Alphabet apps to please parents and children

Parents spend about $100 downloading an average of 27.2 apps for their children each year. Many would prefer these to be educational, with good privacy policies and no advertising. New apps from Nosy Crow, Oxford University Press and Jajdo offer some safe options for small tablet users.

Animal SnApp: Farm (3/5)
Rounds: Parker Penguin (4/5)

Ever since I bought my iPad, I have been fighting my children for control of it – and I may be losing. Of the 40 or so apps loaded on it at the moment, more than half are for the kids. But because the iPad is still – at least nominally – my machine, I’d prefer the apps they use to be – at least nominally – educational. But apps that please both me and the little ones can be tricky to find.

Rounds: Parker Penguin

Story apps from children’s publisher Nosy Crow are great for reluctant readers because they build a lot of interactivity into the stories. My six-year-old loves their award-winning Cinderella tale, which involves helping the characters tidy up and get dressed for the ball with a swipe of a finger.

I was keen to try the two new apps from Nosy Crow for Apple devices: Animal SnApp: Farm ($4.99, £2.99) is a collection of tales winsomely drawn by Gruffalo illustrator Axel Scheffler, while Rounds: Parker Penguin, ($4.99, £2.99) shows the life cycle of the Antarctic birds.

Neither is quite as good as Nosy Crow’s earlier fairytale-based work. The farm stories looked magnificent but did not hold my children’s attention for very long. Rounds fared a little better but testing had to be abandoned because of a fight over who got to tilt the screen to slide the penguin across the ice.

Read with Biff, Chip and Kipper (4/5)

For more serious learning, Gazoob and Oxford University Press launched an app in November that complements the Oxford Reading Tree set of books used in most British primary schools.

Working on all platforms, from Apple’s iOS to Microsoft’s Windows 8 and Amazon’s Kindle, it presents 48 new stories featuring the familiar characters Biff, Chip and Kipper. Children can either read themselves or listen to a narrator.

Although the interactivity is basic, my 4-year-old, who has just started school, found it fun to press the words to hear how they sounded. There are also puzzles, phonics games and small things to spot on each page, helping keep interest up. Even my six-year-old, who thinks Biff and Chip are “babyish”, liked these. At $219.99 (£149.99), however, the app is expensive.

Pop ABC (Tuojie, 1/5)
Pop ABC
(Jajdo, 4/5)

I was searching iTunes for Pop ABC from Jajdo, a letter-learning game that tops the charts in Sweden. But I accidentally downloaded Pop ABC from Tuojie Technologies, a bizarre bubble-popping game with poor graphics and baffling instructions such as “press the hippocampus” spoken in a strong Chinese accent. Luckily it was free in the UK ($0.99 in the US).

The Jajdo game, which costs $1.99 (£1.49) was worth another search as it had even the two-year-old shrieking with laughter as she tried to match letters to zap them off the screen. I am notconvinced by the learning content of the game. It is supposed to get children to learn the alphabet – the game names each letter as it is zapped – but amid the squealing, I am not sure my three heard it.

All these neither collect data nor entice your children to purchase new apps – concerns raised in an FTC report. But that perfect balance between learning and fun is still elusive.

Gadget of the week

Toshiba’s entry into the new category of Windows 8 hybrid laptops is the U925t Ultrabook convertible, which costs $1,150 (from £899 in UK, where it is sold as the U920t), writes Chris Nuttall.

The sliding mechanism is more satisfying than the numerous hybrids whose screens and keyboards swivel, flip or snap on and off. A full-sized backlit keyboard and touchpad is revealed when the 12.5in tablet touchscreen is slid forward and tilted. I preferred this to Sony’s Vaio Duo 11, reviewed in November, whose keyboard is cramped in comparison, with the screen not pushing back as far. At 3lbs, it is a touch heavier than the Duo, but similarly fully featured.

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