Who wants to keep their toddler occupied? Meet Ubooly. (Ooo-boo-lee.)
?!?!? I know. Funny name, but this little guy is a brand new educational toy that customizes to your child and talks to him/her. It’s an educational app (free!) powered by your smartphone that magically turns into an interactive friend when placed inside a cuddly stuffed-animal thingy. The logistics: Founded in 2012 in Boulder, Colorado by Isaac Squires and Carly Gloge, Ubooly was funded through Kickstarter and is alumni of the TechStars’ 2012 class. The company’s mission (seemingly run by a bunch of smart and savvy 20-somethings, or at least they look it!) is to create the most entertaining and cuddly automated learning experience for children. According to my findings, Ubooly is the first Smart Toy: With over 20 interactive lessons/games created by teachers, Ubooly inspires creative play… and boy is he C-U-T-E. Too cute for his own good. (Or, her own good? TBD.)
I’ll be straight: I am NOT a tech-savvy person. (Don’t tell anyone in the online world. It’ll ruin me.) So when I was approached by Ubooly’s marketing team to do a test-and-review on this new little buddy… I thought hard about it. ME AND ANYTHING TECH DOES NOT USUALLY WORK WELL. Honestly I was scared. Underneath Ubooly’s soft and fuzzy exterior (which is basically a clever ‘house’ to protect your iPhone inside), there was an actual app that I had to deal with. (Confession: Ubooly is the FIRST app I’ve ever downloaded on my phone. Ever. Truth. Stop judging. You’d think I was born in 1920, I know.) In spite of myself, I put my fear of apps aside and bungeed head-first to try this new-app-on-the-block with my girls (LadyP, aged 2.5 and LilMiss, almost 1.5). Here’s what we found…
WHAT WE LIKED:
Ubooly’s voice… Clear, well-enunciated and seriously so endearing and not annoying (at least, to me). My LadyP (2.5 years old) was enamored from the first time his face lit up, eyes opened and spoke words (and really turned into a groupie – jumping up and down laughing – when he actually said her name). Not to mention the graphics (is that what they call them these days?) are incredible… his eyes look like he’s alive and interacting with you. Amazing.
The games are creative and imaginative, and I liked they way they automatically continued and progressed if LadyP didn’t quite answer one of Ubooly’s questions loud enough (Ubooly asks questions that require actual responses to prompt the next section… that’s the “smart” part). Example: Our toddler ‘VOCABULARY’ involved making all sorts of animal noises that were right up LadyP’s alley, even though she was more curious to hear Ubooly’s impression of a pig rather than do it herself.
The sound effects are fun: Some of the other activities LadyP enjoyed (while holding her cuddly Ubooly) were driving a bus (complete with horn-honking), sailing a pirate ship (on a very-noisy ocean), riding in a hot-air balloon (swoosh-swoosh!)… all with impressive sound effects. She was mesmerized… I’ve never seen her so happy to just sit in her chair, watch, listen and giggle (except when we put Dumbo or Tinkerbell on, but that’s totally different).
The instructional activities are creative: Don’t think that Ubooly won’t tell your kid what to do… because he will… it’s all part of his games. My girl loved to just sit and listen to him talk and make animal noises, etc, but she also stayed active when he asked her to do something. “Go to the mirror and tap my face when you’re there.” (Activities including making silly-faces ensue.) Wanna make an ordinary object not-so-ordinary? “Go get a pillow and tap my face when you have it” (NOTE TO UBOOLY ON THIS PILLOW GAME: Any chance you can get specific and instruct kids to get an OLD pillow, rather than the fancy expensive-ish one that their mom just bought to showcase in the living room? I admit I interrupted this game on account of replacing our pillow mid-game.)
The ‘case’ (the fluffy stuffed-animal that you actually put your phone in) is brilliantly appealing for toddlers who adore stuffed animals (like mine). Not to mention it is SOLID so it actually does protect your phone should your kid hurl it across the room in some radical game move…
WHAT WE DIDN’T LIKE:
There were a few glitches that required me to log out of my account then log back in again to get Ubooly’s adorable face ‘unfrozen’ and able to talk to us. I also had a bit of trouble figuring out how to select certain features from the ‘lab’ to add to my account (NOTE: this may very well be because of my ‘tech-idiot’ status, as I warned you about above).
We weren’t big fans of playing with ‘little Ubooly’ in his ‘box’ (which features a small-Ubooly bouncing around in a room which looks like a little video game scene on your screen, rather than the ‘face’ that talks like a little animal inside the orange stuffed-toy). The novelty of dragging items like rugs and posters around in little Ubooly’s room (his “box”) wore off quick. (The idea is that the more you play with Ubooly, the more coins you earn to buy him “furniture” for his room… it kept LadyP’s attention for about 15-minutes and then she was over it.)
Sometimes we were confused about whether the lessons we selected to play were actually the lessons we were playing. Example: We selected an ‘ALPHABET’ lesson which started talking about riding around in a hot-air balloon… that was a little confusing (where was our alphabet lesson?)… although our ‘TOOTHBRUSHING’ lesson worked perfectly (along with a super-silly song about snails that even had me listening intently to see where the heck it was going…)
My iPhone felt like it was 1000 degrees on FIRE when we finally stopped playing after about an hour and I took it out of the orange ‘case.’ (Is that normal? Again, I’m a tech-idiot.)
ALL IN ALL, GOOD AND NOT-SO-GOOD, WE FELL FOR UBOOLY. From our experience, Ubooly is smart, creative, promotes imaginative thinking (at least he did at our house).. all this opinion from a mom who CANNOT STAND IT when parents give smart phones to their toddlers for entertainment purposes (you think I’m kidding?). Ubooly entertained LadyP, kept her attention, got her thinking and smiling and she could not stop talking about him and asking to play to with him for days. She even wanted to sleep with Ubooly (obviously without my phone tucked in there)… it’s like she’s found a new best friend.
Not to mention, think of how fabulous this little guy can be in the car (keeps your toddler occupied and thinking while keeping your phone away from you while driving). Regarding my 1 year old’s experience, I’ll be honest: She really wasn’t that into Ubooly (maybe because her older sister was hogging it? I don’t know). I have a feeling she might be just a wee bit too young to actually get how to work him. But boy did she giggle when she heard him talk…
If you wanna hear what Ubooly’s voice sounds like double-time, watch this:
DISCLAIMER: TheFabMom was compensated and generously provided with a cuddly, orange Ubooly toy and several games for purposes of this test-and-review. All opinions are original and truthful, based on personal experience with the product.