Here are some app reviews I just posted on BrillKids.com.  Below that are some older reviews, still valid.

 

Five star apps

National Geographic World Atlas HD – 5/5 – can’t believe I didn’t get this earlier.  Now one of our most-used apps.  For purposes of teaching, this has gotten more use, recently, than Google Earth, because it simplifies the geographical information intelligently.  But it also integrates Bing maps, which are almost as good as Google Maps.

Shredder – 5/5 – my favorite chess app (and I’ve tried a half-dozen).  Touch a piece and it shows all legal moves it can make.  Excellent playing strength feature.  Wonderful built-in puzzle problems, though too hard for little ones.

WatchKnow – 5/5 – OK so maybe I’m a little biased, having designed both the app and the website it’s based on, but this is one great educational video app!  Nobody does it better!

Peekaboo/Baby Touch (Ladybird) – 5/5 – really a gem.  Basically, it’s a series of four baby board books.  Baby must tap the screen, anywhere (?), and the app shows the next slide.  The appeal is the story.  The illustrations are very abstract, as you might have seen in some baby books, but still very attractive to baby E. (and H. too).  Shows what can be done when you call some true design professionals in.

Tap Tap Baby – 5/5 – another gem.  It’s like a bunch of baby toys.  It’s unique–I’ve looked for others like it and couldn’t find any.  We use this one with E. almost as much as the Counting app.

Counting (has a 1 2 3 logo) – 5/5 – this is what I do with E. when we turn on the machine to play.  Fantastic, simple way to teach about numbers.  Now, when I go down stairs counting, or hop around counting, E. starts giggling.  E. tries to touch the objects himself.

Rocket Math – 5/5 – any app that makes H. want to do math this much and for this long gets my vote.  Hard to describe briefly, it combines rocket construction with two different space games that heavily integrate excellently levelled math problems.

Stack the States and Stack the Countries – 5/5 – we love these.  H. has played Stack the States for hours, literally, and learned lots along the way.  These are very well made and I can’t really think of any improvements.

Four star apps

Various Smart Baby Apps – 4.5/5 – we use these all the time.  They’re excellently customizable–the programmers/designers really put a lot of thought and work into putting in lots of options that make them maximally usable by people.  The other great thing is that there are a lot of words for a very little money.  One thing that’s missing is some sort of management system features for Doman users…  I’d like to make a special mention & praise of My First 1,000 Words–excellent value.  If there is a problem with this, that would prevent me from giving them five stars, it’s that–well, they’re just flashcards, and even with all the features, there isn’t anything extra that puts them over the top.  If they had videos, or extra sounds, or something…

Mate in 1 – 4/5 – wonderful set of mate-in-1 puzzles, highly recommended for chess players (H. isn’t doing this yet–maybe soon)

ABCDE and for Russian, iAzbuka (iAttractor LLC) – 4/5 – nice ABC app.  Includes a presentation (only problem is that the letter and the illustrating picture are not separated) and a nice simple quiz feature (obviously for toddlers and preschoolers, not babies).  H. has been using the trace app, which has a feature nice features, but a very nonstandard font to trace.  For our purposes iAzbuka gets a 5/5 because we haven’t found any other Russian alphabet apps, and this one has helped H. quite a bit.

Spongewords – 4/5 – I really like this app.  It combines some great features that nobody else uses:  showing/reading the word, letting the word recede into the background (but still visible), then showing a video (only videos), then bringing the word forward again and showing and reading it again.  As it turns out, this is very effective.  As to the voiceover–where is that accent from?  (Just curious.)  And where were the videos made?  (They are all, it appears, home-made, but pretty well made.)  Also, you get eight different presentations–and some, like the animals one, are very long.  Each presentation is a video (you can’t do anything but play or exit the videos), and so not customizable, but the videos are so well-designed that I don’t care.

