LeapFrog launches LeapReader

Reading and writing are fundamental to a better future for young children. With that in mind, LeapFrog has unveiled the LeapReader, its new reading and writing learning system.

LeapReader, targeted at 4-to-8 year olds, is essentially a revamp of LeapFrog's Tag Reading System, which the company will continue to make until the summer. Like the Tag, the LeapReader is essentially an electronic pen device that is used with books in the LeapReader library (it's also backward-compatible with books in the Tag Reader library).

The pen has a sensor at the end that "reads" the words on LeapReader books. A user passes the pen over the words and the pen sounds out the letters, words, and phrases. The LeapReader pen can also be used with other items in the LeapReader library, including maps, flash cards, book sets, and audio books.

The newest innovation in the LeapReader pen is the addition of writing functionality. Users can use the pen with special LeapFrog Writing Paper, which shows the letters and words as they are written with the pen. The Writing Paper comes in Learn-to-Write sets, which has guides for young users to form letters and words. The pen won't work on other paper or surfaces (a boon if you happen to have little ones who like to write on everything).

The LeapReader resembles a large chunky pen. At the top is a jack for a headphone, while the media control panel resides along one side. The media control panels lights up in different colours, depending on the activity. The power button is located just above the control panel. Above that are the device's speakers.

On the other side of the pen is the USB port, which you can use to connect the device to a PC. In a nice twist, you can also charge the pen, as it comes with rechargeable batteries. Once you connect the pen to your PC, you can download more games, songs, and apps via the Leap Center program. The LeapReader pen has 256MB of memory, which can hold audio for up to 40 books or 175 songs.

The LeapReader system will ship with a sample book and three free apps. It be available from July in the US and will retail for $49.99 (about £30). International availability has yet to be confirmed.