Here Come the Smart Toys! - Children`s Technology Review

Here Come the Smart Toys! - Children`s Technology Review

The latest reviews of software, tech toys, video games & web sites

Mon thly

New

and P

Form at!

May 2006

Issue 74

Volume 14, No. 5

REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE

Afaya-Pen

American Idol: All Star

Challenge DVD Game

Arianna’s Nutrition

Expedition

Brain Age: Train Your Brain in

Minutes a Day!

BrainWare Safari

Bratz Rock Angelz

Buzby: Breakin’ all the Rules

Con, The

Cosmeo

Creatures Exodus

Curious George

Dance Dance Revolution

Ultramix 3

Daxter

Dr. Mario & Puzzle League

Drill Dozer

EyeToy: Kinetic

FlashFLIPZ

Franklin the Turtle

Game Wave

Garfield the Search for Pooky

Hot Dots

I Can Play Piano

ImageBlender 3

Inspiration 8

ION Educational Gaming

System

K12 Curriculum

Kodak EasyShare C300

LeapTrack Assessment and

Instruction System 4.0

LEGO Mindstorms NXT

Letterpillar

Logo Design Studio

Mark-My-Time Digital

Bookmark

Math Blaster: Master the

Basics

My First TV Fun & Games:

Sesame Street Elmo’s

World

MyBoard III

Nancy Drew: Last Train to

Blue Moon Canyon

Playhouse Disney Preschool

Time Online

PQ: Practical Intelligence

Quotient

Ratchet: Deadlocked

Robosapien V2

RSMedia

Sibelius Student Edition

Sims 2: The (Console Edition)

Strategies for Writers

Talky Talky

Tamagotchi Connection:

Corner Shop

TeleStory Interactive Books

WriteToLearn

Web Sites About Trees

page 4

Toy Fair Trends

page 5

Two New Dotted Media Pens

page 6

Math Drill

page 8

Due in August: LEGO Mindstorms NXT, p. 6

Can you name this building? See page 2.

Digital technology has transformed architecture, transportation, business and medicine.

Why not education?

Last week I was amazed to step into the world’s fastest elevator (39

MPH) and took a 14 second trip to the observation deck of the world’s tallest building (101 stories). I wasn’t in Chicago or New

York. I was in Taipei, Taiwan— in the heart of one of the most digital regions of the world, where I was speaking at a reading conference. The building, called Taipei 101 is a standing monument to what can happen when smart people use computers. Even the name is binary, because the builders understood that without computers and good software, making such a structure, in an earthquake zone, would have been impossible.

The past two decades have seen incredible advances in a variety of fields thanks to the application of powerful digital technologies. In the field of education, however, the application of technology has been frustratingly slow. Unlike architecture, where you can stand in the final product and marvel, or medicine, where life or death depends on innovation, the educational process in the United States has been largely passed over by digital innovation. As a result, most

US students, including my own daughters, still learn to read and write from basals and workbooks. Teachers are still filling out vague report cards, by longhand. If the use of technology in schools were measured by stories, we’d be stuck in 1930.

There are signs that the barriers to change are starting to give way. Just as a small river can eat its way through stone, even the greatest political or traditional barrier will yield to authentic innovation. We have to remind ourselves that digital tools offer more efficient methods for delivering, expressing, and measuring learning. It is merely a matter of time. And grey hair.

As we enter this particularly exciting time, I’d like to reaffirm our commitment to the vision of a supercharged elevator to take every child to the top of his or her potential. We’ll do our part, by providing reliable reviews of innovative digital products. We like to think that “good information is lubrication for change,” and the reviews in this publication attempt to be such “good information.” Sure, tall buildings are cool, but they are not as important or essential as our children. So lets get to work!

Sincerely,

May, 2006

CTR is published monthly in laser print and PDF

formats.

EDITORIAL Warren Buckleitner, Ph.D., Editor

([email protected]); Ann Orr,

Ed.D., Contributing Editor; Rick Toone,

Contributing Editor

SOFTWARE LIBRARIAN Lisa Della Fave

([email protected])

MARKETING AND BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT

Bobbie Nester ([email protected])

CIRCULATION & CONFERENCES Tracey Lyons

([email protected], 800-993-9499)

SUBSCRIPTIONS $96 for a one-year standard electronic subscription (12 issues including online access). Send payment to Children’s Technology

Review, 120 Main Street, Flemington, NJ 08822 or call 800-993-9499. Other subscription options are available, including print and electronic, group, overseas, and online only that may be priced less.

