The new LeapPad, an education-oriented tablet by Leapfrog Enterprises, is not meant to compete directly with gaming machines like the PS Vita (or the 3DS, which I compared to the Vita in another article). In fact, it would be quite possible for a child to enjoy both a LeapPad and a PS Vita equally, but in different ways.
With the current economic situation, however, shrewd parents may want to compare these two portables and select the one that will ultimately have the best price-to-value ratio for their children.
At $139.97, the LeapPad Starter Bundle has a notable advantage over the PS Vita, which will start at $249.99. The LeapPad bundle includes four apps pre-installed on the system, plus $40 in App Cards for the online store, which brings the price of the system itself down to $99. It also has 2GB of removable storage for downloaded content and save data.
PS Vita games will vary in price depending on format. The full retail games will come on high-capacity cards, and if the price of Nintendo's 3DS games is any indication, they will cost around $40 apiece. It is not yet known exactly what software and memory storage (if any) will be bundled with either model of the PS Vita.
Going strictly by these numbers, the LeapPad has a much more family-friendly price tag than the PS Vita.
The software of the LeapPad is largely educational in nature, and is designed especially for 4- to 9-year-olds. There is a library of some 100 cartridges, apps, and videos, covering such areas as life skills, art, music, physics and math. From read-along picturebooks, to a pet simulator, to movie editing, there is lots for the curious and creative child to do with the LeapPad. Many of the games also feature Disney licenses, and there is even a Star Wars-based game.
The PS Vita will have more entertainment-oriented games, plenty of them E-rated. Some of the early kid-friendly software on PS Vita will include LittleBigPlanet, Hot Shots Golf, Little Deviants, and more from proven high-quality developers. For children 9 or older, there may be more appeal to the PS Vita's games than the LeapPad's. However, there is bound to be just as much mature software on the system.
Though the PS Vita will surely receive the occasional edutainment title, learning will never be the system's primary focus. The LeapPad may never have as many games as a system like the Vita, but what games it does have will adjust to match your child's skill level and provide new challenges. On the other hand, the LeapPad will never offer the sheer exhilaration and cutting-edge audio-visual experiences of a PS Vita game.
Given that children are the target audience, LeapFrog has designed the LeapPad with durability in mind. Unlike most tablets, whose focus was on increasing screen size while decreasing thickness to the utmost, the modestly-proportioned LeapPad will probably stand up to impacts well. Its large buttons and grippable, rounded contours are likely a good fit for children's hands.
The PS Vita is a sleek, high-powered device, and much like the PSP, it will need screen protectors, hard cases, and other things to protect it from the elements, especially if owned by a child. These necessities, along with optional accessories, can add significantly to the price of an already-expensive system.
In general, there is more that can go wrong with advanced hardware like the PS Vita than with more "basic" devices like the LeapPad.
If your child is between the ages of 4 and 9 and enjoys games, but doesn't have his or her heart set on a particular console, the LeapPad is probably the safer bet than either the PS Vita or the Nintendo 3DS. On the other hand, if your child is a PSP gamer, he or she may well enjoy the PS Vita more, and for more years to come.