TIME Gadgets

The 6 Best Back-to-School Bags

Heavy textbooks may be on the way out, given the increased use of tablets, e-readers and other tech for students, but the weight of those laptops, tablets, chargers and other items adds up quickly. Choosing the right bag to carry your gear is key.

Whether you’re hiking across a big college campus or roaming the halls of your high school, you need a bag that’s functional as well as fashionable — after all, you’ll be lugging it around most of the day. We found half a dozen bags designed to carry the load and protect your electronic gear. Find the one that best suits your style.

1. STM Aero Small Laptop Backpack

STM

If you’re looking for a lightweight backpack, the Aero Small Laptop bag fits the bill. Padded shoulder straps give it a comfortable, secure fit, and the water-resistant micro ripstop polyester means no worries if you get caught out in the rain. This isn’t a very bulky backpack, yet it safely holds up to a 13-inch laptop as well as chargers, books, headphones and everything else you need to carry.

It has two side pockets: one for your water bottle and the other for an umbrella on rainy days. I particularly like the organizers and key ring on the inside so you don’t have to dig through all the pockets — and there are many — looking for where you stashed your keys.

Price: $79.99 at Amazon

2. Ogio Lisbon Tote

Ogio

If you prefer a tote-style bag, the Ogio Lisbon transports your gear safely while still looking stylish. Its interior padded compartment can accommodate up to a 13-inch laptop with space for textbooks and notebooks, as well as organizer flaps for small, easy-to-lose items such as pens, chargers or even lipstick.

A zippered, padded pocket on the exterior securely holds a tablet or small devices, and two outside pockets provide room for items like keys and snacks. The bag is made of lightweight nylon and comes in a variety of colors. I particularly like the mesh water bottle pocket located on the outside of the bag — easy access for hydrating on the go.

Price: $99.99 at ogio.com, $94.50 at Amazon

3. WaterField Designs Muzetto Leather Bag

 Black Muzetto
WaterField Designs

When you’re in the market for something a little more upscale, look for the WaterField Muzetto Leather Bag. Made of soft, supple leather, it feels and looks sophisticated enough to wear out to a party after class is over. The bag is styled more like a messenger bag and holds either a tablet or laptop in vertical mode.

The adjustable shoulder strap feels comfortable and doesn’t fall off the shoulder when you’re walking. I appreciated the open sleeve on the part of the bag that faces your body, perfect for tucking away gym clothes or a light sweater. An inside zipper compartment reveals pockets for your phone or other small items that you might prefer to keep separate from your laptop.

What I like about WaterField Designs’ bags is you can custom order the size you want in any particular color combination. So if you only need room for an iPad or 10-inch tablet, choose the smaller (and less expensive) portable size. The 13-inch version seems to be the sweet spot if you have a MacBook or similar laptop and still want some room for pads, books, chargers and even a snack or two.

Another thing I really like about this company is the fact that the bags are made in the USA.

Price: Starting at $209 at sfbags.com

4. Tylt Energi+ Backpack

Tylt

If you can’t seem to make it through the school day without charging up your devices, the Tylt Energi+ Backpack will suit your high-powered needs. It’s a backpack with a battery built right in, turning you into a mobile charging station for all your devices. You get two USB ports for charging phones, one higher amp USB port for charging tablets and a 10,400mAh battery to recharge them all. Keep your device tucked into an external pocket, if you like, and simply route the cables to the battery inside. The battery itself will fully charge in seven to eight hours.

The inside of this backpack is roomy with a soft, lined laptop compartment than can hold up to a 15-inch laptop. A tablet pocket provides access to your device without making you open the entire backpack. This bag is loaded with pockets for snacks, water bottles and even a change of clothes if you’re headed to the gym.

Price: $199.99 on tylt.com, $129.99 at Amazon

5. Hex Outpost Cloak Backpack

Hex

If you call Seattle or a similarly rainy climate home, the Hex Outpost Cloak Backpack will keep your electronics safe and dry. Sure, it holds a 15-inch laptop and has tons of pockets for other gear, but I love the water-resistant exterior and the interior drawstring liner underneath the top flap that keeps rain from trickling in.

Hex products don’t come in bright, fun colors. Instead they focus on form and function with details like leather zip pulls and surplus-grade web straps in a handsome slate grey canvas. Another nice touch: Magnetic snaps provide easy access without your having to open and close the buckles on the straps.

