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.

More from Techlicious:

TIME viral

Watch a Little Girl and Her Dad Dance to Ariana Grande’s “Problem”

This will make your day

+ READ ARTICLE

Most little girls ask their dad for a pony, or like, an iPad or another iSomething. But this little girl asked her father for a different gift: the gift of joining her in a choreographed dance to Ariana Grande’s hit song “Problem.”

As you can see, he was game — and the results are pretty adorable.

TIME White House

Michelle Obama’s Pro-Water (Soda Silent) Campaign Makes Waves

Michelle Obama
First lady Michelle Obama, a longtime supporter of healthier eating and physical fitness, is surrounded by children as she expands her push for America to drink more water, at a "Drink Up" event at the White House. J. Scott Applewhite—AP

“I’m confident that in the coming months and years we will see people across the country drinking more and more water."

First Lady Michelle Obama devoted Tuesday afternoon to telling Americans to drink less sugary soda, without actually saying anything bad about sugary soda.

It’s been nearly a year since the First Lady launched the “Drink Up” campaign, a subset of the signature effort to promote healthy choices for kids that focuses on water. But instead of attacking the sugary, carbonated drinks and juices that contribute to the widening waistlines of our nation’s kids, “Drink Up” attempted to flood the market with positive, pro-water messaging.

At an event in the White House State Dining Room, the first lady said those who have been involved in promoting “Drink Up”—from the American Beverage Association to the Obama’s Portuguese water dog Sunny —have succeeded in making water “cool.” “I’m confident that in the coming months and years we will see people across the country drinking more and more water,” Obama said.

Their efforts have been proof that when you market and promote healthy choices as fervently as junk food, “then kids actually get excited about these products, and families actually buy them and consume them,” Mrs. Obama added. Seven organizations, including Brita, Nalgene, Haws Corporation, and S’well bottle, recently joined the campaign to promote the consumption and accessibility of water. And so far, according to a study conducted by Nielsen Catalina Solutions on the impact of the “Drink Up” campaign, online ads have helped fuel a 3% lift in sales of bottled water, worth about $1 million.

It’s good news for a campaign that came out the gate to criticism from nearly all sides. Some argued Mrs. Obama’s messaging about the benefits of water, which she called a natural “energy drink,” was inflated. Others said she should be promoting drinking tap water over bottled for the sake of the environment. While many were critical of the fact that instead of vilifying soda companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi she partnered with them, which seemed contradictory given the direct link from sugary drinks to obesity.

“It’s less a public health campaign than a campaign to encourage drinking more water. To that end, we’re being completely positive,” Lawrence Soler, president and CEO of Partnership for a Healthier America, said at the time of the campaign’s launch. “Only encouraging people to drink water; not being negative about other drinks. “

A year later, however, tensions have cooled. “It’s terrific that the First Lady is working to make water more available, more cool,” said Margot Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Increasing the appeal is one part of what needs to be done to reduce the consumption of other beverages.”

And meanwhile, First Lady Obama has gotten tougher on her efforts to promote healthier lifestyles. Though Tuesday was about fun and positivity—a group of local YMCA kids on the South Lawn even “surprised” the First Lady with a 60-by-40 foot water drop made out of 2,000 “Drink Up” branded reusable bottles—the anti-junk undertones didn’t go unnoticed. She even took time to mention the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s healthy school lunch standards she championed in 2010 and has been fighting since May to protect.

On Tuesday, the general message was, “don’t give up on our kids.”

“We need to keep working together within industries and across industries to help our kids lead healthier lives,” the First Lady said. ” And if we do all that, then I am confident — I continue to be confident that we can give our kids the bright, healthy futures they deserve.”

This story was updated to clarify that the survey on Drink Up was performed by Nielsen Catalina Solutions, a joint venture between The Nielsen Company and Catalina Marketing Corporation.

MONEY Sports

Could 25-Year-Old Rory McIlroy Be Golf’s Long-Awaited Savior?

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland holds up the Claret Jug trophy
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland holds up the Claret Jug trophy after winning the British Open Golf championship at the Royal Liverpool golf club, Hoylake, England, Sunday July 20, 2014. Scott Heppell—AP

He was the consensus choice as golf's "next big thing" even before winning the British Open over the weekend.

As a sport and a business, golf is stuck in a proverbial sand trap, probably the deepest and most difficult one ever encountered by the industry. Player numbers are on the decline, especially among young people, and golf course closings in the U.S. are trumping golf course openings by a stunning ratio of nearly 10 to 1.

