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.
+ 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.
+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.
$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.
+ 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.
-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.
+/-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.
+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.)
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
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.