Playaway Launchpad Review

On behalf of the Alaska State Library, I recently reviewed the Playaway Launchpad, a new pre-loaded Android tablet created by Findaway. I looked at both the device and the pre-loaded content, and considered how the Launchpad would compare to other digital access opportunities I provide for children in our public library setting. Specifically, I compared the physical tablet to the AWE pre-loaded touch screen computer, the iPad Air and a Kindle E-reader. I evaluated the content included on the tablet, 12 pre-loaded apps, individually using my app evaluation rubric in part because none of the apps in the You Auto Know! pack were reviewed by industry-respected sites like Children’s Technology Review, School Library Journal, Horn Book, etc. I have included my overall impressions of the device and the app pack.

Overall Impression: The cost of the Launchpad device initially makes Findaway’s program seem like an inexpensive way to provide young library patrons and their families with access to digital media. The device was simple to use and seemed sturdy, however the content I reviewed was mediocre and comparatively expensive, diminishing the overall effectiveness of the device. The idea of predetermined app collections may appeal to some librarians and library staff who are new to curating apps and digital media, but the specific apps in the app pack I reviewed did not include any “award winning” or “best-selling” apps, as advertised. (This may be because the content is limited to apps available for the Android platform, for which only a limited number of quality apps, and apps in general, have been so far developed.) Without high quality, engaging content that encourages repeated use and helps grow readers and lifelong learners, a device for young children has limited value in the library setting.

Physical Device
Case
+ The sturdy rubber case is rounded and not as slippery as the device itself, potentially reducing breakage from being dropped or banged. The bright orange color will make it easy to find.

7” size
+The small tablet size makes the tablet easy for small hands to hold (similar to iPad mini or Kindle E-reader size.)
-The small size may make it difficult to share the screen. When two or more users can easily share the screen and explore together, joint media engagement is more likely to occur.

Cost
$99.99-$149.99, avg. cost $119.99, according to Findaway rep. (compared with $249-379 for iPad mini)

No wifi access
+ No access to wifi helps prevent unintentional access to inappropriate digital content.
– No access to wifi could limit flexibility of device, restricting use to a specific audience, certain activities, and Findaway content.

No camera
+ Without a camera, the device will not store images of children using the device, helping to protect users’ privacy.
– Many high quality kids’ apps creatively incorporate the device’s camera into apps, increasing engagement and helping kids express themselves. Without the camera, potential content is more limited.

Battery
-The charging time is long if device is being used while being charged.
-The back of the device (which may be touching a young child’s lap) gets hot when the device is awake for extended periods of time (for example, 1 hour).
-When plugged in, the device will only go to sleep when the power button is tapped, using battery unnecessarily and creating the heat mentioned above.

Settings
+/-There are no accessible user settings for the device itself, beyond the reset option and avatar creation. Settings only exist within the individual apps and these settings vary in location, number and type. Limiting the device settings simplifies the user experience initially, but may confuse users as they navigate each app and attempt to adjust settings as they explore.
+The device includes a reset button on the home screen and supports
multiple users (with customizable avatars). The device would be easy to rest after individual checkouts if circulating outside the library or each day for in-library use.
+/-Using the device immediately requires that a child select and decorate an avatar. Many children will enjoy this element, but the avatar is isolated from the play experience within each app.

Statistics
+Some stats are available from the home screen (Play Graph shows how
many sessions and if those sessions focused on English language Arts, Math, Critical Thinking, Science, Language Learning or Creativity. The Most Played apps will also appear.)

Content (Apps):
The tablet I reviewed came with the preloaded You Auto Know! app pack which includes 12 transportation themed game/toy apps. (The apps are widely available on Google Play, and in some cases Amazon Android.)
Cost of app pack (at time of review): $119.99 (avg cost per app is $9.99)
Intended audience: 3-5 years

App Overview:
The app pack includes game/toy apps (no story/book apps) which, in general, are of average or below average quality in overall design compared with the gold standard in the world of children’s apps. While the apps are technically sound and were all in-app ad and purchase free, the graphics in some cases are uninspired and many of them had only limited interactive features or elements that inspire kids, or kids and caregivers, to play together (for example multi-touch). Some apps do support STEM and some offer limited opportunities to use critical thinking skills, but their support of early literacy skills & practices (reading, singing, talking, playing and writing) is limited compared with other apps on the market. Most apps focused on earning points and a competitive format instead of the sandbox style play that is more likely to inspire creativity, imagination and exploration. (Pango Imaginary Car is an exception.) In fact the device itself is designed with a point system and opening certain apps rewards the user with “discovery points” which can be used to buy accessories for the user’s avatar. Some children may focus more on the point system than the actual app experience.
While the device thoughtfully offers users the opportunity to create an avatar that reflects their ethnic or cultural identity, and even their general individuality, these apps were all English language only apps and do not include opportunities to record narration, another way to support home languages.
Librarians are skilled curators of content, but this device’s model prevents librarians from selecting individual apps, like Pango Imaginary Car for example, for use by families and their young children and there is no way to hide unwanted apps or focus children’s attention on a specific app, as is the case with the AWE computer. In fact some of the Launchpad literature cites “No librarian research or app expertise required” as one of it selling points. As media mentors, children’s librarians should in fact research and understand all media they offer in the library or for circulation at home. Librarians are experienced curators and with some training, can easily apply their selection skills from print media to the world of digital content.

