A lot of families when they set out on the road consider buying some type of gaming console to keep their children occupied on long travel days. There are plenty of options on the market. The most popular of course are the DSi and PSPs. These day's there are also fake Chinese versions of both of these and mini toy educational laptops designed for children. And then there's the iPhone, iPod and the latest addition - the iPad.
Before you purchase one, work out exactly what features you'd like it to have. When recommend a console that can:
- Play movies from a variety of different formats
- Has a battery life long enough to last a 4 hour flight at a minimum
- Has educational games available
- Has games on the market that are appropriate for the age of your child and are simple enough that they can play them without a great deal of help
- Additional games are reasonably priced
- Portable and don't take up 3/4 of a pack!
I have to admit, in our year on the road we've tried them all at various stages. We set out with an iPhone and iPod but lost an iPod along the way so decided to purchase cheap chinese consoles each for Christmas. After more research we changed our minds into getting a PSP, then a DSi. Along the way we gave each one a good test run.
Imitation Chinese PSPs ?
Pros - The fake Chinese versions are fantastic - they're cheap, play a lot of games (although usually older Gameboy style games), movies and music. Most have a camera and can be hacked.
Cons - They break easily and you can't buy replacement parts. It's also easy to accidentally set them back into Mandarin. It's easy enough to change the language, but it can be annoying if your 3 year old constantly keeps doing it!
Pros - Big screens with fabulous graphics, play movies in a wide variety of formats.
Cons - The battery life on them is terrible. Generally your lucky to get 2 hours out of them. The newer model also can't be hacked. Games for the PSP are generally aimed at older children, so it might not be suitable for younger users.
Pros - great battery life (8hrs+), have a lot of educational games available and games suited for younger users.
Cons - the graphics card isn't that good and you can't play movies on them (unless you purchase a ??? card). While the games are more geared towards younger children, most are still too hard for the under 3's.
And the winner is - the Apple iPhone/iPod
The iPhone and iPod honestly beat the other options hands down. Below is our list of 8 reasons why the iphone/ipod makes a perfect travel accessory for kids.
- There are thousands of free and inexpensive (less than US$2) games designed for children of all ages. We love this because we can buy new games for the kids every week without costing us a fortune. It makes a long flight or bus ride a lot easier if you can buy a couple of new games before every trip to occupy the children.
- From letter tracing and phonics to sight-words to fun books to information series on Dinosaurs - there are hundreds of fun educational games to help make homeschooling on the road fun and easy.
- Unlike with DSi's and PSP's, the under 3 age group is very well catered for in the App Store, with a huge range of fun and educational games available.
- iPod's and iPhone's are small. They fit into backpacks and pockets easily.
- They play movies and music. OK so the downside is they only play iTunes format but if your travelling with a laptop iTunes makes it very easy to buy new movies or even copy bought DVD's onto the iPod/iPhone. With a program like HandBrake you can even copy the DVD's that you buy very cheaply at the markets all through Asia (for example).
- The battery lasts for hours and hours.
- iPods/iPhones have the ability to charge through a USB port, which is perfect now that a lot of international flights and long-haul trains have USB ports built into their chairs. You can also buy USB battery packs that extend the life of your iPod/iPhones battery by another two hours. We no longer have to worry about the batteries running out halfway into a 10hr flight.
- Games can be loaded onto multiple iPhones/iPods. If you purchase a game through the AppStore you can load it onto all your iPod/iPhone's. This saves a lot of fights if both kids can play the same game at the same time!
- iPods/iPhones have built in WIFI so if you can manage to steal them from the kids for long enough, you can check your emails if you're in a cafe that has wifi.
So there is 9 great reasons why the iPod Touch and the iPhone are great travel companions when you are travelling with children. Of course the new iPad is even better still but it's a lot more expensive than a second hand iPod!