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LeapFrog Enterprises has made a name for itself as an innovative maker of electronic educational devices for children up to the early teens. Its latest offering is no exception.

The Fly Pentop Computer — a chunky, electronics-laden pen with voice and other audio feedback — may look like a toy but it’s far more than that.

Aimed at children between the ages of eight and 13, the pen uses special micro-printed paper to enable users to perform a variety of educational tasks, and also includes productivity functions and — of course — games.

By tapping on a series of icons on the paper — dubbed Flycons — users can activate a range of features such as gaining access to the main menu, a simple date book, create simple notes, or even a calculator.

Users can also gain access to the functions by writing a letter on a page and drawing a circle around it. For example, to use the calculator feature, writing the letter C and circling it triggers the function. Data is entered by printing words or numbers on the page.

The device is based on a design by Sweden-based Anoto, which has also licensed the pen technology to companies such as cellphone maker Nokia and computer mouse, keyboard and input device maker Logitech.

Anoto’s technology uses a tiny digital video camera mounted near the tip of the pen to track and interpret the pen’s movements based on the markings made on the special micro-printed paper.

The technology functions surprisingly well, and if the user makes an penstroke or draws a character that the self-contained computer doesn’t understand, it offers feedback and instruction through voice and a variety of tones.

The Fly device comes with a cartridge that plugs into the back of the pen for a basic set of functions and built-in games. For example, you can draw a piano keyboard and tap on the keys to play music.

The standard Fly package also includes a set of the special paper and notebooks, which include a variety of language, math, and entertainment features. Other age-appropriate learning and game packs — such as ones for algebra or other languages — are available separately.

The game booklets, such as the Pirates Of The Caribbean one that was provided for this review, include a range of pattern recognition, counting and word games. Activating the games was sometimes tricky since the pen needed to be held vertically as it was swiped across a special bar, a technique easily mastered.

fly pentop computer

  • Price: $99

  • Applications: $8-$40

  • Available at: Walmart, Toys R Us, Zellers, others

  • More information:

  • Rating: **** (out of five)