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Leapfrog's Nintendo DS competitor hits stores

Leapfrog's two new handheld gaming systems, the Didj and Leapster 2, are now officially available for purchase.

LeapFrog's Didj gaming system. LeapFrog

A few months ago we got a preview of Leapfrog's new handheld learning/gaming systems, the Didj ($89.99) and Leapster 2 ($69.99)--and now they're officially available.

LeapFrog doesn't exactly bill the Didj as a Nintendo DS competitor, but the new device is geared toward 6- to 10-year-olds, an age bracket where the DS currently rules. Meanwhile, the Leapster 2 is targeted at even younger children.

The idea behind the Didj is to up the gaming and graphics ante while continuing to integrate the learning stuff that the company's known for. Those educational elements are starting to show up in a handful of DS games, but LeapFrog's giving the whole educational-gaming slant a harder spin to appeal to parents who would prefer to have their grade-schoolers graduate to something other than the DS.

While the Didj doesn't have a Wi-Fi connection like the DS, there's a whole online angle that LeapFrog's working with its LeapFrog Connect Application. The application lets children customize game content (the device connects via USB to both PCs and Macs).

According to LeapFrog's news release, "Players first select and personalize an avatar. Then they design the game, choosing background scenery, color schemes or music. Most important, parents and kids can then customize content, connecting gameplay with schoolwork. Multiplication hard to master? Kids can choose to be quizzed on the 6s, 7s and 8s tables. Spelling a stumbling block? Kids can create a custom spelling list from the 10,000-word database and practice for next week's test."

The Leapster 2 is also available now. LeapFrog

I saw an early build of the game that ships with Didj and the graphics are indeed--excuse the pun--a nice leap forward for LeapFrog. At launch, 9 games are available for the system, including SEGA's Sonic the Hedgehog, Nickelodeon's SpongeBob SquarePants: Fists of Foam, and Indiana Jones. Another premium title, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, is due out shortly. Didj games carry an MSRP of $29.99.

Here's a rehash of the Didj's key specs:

  • Processor: 393 MHz Arm 9
  • Display: 320x240 resolution
  • One 24-bit 2D layer (no hardware acceleration)
  • One 16-bit 3D layer
  • One YUV video layer (no hardware acceleration)
  • Graphics: API OpenGL ES 1.1--A reduced instruction set version of OpenGL for embedded systems
  • Main RAM: 32 MB DDRI 131 MHz
  • NAND Flash: 256MB for data storage/download content
  • Media Cartridge: 64MB
  • System Software: Brio--Firmware is built on an abstraction layer called Brio to make OS and hardware transparent to developers. This means all software must be ported to Brio to run on this device.
  • Screen LCD: 3.2 inches, 16.7-Million Color TFT

Anybody think the Didj is a worthy DS competitor? And: Can it appeal to both parents and kids?