Visit www.childrenssoftware.com to learn more.

PRODUCT SUBMISSIONS. Send two products, with release information to Lisa Della Fave,

Software Librarian, 120 Main Street, Flemington, NJ

08822 (Phone: 908-284-0404)

EDITORIAL GUIDELINES. In order to protect review integrity, CTR follows a set of editorial guidelines that governs our relationships with publishers, found at

(www.childrenssoftware.com/editorialguidelines

.html). Highlights include:

• We don’t sell software or profit from the sales of products that we review, directly or indirectly.

• We don’t distribute/trade or sell our subscriber information.

CTR’s review process is available for public examination.

We want our readers to know that there are no ulterior motives behind our reviews.

Looking up, from the main entrance.

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Entire contents © 2006 by Active Learning

Associates, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

2

Children’s Technology Review, May 2006

Directory

New titles are listed here, grouped by age.

PRESCHOOL

Buzby: Breakin' all the Rules, www.DigitalPraise.com, 10

Curious George, www.namco.com,

11

Franklin the Turtle, www.gamefactorygames.com, 13

ION Educational Gaming System,

Hasbro, 7, 21

Leapster TV Learning System, 7

Letterpillar, www.leapfrog.com, 15

Little Leaps Grow-With-Me

Learning System, 7

Kid-Tough Digital Camera, 6

My First TV Fun & Games:

Sesame Street Elmo's World, 16

Playhouse Disney Preschool Time

Online, 17

TeleStory Interactive Books, www.jakkstvgames.com, 7

V.Smile Baby, 7

V. Smile Jammin’ Gym Class, 7

SCHOOL SUPPLEMENT

Afaya-Pen, www.afaya.com.tw, 19

Arianna's Nutrition Expedition, www.mmseducation.com, 19

BrainWare Safari, www.brainwareforyou.com, 19

Cosmeo, The Discovery Channel,

20

FlashFLIPZ , www.edin.com, 20

Hot Dots, www.edin.com, 20

ImageBlender 3, www.tech4learning.com, 13

Inspiration 8, www.inspiration.com, 20

LeapTrack Assessment and

Instruction System 4.0, 14

MyBoard III, www.chestercreektech.com, 21

Sibelius Student Edition, www.sibelius.com, 18

Strategies for Writers, www.inspiration.com, 22

CONSOLES FOR YOUNGER

CHILDREN

Bratz Rock Angelz, www.thq.com,

10

Curious George, www.namco.com,

10

EARLY ELEMENTARY

DigitMakover, www.radicagames.com, 7

I Can Play Piano, www.fisherprice.com, 7

Jibbi, www.radicagames.com, 7

Kodak EasyShare C300, www.kodak.com, 14

Talky Talky, www.gemkid.com, 6,

22

Write & Learn Spellboard

Advance, 8

UPPER ELEMENTARY

American Idol: All Star Challenge

DVD Game, screenlifegames.com, 9

Brain Age: Train Your Brain in

Minutes a Day! 9

Game Wave, www.playgamewave.com, 13

LEGO Mindstorms NXT, www.mindstorms.com, 6, 21

Mark-My-Time Digital Bookmark, www.mark-my-time.com, 15

Math Blaster: Master the Basics, www.knowledgeadventure.com,

15

PQ: Practical Intelligence

Quotient, 17

Robosapien V2, www.wowwee.com, 5, 18

RSMedia, www.wowwee.com, 6,

22

VG Pocket 50, 8

V.Flash Home Entertainment

System, www.vtechkids.com, 8

MIDDLE AND HIGH SCHOOL

Creatures Exodus, www.kutoka.com, 10

EyeToy: Kinetic, www.scea.com

Logo Design Studio, www.summitsoftcorp.com

Nancy Drew: Last Train to Blue

Moon Canyon, www.herinteractive.com, 16

CONSOLES FOR OLDER CHIL-

DREN

Dance Dance Revolution Ultramix

3, 11

EyeToy: Kinetic, 12

Ratchet: Deadlocked, www.scea.com, 18

Sims 2: The, www.ea.com, 19

GAME BOY YOUNGER CHIL-

DREN

Dr. Mario & Puzzle League, www.nintendo.com, 12

GAME BOY OLDER CHILDREN

Drill Dozer, www.nintendo.com,

12

Garfield the Search for Pooky, www.gamefactorygames.com,

20

NINTENDO DS

Brain Age: Train Your Brain in

Minutes a Day!, www.nintendo.com, 9

Tamagotchi Connection: Corner

Shop, www.bandai.com, 19

SONY PSP

Con, The, www.scea.com, 19

Daxter, www.scea.com, 11

PQ: Practical Intelligence

Quotient, www.d3publisher.us,

8

Children’s Technology Review, May 2006

CTR Editor’s Choice Selections for May, 2006

Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day!