There is some hope, however, that golf will experience a renaissance, even among kids who are now too accustomed to instant gratification and too distracted by smartphones and social media to bother venturing outside to play baseball or go for a hike, let alone try their hands at the time-consuming, frustrating “old person’s sport” of golf. And one of the big reasons for this optimism is that today’s most exciting players also happen to be kids, and none more exciting than Rory McIlroy, the 25-year-old winner of the 2014 British Open.

OK, so a 25-year-old isn’t exactly a child. But he’s a kid compared with the prototypical gray-haired, 50-something golfer out on the links. And his success couldn’t come at a better time. McIlroy is part of a much-needed youth movement in golf, notes Jim Frank, a contributing editor to Links Magazine who has covered the sport for three decades. Joined by emerging superstars Rickie Fowler, who is also 25 and is known for cool clothes and shaggy Bieber-like hair, and incredibly talented young female golfers like Lexi Thompson (19) and Lydia Ko (all of 17), McIlroy is seen as a fresh injection of energy, excitement, and—dare we say it?—perhaps even hipness into the sport.

“He supposedly took the first selfie of a British Open winner,” said Frank. Hey, that’s gotta count for something.

Perhaps the biggest contribution of McIlroy and the rest of the youth movement—besides their unwrinkled, photogenic faces and a generally cooler appearance compared with the usual grandpas on the links—is that they’re changing the perception of how to play golf and when one tends to peak in the sport. “In the past, the assumption was that you didn’t really hit your stride until your 30s, after you’ve worked out the kinks in your game,” said Frank. “Today’s young players are really powerful, they wrench their backs and really hit the ball hard. And they’ve been playing so long that by the time they’re in the late teens and early 20s, they can dominate.” (They can also get injured; just look at how Tiger Woods’s body has fared in recent years.)

Nonetheless, the excitement, power, and youth that McIlroy and his peers bring to the game has to be good for golf, right? Sure, to some extent. But Frank believes it will take more than one charismatic, curly-haired Irishman to turn the tide.

“Are 14-year-olds sitting in front of a TV on a Sunday morning at 10 o’clock watching Rory McIlroy?” Frank said. The answer, of course, is no. While some parts of the golf world are trying to make changes to become more appealing to younger players and families, Frank believes that some retrenchment is still needed, and that the sport will always remain a niche activity, and one that always skews older.

When people in the business talk about rejuvenating the sport, they sometimes ask, “What’s the snowboarding of golf?” said Frank. “Snowboarding brought young people back to the mountains, and it helped save skiing.” Unfortunately, because a sizeable faction of the golf world has no interest in changing the game or doing much of anything to appeal to younger people, “there may not be an equivalent of snowboarding. But that’s the way we have to think of it.”

The big irony, Frank said, is that right now, when golf seems to be struggling so mightily in its attempts to attract new players to the game, there has never been a better time to play. “The equipment has never been better, and there’s great value for what you can buy fairly cheaply,” said Frank. “You can get on almost any golf course in the world, or join almost any club if you want. There are no lines, and there aren’t people behind you telling you to play faster.”

TIME Books

The 5 Best Books for Your Kids This Summer (According to Other Kids)

Time for Kids asked its reporters to review new children's book releases. Here's what they had to say

Looking for an engaging summer read for your child? TIME For Kids Magazine asked its kid reporters to review the season’s hottest new books. The result is a list of kid-approved page-turners:

Credit: HMH Books for Young Readers

Eddie Red Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile

By Marcia Wells

Reviewed by TFK Kid Reporter Max Siegel

Genre: Mystery

Number of pages: 240

What’s the basic story line?

Edmund Xavier Lonnrot (Eddie Red) is an average sixth grader. That is, if the average sixth grader has a photographic memory and can draw anything he sees. His whole life, Eddie has used these gifts for fun. But one day, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) seeks his help with a case involving some major art thieves. Eddie finally puts his extraordinary talents to good use.

Are the characters believable?

Although Eddie has some amazing talents, those talents are believable. A person can have photographic memory and great art skills, just as Eddie does. What is unbelievable about this book is the plot. The NYPD hires Eddie to work on a case. Although the police don’t intend this, Eddie faces major danger. I’m not sure about the legality or possibility of the NYPD—or any police force, for that matter—hiring a kid to help with a case.

Who would like this book?

Any kid who likes a good mystery with constant twists and turns—and who feels okay never knowing who’s good and who’s bad—would love this book.

On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being best), how would you rate this book?