Price: $99.95 at shophex.com and Amazon

6. ChicTech Leather Wristlet with Phone Charger

ChicTech

After a full day of classes, it’s time to head off to your job or internship or a night out with friends. You don’t need your backpack with all your school supplies, but you would like something to carry your phone, some money and credit cards, your keys and maybe some lip gloss.

The ChicTech Leather Wristlet holds all those items. Even better, you don’t need to worry about draining your phone battery while you’re out. The wristlet offers a built-in 4000mAh charger—enough juice to fully charge even the largest phones—with micro-USB, 30-pin and Lightning tips; simply charge your phone as you carry it with you.

The wristlet comes in purple, pink, black, ivory and red.

Price: $79.98 at qvc.com

This article was written by Andrea Smith and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Gadgets

How to Build a Better Game Boy with Raspberry Pi

Note that if you're so inclined, you'll need to be handy with a soldering iron, hot glue gun, dremel and a bunch of other things.

+ READ ARTICLE

You know how we like to remember things, as Bill Pullman’s character says in David Lynch’s Lost Highway, in our own way? When I think about Nintendo’s original Game Boy, released over two decades ago, it’s of a tiny handheld with sharp graphics and a screen like a pocket-sized poster.

Except looking at pictures of it now, the Game Boy resembles more the brick it probably was, and that eensy-teensy screen is a postage stamp dipped in pea soup. How did we ever game on that thing?

What if you could build a better Game Boy, or at least one with a better, bigger screen and a vastly more flexible backend?

Right, Nintendo already checked the bigger, better screen box with its Light and Color and Advance models. But I’m talking about a Game Boy that still looks like the original XL-sized model, with the same cerise-colored face buttons and off-white ABS plastic housing, only under the hood it’s a Raspberry Pi.

In the spirit of mods that require soldering irons and hot glue guns and bucket-loads of patience, meet the “Super Mega Ultra Pi Boy 64,” a Game Boy shell with a Raspberry Pi soul.

Raspberry Pi, in case you don’t know, is a computer on a single circuit board. It’s tiny (about the size of a credit card), relatively powerful (on par with an older Android phone or iPhone) and extremely cheap (in the $20 to $30 range). It runs a medley of operating systems, including Linux, RISC OS and Windows CE, and was designed for educational as well as enthusiast purposes, the idea being that kids (or anyone, really) could tinker with it to make who knows what.

Fair warning: the process whereby modder Microbyter put together his “Super Pi Boy” looks arduous, but what the heck — it’s a great read. This fellow picked up a damaged Game Boy for $5, dremeled out the battery compartment, converted a 3.5-inch LCD from 12v to 5v (to make it work with the battery), soldered in the original Game Boy controller PCB, rejiggered the audio to work with an amplifier, loaded an emulator called Retropie, then dropped in the Pi board itself and wired everything together.

And it works, which is some kind of miracle, and has me wishing I had one so I could play through this twitchy grayscale gem all over again.

TIME Big Picture

Tablet Growth Hasn’t Peaked

tablet growth
Getty Images

In its recent quarterly results, Apple surprised people when it reported a dip in iPad sales. This was followed by a lot of hand-wringing by some industry observers and analysts, who suggested that overall tablet growth has slowed or even plateaued.

I don’t dispute that tablet growth has slowed, but I’m not at all as concerned as other analysts about the industry going forward. In fact, I think tablet sales will accelerate again soon.

We are at an inflection point with tablets. In many developed markets, PC penetration is high and smartphone penetration is high. The role of the tablet in between these two screens is not yet clear in the minds of many consumers. For example, today in most U.S. homes, the tablet is a communal device that members of a family access and share.

According to recent data we (Creative Strategies) gathered, over 50% of tablet owners indicate that they share the device with at least one other person. This dynamic has added to the tablet sales slowdown, along with a refresh cycle that’s closer to that of a PC than that of a smartphone. People don’t buy new tablets as often as they buy new phones.

Another interesting observation is that the bulk of tablet purchases in 2013 were in the seven- to eight-inch screen size. When you look at the growing size of smartphone screens, ranging all the way from four to six-and-a-half inches, then it begs the question as to why a small-screen tablet is better than a big-screen phone. My gut tells me that the growing screen sizes of smartphones have also played a role in slowing tablet sales.

