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When my daughter started taking an interest in her older brothers games console, just before her 3rd birthday, it caused some conflict in the house. She, naturally, was interested and wanted a turn. He, again naturally, didn't want her sticky mits anywhere near it and to be honest, his games weren't all that suitable for a little princess anyway. This gave me the perfect solution to her 3rd birthday gift, and I purchased her very own console. Or rather the Vtech V-smile T.V learning system.
The Vtech V-smile learning system is a games console aimed at pre-school children between the ages of 3 and 9 years. Vtech themselves describe the V-smile learning system as a solution to the dilemma surrounding young children and consoles, claiming it combines " A kid friendly design, age appropriate curriculum, entertaining graphics and fun game play" as well as being " An innovative way for your child to learn while having fun".
We have a pink and lilac console, in fitting with my daughters princess tastes. The console is thick and chunky plastic, a similar size and shape to a shoe box. It comes with one joy stick and drawing pad, with pen attached and a microphone. Additional joysticks can be purchased giving you a two player game option. Games cartridges are loaded at the front of the machine and on the top there is a compartment with a lid to store the small games.
The console connects easily to the TV, even a technophobe like myself managed it without any difficulty. You simply connect the 3 audio and video input cables to your television. If your TV doesn't have audio/video input sockets on your TV, you can connect the console with a scart lead. A scart adaptor is included with the console, but you will have to purchase a scart lead. Similarly you can connect with a scart lead to a VCR machine. As I have audio/video sockets, I used that method and simply switched my TV to AV2 by the remote and we were ready to go.
The V-smile learning system requires power by either battery or an AC adaptor, however neither are provided with the console and have to be bought separately. I hadn't realised this and found it quite annoying, in particular Vtech insist you use their own adaptor which costs an additional £10!. As I didn't have one and my daughter was keen to play, I used batteries (4 x AA). I have changed the batteries in the console twice in 2 years, however this has very little to do with the machine using little power and more to do with it having very little use.
Finally, the V-smile learning system came with 1 Dora the Explorer cartridge game (other colour consoles come with different games). Additional games can be purchased and there seems to be a pretty good selection of Disney and TV characters to choose from. Prices range from £9.99 to £24.99 and they are apparently age appropriate. Some will be aimed at 3-5 year olds while others at 5 plus.
My (and daughters) Opinion
My daughter was keen to get this up and running straight away, and as described above it was very easy to do so. As well as the Dora game that came with the console, I had also purchased 2 other games. And here came the first issue I have with this system. The games are a cartridge style and are slotted in vertically into the machine. However this is very difficult to do. My daughter can not manage to push the game down hard enough, or pull it out when she wants to remove it. In fact I have to use a considerable amount of strength and am always fearful of breaking the machinery where the game slots.
My next complaint is with the quality of the graphics and sound. While I wasn't expecting WII or Xbox 360 graphics, they are very poor and old fashioned. The pictures are really fuzzy and the sound is awfully muffled. Both myself and my daughter struggle to hear the audio instructions, which make game play very difficult. The ability required in the game play isn't particularly high, my daughter had no problem from the start with controlling characters with the joy stick, however there seems to be a lot of alphabetical and numerical games which in my opinion are not age appropriate, and my daughter really struggled with, even with my help and eventually got bored and wandered off leaving me to do it alone.
The pen and microphone sound like exciting features, however the truth is very few of the games have the function that requires them. Out of five games we now own, only two use these features. Even then, they are pretty underwhelming. There might be a couple of songs like 'twinkle twinkle little star' you can sing along to, but my daughter already had a childs cassette player with microphone, and a larger range of songs at her fingertips, which she much preferred. The pen and drawing pad also don't have much use, although on the rare occassion they are required, do work quite well and are fun, encouraging hand to eye co-ordination and concentration.
On the plus side, the console is very attractive looking and easy to clean and maintain. It has big chunky coloured buttons for matching games and is reasonably easy to use. It's a relatively cheap option when considering a console for this age group, at just £39.99 as of the date of this review (although I paid £10 more 2 years ago). I'm afraid that's where the positive end for me, contrary to a lot of other reviews I have read.
Of course you maybe thinking that I am judging this through adult eyes and being unfair. After all does a pre-school child require the fantastic graphics and features of more expensive consoles? Possibly not, but the fact that in 2 years my daughter has played with this console less than 20 times speaks volumes. On the rare occasion she does get it out, it isn't long before she is bored or frustrated and it's put away and forgotten about.
I am pretty disappointed with the Vtech learning system, and it would seem that it's little owner isn't all that impressed either.
Vtech continually market this toy as a 'learning' system, yet I struggle to find anything educational in it. Cbeebies and Nick JNR websites provide more fun games with educational value, and with equal if not better graphics (and presuming you have the internet are free!). Pens, paper, reading books and some of your time are far better alternatives when learning your child to read and write. The talking and pronunciation (when you can make it out) is American to boot and I already struggle to stop my daughter saying 'Jagwaar' and 'Ladybug' thanks to a certain Animal rescuer!
I think that perhaps at the age of 3 a child doesn't even need a console. If you can put it off for a year or two, then you'd be far better investing in a proper games console which will last longer and grow with your child. The V smile learning system is designed for children upto 9 years old, however I have to be honest and say I can not see many 5 year old upwards children being either interested or impressed in this machine and the games it has to offer.
I pretty much feel I wasted my money on this system and the games I bought to go with it. My daughter has got little enjoyment from it and its been relegated to the cupboard under the stairs, barely seeing the light of day. I'm afraid the V-smile learning system receives just 2 stars from me.