I would give this book an 8. It’s a clever mystery that will keep readers engaged. The huge plot twist at the end is surprising and really elevated the book for me. Plus, Eddie’s situation is compelling. He’s just a regular kid who has extraordinary talents.

Credit: Viking Juvenile

The Glass Sentence

By S.E. Grove

Reviewed by TFK Kid Reporter Kristen Rigsby

Genre: Fantasy

Number of pages: 512

What’s the basic story line?

In 1799, the Great Disruption threw the continents into different time periods. The once-mastered art of mapmaking became a great challenge, one suited for only the most experienced and trained explorers.

Nearly 100 years after the Great Disruption, Sophia Tims and Shadrack Elli, Sophia’s uncle and master cartographer, begin map reading and map writing in an attempt to find Sophia’s missing parents. But when Shadrack is kidnapped by fanatics looking for a memory map of the entire world called the carta mayor, Sophia must set out to find him too. With the help of her newfound friend, Theo Thackary, and a glass map that Shadrack left for her, Sophia ventures into the unknown. Along the way, she encounters a multitude of mysteries, creatures, and hazards.

Are the characters believable?

Some of the characters in The Glass Sentence are believable. Sophia Tims is an inquisitive and audacious 13-year-old who loves to explore, read maps, and draw. Theo Thackary is an adventurous and daring boy who often gets into trouble. Other characters in the book, however, are creatures of fantasy. The Lachrima, for example, is a ghostlike being that haunts people with its cries. Other main characters, such as Varessa and Martin, are part human and part plant.

Who would like this book?

Anybody who loves works of fantasy, especially the Chronicles of Narnia series, the Harry Potter series, or the Lord of the Rings, will enjoy exploring this unique and captivating world with Sophia and Theo.

On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being best), how would you rate this book?

I would rate The Glass Sentence a 9.5. The alternate world of the Great Disruption is incredibly inventive. Sophia and Theo come to life, venturing through unknown terrain and uncovering the secrets of mapmaking along the way. The plot seamlessly ties the world and the characters together, taking the reader on a fascinating and wild journey. From the moment you pick up this book, you will not be able to put it down.

Credit: HarperCollins

Saving Lucas Biggs

By Marisa de los Santos and David Teague

Reviewed by TFK Kid Reporter Gloria Choi

Genre: Science fiction

Number of pages: 288

What’s the basic story line?

Thirteen-year-old Margaret O’Malley’s life is turned upsidedown when her compassionate father is sentenced to death by the cruel Judge Biggs. Margaret’s father is innocent, and she sets out to prove it. As time ticks by, Margaret makes a devastating choice. She is forced to unravel her family’s deepest secret—a sacred super power. She uses her ability to time-travel to make a daring journey into the past, when Judge Biggs was just a boy. Can she change the course of history and prevent him from growing up to be a corrupt man? Or will she return to the present only to find her father is still destined for disaster? Luckily for Margaret, she has her friends Charlie and Grandpa Josh, who join her in the quest to save the person she loves the most.

Are the characters believable?

Characters like Margaret may not seem believable at first. After all, she has an incredible super power passed down from her ancestors. Super power aside, she is just another girl with a special gift. Everyone can relate to Margaret’s desire to help a loved one no matter how big the obstacles.

Who would like this book?

Anyone who favors a combination of science fiction (especially time travel), adventure, and fantasy will like this book. In particular, fans of the Hunger Games series, the Divergent series, the novel The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells, or even the film Back to the Future will enjoy reading Saving Lucas Biggs.

On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being best), how would you rate this book?

I would rate Saving Lucas Biggs a 9. The plot and characters are interesting, relatable, and captivating. The story exhibits a wide range of emotions, from sheer excitement to bleak desperation.

Credit: Candlewick

Three Bird Summer

By Sara St. Antoine

Reviewed by TFK Kid Reporter Camryn Garrett

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Number of pages: 256

What’s the basic story line?

For his entire life, 12-year-old Adam has spent summers at his Grandma’s cabin in Minnesota. But this year things are different. His parents have divorced. On top of that, Adam’s cousins won’t be vacationing at the cabin with him. Also, Grandma seems to be acting differently. At first, she’s just a bit more forgetful than usual. But after spending more time with her, Adam realizes Grandma is “slipping.”

There are new neighbors at the cabin this summer, including a girl Adam’s age named Alice. At first, Adam isn’t interested in spending time with her. But as time goes by, their friendship flourishes. Throughout this unusual summer, Adam searches for hidden treasure with his new friend and begins to uncover family secrets as well.

