Toy Review:    SkillStarter Handheld by Vtech

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Top Pick Part of the XL Series, Vtech's line of portable electronic learning aids for school-age children, the SkillStarter Handheld is an exciting new product that our testers thoroughly enjoy. 

This snazzy-looking toy features a portable unit with a touch-sensitive screen and an attached pen (stylus). This portable toy can also be placed into a keyboard base. The toy features more than 20 different activities for fun and learning on the go. Alphabet, vocabulary, addition, subtraction, and counting games are just some of the product's offerings. Children complete mazes by following letters in the correct alphabetic order; they enjoy word search puzzles (this one was a favorite of our testers); players solve addition and subtraction equations; they find the correct digital time that matches analog time. 

There are also a variety of "school tools" available. A unit converter converts metric and imperial units in both directions. A calculator is built in, and a dictionary is available when users use the "sync" feature--you can sync up this handheld with your PC and have access to an online dictionary (the VPort accessory is necessary for this feature, sold separately). 

The toy can be personalized with basic stats about the user and by setting the clock. Kids can keep a phone book.

The Game Lab contains a number of arcade-style games, such as a fishing game that is all about timing, mazes, and more. A juke box feature allows kids to listen to six different songs. 

The handheld detaches from its base, as seen in the picture at left. Children use the pen (stylus) directly on the touch-sensitive LCD screen. When attached to the base (the keyboard docking), kids can use the QWERTY, alphanumeric keyboard for inputting data, use the arrow keys for some of the games, and answer questions using the numbers on the keyboard if they want.

If you also purchase a VPort (sold separately), an infrared sensor interacts with the device to download new activities, keeping the unit fresh over time. The downloads do not cost anything, but the VPort sets you back approximately $20 US. The sensor also allows children to communicate with other kids who own a unit (for example, they can share their personal data or play games). 

Requires 3 'AAA' batteries. The unit can also be plugged in using an adaptor, not included.

Skills Covered: Core Kindergarten through 2nd Grade reading skills (vowels, vocabulary, more); early math (addition, subtraction, counting, telling time); memory and logic; creativity (music composition and art).

  • A decidedly more educational handheld unit than other portable gaming devices.
  • Children develop reading, math, and problem-solving skills.
  • Educational and entertaining at the same time.
  • Handy school tools included (calculator, for example).
  • Portable and easy to use.


  • Expansions require an extra unit, the VPort, which is sold separately.


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Electronic Toy By: Vtech       Ages 5-7 Published: 2002


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Reviewed October 2002   Comments? Email us.

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