Price (RRP): $84.95
Vtech’s Challenger laptop offers a wide range of educational (and semi-educational) activities for young children. It’s not the greatest piece of technology ever, but fair money for the asking price – especially as it might free your own laptop up from being taken over by the kids.
The Challenger laptop boasts that it has 40 curriculum-based activities, split up into six groups. Language Lab goes through French teaching activities (other vTech laptops cover off other languages); Word Zone covers off words, letters and even some basic typing-style challenges; Maths Mania encompasses simple numeracy lessons. On the less-educational side, Game Time offers five simple LCD games for kids to play, and Creative Studio lets you create stamps, music and other simple crafty tasks. Finally, the My Tools section allows you to input personal details – probably not a good idea if the child is going to use the laptop outside the family home – and for parents to leave a message.
One of the more, ahem, unique aspects of the Challenger laptop is that it comes with a mouse and mousepad for controlling onscreen activities. It plugs into a network-style port on the rear of the laptop, and uses a positively archaic ball and socket mouse. Sure, Vtech, it’s a real mouse. A really, really old mouse.
Clearly, an adult tech reviewer wasn’t going to cut it for testing such a high-tech bit of equipment such as this, so we corralled in some children and set them to evaluating the Challenger’s many activities. Our test kids ranged in age around those ages suggested by Vtech, starting at age four.
At age four, pretty much anything with bright lights and noises – and the Challenger laptop has plenty of those – is likely to entertain, but at the same time some of our younger players had some difficulty understanding some of the tasks and challenges that the kit offers. This isn’t helped by the fact that a task sheet explains the games on offer, but there’s not much explanation from the laptop itself.
Our older player (age six) had fewer comprehension problems, but found some of the games rather simple. This isn’t a bad thing per se; it simply suggests that the Challenger’s shelf life for some of its more simple number and word tasks might not be that long.
Ball mice were never known for their accuracy, and we noticed that the use of this type of mouse was a bit tricky for the kids, especially against the low contrast Challenger LCD display.
There’s a fair amount of scope for parents to engage in learning activities with the Challenger laptop, although it is worth noting that the small screen has a pretty severe line of sight issue, and you’ll largely need to stand behind your child in order to supervise.
Our test subjects enjoyed the activities on offer, and while we’d strongly suggest that the Challenger not be your only educational endeavour with your children, it’s certainly a decent enough starting point – and definitely a lot easier to lose than a fully functional laptop.