The boundary between toy tablets and real tablets keeps getting thinner. Cases in point: the LeapPad 2 from LeapFrog and the $100 Wi-Fi-enabled InnoTab 2S.
As the price and processing power of these types of toys begin to approach those of real tablets, more parents are finding themselves with a tricky choice. Is it better to invest in a toy that acts like a tablet, or a tablet that has been configured to impersonate a toy?
Over the last 12 months, a variety of Android tablets for children have been released. They are often more similar than they are different, with a girl- or boy-themed silicone frame for protection, slots for adding more storage, 7-inch multitouch screens and a handful of preloaded $1 apps like Angry Birds. There's also a key selling point: parental control features to keep a child from drifting into, say, YouTube. Examples include LexiBook ($150), Kurio ($200), Nabi 2 ($200), Meep ($170) and Tabeo ($150). This fall, toy rivals VTech and LeapFrog have also updated their portable platforms, succeeding in offering the lowest price of entry to the world of apps and touch screens.
The cheapest option is VTech's MobiGo 2 ($50), followed by the updated LeapsterGS ($70). Both are solid choices, despite having smaller screens that can process only one finger touch at a time. These editions come with faster processors and separate login accounts so multiple children can share the same device. Both also now have accelerometers, letting you tilt or lean in some of the games.
Designed to fool a child into thinking he or she has a real tablet, VTech's InnoTab 2 ($80) comes with a new rotating camera. A second model, the InnoTab 2S ($100) has built in Wi-Fi that does nothing more than let your child browse apps, while generating emails telling you which ones you should buy. The LeapPad2 Explorer ($100) starts faster and comes with two better-quality cameras, in front and in back.
The bottom line is that the differences between this year's Leapster, InnoTab and LeapPad models are slim. Whichever you choose, remember that each is a platform that can lead to a significant investment in software. After you add up the $100 for, say, a LeapPad or an InnoTab, and then buy four $20 cartridges, you've already spent more than the price of the latest iPod Touch ($175).
IT'S COMING: SENDING TWEETS BY EMAIL
Soon you will be able to share your Twitter posts easily, even with people who aren't on Twitter.
Twitter, the social microblogging service, is introducing a new sharing feature that will let people pass along posts by email directly from its site.
Here's how it will work: When you see a post you want to send to a friend, place the cursor over it. A list of links will appear below it in blue, just as it does now, but there will be an additional link, titled "More."
Click on it and you will see a button that says "Share this Tweet via email." All you have to do is fill out the address, hit send, and off it goes.
The feature is being introduced now — some people may find that they already have it. The rest will get it "over the coming weeks," according to a Twitter representative.
There are some advantages to emailing. For one, you can now more quickly ridicule someone's post before an audience of select friends without going public.
It also means you can expose people who have avoided Twitter to its siren call. Don't count on them thanking you.
RESEARCH IN MOTION ADDS FREE CALLING TO BLACKBERRYS
Research in Motion has announced that it is adding free calling to its BlackBerry Messenger service, which already allows free texting between BlackBerrys worldwide.
To use voice over BlackBerry Messenger, you need a phone running version 6.0 of the system software and a Wi-Fi connection. According to RIM, you can make a BBM voice call directly, or switch from text to talk and back.
The new feature can be downloaded from the Blackberry Beta Zone under BBM Version 7.
Of course, free calling among members of a service is not new. Skype has permitted it for eons. But recent news revealing a Skype security flaw that makes it easy for miscreants to hack a Skype account may make it low on the list of apps to download right now.
Another option is Vippie, an Internet calling service from VoipSwitch that lets a user send texts, make voice and video calls, and transfer files and photos through its free app. It works over a phone network or Wi-Fi, and is available for Apple, Android, Windows and RIM BlackBerry phones. (Some features, like video, are not available on BlackBerrys.) There is no charge for the service when used between Vippie members anywhere in the world. The phone-calling part is simple to use, but many of the other features are somewhat buried.