Some companies would be satisfied to throw a shiny shell on an underpowered laptop, give it a lower price point, and label it a kids’ machine. Not so with the First Spark kids PC line Toshiba L635, which is available only at Best Buy. I know my computers, yet at the same time understand the expectation for a kids’ laptop, as I have a 4 1/2-year-old and an advanced 6 1/2-year-old. Actually gearing a laptop for use by kids is something that needs to be taken into account from a design and package aspect.
The first thing that you do when you gear a laptop towards children is change the outer appearance of the unit. At the same time, from a design standpoint, you should make some upgrades to the shell of the device that help protect the laptop from breaking. The First Spark does that by adding a nice grey textured case (no smudges), some neon green rounded bumpers for the edges, and a spill-proof keyboard. I like the textured case; an upgrade would have been to give it a more rubbery finish to minimize slippage, but the texture does help a bit. I like the hinge set-up, and after putting some weight on the hinges they still held up nicely. The screen is a good quality, and the built-in camera is nice for using Skype to allow the kids to talk to long-distance relatives. They also like playing with the Face Recognition software and using the camera to make videos of themselves and take pictures. The spill-proof keyboard is nice, but spill-proof is only one of the benefits: crumb-proof is the better term to use with my children. The laptop has a nice easy to use button to turn it on, and my boys both used the TouchPad fine. The fact the unit has an eSata port is also very nice.
The one sore point for this Toshiba series may actually be a benefit when you package it as a children’s machine. The speakers do not produce loud sound, and, hey, that is fine by me–I do not need my children being overwelmed by noise. If you do not agree, you are able to plug in headphones or speakers. It would have been nice to have a dial or knob to turn up and down the volume on the unit itself, though. Toshiba has also included a hard drive vibration sensor that will help extend the life of your hard drive, as it as it moves the disk drive head into a safe position for you. I think this was a very nice idea based on the cost of solid state drives.
I also thought that the First Spark Computer came with a pretty good package of software. Actually, let me upgrade that thought; I felt that the software was great. I had a little hiccup gettin the two preloaded movies to work, but a quick online chat with CinemaNow had that fixed quickly. I was informed that there is an update for this issue already, so it should not be a problem going forward. It’s a great feature if you want to let your children watch a movie while on the road or vacation that you don’t have a DVD for. Plus, as you all know, who really likes bringing DVDs while on vacation? My kids always scratch them, and, poof, there goes your DVD. You also get a year of Net Nanny, and my new favorite kids’ software, KidZui, which if I understand their website is now free to use. Last you get a copy of LEGO Batman: The Videogame. My kids would still rather play their video games on a dedicated console, but it is still nice to have a game for them when you are not able to connect to the internet.
The price point of $499 makes this something that is within reach for the family, and I feel you are really getting your money out of this package. Good job to Best Buy for listening to what parents need and delivering. With the fact that the children already start to interact with a computer in Kindergarten and that my 1st grader is already doing math games at school, it is nice to allow kids to do some of those things at home. My boys enjoy the fact that the laptop can go with them into different rooms, and they were amazed by the fact it could run on battery for a while. This is now a must-pack accessory for any of our family vacations.
I think this is a great computer for the kids from both a hardware and a software point; Toshiba and Best Buy did a great job of making sure they did not just rebrand a unit. All the modifications to the hardware and software all make sense from a parental standpoint, and I give it two thumbs up. A much better choice than a netbook for your children, in my opinion (and I can say this when we have a netbook in our house, as well). The fact that the children have their “own” computer puts a smile on their face, as they know they are big boys now!
You can check out a little interview/review I did with both of my children below. You can see where I decided to continue recording after the initial review because they were having so much fun. The best part about this unit is that you feel safe with them using the computer by themselves with the included software, while they have a blast looking at the funny videos and listening to the songs.
Parents spoke, Best Buy listened:
Introducing the FIRST SPARK kids PC line exclusively at Best Buy. Featuring the Toshiba L635.
This full-sized laptop was made specially for kids and their parents. Get peace of mind with hardware features like a wipeable keyboard, and software to help you keep your kids secure while browsing the Internet.
The FIRST SPARK features
Hardware suite featuring 13″ screen, full-size, wipe-able keyboard, and DVD drive
Powerful enough for games and with rounded corners for durability
A preloaded software suite that delivers parents safety and control; plus entertainment for the kids
Parental Control: 1 year of Net Nanny (parental control and internet filtering servcie) and 1 year of KidZui (kids internet browser) pre-loaded
Entertainment – 2 Disney movies (“Princess and the Frog” and “Toy Story 2”) and Lego Batman game pre-loaded on hard drive
Note: First Spark Laptop provided for review by Technorati Media and Best Buy