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In January this year my eldest daughter turned 5, and I was really struggling with what to get her as a gift because by the time they are 5, they already have a billion toys, and it seems to get harder as they get older to know what to give them. I have two girls so as you can imagine my house is overflowing with girlie toys (and quite a few boyish ones too). Anyway, I decided I would get her something electronic, that she would be able to use herself without aid from me. So whilst browsing through Amazon I came across this Vtech Disney Princess Laptop, and based on the reviews and the price (I think I paid around £20 for it) I decided to purchase one, having no real idea what I was in for. The main selling point for me was and I quote (from Amazon website) "Teaches letters, words, numbers, manners, logic & memory skills through 18 activities"...Hmm we'll see.
When she opened it on her birthday she was quite excited but did not really bother with it at first, as is the usual on birthday mornings - there are that many toys that they don't really play with any of them for long. But since then she has played with it on several occasions and it actually keeps her occupied for maybe 20 minutes at a time, which is pretty good for a 5 year old; my 3 year old also gets quite a lot of use out of it. However, it is not a favourite toy and months can pass without them touching it, and I am not particularly impressed with it either - there are a lot of frills with it (as with most Disney Princess items) but not a lot of activities, and although it is advertised as having several different modes to choose from, they all seem to be pretty similar and quite limited. But perhaps that is just what kids like - simple samey activities.
On initial inspection, it looks really appealing for a young girl - it is two shades of pink and shaped like a heart, littered with hearts and sparkles, and of course has a picture of the 4 Disney Princesses on the front. To open the laptop you either press one of the heart shaped buttons or use the 'magic' key in a slot (which also just ultimately presses one of the heart shaped buttons), this also opens a secret drawer on the side of the laptop, which can be used to keep small trinkets. And it has a handy carry handle at the top so kids can lug it around the house with them if they so wish.
Once you have opened the laptop, you are once again visually assaulted with brash colours, heart shaped buttons and the 4 Disney Princesses. And in the middle of the top section is the screen and it is positively tiny - probably smaller than my mobile phone screen; and it isn't in colour, it's that grey/black pixelated type screen which is VERY basic. On the button section you get a QWERTY keyboard (all heart shaped), a row of numbers, and three option buttons at the top - 'Be A Princess', 'Princess Activities' and 'Princess Explore'. At the bottom you have a large heart shaped button and this also acts as the mouse, it can be moved up and down and left and right; I had not actually realised you could move this until my daughter demonstrated it to me!
***Using the Laptop***
My daughter worked out how to use it straight away; she actually worked it out quicker than me, and understood all the functions more or less immediately. I have decided to actually describe all of the activities because if you are expecting to get something amazing for your money, then you need to know the truth!
'Be A Princess' - This is a very limited mode; you have 3 activities to complete before you can 'be a princess'. The first is 'input the missing number' where you have a series of 3 numbers but one is missing so you just press the number button which you think is correct. You also have 'letter bubbles', where letters float on the screen and you have to press the corresponding letter on the keyboard. Then finally you get picture matching, a phrase will come up on the screen such as 'Goodnight', then you have to scroll through the pictures to find one that fits. You only get to complete each of these activities once, and once you have completed them you are asked to input your name and choose a princess. And that is all you can do on this, you are now a princess apparently but your name is not saved anywhere onto the laptop, it is just a gimmick. Then you are asked to choose a mode - you can choose 'Be a Princess Again' or one of the other two options....
'Princess Activities' - First you choose a Princess, a choice of Belle, Snow White, Aurora or Cinderella (for what reason I do not know because this has no bearing whatsoever on the activities). Then you can choose from 3 learning games.
1 - 'Number order' - find the missing number...again.
2 - 'Which one's different' - shows you 3 pictures and you have to choose the one which shows the different feeling - there are 2 happy and 1 sad, so you choose the sad one etc.
3 - 'Letter pairs' - matching capital letters with lower case letters.
All are very simple and basic activities which a bright 4 or 5 year old would complete with ease.
'Princess Explore' - This option has a few extra activities (or so you are led to believe...):
1 - 'Explore letters' - you press a letter button and it will tell you the name in lower and upper case.
2 - 'Explore words'- you press a letter button and it will give you a word that begins with that letter.
3 - 'Explore numbers' - you press a number button and it will show the number on screen and display the same amount in pictures for example, press 7 you will see the number 7 and 7 little rabbits or something similar.
4 - 'Explore manners' - you choose a picture, it will then tell you what the picture is displaying - for instance, a princess is just getting out of bed so this is 'good morning', a princess is waving so this is 'goodbye'. How this is exploring manners I shall never know!
5 - 'Music magic' - listen to a song by pressing the number buttons.
So in actual fact these are not really activities at all, more like visual learning aids, and not something that appeals to me, or in fact my children, and I actually think the advertised '18 activities' is a bit of a generous statement when 5 of them are not really activities, and some are also repeated.
So as you can see, the 'learning' activities are very basic, repetitive, and quite limited, but I suppose they are perfect for 4-5 year olds, most of the activities require the child to be able to read and understand letters and numbers, so it is definitely aimed at the 4+ market; but any older and the child would become fed up. The recommended age range is 4-7 years which I suppose is rather accurate but I'm assuming from my experience that most 6 & 7 year olds would get bored very quickly with the basic activities. I would recommend it more for 4-5 year olds, and perhaps even 3 year olds - my youngest daughter who is 3 certainly works her way around the laptop very easily, I'm not entirely sure if she knows what she's doing but it does keep her occupied for short lengths of time.
***Educational - Really?***
As with all educational toys, I am rather dubious as to whether they actually help a child learn anything. My children learn things from me and from school, I do not rely on electronic equipment to teach them how to read & count. However, items such as these I suppose can help to consolidate what they already know; but I am not giving this laptop any points whatsoever on the educational front. The learning activities are dull and repetitive, and out of the 18 advertised I would suggest there are just 3 that are worth using. And they have clearly used the Disney Princess theme as a marketing ploy (as usual); none of the activities within the laptop have anything whatsoever to do with any of the Princesses.
Another gripe of mine is that the QWERTY keyboard is in capital letters, and for anyone with a child of 3, 4 or 5 will know that children learn lower case letters first, and they learn the sounds rather than the letter names, so this can be a stumbling block when using this laptop. And also the irritating American voice can cause some issues too.
I wouldn't buy this again, even though my kids do sometimes play with it and are entertained. It is dull and annoying, and I just feel cheated by VTech for claiming to have produced something that teaches, yes *TEACHES* children letters & numbers, and for not trying hard enough with the activities, and for putting a rubbish screen on there, and for splattering Disney Princesses all over it in order to increase sales.
Save your money and buy a LeapPad Explorer, that's what I intend to do anyway! But if you really want one, they are currently on Amazon for £19.99.
Go on a magical learning journey with the Vtech Disney Princess Magical Learning Laptop . Play games and learn with Chinderella, Belle, Snow White and Aurora, the laptop features 3 different modes of play , 'be a princess', 'princess explore' and 'princess activities'. In total there are 18 different fun activities to play and enjoy which have been designed to develop letter recognition, english, basic maths, logic, memory and even manners. Use the included key to unlock and open the laptop in order to discover the secret drawer hidden inside. The Princess Learning Laptop includes a key to open the laptop and secret drawer, QWERTY keyboard, heart cursor mouse, 10 number keys and an LCD screen . The Vtech Disney Princess Magical Learning Laptop is a great way to develop core reading and counting skills.