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LeapFrog Tag gadgetizes learning for the younger set

Latest product from the technology-centered children's learning company teaches kids to read and lets parents track their progress.

LeapFrog Tag device
Erica Ogg/CNET

Tag is a new gadget for children that does all the work of a teacher: it gives phonics lessons, sounds out works, sings songs, and most importantly, keeps track of the student's progress.

The pen-like device is from the same company that made the LeapPad, San Francisco Bay Area-based LeapFrog.

The demo of the Tag Reading System garnered the most buzz in the morning session here at Demo 08 in Palm Desert, Calif. Using the same technology found in its current product FlyFusion, which is aimed at 8- to 13-year-olds, the Tag gadget is aimed at teaching reading to 4- to 8-year-olds.

The device, which looks like a smart pen--it's actually not a true pen, it just has a stylus-like tip on the end--has an infrared camera inside that reads the series of dots printed in special LeapFrog books. When the device touches different areas of the book, the audio part of the gadget is activated. When it touches a word, for example, it will read it aloud. Touching photos activates character dialogue, and certain pages have phonics lessons and games.

LeapFrog Tag book
The dots on the page are read by the infrared camera inside the Tag handheld device. Erica Ogg/CNET

The camera takes 50 pictures per second and can store 16MB of information, or about five books' worth, according to LeapFrog. The optical reading technology is licensed from Swedish company Anoto.

Parents get to participate, too. The pen can then be hooked up to a PC--Mac or Windows--and all information pertaining to what the child had learned with the Tag device can be downloaded. The data is displayed in an application for parents that tracks the child's progess, what he or she spends time on in the books, and more.

The device doesn't launch until June, but it can be purchased at a variety of retail stores. The pen itself will be $49.99 and the books are $13.99 each.