BrainWare Safari

Buzby: Breakin' all the Rules

Creatures Exodus

Dance Dance Revolution Ultramix 3

Daxter

Drill Dozer

Fridge Phonics Magnetic Word Builder

Game Wave

Inspiration 8

Kodak EasyShare C300

Letterpillar

Mark-My-Time Digital Bookmark

Nancy Drew: Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon

Playhouse Disney Preschool Time Online

PQ: Practical Intelligence Quotient

Ratchet: Deadlocked

Sibelius Student Edition

Sims 2: The

Tamagotchi Connection: Corner Shop

* Note that reviews for titles marked with an asterisk appear in the electronic monthly edition which can be downloaded from within the Software Finder (a password is required).

Coming in the June 1st Issue

In our next issue, we’ll bring you news from the E3 Expo, were we’ll be searching for the latest trends in children’s interactive media. The list currently includes the following:

Age of Empires: The Age of Kings

Alive Chimpanzee

Aqua Real 3D Deluxe

Backyard Bugs

Bust-a-Move Deluxe PSP

CADPRO 4 Platinum

Series

Cosmic Math

Danger Rangers: Mission

547 Safety Rules! DVD

DragonBall Z: Supersonic

Warriors 2

FIFA Soccer 06

Fridge Phonics Magnetic

Word Builder

Giggles: Computer

Funtime for Baby

Hooked on Handwriting:

Learn to Print

Ice Age 2: The Meltdown

K12 Math Program

K12 Physical Science

Major League Baseball

2K6

Mark-My-Time Digital

Metronome

MVP '06 NCAA Baseball

Number Raiders

SpongeBob Squarepants:

The Yellow Avenger

Star Wars Battlefront 2

Tiny Mouse Optical

Virtual Business -

Management 2.0

Winnie the Pooh TV

Games

Word Querty: Foundations for Reading & Writing

Fluency

Testers

Thanks to the following individuals, including members of the Mediatech

Foundation, who contributed their valuable feedback during the testing process.

Mike Ainsle, 13; Lauren Aldrich, 4; Dana Andrews, 10;

Jessica Andrews, 12; Christian Bollin, 10; Jenna Buckleitner,

11; Sarah Buckleitner, 14; M. Burton, 30; Ian Bydalek, 3;

Addie Bydalek, 6; Jamie Colasurdo, 11; Steven Crew, 6;

Danial Della Fave, 6; Nick Della Fave, 10; Nicholas Demers,

6; Justin Dempsey, age 10; Cassidy Durkee, 3; Scott Evans,

11; Mohamed Farid, 12; Lauren Fiorilla, 11; Michael

Francavilla, 9; Nicole Francavilla, 7; Jordan Fusco, 7;

Morgan Fusco, 5; Jon Gick, 18; Nicholas Gerhartz, 5; Aaron

Gervasio, 2; Laura Henry, 12; Ellie Hilgen, 4; Erin Hilgen, 11; Curtis Hill, 5; Jarrett

Hill 10; Jon Hubert, 22; Rahul Kishore, 13; Jimmy Klein (8); Tess Lindsey, 5; Austin

Lyons, 12; Connor Lyons, 10; Owen Lyons, 6; David Marks, 8; Taylor Meacham, age

9; Sonya Newman, 5; Vera Newman, 3; Billy O’Neil 14; Tyler Parker, 10; Tori

Pinello, 8; Diana Pinello, 5; Lauren Ross, 12; A.J. Ross, 10; Mehyar Sadri, 13; Alex

Schlicklin, 14; Taylor Schlicklin, 9; Andy Semanchik, 15; Kasey Semanchik, 13;

Kristen Semanchik, 10; Mike Semanchik, 7; David Sheneman, 12; Matthew

Sheneman, 10; Sarah Sokoloski, 5; Zak Sokoloski, 9; Andrew Sheneman, 10; Kira

Sirois, 9; Greg Stambach, 9; Lauren Stover, 7; Trudy Suleiman, 39, Andrea Stess, 10;

David Stess, 14; Daniel Swartz, 11; Miles Ward, 5; Tim Wolock, 14.

3

4

Tree Links!

