Test three: Fun factor
All work and no play...
phonics abaca is aimed at children starting out with phonics. There are four main sections, and introducing a new area of learning through song is - for most children - familiar and fun. Daisy was more than happy to sing along and explore the interactive alphabet, and recited the phonic elements without any prompting.
Likewise, in the Mr Phonics app, Mr Thorne (the teacher, and creator of the app) really gets into the spirit of things, and Daisy really took a shine to him (we particularly enjoyed the Nonsense challenges).
Ladybird: I'm Ready For Phonics and abc PocketPhonics also benefit from guides, who help draw kids in, and introduce sections and themes that might otherwise be complicated.
However, there's only one winner in this section: Hairy Letters puts the fun into phonics. Furry characters guide you through the app, which provides an instant connection. The app is also packed with quirky animations and sound effects.
Test four: Design and use
What's it like to use?
Hairy Letters is by far the most intuitive app, opening with a simple alphabet board, with letters gradually being revealed as you go. You can hear how it should be pronounced phonetically, and a dotted outline of the letter takes you to a section where you trace its shape.
As you progress, a number of mini-games are unlocked, which test spelling based on these letters. The app is packed with classy animations, and each section complements the next, with almost seamless transitions between them (vital to stop children feeling lost).
With other apps - such as Mr Phonics and Simplex Spelling - Daisy needed some prompting, and she was confused by the locked levels in Ladybird: I'm Ready For Phonics. All three apps are well designed, with I'm Ready For Phonics boasting great touches such as animated rockets.
Phonics abaca, though fun and simple to navigate, felt like it could have had more effort put into its presentation, however.
The winner: V for victory
The staggered introduction of letters and spelling tests, coupled with first-class design and animation, make Hairy Letters the perfect combination of entertainment and learning. It's a great complement to the more structured learning at school and, if being accosted as soon as you walk through the door with demands to use an app is a sign of quality, Hairy Letters is up there with the best.
Despite all the great things we've said about Hairy Letters, as children get older, it may lose some appeal, but as an iPad introduction to phonics is a clear winner. It may not have the strength-in-depth of a product like Ladybird: I'm Ready for Phonics or Simplex Spelling Phonics 1, but bowled us over with charm and originality, and made learning phonics fun.