Animals HD (Let’s Hear the Animals HD) – 4/5 – really like this app.  Flashcards combining good pix of animals with animal sounds–for lots of animals.  Would make it even better to let us see the words separate from the pix, but it’s still a great app.  Excellent feature includes all animals on one slide, or four at a time on one slide; the latter allows one to ask baby, “Which one is the tiger?”  E. was getting the answers to those questions right much better than chance!  Includes Spanish version.

Countries/World Countries (ADS Software Group) – 4/5 – while its components are three-star, this one becomes a four star app by dint of sheer hugeness and uniqueness.  It essentially combines over a dozen “OK” apps, including flashcards and quizzes about country shapes, capitals, flags, and more.

Othesr: 1st Grade/Teach Me; ArtMatch; Art Sliding

Three star apps

Baby Flashcards 2 HD (Baby Cortex) –  3/5 – LOVE their “quest” feature, which shows the picture and then shows/reads the word.  No one else has this.  Two problems: can’t separate words from pix, and the pix are cartoon illustrations, not photographs.

Various Tipitap flashcard apps – 3/5 – word on the same slide as an excellent full-screen photograph, and has the sound that the thing (e.g., vehicles or animals) makes; but doesn’t read the word, and navigation is clumsy.  We mainly use this to teach the sounds of various things.

Speak & Read/Read English (WinkToLearn.com) – 3/5 – I want to like this, but it has the pictures first and then the words, and navigation is clumsy/slow.  For this reason, I’m afraid, I just don’t use this much; I like my apps snappier (and customizable–this has no customization).  Quite a lot of words & decent pictures.  Seriously needs to pick just one name for the app.  Is it Speak & Read, Read English, or WinkToLearn.com?

Farmyard (has pic of a rooster for the icon) – 3/5 – pix and sounds of farmyard animals.  I like this and use it occasionally.  Its strengths are unusually good pictures and effective integration with sounds of the animals; but doesn’t include the names of the animals (in either text or audio form).

Geomaster – 3/5 – we like it quite a lot.  It’s a find-that-country (and state, city, French dept., etc.) game.  It got some nice features, and we do play it from time to time, but it needs a little work.

Others: Sky Writers; JukeBox (pic of elephant on the icon)

Two star apps

eFlash2 English – 2/5 – we just don’t use this.  It has lots of categories, but it’s just words-on-pictures with simple, somewhat clunky navigation–and what basically makes me use the others is the ad.  Sorry, I don’t want ads and won’t show an app with an ad, not when there are other apps that are as good or better in most respects.

Toddler ABC (Toddler Alphabet on the icon) – 2/5 – a puzzle game that is supposed to help teach ABCs.  For a while I didn’t know one could move the icon on the top of the screen to move to the next letter; but this is very clunky navigation anyway (especially if a toddler is supposed to do that himself).  Not for babies, but even for toddlers this has made some weird design choices, such as relatively small text, and no clear distinction between the moveable pieces and the rest of the puzzle.

AlphaBaby – 2/5 – Basically, you tap on the screen, and where you tap some random letter, number, shape, or color appears.  OK, so this has a few features like Tap Tap Baby, but it’s basically a touchscreen experiment that looked like it might work, but it doesn’t.  The main problem is that the object appears under your finger, so your finger consistently obscures the object.  Also, the objects end up being too jumbled to be made sense of by baby.  I’ll bet that a later version of this could be made into a 5 star app, though.

NOOK kids – 2/5 – we’ve used it to read The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.Way worse than iBooks or Kindle, it loads in landscape mode and takes tapping to make it portrait, difficult to navigate, no bookmarking, extremely poor dictionary.

 

Older reviews (written June 28, 2010)

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Top Recommendations (for my son, age 4)

KidCalc: One of the very best educational apps I’ve seen, all seven games on this early math game/tutor are great.  Counting Cards, Counting Puzzle, Calculator (which serves more to teach than to do calculations), Number Tracing, Math Puzzle, Flash Card Challenge, Count Snowflakes.  He’s played with them all a lot, and learned a lot. 5/5

Martha’s Dog Party (PBS Kids): excellent, well-reviewed app teaches vocabulary through “Chow Time,” “Doggie Dress Up,” “Martha Says,” and “Pop Quiz” games.  Limited in the amount of vocab it teaches, but quite excellent as far as it goes. 5/5

