Griffin Technology is well known for its iDevice accessories, ranging from cables, chargers, FM transmitters and armbands to more complex items such as the Beacon remote or CarTrip car monitoring system. Griffin recently offered me the opportunity to examine their LightBoard for the iPad. It is an iPad case with accompanying app directed towards kids with an artful bent.
The name LightBoard is a bit of a misnomer, as the case itself doesn’t illuminate anything. It is basically a hollow clipboard with a space to insert an iPad. The case protects the device and its screen surface as the child traces images projected by the iPad. Once assembled (no small feat) the LightBoard works well to protect the iPad and is appealing to a range of ages.
Does it offer any real advantages over paper and pencil, or is this technology overkill? Read on for my field test of the Griffin Technology LightBoard.
The case is made of blue and green hard plastic. It has 1-2 inch border of plastic surrounding the iPad, as well as a overlying screen protector. The back is made of hard plastic, with a sliding spring lock. The cutouts to access the power and volume rocker are adequate, but made for smaller fingers. The dock provides an ample opening for connecting the charging cable. However, once assembled, the power button underwent some pressure from the case and the iPad would annoyingly go to the power off screen, which meant lifting the paper and canceling before returning to a drawing. One missed opportunity in the build was a pen holder. The LightBoard comes with a black felt washable marker, but no place for storage on the case itself.
The iPad is completely enclosed offering good protection against drops. The screen protector seemed durable, and was taught enough to be a usable drawing surface. Enough force could be applied to puncture it. For the safety of the iPad, Griffin warns against the use of pencils, ball point pens, or other sharp objects. They also recommend adult supervision at all times. Since having a child sit at a table tracing or drawing while the parent carries out other tasks is the ideal, the LightBoard does not offer a distinct advantage in this regard, at least for the smaller sect.
Being that there are only four pieces to the case, one would think that assembly instructions would be brief, and they were – deceptively so. The universal diagrams simply indicated “snapping the 2 frame halves together around the Screen Protector.” The instructions did not indicate whatsoever the fact that the rails of the screen protector needed to be forced into grooves, nor how to separate the two halves once the assembler discovered the results of the misleading instructions. I nearly snapped off one of the frame’s locking tabs trying to separate the halves. The rails and groove were made with such precision, it was a tight squeeze getting the rails through. The entire procedure was very problematic and curse laden. I strongly recommend performing the assembly in private, or at least out of earshot of the kids. Thankfully, insertion and removal of the iPad is an easy step.
The Play Value
For this field test, three test subjects ages four, nine and eleven used the LightBoard and its accompanying free LightBoard Trace app. The two younger children found the selection of drawing subjects amusing. It included robots, bugs, and animals. Kids can mix the top and bottom halves of robots and animals for numerous creature creation. Some of the drawings details were difficult to trace, even with the provided paper and the brightness turned up on the iPad. Also, the older children were much more excited to trace the coloring pages found using Safari and saved to a photo album than those included in the app, although the children had to be careful the pressure of their drawing motion did not move the image. The images in the LightBoard Trace app are locked into place. The connect-the-dots pages had voice prompts, but did not actually show the numbers on the screen, really missing the learining objective of connect-the-dots puzzles and the number recognition lessons they provide.
I found the writing practice option of the app disappointing. It allows the child or parent to enter any word or name, but presents it in block letters, rendering the practice for school letter writing useless.
After tracing a few creations, the test subjects asked how they colored their images, expecting more from the elaborate case and tracing program. I handed them a box of colored pencils, again leading me to question the advantages the case had over the low tech paper and crayons.
Two days later, the children have not asked to use the case again. However, I could see it being particularly useful for a project where the child has to trace an image, such as a map, where printing the image may not be possible or would use a large amount of expensive ink.
The case does offer plenty of protection and more play value than a standard case. It comes with a washable marker and 35 sheets of paper (although regular copier/printer could be used). The case retails for $39.99 USD.
The Griffin LightBoard case and LightBoard Trace app were generally quality products. Assembly instructions were woefully inadequate. The case provides good, if bulky protection. The app is amusing, although too simplistic for older children and too complex for younger kids. It represents a fair value as a case, but don’t expect children to find it much more amusing than old-fashioned paper and crayons. I suggest parents download the app first and page through it to get an idea of the activities presented to determine if they are worth purchasing the LightBoard case. While this case is recommended for ages 3 and up, I might recommend this case for children 5-7 with avid interests in tracing simple depictions of animals, bugs or robots.