Trees cover almost one third of the Earth's land, providing shade, food, building supplies, medicine and oxygen to breathe. It is amazing to think that the world’s largest tree, with a trunk diameter of more than 100 feet around, started from a seed the size of a pea.

Here are some web sites that will teach you more about these incredible plants that often get taken for granted.

Some of these sites require a current browser with shockwave.

Can You Tell a Pin Oak from a Sugar Maple? http://www.arborday.org/kids/carly/

The National Arbor Day Foundation’s web site is the place for tree lovers, young and old. You can play games like “Leaf Minor”, where you match the leaves with the tree. Other quiz games include “Treevial Pursuit” and “Who Wants to be a Treellionaire”. If you join the club, they’ll send you ten free trees to plant in your community.

Build a Treehouse!

http://www.thetreehouseguide.com

This website, by treehouse enthusiast and author Patrick Fulton, contains dozens of links to treehouses– big and small. While the site

Fifth grader August Nelson from

Alexander Public School won the

South Dakota poster contest last year. Perhaps you can next year!

Fifth grade teachers and children’s librarians can download the free lesson plans, a tree kit and instructions for the 2007 contest. Explore this link:

http://www.arborday.org/kids

tries to sell you treehouse plan books, there’s plenty of interesting links that make this site worth a visit, including pictures of other people’s ideas and tips for choosing a spot for building a treehouse.

Sure You Can Start a Campfire, But Can You Put One Out?

http://www.smokeybear.com/kids/default.asp

If you go camping this summer, you may want to start a campfire. But do you know how to put it out? Fire is one of the greatest threats to trees. It can destroy the lives and homes of animals, as well as people. Can a forest ever recover from a fire? Yes, but it can take 70 to 100 years– older than your grandparents. Fortunately, Smokey Bear has his own web site, and he’s ready to help you learn about minimizing fire risks with games and advice.

What is a Leafscar?

http://www.backyardnature.net/trees.htm

You’ll learn these things and much more on naturalist Jim Conrad’s website. Jim sponsors the “Bug Eaten Leaf” contest for people who send him a list of over 33 types of living creatures—including trees— from their backyards. This site also includes tips for identifying trees, as well as plenty of links where you can learn much more about nature and trees in general.

What is the Biggest Tree?

Go visit the Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park online

How’d you like this tree (below) in your back yard? At

www.redwoodrus.com

, you can buy a redwood seed pack online for $3.50.

(

http://www.nps.gov/seki

) where you can find pictures of enormous trees over

2000 years old, with trunks so fat that it would over 25 kids to put their arms around them. The General Sherman Tree is the largest of all the sequoias. This picture (right), which we found at

http://math.bu.edu/people/sf/sequoia.html

shows the massive size of one of the trees growing in the Giant Forest. Can you see the tiny people, touching the stump?

From baby (top) to parent

(below). It only takes a few thousand years.

In choosing the links for www.LittleClickers.com, we first considered ease of use, and then looked at accuracy, advertising practices, relevance and developmental appropriate-

ness. Children’s Technology Review has no business connection with these public

links. This page is designed for parents and children to do together. To report a bad link, please email the Editor, [email protected] You’ll find access to past columns at www.littleclickers.com.

PERMISSION TO PHOTOCOPY THIS PAGE FOR NON-PROFIT USE IS GRANTED.

Children’s Technology Review, May 2006

GGEETTTTIINNGG SSMMAARRTT OONN SSMMAARRTT TTOOYYSS

An Analysis of the 2006 American International Toy Fair, by Warren Buckleitner

I t seems fluky that a major spring snowstorm happens to hit New York City during Toy

Fair. The attendees have grown used to it, and I certainly don’t mind the snow, having grown up in Michigan (“you call this snow?”) Perhaps it is a sign... a reminder... that all the new toys we’re seeing for the first time won’t actually be released four nine more months, when the real snow arrives. After three days of slushy booth tours, we’ve made an attempt to capture some of the key trends for 2006 for how interactive technology is being applied to toys.

An increase in TV toys. Your TV going to be busier this fall, thanks to a number of gadgets that plug into it. Some have built in cameras or voice recognition; or options for multiple players. Most importantly, unlike computer software, they are immune to virus problems, and easy to use. We heard the phrase “plug and play” at this Toy Fair more times that you hear “no child left behind” during NECC. And it is true. Kust plug these toys in, turn them on, and they’re ready to go. Many of the key products are described with more detail below.