16 thoughts on “Playaway Launchpad Review

  1. FINALLY! I have been waiting for a review of the Launchpad by a librarian who actually touched and used the device. Our public library ordered several preschool packs (including the one you reviewed). My department head and I were immediately disenchanted by the device. The sound/picture quality was poor and the apps were (in our opinion) way below average for their “educational value” as advertised. Please note that we offer the use of iPads for preschoolers and school-age children in house. We had families and children try them out and were told they were “time wasters”. With regards to the “points” systems, we also found it distracting and was pointless for the preschool aged children who couldn’t read it or understand it anyhow. The “Princess” pack was especially horrifying with a quiz game designed to tell if the child is true princess material or not. Princesses apparently “look at themselves in the mirror”, and “place books on their heads so they walk straight” and if they are lucky, they get a diamond ring from their handsome prince! The very limited foreign language app was impossible to hear/understand and didn’t even label the language it was in! (Chinese, we later learned). When we inquired about Lunchpad experiences in other libraries, we were often told that “patrons seem to like them” and it was surprising to us that in most cases librarians didn’t try them at all. In the end, we felt that they undermined our efforts to provide high-quality, educational content to our patrons and we returned them. Thank you for listening. You might have inspired me to blog about it myself… lol

  2. Agree with other posters; this review was extremely helpful. Looking to purchase a tablet for in-house usage for the first time and it’s overwhelming! This device is probably not what I want for a first-time purchase. Thank you!

  3. I have seen these devices and spoken to playaway about the content, seems the only word they could find for the “F” sound is FART, and the only word available for ” P ” is POOP…. The next thing I came across is the dressing of the Bride and how at the end of dressing her you have to choose whether she marries a boy or girl…. come on this is not educational at all it is agendas being embedded into what we will let our children play with and we are supposed to feel safe about it. Not professional at all. Not happening again at my house.

    • Jeff, I’m sorry to hear about your experience. Finding apps to explore with your child can be tough. Do you have a different device at home? I’d be happy to help you find some quality, educational content or you might want to ask a librarian at your local library.

      • First let me say thank you very much for your reply and the apparent concern you have for quality and safety of someones children. We are planning to get our two girls, ages 6 & 7, each a kids kindle around Christmas time. Do you have any suggestions on these devices and maybe some suggestions for learning apps. Our 6 yr old is learning her letters and sounds, and our 7 yr old is staring to read. I am not looking for content that is all Christian, although that would be nice, but I want it to not have things embedded that go against our values and the values that we want our girls to grow up in.Teaching content should be about teaching, not agendas.
        Thank you again, very much!

      • Hi Jeff-
        You’re so welcome! Here are some app developers to get your started. I like these developers because they consistently create high quality content that is available on multiple platforms (Kindle, iPad/iPhone, Google Play, etc.). The apps these developers make are a mix of book/story apps and educational, toy/game apps. The toy/game apps are typically sandbox-style apps which offer open-ended, creative play, often allow multiple kids or kids and adults to play together thanks to a multi-touch feature, and don’t include points and prizes, unnecessary for young children. I also like apps that allow you to turn off any ads or in-app purchases, either in the app or in the device’s settings, so that the focus is on the experience not on what to buy next.
        With all apps for young children, I recommend you go through the apps, whether games/toys or book/story apps, to make sure the app is glitch free and easy to navigate. As you have demonstrated, this is also the time to make sure the content is right for your child. All kids are different and all families are different!
        Toca Boca
        Sago Sago
        Oceanhouse Media (story apps)
        Loud Crow Interactive (story apps, especially Sandra Boynton books for your younger child)
        Tribeplay
        Avokiddo
        Marbotic
        Duck Duck Moose
        Originator
        Little Bit Studio
        Filimundus AB (Pettson’s Inventions)

  4. Hi Claudia, wonderful review and comments. Our organization SHIP would like to purchase several tablets for young children to use at our local library. We are looking for ones that can be checked out and returned to library.
    We had been thinking of purchasing launchpads but have concerns about the downloaded educational content.
    I would greatly appreciation any information you can forward to me that may be of assistance in making our selection.
    Alice Jones

  5. Hi Claudia,

    Thank you so much for this Playaway LaunchPad review. A few months have passed and hopefully the content is getting better by now…?

    I’m an app developer who has recently been approached by someone at Playaway LaunchPad to possibly bring my apps to their system. Your review and some of the comments here have really helped me think about which apps I’ve made that would actually benefit kids using these in libraries (probably just my Pogg app for now), versus what might be pointless or even offensive.

    Thanks for writing about it and helping me gain some insight into it 🙂

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