution is NEW from VTech, their latest kiddovation, called InnoTab, and it’s a bargain at only $80!

Available in September, here is what mom & dad get for their budding Einstein in this very nicely executed VTech product – multifunction age-appropriate interactivity with educational games, even animated reading activities similar to using an e-reader with which adults are familiar.  VTech has made a name for itself with interactive learning tools for school age and younger children, and this heritage is present in this fun new product.

Featuring a bright and vibrant 5” x 2-1/2” color touch screen LCD, there is a tilt-  (also known as an accelerometer) aboard for controlling games by the tilting of the InnoTab, as well as a microphone for recording sound.  A USB interface is the link to both Windows and Mac computers for transferring downloaded apps and an SD card slot can accept memory for even more storage than what is built-in. Oh, and there is also a headphone jack so mom & dad don’t have to listen to whatever is on Junior’s activity list, including mp3 files.

The build-quality is rugged, as it must be for the target demographic of four to nine-year olds.  Its size indicates easy portability, another key to success -10-1/2” x 7”.  It’s big enough to grip, with the smaller screen size for cost considerations, no doubt.  The included stylus tucks neatly into the device’s side just below the cartridge slot.

My review sample was received recently, and I am enjoying the experience. Powered by four AA batteries, expect battery life of about eight to ten hours per set.  Parents, this might be a good candidate for two rotating sets of rechargeables, so pay attention to battery usage.

Ah, but it is all about the experience!  Batteries installed, I powered it up and explored what is included. The first thing I noticed was that it could not be more intuitive, with an obvious HOME button, a “?” button that is obviously for help while in any screen, obvious up and down volume buttons and a screen brightness button that, when pressed, toggles brightness up and down with on-screen graphic indicators.  The on screen indicators on the home page are also there for volume adjustment. When the help button is pressed, a voice guides the user to info on a displayed screen.

My sample was pre-set for my eval, so I was greeted with the opportunity to press the box with “Steve” in it or to select “Guest.” I pressed Steve!  Ordinarily, new users would have their adult click the Settings icon to reveal the opportunity to enter a user name using an on-screen QWERTY keyboard.  Alternately, at that user screen, there is a gear icon in the user’s name box.  This is to allow your little one to click it and change the name on his or her own, an empowering move.  Easy, right?

Now on the home screen for THIS user, I see many icons; E-Reader, Games, Music, Videos, Photos, Notes, Art Studio, Color & Pop, Calendar, Friends, Settings, Calculator, Clock, Cartridge and Downloads, with a down arrow centered on the bottom row.  A tap of that arrow raises a pop-up from the screen’s bottom, “Ask a grown-up to connect this tablet to the Learning Lodge Navigator.  There you’ll get free V.Coins to buy new games, e-books, and apps! See your manual for details.” There is a big and colorful, clickable OK at the bottom and a voice prompting the user to press OK to skip the message and drop the pop-up. In this and any appropriate screen, swiping gestures reveal any additional icons up, down, left or right.  Voice confirmation is accompaniment throughout usage, as I was to learn.  Remember, this is a kids’ learning tool!

I touched the E-Reader icon to reveal a bookshelf like environment similar to Apple’s bookshelf for similar purposed on their tablets and iPhone.  Tapping the included title, What’s That Noise, took me into this book, with voice prompts all the way and icons to direct me to Page 1, showing that Vocabulary Highlight it ON and another button reading How to Play, along with right and left arrows and a musical note symbol which, when touched, placed a slash through it that turns off any music.  Again, it’s all absolutely intuitive.  Swiping right to left allowed me to go forward in pages to click.  Swiping left to right, I could see the final page and earlier pages. The operation was as if an endless loop, which is so smart.  I wish software makers for mainstream applications would do this kind of thing routinely!  I don’t want to have to go to a scrolling end and then not see the beginning again in such an endless loop!  Smart move, VTech!

I have noticed that not all screens re-orient themselves with the screen turned from portrait to landscape mode.  It’s just something to note.  Also, and intuitively, touching the Home button takes users back to that multi-icon screen.

Games can utilize the tilt sensor or swiping gesture to move an object toward an objective.

A QWERTY keyboard is revealed in screens where appropriate.  I also noticed a pop-out stand on the back of the unit.  This can be useful when the user is watching videos or listening to music.

I played with Art Studio a bit and drew on the screen. As well, there are icons allowing selection of various drawing tools including pencil, brush, colored marker, car, wind-up frog and eraser.  Touching each one, except the eraser, reveals sub-menus of other icons in that group.

Videos, photos and music can be populated when the InnoTab is USB-connected to a computer. These areas as well as any downloads can be stored on an optional SD card.

Software cartridges may be purchased for $25, providing additional learning and fun to keep your student entertained while learning. At launch, there are nine software cartridges from which to choose, including Disney/Pixar’s Cars 2, Disney Fairies, Disney Princess, Dora the Explorer, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, The Penguins of Madagascar, Scooby-Doo, SpongeBob Squarepants and Disney/Pixar’s Toy Story. The company expects to have over 100 download titles available by the end of the year.

Parents can connect the device to a computer and use the Learning Lodge Navigator (free software download, PC/Mac – instructions with the product) to remain informed about their kids’ progress through a variety of educational milestones and lessons AND to peruse for content to add to existing apps.I’m sold!  I like what I see. I hope this is a winner for the good folks at VTech. Where can parents get a VTech InnoTab?  Pre-order at www.VTechKids.com and when there is general availability, find it at Target, Toys R Us and Wal-Mart, as well as Amazon.

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