Google Earth: it’s Google Earth, on your iThing.  What else do you need to know?  A fantastic teaching tool for all ages. 5/5

iChessPro: *love* this chess app.  Wonderful as a teaching tool, offers several different boards, shows where pieces may be moved, the easiest computer setting can be easily beaten, simple interface, but powerful–overall, a very well designed app.  Played on this thing quite a bit. 5/5

iBooks: the iPad’s built-in book reader is far superior to the Kindle reader.  Endless fun playing with fonts, text sizes, looking up words in the dictionary, etc.  Some good books are free to download, like Alice in Wonderland and Winnie the Pooh. 5/5

Preschool Connect the Dots: excellent way to teach the *order* of numbers, letters, etc.  Also teaches vocab in five different categories.  Kid loves this, plays it a lot. 5/5

123 Color (KidCalc): a fantastic coloring app.  You don’t color in shapes manually; you simply choose a color and pick a space to fill in, and the space is filled in instantly.  Its primary educational use is not to teach art or colors, I think, but instead both matching/searching and the order of numbers, letters, and colors.  Also, since some maps are available (for purchase), you can use this to teach geography.  This is one of those apps, like Solar Walk, that couldn’t be done as well on anything other than the iPad. 5/5

iWriteWords: hands down the best penmanship app we’ve been able to find.  Teach the spelling of upper- and lowercase letters, both individually and in the context of words, as well as numbers.  As a bonus, there’s a neat little ABC song app built in, with the sheet music, BrillKids folks will like it.  We’ve probably played with this more than any other app.  I’ve never got him to practice penmanship so much before this app. 5/5

Build a Word (Word World): really simple, quickly exhausts the characters from the show. If your kid is a “Word World” fan like mine, he/she is gonna love this. Teaches spelling in a fun way you’re familiar with from the show. 5/5

Solar Walk: this is the best app ever.  Maybe the best piece of software ever.  It’s hard to explain exactly why this is so cool.  It’s brilliantly designed.  It makes it easy to explain a zillion important but difficult-to-explain astronomical concepts, having to do with scale in terms of time and space, relationships, orbits, etc.  That sounds very dry, but this app is a totally beautiful eye candy.  We got it just today but my kid has been playing with it for something like an hour, and I’ve been letting him. 5/5

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Recommended (for my son, age 4)

Teach Me Kindergarten: teaches simple addition, subtraction, spelling, and Dolch sight words.  We’ve done this a while but stopped.  Not sure if it was because new apps came down the pike, or because it’s not that compelling.  Pretty good but not the best. 3/5

Art: free and huge.  Main complaint is that there aren’t enough routes into the images; you have to go through and select your own favorites to show to a child, from a huge database of images. 3/5

Art Authority: somewhat pricy art app, only marginally better than the free “Art” app.  Presentation/graphics rather better, as are the sets of “Major Works.” 3/5

Cookie Doodle: billed as “educational,” its educational value is very limited.  The kid loved it though.  Free. 3/5

Kid’s Zone (Motion 9 Studios): Another “grab bag ed” game, with ABC & number learning, a drawing pad, a matching game, and a dozen kid-loved videos.  Free version has annoying ads, pay version is a buck.  Got a fair bit of mileage with us, especially the videos. 3/5

Speaking Spell: an iPad version of the popular old “Speak and Spell” game of yore.  Kind of imbecilic, considering all the bells and whistles that more advanced software makes possible, but still strangely compelling.  Lots of mileage with this, which has maybe taught my son more spelling than any other app, with one exception. 4/5

StarWalk: even better than Starmap, better design, from the makers of Solar Walk (the best app ever). 3/5

Tunebook: I bought this for myself, but my son has got quite a bit of use from it.  The tune player is the best interpreter of ABC code I’ve ever heard, especially harp and banjo (though I haven’t listened to recent versions of other software).  Allows exploration of different instrument sounds, speed, and volume.  Requires an interest in folk music 😉 to appreciate. 3/5 (as educational software for kids; 5/5 for fiddlers like myself)

