LeapFrog's LeapBand activity tracker for kids actually makes sense

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When my 2-year-old runs in circles at top speed until I’m dizzy just watching, I’ve definitely thought about strapping my Fitbit on him to see how many steps he pitter-patters each day. So far my accessories-adverse toddler is having none of that (no hats, sunglasses, jewelry, or adornments of any kind, thank you!), but when LeapFrog started researching the wearables space, they found that most kids really love wearing the wristbands and hitting the big step goal.

Unfortunately, for adult wearables, that big goal only happens once a day, and not even every day. So to prolong the excitement of being at 9,999 steps all day long, LeapFrog’s new LeapBand is more like a wrist-worn Tamagotchi pet that encourages kids ages 4 to 7 to be active, with plenty of rewards and interaction to keep them engaged.

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The LeapBand's four-button interface and audible instructions are easy for kids to handle. 

The LeapBand lets kids personalize a virtual pet: they can pick from eight pets in five colors, using preselected names. So no, you can't name your pet frog Snotboogie or Doodoo Head. Instead of just one big goal to chip away at all day (with adult activity trackers, that’s usually 10,000 steps), kids hit little microgoals constantly. First, a colored band around the edge of the 1.4-inch screen inches along so you can see your progress, but it doesn’t just go around the screen once per day. It makes up to 10 laps (driven by physical activity and interacting with the LeapBand), changing colors each time. Kids also earn toys for their pets to play with, and energy gems called Joules that fill a treasure chest. Over time they even unlock the other 7 pets, and can level those pets up to get fancier track suits.

Besides the activity meter, the LeapBand has built-in activity challenges to get kids moving. Wiggle like a worm for 10 seconds! Dance like a chicken! With a friendly voice giving instructions over the built-in speaker, and only four buttons on the watch itself, it’s easy for kids who can’t read yet to figure out what to do.

Because kids need a little quiet time between running around shrieking, the watch has some calmer activities too—every fourth activity challenge is a “cool down” challenge. And just like a Tamagotchi, your pet needs nurturing: it’ll get hungry or tired or need a bath, and kids can take care of those needs to make it happy again. There are also some minigames that teach healthy living concepts, like eating fruits and vegetables.

Watch me, Mom!

The final screen on the LeapBand is a watch face, with your pet using his arms to point out the time, like a Mickey Mouse watch. Parents who don’t want their kids playing with the LeapBand when they’re supposed to be in school or asleep can enable “night mode” and “school mode” with the LeapFrog Connect software for Mac and PC, so the kids can wear the LeapBand all day, but the only thing that shows up on the screen when they’re supposed to be otherwise engaged is the watch.

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Activity challenges include silly stunts like "dance like a chicken," but every fourth challenge is a cool-down so they aren't constantly bouncing off the walls. 

LeapFrog Connect also lets parents customize the activity challenges, and check out the Joules and pets the kid has earned over the past 7 days, along with graphs of their activity levels. You don’t get an exact step count, but a bar chart can help you show your child, “Look, on Wednesday you had soccer and your activity bar was the highest. But on Friday it was the lowest because it was raining out side and you had the sniffles.”

The same activity graph also shows up in the companion Petathalon Games app, which runs on the LeapPad Ultra or an iOS or Android device. Your child’s pets carry over from the LeapBand watch to Petathlon Games, and they can play more minigames and get exercise tips there too.

The kid-sized wearable’s wristband comes in pink, blue, and green, and the gadget charges and syncs over USB, with one charge lasting 3–5 days, LeapFrog says. It’s got an accelerometer of course but no Bluetooth or Wi-Fi: a plus for both battery life and for parents who don’t want wireless radios strapped to their children’s bodies all day. It’s water resistant and seems like it’ll be hard to break—my son’s existing LeapFrog gear stands up to tons of abuse without damage. But if the worst comes to pass, the device is only $40.

LeapFrog will ship the LeapBand in August 2014. We’ll follow up with a full review when we can, but from our brief hands-on time with the device, this little LeapBand definitely has legs.

This story, "LeapFrog's LeapBand activity tracker for kids actually makes sense" was originally published by TechHive.

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