Ubooly, the learning toy that listens-Initial impressions

Ubooly with card that contains your credit code
Ubooly with face card – on the back of the card is your key for software, do not discard card

Due to the nature of the Ubooly, it’s going to take a few articles to cover all aspects of it and not read like an encyclopedia, so these are my initial impressions based on roughly 30 minutes of the device which I was given to review.

As such, consider this a start and not a serious commentary on the software the Ubooly pushes nor a condemnation of the device.

What is an Ubooly?

In parental terms, an Ubooly is a large teddy-bear-shaped case for a smartphone that protects the device from what the software asks your child to do with it. Examples from the first ten minutes of playing with it involve seeing how high you can throw the Ubooly containing your phone, and requesting your child place it on the floor and attempt to jump over it.

While the amount of padding the Ubooly offers is enough to mitigate any damage that might come from a drop or throwing it at a wall, I do not think a 4-10 year old landing on the thing after being instructed to is going to cut it. Me and ITMama were listening to the requests to chuck the thing around and wondering if this was invented by a smartphone company to get rid of old devices and force you to buy new ones.

What is an Ubooly’s function?

Ubooly boxThe Ubooly is sold with credits (printed on the card inside the Ubooly,) toward software that you purchase that is age and format appropriate. The device has lessons and activities for children from 4-10 years old, so depending on what software you get depends on what the Ubooly does.

There’s educational, and distraction/entertainment software available for purchase and unlocking. I’ll be covering that later.

On the Android side, a massive 100+ meg download from the Play Store will get you up and running. Not having an iDevice fired up and available I’m not sure what the download size on that is. After that it’s just sign in and create a profile for your child. You can also create profiles for other people who might use the Ubooly, but for the moment since Baby M is a little young to be playing with it she doesn’t get a profile just yet.

Device size matters

One of the things I noticed with my HTC EVO 4G LTE right off the bat was it did not want to fit in there. It required stripping the protective case I had and then jamming the phone into the stuffed pouch in order to get it to mostly fit – I’m still not certain I can zip it up yet, but I was a little distracted tonight and did not have a chance to mess with the zipper and cramming the thing in.

I’ll note that the EVO 4G LTE is a large phone however. Just be aware that it does matter and there are no device dimensions listed on the packaging that I can tell.

Squishing the phone in caused the volume buttons to be pressed and at least once the power button was jammed, which turned off the screen, which necessitated me taking the phone back out in order to swipe to unlock and then cram it back in.

Volume matters

The underside of the Ubooly
The bottom is pretty thin to allow for audio to pass through, but still pretty well plush armored.

The Ubooly skin is a tank. A soft plush tank. When the Ubooly is talking it speaks out your speaker phone speaker. Depending on device, this placement varies. My EVO is muted in what the Ubooly says, and evidently what it hears as it didn’t hear a single one of my responses correctly, which may have to do with using a different mic when on speakerphone.

Four became ten when it asked age (I was going for the youngest possible age it’s used to,) which confused me as when I set up the profile I put in her birthdate, so it had a good chance to get the right info right off the bat. Favorite color of “purple” was heard as “red,” and generally it didn’t seem as though the software was able to pick up my voice with my phone in there.

My guess is this is designed for devices with the mic and speaker position that the iPhones have, which my Android doesn’t (but many do).

Interactive feeling fails when it can’t understand you. It feels like someone recorded a tape with a Teddy Ruxpin and just guessed at the answers. Perhaps it’s just due to it not being in there all the way, I don’t know. I’ll play more with it tomorrow.

You give it permission to rule your phone

Ubooly requirementsWhile you’ve got a child with your phone, it’s got some permissions that on the surface one wonders about such as why does Ubooly need to have access to your GPS in the first place, let along know the exact location to within 15 feet of where your child is? There is an app called Road Trip in there, perhaps that’s it.

While I haven’t gotten too far into the software yet it does beg the question of why, with your phone encased in a stuffed toy, do you need access to the camera. Then again, as stated I’ve not gotten too far into the thing, and you can play with the Ubooly software without the bear for older kids, so probably there is something there.

Most importantly there’s the request for permission to receive text messages. Why? What possible reason does the app need that permission for? That one I can’t figure out.

The complete list follows of the current Android application.

Permissions required

Your location
approximate location (network-based)
precise location (GPS and network-based)

Your messages
receive text messages (SMS)

Network communication
full network access
view network connections
Google Play license check
view Wi-Fi connections

Phone calls
read phone status and identity

Storage
modify or delete the contents of your USB storage

Camera
take pictures and videos

Microphone
record audio

Lock screen
disable your screen lock

Your social information
read your contacts
modify your contacts

Your accounts
find accounts on the device

System tools
access extra location provider commands
send sticky broadcast
modify system settings
test access to protected storage

Affects Battery
control vibration
prevent device from sleeping

Audio Settings
change your audio settings

Overall thoughts so far

Too many permissions although they may just be permissions squatting for future updates. Good concept for an educational toy the grows with children. Needs device size list and compatibility chart for speaker placement. Speech recognition does not appear to like my accent. Absurdly cute. 

Wrap-up

I will be covering some of the software later and will hopefully have some answers to the permissions requests by then and a little better view of what the individual lesson plans and software contain. So far it’s a very good idea, decent physical implementation, and I think we’ll all enjoy playing with this as time goes on.

We’ll see though.

The Ubooly plush smart toy is available from Amazon for $29.99, and you can see it in action here.

4 / 5 stars