A continued increase in interactive DVDs. Don’t miss GameWave (out now, from Canada) for an interesting mix of microprocessors, IR technology, and traditional DVD storage. Dozens of other interactive DVDs are coming, based on just about every license and game show. The key question remains-- how interactive are they? See the feature review of American Idol, in this issue for a closer examination of this question.

Some notable holes. Sometimes the important things are not what you see, but what you don’t see. Key product lines that were not shown this year included the Pixter and

PowerTouch from Fisher-Price, and the ActivePad from Publications International. This must be good news for LeapFrog’s LeapPad.

A stronger “Baby Einstein” effect than ever. As educators, it always bothers us to see toys that hype faster development, smarter kids, and other things that are easier said than done.

This fall, there will be no shortage of advertising for screen-based products sell the promise of a smart toddler who knows sign language and can recognize most classical composers.

Based on the 2006 Toy Fair, the Baby Einstein syndrome shows no signs of abating.

Better robots from companies like Wowwee (the Robosapian and RSMEDIA), LEGO and

Hasbro. The robots we saw can do more, and in some cases can be programmed. One of the most interesting was a large robotic horse that Hasbro says can hold up to 200 lbs, a claim we did not test.

More “real” digital tools, for younger chil-

dren. The price/technology ratio has continued to swing in the favor of children, as indicated by functional digital cameras, MP3 players and video cameras. By this fall, there will be several mobile phone products, specifically for kids.

More disposable technology products. The price of memory, LEDs, speakers, small cellphone sized color screens and button cell batteries has plummeted, and we’re seeing the effects in the products. Sunglasses have embedded

LEDs, bookmarks have built in LCD timers, and there are hundreds of low cost (less than $10) games that are designed to be thrown away when the batteries die. Companies to watch include

Techno Source (www.technolsourceusa.com),

Publications International (www.pubint.com) and

Radica (www.radicagames.com), with dozens of

LCD games for less than $15.

Sure to send your cat into the nearest potted plant, the

Robosapian V2 (WowWee) is continuing to set the pace for the higher end children’s robots.

The RSMEDIA is coming later this year.

What is a Smart

Toy, Anyway?

There are thousands of new toys announced each year at Toy Fair, and many use technology. Which ones do we consider for CTR?

• Is there a microprocessor, or any sort of “brain” involved?

• Does a toy remember the current play session (short term), or concurrent play sessions (long term)?

• Does a product collect any information about the child? If so, how is it used?

• Does it talk? Can it listen, or respond to sound in some way?

• Does it use the Internet?

• Can it be recharged or refilled with new content?

• Is there any form of assessment of a child? Would an older child, who has already mastered the content, have a different experience than a novice or first time user?

• Are there right/wrong answers? If so, how does the product handle an incorrect response? Is it merely a beep, or is there more thought involved?

• Is it the experience any more than cause/effect? In other words, does the product interact in some way with a child?

Children’s Technology Review, May 2006

5

SSMMAARRTT TTOOYYSS ((ccoonnttiinnuueedd))

Here are some of the more interesting products we spotted. Note that details such as title, price and platform can change, and that this is in no way a complete list.

Real Tools

Kid-Tough Digital Camera is a low resolution (640 by 480) digital camera designed especially for preschool abuse. The camera includes a 1.3” backlit color

LCD preview screen that allows kids to instantly see the picture they’ve taken and view or delete previous shots. The camera also features dual handle grips, two-eye viewing and auto flash to increase the chances of accidental success. Features include an 8 MB built-in memory plus an SD card slot for increased storage, a simplified control panel, a USB cord to connect to the computer for downloading and printing capabilities and software. Runs on 4 AA batteries. June 2006.

FP3 (Digital Song and

Story Player) Your child's first iPod? The “first digital song and story player” for preschoolers, that makes it possible to download new content, by plugging the device into your computer from the

Fisher-Price online content store for $.99. This is part of the new

“Kidtronics” line from Fisher-Price.

Robots

Butterscotch from Hasbro is a large $300 plush toy that can also hold up to 200 pounds according to Hasbro—a claim they would not let us test. With built-in light and sound sensors, the electronics embedded plush toy reacts to light (she may become frightened) and turns her head in response to noises.

Calm, soothing voices will settle her. Instead of burning hay,

Butterscotch burns D batteries, and plenty of them. Coming this fall.

