Monday, November 17, 2014

VTech toy reviews

We have had good luck with VTech toys in the past, so I was excited to review some of their new toys. Listed below are the toys we tested, basic info, and my reviews.

·         Record & Learn KidiStudio™: 
VTech                   Amazon
o   Children can perform and record like a rock star with the Record & Learn KidiStudio. Kids can explore a variety of musical instruments; adjust the tempo and sing-along to the music while recording a musical masterpiece to share with family and friends.
o   The light-up keyboard lets them follow the lights and learn to play their favorite melodies.
o   Kids can sing along to 20 melodies in Rock, Hip Hop, Jazz and Techno styles with a real voice-changing microphone.
o   Ages 3-6, $39.99

My kids love music. We've had simple piano type toys in the past, but never one with all the features the Record and Learn KidiStudio has, so I was excited to be given a sample to review in exchange for my opinions. I love the microphone and the way they can change their voice. While this toy is intended for the preschool set, even my older kids enjoyed the voice changer and special “sound effects” buttons. My kids were laughing hysterically at themselves and each other with the voice changer. They had a hard time resisting the urge to change the way they were singing along with it. (My teenagers have been playing with it for over an hour without any little kids around.) They also liked the “alien” instrument. You have to be fairly close to the microphone to be picked up, so it didn't pick up background noise. My kids were already familiar with quite a few of the songs, but for the ones they weren't the lyrics were in the user guide. There were lots of songs (20) and the toy never sings the words. The sliders to change the volume, voice changer, and tempo seem a little fragile, especially the tempo slider, but the piano keys and everything else seem very well made. The volume button is fully accessible and easy to adjust by the kids, so I found myself asking them to turn it down at times (on loud, it is quite loud). This is a toy that I see my little kids using a lot as it was intended and my big kids finding reasons to play along with them and be silly.  

·         Lil' Speller Phonics Station™:
VTech                   Amazon
o   The Lil’ Speller Phonics Station lets children build and learn words with fun sounds, melodies and animations that encourage interactive learning and reinforce words.
o   Kids can discover letter names and hear their sounds by plugging in the letter blocks one by one, or learn letter order by determining which letter is missing, then plug in the correct letter block to complete the letter order.
o   The Lil’ Speller Phonics Station includes 26 letter blocks and four extra blocks to spell words like “mom” and “dad.” It also features a handle and all of the blocks can be stored inside for easy travel.
o   Ages 3-6, $24.99

 With 9 kids, we've tried a lot of toys over the years, and Vtech toys have usually held up well. I love when I find a well built, fun toy that is also educational. Perfect for a beginning reader or younger child just starting to explore the world of letters, sounds, and words up through beginning readers/spellers. I like how the Lil' Speller gives both sounds for vowels and letters “c” and “g.” For my 3 year old, who is just learning her sounds, I just give her a few tiles at a time, that match the letters she has learned so far and one or two more. She has been picking up the new ones quickly to “earn” more letters. My 5 year old is a beginning reader who already knows his sounds. He liked practicing the abc order game and trying to make words. I liked having a list of words the toy recognized to prompt him with. He also likes the spell game and how it shows the word briefly at first. The help button gives hints if he gets stuck. I did receive a sample toy from Vtech in exchange for my honest review, but this is a toy I would have been happy to buy regardless. Overall, I think this is an excellent toy that sneaks in a big dose of learning while still being fun.