Nota Lite: kind of neat for purposes of demonstrating how played on the online keyboard notes match up with sheet music, but this got old fast for us.  Not very well designed; there are better virtual keyboards. 3/5

Music Drawing, Virtual Sheet Music: we got a lot of mileage out of this after going most of the way through “Music for Little Mozarts” book 1 and its dry erase magnetic staff/board.  This does the same thing, only better.  Easy to show different note lengths, and play immediately the notes that you put up. 4/5

Virtuoso (Peterb): I think this cost a little (?) but it is a great online keyboard.  Nota Light has one advantage over it, namely it puts sheet music up of the notes that you play.  This doesn’t do that, but it’s cool nonetheless.  The piano sound is great. 3/5

Word Magic: we haven’t played this much but it seems like a pretty good one to me.  Teaches spelling by prompting students to supply the missing letter.  Well designed but, for whatever reason, not that compelling to my boy. 3/5

“Toy Story” (Disney Digital Books): retelling of the “Toy Story” movie.  Highlighted words as they are being read.  Worth getting, but not worth writing home about. 3/5

BrainQuest Blast Off, Grade 2 (workman): if you like BrainQuest, you’ll probably like this.  Quiz game, combined with spelling practice.  Categories include science, social studies, language arts, math, and “grab bag.”  For each category there are multiple-choice questions, a (for a 4-year-old) difficult “gaps” app which has you answer a question and then finish spelling the word(s) by choosing letters to fill in the gaps, etc.  Pretty hard for my 4-year-old, but he insists on playing it, with my help.  He’ll really love this in another year, I bet.  Wish they had some for slightly younger kids, this is the youngest they had. 4/5

Super Why (PBS Kids): quite good language arts practice, especially good for spelling.  Quiz/puzzle games. 4/5

Spell Blocks with Sight Words (Cocos20): this could be so much better just by ordering the words more systematically and starting with simpler words–excellent concept and good execution, though. 3/5

iAzbuka (iAttractor LLC): this Russian language Cyrillic alphabet tutor is wonderful in its simplicity.  We love it.  Only problem is that it only teaches the alphabet. 4/5

TicTacFree: the best Tic-Tac-Toe game I could find for the iPad.  Couldn’t want more in a Tic-Tac-Toe game. 4/5

Flag2Map: one of the better geography games out there, good for learning the map of Europe.  Match up both maps and capital cities (with a purchased extension) to European countries.  Nice design, forgiving of mistakes. 4/5

3D Body Systems Quiz (and 3D Musculoskeletal Anatomy Quiz): as it says, it’s a quiz, pretty pictures of the body parts, but it’s basically just a multiple choice quiz.  Not bad if you’ve already studied these things.  Not so great for learning them in the first place. 3/5

Math Magic: not as good as KidCalc, but one of the better simple arithmetic tutors.  Good design.  Not so much play yet. 3/5

Periodic Table (Kevin Neelands): we liked this and clicked around a fair bit on it.  Even if you don’t know what’s going on, you can learn a lot just from watching what happens as you click on different elements. Obviously it’s meant for high school and college students, but aspects of this can be used to show elements to littler kids. 3/5

Telling Time (My Turn Mobile): four different ways to learn to tell time: free play lets you move the hands, and the time is read automatically; a “which time?” multiple choice quiz, a “set the clock” game, and a more advanced “how long?” game.  We haven’t had it long but so far it’s looking like one of the better ones. 4/5

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Recommended for smaller kids

Baby Flash Cards (Baby Cortex): nice, simple, though the pix are a cartoony and not realistic.  Not sure of how much is here, because we didn’t use it.  iThings have lots and lots of baby flashcard apps, no kidding. 4/5

Fruits & Nuts, Vehicles, Vegetables (Kindergarten.com): excellently conceived flash cards, should be appealing to the BrillKids.com crowd.  I’m sure we’ll be using either this or something like it with our #2. 5/5