Two New Dotted

Media Pens Target

Global Market

Like Leapfrog's widely discussed

FLY Pentop

Computer, the Afaya-

Pen uses a barely visible printed grid on paper, made with standard CMYK printing, so that it can calculate where it is on the page. Unlike FLY, there is no ink writing tip, and therefore no text-tospeech features. Think of this device as an untethered stylus, for use with custom-prepared printed material. Point the pen tip to a word or picture to hear it read aloud; this can include maps, wall charts, flash cards, stickers, and any other media that has licensed the Afaya technology. We tried the pen briefly on both books and demo wall charts during the 2006 Bologna Children's Book Fair, and found it to be rather chunky feeling (it weighs 50 grams plus two AAA batteries), but responsive. In other words, the pen is able to deliver audio nearly instantaneously, when the tip hits the paper. So it has potential. Afaya, based in

Taiwan, is working to form allegiances with US and EU publishers to get their dotted format into books (publishers, visit the Afaya site for details).

A strategic advantage of this pen is that it uses standardized components. Besides the onboard earbud jack, AAA batteries and USB port, the pen uses off-the-shelf SD RAM of up to 1 GB in size. There are two formats, the A-100S, for about $90 which comes with MP3 capability and a backlit screen, and the less fancy A-101S (for about $70) for mass student use. Visit Afaya Technologies, www.afaya.com.tw.

Talky Talky also uses a barely visible printed grid (in regular ink) that an electric eye can see, but you can't. Shaped like a very fat pencil, Talky Talky feels quite large and clunky. The publisher is leveraging past experience in the publication of English materials in Korea that will be compatible with the device. The pen has 32 MB of Flash memory, which can hold up to ten 28 page books. That means that any word or picture could be read aloud or translated. The printing process uses a fifth K layer of ink (in addition to the standard CMYK layers of ink). Visit Gemkid Horizon Ltd., www.gemkid.com.

6

LEGO Mindstorms NXT is the first upgrade in this trend setting robotics kid since 1998. Coming this August, this $250 kit will let children build rolling or crawling robots with more power and features, thanks to a BlueTooth enabled, 32-bit NXT controller brick and a graphical programming language. For the first time, the programming can be done either on a Mac or

Windows computer. According to LEGO PR, the kit will come with 519 parts, which includes 3 interactive servo motors with rotation and speed sensors, a movement detector, a sound sensor that can react to patterns or tones, an electric eye that can discriminate between colors or light intensity, and a touch sensor. Visit www.mindstorms.com or www.nxtbot.com.

Owi Robots are simple $35-$60 robot kits that can be either steered by remote control, or programmed by coloring in the squares on a paper disk using a dark lead pencil. They would be an affordable option for a programming activity. www.discoverthis.com/owi.html.

RSMedia is perhaps better described as a walking, talking stereo than a robot. With a color LCD screen, camera, handmounted tweeters and a backmounted subwoofer, a USB connector and MP3 and MP4 playback the RS Media is designed to capture, display and store data from your computer. A new personality editor lets you program movements, so you could program a routine to a favorite dance track. The $350 robot can be controlled with an IR remote, or put into puppet mode for teaching. Coming this summer from www.wowwee.com.

Children’s Technology Review, May 2006

TV Toys

We saw at least 50 gadgets designed to be plugged into a TV. Here’s a selection.

Digimakeover was one of the most innovative TV toys we saw this year. The $60 device takes a snapshot of your face.

Then you can add makeup, tatoos or jewelry; or try different hairstyles using a touchpad and stylus. A photobooth mode lets you paste your face over different backdrops. You can save up to 3 makeovers per session. www.radicagames.com.

I Can Play Piano. Informal piano lessons, of sorts, come to your TV with this

$80 battery-operated (or AC adapter) three octave keyboard. The music curriculum is based on the Piano Wizard from Allegro Multimedia, sold as a computer based program with a MIDI keyboard. The age-based software cartridges contain eight songs and two games each.

Coming August 2006 from Fisher-Price,

Inc., www.fisher-price.com.

ION Educational Gaming System functions like the Sony EyeToy. It plugs into a TV and puts your child’s image into the picture using an integrated camera.

The $100 device was originally supposed to be released last year, but was delayed.

The current configuration includes one software title. Additional $15 disks are designed for preschool and early elementary. www.hasbro.com.

Jibbi is a creature that lives inside an egg-shaped container that plugs into a

TV. You see a large face on the screen, with a menu of commands—a bit of minimal reading is required. You interact with Jibbi by choosing menu options with voice commands, such as “lets play” or “lets dance.” Jibbi can play simple interactive games like “Rock, Paper,

Scissors.” www. radica.com.

