Nov 30

Peculiar Product Review: Ubooly

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Ubooly, the educational toy for children with the funny name, has quickly become a required item in my car for my daughter. She asks for Ubooly, who she’s decided to call “Uby”, the moment she’s put in her car seat. I at times am as entertained as she. The “toy” is made up of two parts – the plush and the smartphone/tablet app – though both aren’t required at all times. The stuffed animal “plushy” is made very well. The app provides a depth and breadth of educational fun. Each will be covered in further detail below.

The Plushy:
This stuffed toy is a critter of unknown origin, with big ears, no arms, feet or neck, and a rotund body. His/her face is the majority of the design, with intention. Though the place where a smartphone or tablet slides into does have a stitched face, it is not meant to often be seen. This is where, from the top of Ubooly’s head, you are to insert your iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad mini, or similarly-sized Android phone or tablet. Two sizes are available, only for the purpose of using either a smartphone or small tablet. This isn’t a stuffed animal whose threads will come loose and stuffing will escape through wear and tear. This plushy is durable, and is in fact designed to be a cushion for your electronic device. Its base is broad, in order to stay upright. Ubooly has been tossed from the backseat to the front without warning, and I didn’t fret for my phone’s safety. She (which I’ve been told is the gender of ours) has at times been tucked in bed with my daughter, after Uby lulled her to sleep and she asked that I take out my phone. They come in a variety of colors; ours is bright green, and is the smaller breed to accommodate my Moto X.
ubooly 3

The App:
This is the brain of Ubooly. The guts. The meat and potatoes. The silly voice actor with a great script, who brings Ubooly to life. You get the idea. Here is where your child will get their tech fix yet not be transfixed by flashing lights. The Ubooly becomes a modern toy with classic imagination when app is opened, and you insert your device of choice. As seen in the video above, some games require some activity. Other games are meant to be more sedentary, for a valid reason. All the while, the quirky humor of Ubooly shines through. Most of our time with Ubooly is spent driving to or from day care, sometimes in traffic. Austin, TX has its share of traffic, and my patient child still likes to be entertained. We play our own games some days, and other times she’ll play with Ubooly. I’ll admit – I’ve had fun listening in. While driving, I’ve heard Ubooly tell my daughter:
– a joke about a sports team called the Cicadas, that are only good once every seventeen years
– a reference to Saturday Night Live, about needing more smoothie
– that our noses remember 50,000 different smells
– why insects cannot be bigger than they are (skeletons on outside, they wouldn’t get enough air)
– numerous other educational comments and humorous quips

I read that the maker wanted a specific voice for Ubooly, which is voiced so perfectly by an American voice actor. I say this because they’ve also gone to the effort to get other voice actors who can do the Ubooly voice in different languages. I don’t know about the other actors, but the one speaking English has thrown in plenty of fun side jokes for the parents. Nothing bad, just fun stuff not entirely meant for the kids. Ubooly also isn’t shy about her vocabulary. I like that my daughter asks me what teleport means, when she’s pretending to be an alien searching for a sock. It’s not something a four-year old normally hears, which means she’s listening. Ubooly is all about listening. The most you’re going to get from Ubooly (far as I can tell) is a change of background and the varied hair, face, and accessory options that are unlocked through play. You’re to interact with Ubooly through your conversation. Sure, Ubooly speaks a lot. But she also listens to your child. Tell Ubooly to tell you a joke, go on an adventure, or that you want to listen to music. There’s other options, and a lot of content within each. Along with being sent the Ubooly for review, I was also given some credits for the store within the app. I purchased a good assortment of games and activities, with different age ranges, topics of education, activity required, and even materials needed for the activities where Ubooly instructs your child. This toy is meant to hit that sweet spot between a “smart” toy with its education and interaction, and a tangible toy bringing out imagination. Ubooly succeeds, and brings with it longevity. The main app comes with enough content, and there’s still more to download in the Ubooly store for whenever my daughter does ask for more to do.

ubooly 1
The app does have its hiccups, however. My daughter likes changing the look of Uby, and until recently the notifications disappear when we select a new look. Two appear available despite me having gone though them all. When swiping through the different purchased activities, several are duplicated. I don’t like that my Moto X dims the screen whenever I slide it head-first into the head of Ubooly, but I’m not sure if this the fault of the toy or the phone. I just unlock it in the toy and proceed. Ubooly doesn’t always recognize what my daughter says. She sometimes gets the day of the week wrong, inadvertently teaching my daughter to question what she is told to believe (which I am fine with). These are all minor, though, and actually show the benefit of the brain being a smartphone. Voice recognition aside, these other occurrences can be fixed with a software update. I question if the voice recognition issue, which I’ve only noticed in my car, could be due to the ambient sound of the vehicle. There are settings in the parental options that allow me to change the speaker and microphone volume, that I’ve yet to test. I would also like if the book icon, used to bring up the horizontally-aligned activities, were accessed a different way. Currently, it’s in the upper left of the phone. If my phone is in the toy, my daughter has to either reach through through the top zipper or up from the front. There might be a different way to access these activities, but a user interface shouldn’t have to be explained. If I could provide a suggestion, it would be that the child do a long press to access the activities, in addition to the double-tap to get Ubooly’s attention.
ubooly 2
Plenty of parents today grew up with toys that demanded our imaginations. Our children today have a lot of high-tech entertainment options. Ubooly brings the best of each, satisfying the wants of two important demographics: the kids who want their parent’s phone, and the parents who don’t want to just put a flashing screen in front of their children and want them to instead think and play. Get your family an Ubooly, and create profiles for all the children in the household. You’ll find that Ubooly and at least one of your kids might spend a lot of quality play time together.

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Reviewed on Android on 30NOV14
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