Jooki: a kid-friendly music, audiobook, and net radio player

Jooki is a juke box designed for younger children that is controlled primarily by five included cute plastic characters a child places on the top of the speaker. Each character corresponds to a playlist or internet radio station.

Jooki and the characters

The unit I received was one of the first and a reviewer’s version, so my review may be slightly off, and some of the issues have been resolved. I’ll list them here so you have a quick and easy fix if you happened to get one of the first. This is a very long review with a lot of nitpicking from a reviewer who played with it for two months. TL;DR – good device, some software issues that were corrected, enjoyable.

Keep in mind when reading this I would not have spent two months already with the product if it weren’t pretty awesome.

The Jooki currently is aimed at the tech without screens market and encourages children to use some imagination, at least when they’re playing with the cute NFC characters.

Jooki currently can play Spotify Premium, many free internet radio stations you can configure, or audio from storage. They’re working on expanding the abilities of the device and hope to add more services, but as a standard word of warning – you always buy the device that it is now, not what you hope it can be.

Jooki at my house

Each Jooki character corresponds to a playlist or radio station you define in the Jooki app. After the unit’s powered on a child can place a kid-friendly character on the Jooki and start listening away.

I’m not a Spotify person, hoping personally they’ll get Google’s ecosystem on there, but doubting that’s any time soon as I don’t know of any open Google Music implementations yet. As such I could only test with some internet radio stations they included as staff favorites and some mp3s.

Most of the Internet radio stations included in the build I got did not work and requested I use another app to listen to them. I’m not sure if this is a bug, reviewer’s issue, or what. I’m assuming I just had a very early playlist and should check back and see if the stations are updated.

That said, doesn’t really matter, you can add you own radio stations and should.

Jooki boxJooki boxJooki boxJooki box

In use with two kids

Jooki and MaggieMy five year old and nearly three year old took turns after I got it working swapping out the cute characters to listen to music. What was configured by default was not particularly to their liking but the ability to control what music was playing via cute plastic toy was new to them.

What we quickly learned was that removing the toy stops the Jooki, and when you place the toy back down the thing starts the playlist the beginning again, or in some Internet Radio stations starts the “You’re listening to blah blah blah please go to this website and check out blah blah and like us on YouTube etc etc etc”.

I’ve asked if there is going to be the ability to resume if the same character is placed back down, and that’s not currently in the cards, but who knows.

Due to an altercation between a plastic dragon and a ghost I learned that the Jooki is pretty easy to clean tears and cheese dip out of. So there’s that.

Audio books

Jooki box
Hidden in the packaging is the ghost. Make sure to find it.

Ever wanted your kid to hear their favorite story again and again as read by a recording? The Jooki seems perfect for on-demand audio books. The only issue is when you remove the characters, either intentionally or accidentally, you start right back at the beginning.

If you’ve got a series of stories for kids there’s also no random shuffle mode. It will always start with story 1, if you knock the dragon off the thing on story 3 it will restart at story 1. Now, there are controls that will let you skip, however they’re a little difficult to press.

Jooki Issues with kids

The first issue I ran across is that my 5yo cannot turn the Jooki on. This may be a parent’s dream, however as I was trying to see how a kid would play with it by herself, this meant I had to press the button. The thing’s built like a tank with a very stiff button.

This may not be an issue as the battery life is amazing so you can probably have it on quite a while.

The next issue was even when she was able to turn it on by herself the boot up time is in the neighborhood of 10 seconds. Seems like it’s more in the 20 second from button to play, but there’s a fairly long watching of a circle of lights as you wait for it to boot.

Long enough that the 2yo will walk away and the 5yo asks me if it’s broken. Once again, they’re working on bootup time I’m told.

There’s a video that includes the Jooki hanging from a tree on their website – it’s probably not playing music because it stops by design when you remove a character, it’s also probably not playing music because it’s probably out of WiFi control range.

My kids also found out a game they can play where they swap an NFC character fast enough that the Jooki doesn’t register that there’s been a change. Not really a big issue, minor bug that I reported.