·         Go! Go! Smart Wheels® Ultimate Amazement Park™:
VTech                   Amazon
o   Race through three AMAZING courses in the Go! Go! Smart Wheels Ultimate Amazement Park Playset!
o   Drive the included SmartPoint™ race car over the 8 SmartPoint locations, and listen as it responds with different music or fun sound effects.
o   The Ultimate Amazement Park is more than three feet long and can be connected to other Go! Go! Smart Wheels playsets (sold separately) to encourage creative play. It’s playtime with miles of learning fun!
o   Ages 1-5, $59.99

 If you are looking for a toy with “WOW” factor, you've found it! This track is huge and impressive! It stands mid-thigh on me, eye level for my 2 year old son. There was enough to do that all three of my boys (2,5, and 7) could play at the same time, but it does only come with one smart car (the smart car makes sounds as it goes across different parts of the track.) While that car was easily the favorite, the other cars we own also raced down just fine. Because of the way the track is set up, you don't actually race the cars-- the two starting points go different directions. This set can also be added to if you want (with the Go! Go! Smart Wheels Deluxe Track Set), but I felt there was plenty to do with just this set. I will likely add the other set for a birthday in a few months. The little car does have an off option, which I appreciated.

It did take awhile to assemble, about an hour without any kids around, so either set it up before hand or plan on time to put it together. It is much more impressive out of the box. It would make a perfect “Santa” toy on Christmas morning. The toy seems sturdy and well made with bright, attractive colors. The one downside of this toy is that it doesn't break down easily to store, so it will take up a good bit of space. At the same time, it is a toy that my boys will come back to over and over again, so I think it is worth the space it takes. I did receive a sample toy in exchange for my review, but this is one I would have loved for a Christmas morning surprise.  

·         3-in-1 Care & Learn Stroller™: 
VTech                   Amazon
o   The stroller’s smart sensor recognizes when it’s being moved and plays sing-along songs about letters, colors, places and animals.
o   Transform the stroller into a high chair to hear baby care reminders that introduce nurturing concepts and healthy habits while kids pretend to feed their doll.
o   Turn the high chair into a bassinet and the doll can fall asleep while listening to classic nursery rhymes or 20 familiar lullabies.
o   With three ways to play, this stroller is packed with role-play fun!
o   Ages 12-36 months, $44.99 each

With a new baby in the house, what is the perfect gift for a 3 year old? Her own baby and accessories! This set fit the bill perfectly and I was thrilled to be given one to review by VTech. I love that the baby doll is completely soft, like a teddy bear. There aren't any hard faces or hands to roll into during the night to wake her up. Assembly was easy, and the sound can be turned off (or made quieter) as needed. This one toy changes into a stroller, high chair, and bassinet (or as my daughter called it, a changing table/bed). I always like space saving toys, so having 3 in 1 is a plus. Changing from one form to another was easy enough for my 3 year old to do after a little practice-- you just push a button and turn.
In stroller mode, you are able to hear sounds about different pretend places, including the farm, park, and neighborhood. The stroller recognizes when you put the baby in the stroller and changes where you are going each time. As you push the “story” button you hear sounds that you would hear on your walk. In the bassinet set up, the “story” button says nursery rhymes. Unfortunately, the music button on the toy didn't work, even after trying fresh batteries. This meant she couldn't play the lullabys or songs from the stroller mode. It didn't detract from her playing with the toy, but in the bassinet mode it kept telling her to play music, which she couldn't do (except one note at a time on the piano keys.)
When you turn it off, it plays music and then says “bye-bye,” instead of stopping immediately. (It does time out and shut the sound off itself if it hasn't been played with for a few minutes and says, “bye-bye” then as well.) Second, when you turn the sound back ON after it has been off, it says, “Sound off” when you are actually turning it on and if you push the story button when it's off, it says “music off” and then keeps talking . My seven year old was annoyed by a song about the rainbow that leaves out the color green as it names all the colors in the rainbow. They remembered indigo, but left out green. :)
Overall, my kids and I like this toy. My daughter was thrilled that it was pink and purple. My two year old son wanted his turn to play as well and would push around other dolls in the stroller when my daughter wasn't playing with it. The sounds were fun, but I was also glad they are easy to turn off if needed. The plastic part of the toy seems very well built and sturdy. The fact that one of our music buttons didn't work out of the box makes me wonder how the rest of the sounds and buttons will hold up. However, even without the sounds, this toy has lots of play potential with the three different options and saves space over 3 separate toys.

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