But I don’t believe this will be the case for long. In reality, it’s hard to look at a one- or two-quarter slowdown and claim it as the new norm or a long-term trend. There are many dynamics at play with regard to tablets that look to set them up for more prime growth.

Bigger Is Better

One is the trend of larger-screen phones I mentioned above. We believe that larger tablets, meaning those closer to 10 inches or larger, are primed to be a growth area. Since a great deal of smaller-screen tablets represent a large portion of the install base, it seems reasonable that larger screen tablets become more attractive, especially if someone already has a large-screen phone.

Look for this trend to play out on the business and enterprise side as well. From salespeople making both impromptu and formal one-on-one presentations, to managers working with documents and spreadsheets, bigger screens offer more value.

If this happens, we believe more consumers will see the value of the tablet as a legitimate PC replacement. Tablets have been largely supplemental to PCs up to this point, part of the reason being because smaller tablets are not viable PC replacements. However, data point after data point suggests to us that once consumers get their hands on larger tablets, they begin seeing their value as a primary computing devices.

Great Deals

The other dynamic that could bring tablet growth back is connectivity. To date, most tablets purchased are W-Fi-only models. However, we believe this may all be about to change. Carriers are looking to make tablets a growth area for themselves, and we hear that there’s interest to either heavily subsidize tablets or even move to an installment plan model.

What this means is that for very little to no upfront cost, consumers will be able to get a connected tablet from their carrier and just pay a small fee per month for the hardware and the data plan. Carriers looking to do aggressive bundles with hardware tied to their services is a major trend we see coming.

For IT managers, this could mean even more consumers wanting to bring their tablets to work. More importantly, these tablets that would be connected at all times, not just while on Wi-Fi.

If we are right and there is a trend moving toward larger, connected tablets, then a new opportunity for hardware and software companies may be shaping up, along with new use cases for enterprise users.

Tablet sales may be leveling off in the short term, but to say their growth has peaked is way off target.

Bajarin is a principal at Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to the Big Picture opinion column that appears here every week.

TIME Companies

The Next iPhone Will Reportedly Have a Way Bigger Screen

Apple is reportedly increasing the size of the iPhone display from 4 inches to options of 4.7 or 5.5 inches

Apple has ordered larger-sized screens for its next generation of iPhones this year, the Wall Street Journal reports, betting that consumer demand for bigger phone displays will help wrest market share from competitors like Samsung.

The company has asked suppliers to manufacture between 70 and 80 million units of large-screen iPhones with 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch displays. The most recent versions of the iPhone, the 5s and 5C, have only 4-inch diagonal displays.

Samsung, which has a 29% share of the smartphone market compared with Apple’s 18%, produces the top-selling Galaxy S with a 4.8-inch display. Apple’s move into larger screens may be a competitive strike against Samsung just as the company prepares to release its third-quarter results Tuesday and provide a financial outlook for the period ending in September.

Apple’s 70- to 80-million unit initial order for what is being called the iPhone 6 is significantly larger than the 50- to 60 million-unit initial order of the iPhone 5S and C.

[WSJ]

TIME Wearables

Android Wear Face-Off: LG G Watch vs. Samsung Gear Live

LG's G Watch (left) and Samsung's Gear Live (right) Jared Newman for TIME

How to pick a smartwatch if you're one of Android Wear's earliest adopters.

Let’s say you plan to ignore the advice of most reviews and buy an Android Wear smartwatch right now. Even though more stylish designs are on the way, you’ve got money to spend and want to see what the fuss is about.

How do you choose between Samsung’s Gear Live and LG’s G Watch? After using each one over the last couple of weeks, I think it’s pretty easy to decide. But first, let’s go through the pros and cons of each watch:

Style

You won’t win a lot of style points for either watch, as they are both thick, square slabs that take up a lot of space across the wrist. In fact, if you hold them next to each other, the watch bodies, bezels and screens are almost exactly the same size.

Where Samsung’s Gear Live stands out, though, is the use of metal around the body and on the clasp under your wrist. The watch band also appears thinner due to its tapered edges, and the snap-in mechanism is less bulky than the G Watch’s more traditional buckle. The Gear Live is a bit gaudier, but it also makes a statement. That’s more my style, given that neither watch is understated to begin with.

Advantage: Samsung Gear Live

Features

The Gear Live and G Watch have almost exactly the same features, as they are required to run the same Android Wear software. Samsung does include a heart rate monitor, but I had trouble getting consistent readings and question whether this is a useful feature anyway. (If you can check your own pulse, you can just as easily measure it with the basic stopwatch function on either watch.)