LeapsterTV Learning System appears to

New DVD Lets you See New Products

This year, for the first time, we have produced a one-hour

DVD based on the footage from the American

International Toy Fair, held this spring in New York City, and are doing the same for E3.

Technology at Toy Fair

'06 gives you first-hand previews of over 40 of the products that are shaping the next generation of toys, such as

LeapsterTV, LEGO Mindstorms NXT, Little Leaps

Grow-With-Me, iPet, RSMedia, V.Flash, FLYware

Algebra and V.Smile Baby, to name a few.

You travel along with CTR editors on a quest for less-well-known products. We end the DVD with conversations with others that we met at the show, including Claire Green ( Parents' Choice Foundation), Frank Migliorelli (ESI & NYU), Aleen Stein

(Criterion), and Louis Russell (Binary Labs). If your job depends on keeping up with the latest children's toys, software or interactive media, you'll want to be the first to get this essential resource!

View a free preview:

https://secure.tradenet.net/childrenssoftware/movies/ttfdemo.mov

To get your copy, send $95 with your name and address to CTR, 120 Main Street,

Flemington, NJ 08822. You can also order online, as follows—

Order online ($95):

https://secure.tradenet.net/childrenssoftware/ttfdvd.html

be Leapfrog's response to the V.Smile.

This TV console has no screen. Instead, it plugs into a TV. The controls are the same as they are on the Leapster. The console is designed for two controllers, so two children can play at once with some games. Controls include a touch pad/stylus and a large joystick. The kit will include one software cartridge—

Dora the Explorer Pinata Party. Coming

July. www.leapfrog.com.

Little Leaps Grow-With-Me Learning

System is a $40 wireless (infrared) controller that will work with a standard

DVD player. Software comes on DVDs which will seel for $18 each. Before using, the remote must be programmed to be compatible with your particular

DVD player. The device has both baby and toddler modes which is determined by flipping the controller over and snapping it into the base. Will it be responsive enough for babies to make the connection between their actions and the TV screen? Is the joystick responsive enough? We’ll see. Coming August 2006.

www.leapfrog.com.

V.Smile Baby is a $40 stand-alone busy box-like controller and TV game console.

The controller has seven large, responsive, colorful buttons that a baby can freely explore. Slider switch controls turn it into TV mode, making the toy a remote control. This sends infrared signals to a base. Note that this isn't an interactive DVD system. All the software comes on ROM-based cartridges, and the result appears to be a responsive screen experience. The software titles ($15 each) include Baby Einstein content. There are three modes of play for each cartridge; one of which is a sign language tutorial www.vtechkids.com.

V.Smile Jammin' Gym Class is a $30 vinyl dance pad peripheral for the

V.Smile console. www.vtechkids.com.

ELECTRONIC BOOKS

Story Reader Video Plus is one of two extensions of the successful Story Reader line we saw this year from Publications

International. This is the first gadget to link a real book to a TV. So by turning a page in the book, the virtual page turns on the TV; a very innovative feature.

There are also five learning games on each story that can be played using a pop-out plastic controller to control the pages on the screen. www.pubint.com.

TeleStory Interactive Books is a $30 book-shaped stand-alone battery-operated controller designed to playback storybooks. Each book comes on a cartridge that is inserted into the TeleStory system, so that children can build their TeleStory libraries and collect their favorite books.

By pressing the large, colored buttons,

Children’s Technology Review, May 2006

7

8

SSMMAARRTT TTOOYYSS ((ccoonnttiinnuueedd))

children can turn pages or interact with the story. Coming Spring 2006.

www.jakkstvgames.com.

FLYware: Algebra is one of the three new $35 titles for the FLY Pentop

Computer. One of the others is a memorizor tool, which indicates that Leapfrog is moving the FLY into the homework help area. In the algebra demo, we watched the pen provide step-by-step hints to equations, and then find points for x and y intercepts and slope.

www.leapfrog.com.

Other Interesting Gadgets

Mark-My-Time Digital Bookmark contains an LCD clock and timer (powered by button cell batteries) that can either count up or down, in units of minutes.

When counting down, a very faint beeping occurs when the timer gets to zero. A start/stop button can be used, so that minutes can be accumulated over a period of days or weeks, ideal for adding up the total number of minutes a child reads. Note that because seconds are not displayed, it isn't always clear when the thing is timing, besides the two small blinking dots between the minutes and hours. But once you figure it out, it is easy to use and very functional. The timer comes in three colors

(blue, purple and green).