A reviewer complains…

Jooki charactersAs a product reviewer I try to spot the failings of imagination and of design. For the most part the Jooki is a tank and built well for kids, but there are two things that really stand out as not being there. The first, mentioned above, is it’s fairly hard to turn on.

The second is that the thing uses a Micro USB connector to charge. Now, the connector is behind a rubber flap and that’s not a terrible thing, but it does mean you’re probably going to be the person who is charging the Jooki, not your child.

A USB C or flat magnetic connector would have been nice and I’m generally in favor of wireless/Qi charging for these things. Keeps little grubby fingers out of the sockets and also gives the kids more autonomy in the use and maintenance of the things.

You can use some aftermarket mods to make this happen, but meh.

The Jooki also does not particularly make it easy to get music on and off the device (if I’m remembering correctly it currently requires a computer and a Micro SD card/adapter). Would be nice if the app did it.

There’s no fallback logic for playlists currently. You don’t have an internet connection for Playlist A? no fallback to playlist L. Seems like this would be useful, but I may be nitpicking.

No ability to bind multiple WiFi access points. Your kid goes to grandma’s, you need to rejoin the network or make sure home and grandma have the same SSID. No ability to start playing with a dragon and then hang the thing up in a tree, keep playing.

No tracking of what was played, how long, etc to limit kid’s gadget time. No hours of operation to prevent a 2yo from waking up and playing with it at 4am. Maybe not an issue but I want most of my kid gadgets to stop working when it’s bedtime.

Few kid options in the listed free internet radio stations, however this may be where Spotify premium shines, and also may be updated by the time you read this.

The Jooki otherwise is a fine portable speaker and can bring the party.

The struggle was real

I’m going to tell the tale of the firmware that was shipped to me. This may or may not be your experience and hopefully all Jookis manufactured from here on out have newer firmware, but this is my experience.

My Jooki arrived late April 2018, the kids descended like hornets on the thing and while they were playing with the NFC characters I quickly tried to connect it to the internet. I could get to the part where it asks for the network name and password, the Jooki would then disconnect me, the app would say to join my normal network, the app would fail to realize I was connected, the Jooki would never be found even using a network scanner and looking at my router’s connected devices.

This was the case on an iPad and two Androids and three routers I used. Turned out that the firmware that had shipped did not work with WiFi access points that had passwords over 11 or so characters, I had significantly more.

It also evidently does not work when you’ve got 16 million routable addresses in your subnet as when I put it on an open WiFi (255.0.0.0) I still was not able to locate the thing on an open AP at work.

They fixed the password limit. I wrote with the firmware guy and he managed to figure out what was going on. For a quick firmware push he had me create an SSID named “mnet” with the password muuselabs256 then the firmware downloaded instantly.

Would be nice if the app could have done that, but maybe soon.

I have also never successfully completed step 4 of the setup app. The app never recognized my network was connected. However, once step 3 is completed you can kill the app and come back in and if the Jooki’s connected to the WiFi it will find it.

All of this is hopefully fixed now, but that was my experience. Give yourself some time to set the thing up where you don’t have kids asking when they can play with it.

Things to come

During my two months playing with this I had a few discussions with the Jooki people, and more streaming services are planned, and more development is going into making this great.

Currently there are more characters capable, looks like up to 8 in the app. They’ll probably be rolling out at some point soon.

They say there’s no plans on letting you use your own NFC tags (which can be had for pretty cheap,) which I’d like, but my guess is wouldn’t be a usable feature. Would really like my 2yo to be able to put her little dino on the thing with an NFC tag and hear a dino story, but that’s not yet at least.

Should you get the Jooki?

Coming in currently at $199 I’d really like to have no complaints, but that’s not my case. While the Jooki is built like a tank and I think the thing could be priced at that and be fair, the software should be a little more developed before you hit the triple digits.

That said, I don’t think there’s anything like the Jooki on the market currently. Seems like the Jooki would be perfect coming in the $89 range as a music player built like a tank for kids below $100 you can forgive quite a bit more than you can a $200 product.

The Jooki is available from Amazon for $199.

3.5 / 5 stars