The G Watch’s best feature, oddly enough, is its selection of watch faces. It has a lot of sharp-looking ones that Samsung doesn’t, and while this will become less of an issue as more third-party watch faces hit the Google Play Store, it’s nice to have some quality faces out of the box.

Advantage: LG G Watch, slightly

Jared Newman for TIME

Comfort

As I mentioned above, the Samsung Gear Live’s watch band has a couple of pins on the end, which you snap into any two holes further up the band. The G Watch has a standard buckle that keeps the watch securely fastened, along with a loop of plastic for holding down the excess strap material.

I found the Gear Live’s band to be more comfortable overall, with ridges on the inside that let your wrist breathe a bit, and it’s nice not to have any excess material to deal with. By comparison, the G Watch’s flat, rubberized band seemed to make my wrist feel sticky and sweaty before long. Both watches do have removable straps, at least.

Advantage: Samsung Gear Live

Battery and Charging

This one isn’t even close. Not only does LG’s G Watch have a larger battery, it also has a better charging cradle that you can just drop the watch onto at night. It’s much more convenient than the Samsung Gear Live’s charging pod, which needs to be snapped onto the underside of the watch in a particular way.

You’ll likely want to charge either watch every night, which actually isn’t a big deal once you get in the habit. (In a way, it’s better than having to charge every few days, because the nightly charge becomes routine.) But the need for a nightly top-up makes a convenient charging mechanism all the more important.

Advantage: LG G Watch

Jared Newman for TIME

Display Quality

In theory, the 320-by-320 resolution AMOLED panel on Samsung’s Gear Live should be the winner over LG’s 280-by-280 LCD screen, as it provides sharper images and better viewing angles.

But the G Watch does have one advantage in its outdoor readability. While neither watch performs well in direct sunlight, LG’s watch does a slightly better job of fending off the sun’s glare at full brightness. It’s not a big enough difference to beat the Gear Live’s display overall, but it does make the displays closer in quality than they look on paper.

Advantage: Samsung Gear Live, slightly

Verdict

Style and comfort are extremely important to me considering this is something I have to wear every day, and the Gear Live’s advantages in those areas outweigh its pesky charger and inferior watch faces. (If I was buying one myself, the Gear Live’s $199 price tag compared to $229 for the LG G Watch wouldn’t hurt.)

LG’s G Watch is still worth considering for some users, especially those who plan to swap in their own straps. But I’m not going that route, so the Samsung Gear Live will be my go-to smartwatch as I continue to get a feel for Android Wear.

TIME Gadgets

10 Free Android Apps Everyone Should Download

Great everyday apps that span multiple genres

Every time I get a new Android smartphone or tablet, I install certain apps right away, before I even really start to play with the device — apps I use every week, if not every day, on the Android gadgets I test as well as the ones I own. For your benefit, I’ve narrowed down the list to 10 free Android apps I can’t live without.

SwiftKey Keyboard

SwiftKey

Because most stock keyboards aren’t that great, SwiftKey is often the first app I download on a new phone or tablet. SwiftKey’s prediction engine, which offers suggestions for words as you type as well as the next word you need, is based on the words you use most. It learns from your everyday input as well as from your email, social media accounts, your blog’s RSS feeds and other sources (if you connect them). If you have more than one Android device or decide to upgrade, you don’t have to start over with the learning. SwiftKey can store this data in the cloud and sync it across multiple devices.

SwiftKey saves typing time in multiple ways: Swype-like trace-to-type, shortcuts, long-press for alt characters and a dedicated number row on top if you want it. This is one of the most customizable keyboards I’ve used, with multiple color themes, the ability to change the size of keys and even the ability to split or push the keyboard to one edge or the other — great for phablet use.

Price: Free on the Google Play Store.

AccuWeather

Of the seemingly million weather apps for Android (including the one that probably came with your phone, complete with animated widget), AccuWeather offers you one solid reason to ditch them and download it instead: MinuteCast.

MinuteCast tells you the weather at this moment exactly where you’re standing or in whatever zip code you enter — not the forecast for the whole city, the forecast for right where you are right now. MinuteCast is especially useful during storms. Want to know when it will start raining, when it will stop or when it will let up enough for you to dash home? This app will tell you.