5-in-1 Kids Pack (Bacciz): incl Match, Mystery, Tap, and “Timed!”  Sort of a grab-bag. 3/5

Preschool Adventure: eight different skills/concepts are taught (colors, numbers, shapes, coloring, body parts, matching, sounds, and alphabet “typing”).  Seems like there’s a lot here, but just OK. 3/5

Alpha Baby Free (Little Potato Software): those of you with babies are probably going to love this.  You simply tap on a blank screen and up pops various numbers, letters, and shapes.  How could baby fail to learn from this? 5/5

Pet the Animals: good toddler app, you stroke an image of an animal and it makes its characteristic “ahh, that feels good” sound (like purring). 4/5

My First Phrases (Smart Baby Apps): a Doman-style phrase book–very similar to Little Reader.  My boy still likes this.  Only complaint is about the occasional language problems, such as the omission of articles from sentences. 4/5

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Not Recommended (for my son, age 4; some may be good for older ages)

Children Color & Draw Artistic Springboard (Tipitap): digital drawing/coloring program.  We didn’t get much out of this, probably because he just isn’t ready for it and isn’t interested in exploring this sort of art activity.  For what it is, though, it doesn’t look bad.  Rating reflects usefulness to us, you might love it. 2/5

Video Science (ScienceHouse): simply too advanced for age 4, no matter how many early science readers he’s absorbed. 1/5

Kidzstory 2, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”: the version is fine, but this is overpriced for a simple little story; doesn’t even highlight the words when they are read.  Don’t waste your money. 2/5

Math Cards: just wasn’t interested in this.  On the face of it it’s not that different from one of the games in, e.g., KidCalc.  But it’s just not that compelling in design.  Not bad, really, just not as good as the others. 2/5

Mars Globe HD: I wanted so much to like this Mars globe.  Probably its worst fault is its slowness and jerkiness, and there are some design problems as well.  Not bad, just not good enough. 2/5

Chess (Chess.com): fine for chess players, but not as a teaching tool for little kids.  We played around with it a fair bit, until we got a better app and never went back. 2/5

Chess Free (Optime Software): not only is this a very simple (i.e., feature-poor) app, it has a distracting ad at the bottom of the screen, which my boy always wants to click on.  If you want to teach chess, find something better. 1/5

Starmap HD: very cool, lots of features; advanced for this age, but we got some use out of it for looking at constellations.  Only problem is that it does just what StarWalk does (at this age anyway), and StarWalk is better. 2/5

123 Writing free version: don’t know if the paid version of this is better, but this is basically just a painting app with some dotted lines to fill in.  Doesn’t correct work.  iWriteWords shows how it’s done; this is comparatively a waste of time.  Tried it once. 1/5

TapTyping: we looked all around for a good typing tutor for preschool, couldn’t find one.  This is maybe the best I could find, but it is still just a version of the plain old type you’re used to.  Might be good for older typing students, but not for our preschooler. 1/5

Touch Next HD: wanted to like it, as it seems well-designed and I was able to waste some time on it myself, but it’s not a good app for little kids, especially ones who don’t like to be tested. Covers numbers to 30 and to 100, Elements, and “Shogun.” 1/5

neuKidsDraw: just another drawing program.  No teaching features; could be good for kids who have mastered drawing programs, but mine hasn’t. 1/5

Numbers Game (BidBox): a lame attempt at an app to teach the numbers in various languages (including Turkish?).  Doesn’t even say the names of the numbers out loud, or teach what the numbers are in the first place. 2/5

History:Maps of the World (Seung-Bin Sho): nice app for high school and college, not for little kids. 1/5

4th-6th Grade Vocabulary (SuperKids): couldn’t find a lower-grade level vocab program.  We’re not quite old enough for hangman, and the lack of pictures on the flashcard app pretty much doomed this one. 1/5

Vocabulary Cartoons: jury’s still out but my guess is that this vocab is too advanced even for my little boy.  The overall concept is fine (flashcards of cartoons, not unlike reading the PlayBac Publishing “Vocabulary Power” books). 2/5