The Leapster GS Explorer has an unnamed 500MHz processor, which provides enough horsepower to run simple 2D games, along with 2GB of storage space. In terms of graphical sophistication we’re more in the league of basic smartphone apps or even Flash games than the 3D accelerated titles you might expect on a 3DS, PSP or iOS device. What’s more, frame rates aren’t always perfectly smooth. However, your average four to seven year old cares little about such things, and as long as Spongebob or Dora looks the part, that’s all they want to know.
One area where the GS Explore falls behind your average handheld is the batteries. It takes four AA batteries which last roughly eight to ten hours, though your mileage will depend on whether you use rechargables and the brand and type you use. We’d recommend using rechargables, not least because you’ll go through a couple of sets a week, but also because Leapster’s own Explore Recharger Pack with batteries and charger costs a whacking £24.99. Annoyingly, we found the battery covers on our review sample almost impossible to remove. In the end we resorted to prising them off with a palette knife, which is hardly ideal, and we know we’re not alone in taking such drastic measures.
The interface on the Leapster GS Explorer is a little less sophisticated than the one found on the LeapPad 2, but with its simple pages of six icons and helpful (if hugely irritating) voice-guidance it's very easy for even smaller children to use. As with the LeapPad 2, it's all controlled by an adult administrator using the downloadable Leapfrog Connect software.
While children can create and assign pictures to profiles, only the administrator can purchase, download and assign apps and games to those profiles, so there's no way for the kids to rack up a vast bill for apps unless they get access to your PC and your Leapfrog account. Leapfrog Connect also provides galleries of any uploaded photos, videos and artworks, plus facilities to email them or transfer them to Facebook. Meanwhile, it gives parents tools to track their kids’ progress through apps and games via the Learning Path section.
In terms of apps and games, the GS Explore comes bundled with Pet Pad, a fun pet sim with some added early-level literacy elements, apps for capturing and customising photos and video from the camera and Escape of the Sillies, a slightly bizarre game where you can customise the titular critters, tap on them to build up energy then play basic maths games to release them through a portal into the real world. This app makes some nice use of the tilt controls and camera, though there aren’t any interactive augmented reality bits, like you'd find in the AR games on the 3DS or Invizimals on the PSP. Still, the ability to customise the Sillies with photo faces and recorded noises was much enjoyed by our six-year-old tester (not to mention her forty-year-old dad).