Price: Free on the Google Play Store.

TrustGo

Android boasts some decent built-in security measures for keeping your data safe and finding a lost phone, but they don’t address the other major mobile security threat: malware. TrustGo adds that protection plus advanced security features such as capturing images of a person trying to crack your security code, sounding an alarm to help you find a misplaced device and wiping the device remotely. Of all the free security apps available, TrustGo provides the most features for free.

Price: Free on the Google Play Store.

Firefox Mobile

Mozilla

Firefox is our top web browser pick for your personal computer as well as your mobile devices. Google Chrome is great and comes preloaded on Android devices, but thanks to its large library of add-ons, Firefox is worth an extra step to download and install. Chrome doesn’t support extensions on Android, but Firefox users can add Adblock, a cookie cleaner, Flash video downloaders and hundreds more tools.

Beyond that, Firefox Mobile is fast, clean and attractive, with an interface that syncs bookmarks, passwords and other data between all your browsers for seamless desktop-to-mobile use.

Price: Free on the Google Play Store.

Yelp

Google Maps is turning into a decent restaurant and business suggestion app, but Yelp still has Google beat in terms of sheer data. Yelp’s millions of user reviews are only one reason I use this app almost every day. New businesses show up on Yelp faster, and drilling down searches to a specific area brings up more results with a ton of reviews. Plus, I love Yelp Monocle, an augmented reality feature that shows ratings and business names on top of a real-time view from your camera.

Price: Free on the Google Play Store.

TuneIn Radio

As soon as I got a smartphone, I ditched my alarm clock. The feature I missed most after making the switch was waking up to my favorite radio station. That’s one of the reasons I like TuneIn Radio.

TuneIn Radio can access any station with an online stream, and you can choose to wake up to that station via the app’s alarm. While you listen, TuneIn brings up information about the song and artist or the program, which you can save. You can also use TuneIn to search beyond traditional radio for podcasts.

Price: Free on the Google Play Store.

Evernote

Evernote

Most note-taking apps work fine for jotting down quick ideas and shopping lists, but Evernote offers so much more. Even if you think you need something simple, you’d be surprised how a more comprehensive app can change your daily habits. I’m a fan of receiving reminders about my notes, so I know to follow up. When I can’t write or type fast enough, audio notes save the day.

The best feature is the page camera. Take a snapshot of printed or handwritten pages, and Evernote scans them for words that it then indexes to show up in searches.

Price: Free on the Google Play Store.

Pocket

Flipping through news using Flipboard, Blinkfeed, an RSS reader or Pulse is fine when most of the articles and posts are short enough to read in a minute or less. But for long reads, you want an app that strips away distractions (like ads) to offer an ebook-like reading experience that lets you immerse yourself in the words.

That’s why I love Pocket. Saving articles from your browser is easy, and Pocket automatically syncs all your stored articles for offline reading. Read them when you’re ready, even if you’re on a plane or a subway car. The reading experience is great, giving you control over the text’s font, size and background.

Price: Free on the Google Play Store.

Kingsoft Office

Downloading a document from email for reading or editing can be a pain if the office suite you’re using messes with the formatting, isn’t designed as well for small screens as it is for large ones or can’t save in the most popular file formats. Most preloaded office suites are a pain, so I always replace them with Kingsoft.

On top of Kingsoft’s qualities as a good document editor, it connects to cloud services like Dropbox and Google Drive to allow you to edit and sync without opening another app. It can save to Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint formats as well as in PDF format.

Price: Free on the Google Play Store.

DuoLingo

Learning a new language doesn’t come easily for everyone, especially adult beginners. But there comes a time when knowing basic phrases and greetings is useful: when you’re traveling abroad, moving into a mixed-culture neighborhood, trying to meet that cute guy or girl who only speaks Italian …

DuoLingo can help prepare you for basic conversation in just a few months via fun exercises you do occasionally. You don’t have to deal with the commitment of a class or spend hundreds of dollars right from the start.

Price: Free on the Google Play Store.

This article was written by K.T. Bradford and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Video Games

LeapFrog’s Latest Idea Is LeapTV, a Wii-Like Video Game System for Kids

LeapTV is LeapFrog's bid to hop into the set-top video game market, but with a system aimed squarely -- and solely -- at children aged 3 to 8.

