Friday, 27 September 2013

LeapPad Ultra vs Kindle Fire HD

Kindle Fire HD 7", HD Display, Wi-Fi, 8 GB - Includes Special OffersLeapFrog LeapPad Ultra Kids? Learning Tablet, GreenThe LeapPad Ultra and the new Kindle Fire HD are two similarly priced tablets that are new for 2013. If you have young children aged around 4-9 then you might be wondering which of these tablets to choose. Note that Amazon have just announced a new Kindle Fire HD model which is different from last years, it's the new model we'll be looking at here.

The Kindle Fire HD and LeapPad Ultra have some similarities including a 7" touch screen and lots of child-friendly content, but they have some key differences too. We'll take a look at each of the tablets and the differences that might make one or the other a better choice for your child.

Software and Media

Kindle Fire HD 7", HD Display, Wi-Fi, 8 GB - Includes Special Offers Kindle Fire HD 7", HD Display, Wi-Fi, 8 GB - Includes Special Offers

@ Amazon
A tablet is really a device for accessing software and other media so I think this is the most important factor for deciding which tablet to choose for your child or family.

We have last years models of both these tablets which have access to the same content so I have a lot of experience here.

The Kindle Fire is a modified Android tablet and has access to the wide range of Android apps in the Amazon market place and web access. The LeapPad Ultra on the other hand runs its own custom environment with its own range of educational and edutainment software plus limited web access to child-friendly sites.

The educational software on the LeapPad is excellent. The tablet talks to children and they are able to use it very independently. Although there's quite a large library of software it's quite expensive and you will find that only a limited subset appeals to your particular child. The addition of limited web access goes some way to broadening the available content.

The Kindle Fire on the other hand does have access to some excellent educational apps. The problem tends to be finding them! It can be difficult to find suitable apps for your child and you may have to go through a lot of trial and error to find good content. You can get free content but much of it has lots of ads that you may not want your child exposed too.

LeapFrog LeapPad Ultra Kids? Learning Tablet, Green LeapFrog LeapPad Ultra Kids? Learning Tablet, Green

@ Amazon
The LeapPad software on the other hand is already designed to be educational and much of it adapts to your child's current ability level. This does make it easy to select software and means that a child can be more independent in their use of the tablet.

One thing I would say is that a lot of the LeapPad main titles are tie-ins to popular TV shows and kids brands. My kids weren't particularly interested in a lot of these which limited the range of content we had to choose from. The downloadable apps have less of a problem with this. And of course if your kids love those brands then it could be a good fit.

Amazon has the excellent Kindle Freetime Unlimited subscription service for children aged around 3-8 which gives access to a wide range of content including apps, videos and ebooks for a reasonable monthly subscription fee. Do take a look at the list of Freetime Unlimited titles to see whether it is a good fit for your child or children.

Once a child reaches the age when they are reading chapter books then access to Amazon's library of Kindle titles is a very good thing. Plus you may be able to use Overdrive to borrow eBooks for free from your library.

My older son is now nearly 7 and an avid reader, this is one of the reasons why he now uses a Kindle more than a kids tablet. If your child is well on the way to being a good reader then this is something to consider (though you may prefer a dedicated device like the Kindle Paperwhite for reading.)

I've always favored LeapPad devices for pre-readers but the Ultra is aimed at children aged up to 9 years old. I think access to an eReader makes a lot of sense for kids once they are able to read chapter books. A Kindle Fire can serve this purpose as well as provided access to other media.

The LeapPad has the ability to play videos but its content library is very limited. On a Kindle Tablet you have access to a wide range of videos from Amazon plus services like Netflix that provide lots of entertainment.

Then there's the issue of web access. The Kindle Fire has a fairly full-featured web browser which gives access to lots of web content which has its upside and downside! My 6 year old loves researching topics on the web and this is something I encourage, but only when he's sitting next to me.

Size and Weight

Both the Kindle Fire HD and the LeapPad Ultra have screens that measure 7" across the diagonal.

The LeapPad Ultra has the following dimensions: 6 x 9 x 0.95 inches

Whereas the Kindle Fire HD measures: 5 x 7.5 x 0.42 inches

The Kindle tablet is much smaller and slimmer than the LeapPad. Is this an advantage or disadvantage? Well that depends on your child. The LeapPad is chunky and easier to keep hold of. You're definitely going to want to put the Kindle Fire in a protective case that makes it easier to grip and the smaller space around the screen can mean that kids accidentally touch the edge of the screen when holding the tablet. We have the previous Kindle Fire in a case and my kids haven't had any trouble using it.

The LeapPad Ultra weighs: 1 lb 7 oz (23 oz). I haven't seen an official statement of the weight but this weight is reported by a user (source.)

The Amazon Kindle HD weighs: 12.2 oz

Certainly the LeapPad Ultra is much heavier than the Kindle Fire. This does make a different when kids are using a tablet for long periods of time.

Kid-Friendly Design?

The LeapPad Ultra has obviously been designed specifically for young children and is well protected and robust. There are also gel covers available that help kids to grip the device.

The Kindle Fire HD has a sleek design which you're going to want to cover up with a child-friendly case. Manufacturers will be working on bringing out child-friendly protective cases for the new model so you'll want to factor this into the overall cost. Make sure you buy the case first so you can put it on before handing it over to your child.

I'm definitely a little more nervous when my kids start wandering around with a Kindle device than with a LeapPad.  You can add an a warranty with accident protection to the Kindle Fire HD but obviously this adds to the cost.