Are the characters believable?
The characters are believable because they don’t have cookie-cutter personalities. Adam is quiet and shy and finds girls difficult to understand. Alice is adventurous and unlike any girl he has ever met. Readers will likely see aspects of their personalities in the characters and recognize their friends too.

Who would like this book?

Anyone who appreciates memories of family vacations or summertime in general will enjoy the vivid imagery that fills Three Bird Summer. Readers will fall into the story, almost as if they’re actually spending the summer exploring Three Bird Lake with Adam and Alice.

On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being best), how would you rate this book?

I would rate this book an 8, because the imagery is astounding, allowing readers to feel like they are experiencing the story along with the characters. The plot didn’t begin to pick up until the middle of the novel, but the relatable characters create enough interest in the story to compel readers to keep turning the pages.

Credit: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Poached

By: Stuart Gibbs

Reviewed: by TFK Kid Reporter Graham Ross

Genre: Mystery

Number of pages: 336

What’s the basic story line?

Teddy Fitzroy lives at FunJungle, the world’s largest zoo. He has a reputation for being a troublemaker. FunJungle has recently acquired a big moneymaking attraction—a furry koala named Kazoo. Unfortunately, the adored koala goes missing, and all fingers point to Teddy! A security guard nicknamed Large Margeis sure Teddy is guilty, and she will stop at nothing to prove it. Teddy must find the real thief before it is too late. Will he find the real koala-napper, or will he be framed and sent off to juvenile hall?

Are the characters believable?

Some of the descriptions are exaggerated. For example, an eighth grader is described as having “biceps as thick as Burmese pythons.”Other than that, the characters do seem pretty believable. Teddy acts like an average kid who is trying to fit in at a school where he is an outcast. Large Marge acts like a typical person with a grudge. She sees Teddy as a nuisance and is fixated on catching him red-handed.

Who would like this book?

Anyone who enjoys thrilling stories with plot twists on every page would love this book.

On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being best), how would you rate this book?

Hands down, I would certainly give this book a 9. I appreciated how author Stuart Gibbs made even the tensest parts of the book humorous. I especially enjoyed the suspense created by the twists and turns on every page.

See the full list of book reviews from Time for Kids’ kid reporters here.

TIME Internet

A 13-Year-Old Built His Own Google Glass and It’s Pretty Impressive

Take that, glassholes.

+ READ ARTICLE

Who needs to shell out $1500 for a pair of Google Glass when you can just make your own? Clay Haight, 13, created his own (quasi-functional) pair as a part of a DIY project.

According to Make:

Clay’s DIY “Google Glass” uses the sensors on the Arduino Esplora along with the Arduino LCD screen and a 3D printed frame. He can use voice commands to bring up a calendar with his schedule, local maps, and temperature and weather info. A headband on the back keeps it from tilting to one side.

(h/t: Daily Dot)

TIME Appreciation

Best Dad Ever Builds Spiderman-Themed Treehouse in His Son’s Bedroom

Coolest parent ever

Since it was once his childhood dream to have an indoor treehouse, this guy decided to make the dream a reality for his 5-year-old son. He gathered a bunch of wood and then got to work, sharing pictures of the process on Reddit with the very appropriate username d4ddycool.

Here are some shots of the early stages and then, finally, the finished product:

He explained that he built in some storage space but, ultimately, was “building stuff with no real plans in mind.” Because none of his house’s walls are perfectly straight, he struggled with alignment and went through a good amount of trial and error. From the looks of it, it turned out pretty well.

TIME viral

Little Girl Breaks Down Crying When Her Parents Surprise Her With a Puppy

Best birthday present ever

+ READ ARTICLE

When this eight-year-old girl closed her eyes and held out her hands to receive a birthday gift from her parents, she had no idea she’d be getting a dog. This surprise, it turns out, caused her to break down in an emotional fit of happy tears. She’s just so overwhelmed and thrilled to have her very own cute puppy! We’d probably react the same way if someone gave us a puppy right now.

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 Honduras

Desperate Journey: Crime and Poverty Drive Honduran Kids to U.S.

Mary Murray—NBC News

In a crowded, run-down emergency room in San Pedro Sula, the reason why so many children are fleeing Honduras for the dangerous trek to the U.S. is easy to find.

A 17-year-old boy lies in a coma on a gurney. He has been shot in the head — yet another victim of the unrelenting violence that has turned this Central American country into the murder capital of the world.

A pediatrician who works in the Hospital Nacional emergency room says he’s had to become an expert at repairing the damage bullets do to children.

Read More at NBC News.

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