+ READ ARTICLE

LeapFrog, the company you may know for its popular line of computerized children’s toys like My Pal Scout or the Leapster handheld game system, says it’s getting into the video game space in a big way later this year with a new set-top box it’s calling LeapTV.

In short, LeapFrog’s pitching LeapTV as a video game console designed specifically for post-toddlers and pre-tweens.

No, not another musclebound device engineered to spar with the likes of Sony’s PlayStation 4 or Microsoft’s Xbox One, but something nearer Nintendo’s Wii, power-wise, with a similar focus on motion controls.

When I spoke with LeapFrog about LeapTV last week during an online-guided presentation, the spokesperson described LeapTV as an education-oriented games system, where the games adapt to your child’s play abilities. It’s designed to offer reasonably advanced graphics for the age group it’s targeting — 3- to 8-year-olds — while punching financially somewhere between a light and middleweight entertainment box: LeapTV systems will run $150 when they go on sale this holiday.

The idea behind LeapTV sounds simple enough and maybe even a little head-scratchingly obvious: If you’re the parent of young children, aged somewhere between post-toddlerhood and pre-tween, and they’re clamoring to play video games, what do you give them?

LeapFrog

Chances are you hand them a tablet or smartphone today. Maybe you curate the content on your own “grownup” game systems (PC, console). Or perhaps you simply hand them a Nintendo 3DS — arguably the de facto child-angled handheld gaming portal at the moment.

But LeapFrog sees a deficit between today’s all-encompassing game systems (including the 3DS) and the sort of kid-friendly, kids-only gaming frontier it views as yet-to-be conquered. Ergo LeapTV, a device it boldly calls “the best first video game experience for children.”

Why introduce a set-top console for kids in 2014? It sounds counterintuitive, given expectations about mobile device growth (tablets are expected to outsell PCs by next year). Besides, LeapFrog already sells a handheld gaming system (Leapster) as well as a tablet (the LeapPad Explorer). Why not double down on those devices?

LeapFrog’s answer is Nintendo-like: because tablets and phones can’t provide the kind of large scale, full-body, fully active experiences living room game systems cater to. Furthermore, the company wants to control the vertical as well as the horizontal: Nintendo builds its own game hardware and software in part because it views gaming as a holistic endeavor. If you want to craft novel experiences soup to nuts, you need to be both the delivery mechanism and the thing it’s delivering.

Take LeapTV’s unusual Bluetooth controller. You wouldn’t mistake it for a Wii Remote or a traditional gamepad, though it harbors DNA from both, supplemented by its own innovative wrinkle: The handlebars are movable, allowing you to transform it from a boomerang-like gamepad you hold with both hands, into a sword-like pointer you swing with one. The intent, says LeapFrog, is to give kids a range of ways to interact with the system’s games while keeping the interface as simple and compact as possible (no dangling Wii Nunchuk cables, in other words). There’s even a Kinect-like angle: LeapTV employs a motion-sensing camera that supports full body tracking with multiple players, too.

When I asked Leap if LeapTV ran Android — the presumptive partner for so many set-top startups these days — the spokesperson told me the operating system is proprietary to LeapFrog. Whether that means proprietary from the ground up or a custom roll of something already extant wasn’t clear, but what is clear is that Leap wants LeapTV to be perceived as a LeapFrog-concocted product, not another adjunct of someone else’s ecosystem.

The device itself is physically unimposing: a squat, frisbee-like gray and neon-green cylinder — it almost looks like a pint-sized UFO — that sits vertically in a small stand and weighs just over a pound. Under the hood, it’s packing a 1GHz processor (manufacturer unidentified), 1 GB of DDR3 memory, 16GB of flash storage, 1 USB port for the 640-by-480 color camera, Ethernet and HDMI ports (it’ll output up to 720p), and 802.11n Wi-Fi. The $150 asking price includes the camera (with an adjustable TV mount), a 6-foot HDMI cable, the controller (it requires AA batteries, and LeapFrog claims 25 hours per cycle) and one downloadable game — something called Pet Play World — that you get after registering the device.

My question, as the parent of a toddler — and doubtless one early childhood researchers are going to have — is how do we know the content on a device like LeapTV meets educational standards? When LeapTV ships, LeapFrog says it’ll offer access to a library of more than 100 game cartridges, game downloads and videos. Questions of quality aside, how are parents supposed to know any of that content’s genuinely educational?