Camera and Video Camera

This is an important one! The LeapPad Ultra has 2MP front and rear cameras so kids can take photos and record videos. This is something a lot of kids really enjoy doing.

The Kindle Fire HD 2013 model does not have a camera. (Last year's model did, so you may still want to check that one out although it has a lower spec in other areas.)

Being able to take videos and photos is a fun feature.  Having said that, my kids ended up using an actual camera most of the time for taking photos and videos because they got better results and a camera is more portable so they were more likely to have it with them.

Technical Specification

In terms of technical specification the Kindle Fire HD is the winner by far. It has a 1.5GHz dual core processor. Whereas the LeapPad Ultra has an 800MHz processor. This isn't really a useful comparison, what matters is whether the tablets are responsive for the apps they run. The Kindle tablet still wins here.


The Kindle Fire HD offers a choice of 8GB or 16GB of storage. The LeapPad Ultra has 8GB. Neither of them support an external SD card which is a pain.

How quickly you get through the storage will depend on the number and kind of apps and other media that you install. Remember that you can take photos and videos with the LeapPad Ultra which can take up quite a bit of space. But Android apps are often quite large.


The screen resolution of the LeapPad Ultra is 1024 x 600 which is pretty respectable and plenty good enough for playing games and accessing web content.

The Kindle Fire HD has a 1280 x 800 (216 ppi) display which is even better. Where I think this becomes important is for really crisp text when reading.

The screen on the Kindle Fire is capacitative like more modern screens whereas the LeapPad Ultra uses a resistive screen that has been designed for kids and which works well with the stylus. A resistive screen can feel unresponsive if kids are used to using a capacitative one, but they work well with the included stylus on the LeapPad.

Stylus and D-Pad

The LeapPad Ultra comes with a stylus and kids are encouraged to use it for tracing letters, drawing and other activities. This is good for practicing pencil grip and control.

You can get a stylus to use with the Kindle Fire HD for a few dollars extra and it can be used instead of a finger if you want to encourage kids to use a pencil grip.

The LeapPad Ultra also has a physical D-Pad built in which is useful for navigation and playing games, particularly a lot of the older LeapPad titles that were developed before touch screens were available. Most games on the Kindle Fire have been designed with a touch interface in mind though you can get physical controllers that work with Android tablets.

Battery and Charging

Both tablets have rechargeable batteries. The LeapPad Ultra claims 9 hours usage from a charge whereas the Kindle Fire HD claims 10 hours. So not much in it there.

Parental Controls and Settings

The LeapPad Ultra is set up as a safe environment from the start. It has a parental lock code that can be required for making purchases or even viewing the App Center and also for controlling wireless access.

The Kindle Fire HD must be set up to avoid children making purchases and in-app purchases. It's very important that you set this up before your child uses the tablet. You can also control wireless access, location-based services and social sharing. And Kindle Freetime allows you to set up profiles for children so they can only access selected content. You can also control how long they can use the tablet for and for which activities.


The LeapPad Ultra has a RRP of $149 and the Kindle Fire HD starts at $139 (at time of writing.)

You need to be aware that the lowest priced Kindle Fire HD comes with 'special offers', i.e. advertising. We haven't found the advertising to be problematic, it just tells you about new books that are available or apps that are on offer. But you may want to avoid it for your family and this will increase the cost.

You are also likely to want a protective case for the Kindle Fire HD and possibly a stylus too. Though the gel cover is also a common accessory for the LeapPad Ultra.

Both tablets are rechargeable so there are no batteries to consider.

The cost of software for the Kindle Fire HD is much less though you may end up spending more because there is more available!

The Android apps typically have more content too. But the LeapPad apps are very educationally focused and adapt to a range of ages and abilities.

Be careful of free apps for Android tablets they often include a lot of advertising and in-app purchases. There is some good free content available though and it's worth checking the Amazon free app of the day for kid-friendly content.

A Kindle Freetime Unlimited subscription makes a lot of sense for children in the 3-8 age range as they get access to lots of content for a fixed monthly free (which is less for Amazon Prime members.)


I'm a big fan of the LeapPad range of tablets for pre-readers and children who are learning to read. The web content available from the LeapPad Ultra extends the upper age slightly. The LeapPad keeps kids in a safe education-focused content without distractions. It's a good choice if you want to keep kids away from the world of advertising and pure entertainment for a bit longer. It's also useful if you want to combine the camera and video camera functionality in the same device.

But once kids are good readers the Kindle Fire HD makes a lot of sense.
You might choose a separate eReader device for eBooks, but kids will still want to research topics that interest them, and eventually look things up to support their homework. I prefer my kids to browse the web when they are sitting next to me on the couch or at a table rather than using a desktop computer that it's hard to keep an eye on all the time.

There's an increasing range of reasonably priced educational content available for the Kindle Fire tablets now and Amazon's range of kids' content is huge. It's also a good choice for younger children with the Freetime Unlimited subscription and if you want to access a video subscription service like Netflix or entertainment. The lack of a camera can be handled by getting a separate inexpensive camera / video camera. 

My main guidance is to buy the tablet that suits your child for the next 12 months rather than trying to buy something that they will grow into. The technology keeps moving. You're better off selling old devices and upgrading to a new one when your child is ready.

LeapFrog LeapPad Ultra Kids? Learning Tablet, Green LeapFrog LeapPad Ultra Kids? Learning Tablet, Green

@ Amazon
Kindle Fire HD 7", HD Display, Wi-Fi, 8 GB - Includes Special Offers Kindle Fire HD 7", HD Display, Wi-Fi, 8 GB - Includes Special Offers

@ Amazon

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