When I asked LeapFrog about this, the spokesperson told me the company has a team of early childhood experts involved from the get-go with every piece of content created for LeapTV. It’s calling all of those apps “educator-approved” and describes LeapTV’s library as a “best‐in‐class educational curriculum.”

LeapFrog

That, of course, could mean any number of things. There’s no ESRB-like ratings system for video games in LeapFrog’s 3-to-8 childhood range (the ESRB lumps everything 10-and-under into a generic “Early Childhood” category). You’re essentially taking LeapFrog’s word, and it’s a word even LeapFrog can only give with so much certainty. Longitudinal research into early childhood interaction with video games, much less ones devised for educational purposes, is still in its infancy. As this 2012 Pearson study on gaming in education puts it, “Although there is much theoretical support for the benefits of digital games in learning and education, there is mixed empirical support.” A device like LeapTV, whatever its merits, is setting sail in largely uncharted waters.

On paper, LeapTV sounds alluring: a device that draws upon thousands of skills in subjects like reading, math and science, and where its apps unfold based on your child’s age, then scale their challenges dynamically based on your child’s abilities. And in theory, it could fill a significant, highly specific games-related gap no one’s really tried to yet. The question is how apt LeapFrog’s approach ends up being, and for the answer to that, only time and further research will do.

TIME Gadgets

Too Many Android Wear Apps Are Missing the Point

Jared Newman for TIME

Watered-down smartphone apps are spreading like weeds on Google's new wearable platform.

If you want an example of everything wrong with smartwatch apps right now, just look at all the Android Wear calculators.

I currently count four calculator apps for Google’s wearable platform, and they’re all useless. You need pinpoint touch precision to enter each number, and none of the apps include a backspace key for when you inevitably mistype something. Using a calculator app on your phone would be faster and less frustrating.

These unnecessary calculator apps underscore the biggest challenge for Android Wear–and for that matter, all smartwatches–right now: Most people are happy to just take out their smartphones, so there’s little need for a watch that tries to do all the same things on a smaller screen.

For smartwatches to make sense, they need to go beyond what a phone can do on its own. That idea seems lost on developers who are creating weak imitations of existing smartphone apps, including games, drawing apps, flashlights and calendars.

Google has tried to discourage these kinds of apps, both in its documentation (“inputs requiring fine-grained motor skills are avoided”) and through Wear’s interface, which deliberately makes smartphone-like apps difficult to launch. But developers are undeterred. In fact, someone has even come out with a third-party app launcher for Wear that seems likely to encourage more bad behavior.

Even some of the highlighted Android Wear apps in the Google Play Store miss the point: Why would anyone want to browse Tinder on a smartwatch, when the smartphone version offers a better experience? How often are you really going to ask the Eat24 app for delivery when you can only get exactly what you’ve ordered in the past?

To make the case for smartwatches, developers need to think more critically about the apps they’re building. To that end, I think it might help to consider a few basic questions:

  • Does the app provide a useful service in specific situations where taking out a phone is impractical?
  • Does the watch show users something important that they’d miss if they didn’t take out their phones in time?
  • Does the watch app save significant time without sacrificing significant functionality?

Android Wear does have a handful of apps that answer “yes” to one or more of these questions, and app makers should take inspiration from these good examples.

Last weekend, for instance, I played a round of golf with help from the Golfshot app. After using the smartphone app to select the course I was playing on, the watch provided a constant read-out of my distance from the hole. If I was any good at golf, this would have been tremendously helpful for deciding which club to use, as my phone was safely stowed away in my golf bag for the rest of the outing. (See question number one.) It’d be even better if the app let you enter a score at the end of each hole, but this is a fine start.

Delta’s Android app is another example of a wearable app done right. If you check into a flight on your phone, the watch automatically provides up to date gate information right on your wrist (question two) and presents your boarding pass to use at the gate (question three).

Similarly, Allthecooks’ Android Wear functions can save time by showing recipe instructions on your wrist. Having those instructions follow you around the kitchen makes a lot more sense than having to constantly look back to your phone or tablet for reference.

One of the big criticisms of smartwatches so far is that they only make life more complicated. They represent another device to carry, another screen to keep charged every night, another set of apps to deal with.

The thing that interests me about Android Wear is its potential to simplify, presenting information in a way that helps us think about our phones less often. That’s not going to happen if developers keep taking the easy path, turning Android Wear into another screen full of apps.

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