Considering the price, its hard to go wrong with this bookmark.

Besides, after the batteries die, you can still use it as a bookmark. Mark My Time also makes the $20 Mark-My-Time

Digital Metronome for music practice.

www.mark-my-time.com.

VG Pocket 50. Can't afford a Game Boy?

This all-in-one portable video game system from Hong King costs just $30, and plugs into a regular TV. The screen is small, bright and clear. The device comes with 50 basic games onboard.

V.Flash Home Entertainment System,

Think V.Smile for older kids— this new

32-bit stand-alone gaming console is designed to play specially formatted educational arcade disks for elementary kids. Content was formed with the help of The Princeton Review. Six software titles ($30 each) will include characters such as The Incredibles. Coming Fall

2006., VTech Electronics North America,

10030, www.vtechkids.com.

Write & Learn Spellboard Advanced is the next generation of last year's Write &

Learn Smart Board. This is the first toy to teach cursive letters (as well as print)

MATH DRILL AND IQ TESTS INVADE HANDHELD GAME UNITS

If you thought you finished with flash cards back in 4th grade, there's a new category of handheld games that may bring them back, in spirit anyway. Nintendo’s Brain Age, released last month, is part of a trend that Nintendo calls a "a cornerstone to expanding the world of video games to new audiences."

This isn't the first set of puzzles for a handheld game system... last fall, Sony released another brain builder for the PSP. Called PQ: Practical Intelligence Quotient the title contains 100 very clever 3D puzzles that range from easy to very, very hard. Scores are based not just on solving the puzzle, but also on how fast they are completed and how many moves it takes. After 30 minutes you feel like you just took the SAT... twice.

Much more innovative, however, is Nintendo's new

Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day!—the first software title for the Nintendo DS that asks you to turn the DS sideways, like a book. So the right touch

Above, PQ: Practical Intelligence Quotient. Below,Brain

Age.

screen is where you scribble answers, and the left screen delivers the puzzles or advice. The program also uses the DS voice recognition system in puzzles that ask you to read words. As you do, you hope the DS recognizes your voice. We found this to be a hit-or-miss process while driving down a road in a minivan. Our testers, ages 10 and 14, found the games to be addictive. After you sign in, you are asked for your birthday, date and time. The program then gives you a short pretest. Based on your performance, it begins administering a set of mental workouts. For example, you are given a series of math problems (6 x 7 = ?) and are asked to scribble your answer on the DS touch screen. Another puzzles is a set of flash cards, where a color word (like "RED") is flashed on the screen. But the letters may be green. You have to mentally force yourself not to read the word, but instead say outloud, "green." According to the program, this type of mental work will keep your brain “limber and in good shape,” or as the author of the program says "an active prefrontal cortex is a happy prefrontal cortex!" There's also a wonderful collection of soduku math puzzles (sort of like crossword puzzles, with numerals). The program includes smart features, including leveling (the better you do, the harder it gets). All in all, this is a great delivery system of rapid fire facts in a format that would be the envy of any school system.

Note that the program markets itself on the rather hokey notion that you can "exercise" your brain to develop your "brain age." Many educators question the neuroscience perspective on issues related to learning, and Brain Age uses plently of scientific words as a marketing tool, with brain scans to boot. Readers should also know that no such "mental age" unit is used, at least in the US, in any credible way. For example, the program implies that a the ideal brain age is a 20. If you score poorly on puzzles, it gives you an older brain score of 60 or (gasp) 80. This makes Brain Age a fun conversation starter around anyone older than you. A third brainy game title—Big Brain Academy (known as

Brain Flex in Japan) will offers players 15 activities that test their brain powers in areas like logic, memory, math and analysis. In this game, up to eight people can play with a single game card, and each activity takes less than a minute to complete. Nintendo of America, www.nintendo.com, 800-

255-3700, $19.99, for ages 10-up. Runs on Nintendo DS. Teaches: math, puzzle solving, memory.

Rating (1 to 5 stars) = 4.7 stars. Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day is rated E. Big Brain

Academy is Rated E and launches May 30.

by way of a touch sensitive pad and attached stylus. Content includes 200 common words like GOAT, which can be written in one of the six “smart writer” spaces. www.vtechkids.com.

Children’s Technology Review, May 2006

Feature Reviews

MAY 1, 2006 VOLUME 14, NUMBER 5

American Idol: All Star Challenge DVD Game

"Great concept, but weak interactive features," say our testers. And, "Do you really expect us to know Carrie Underwood's audition city?" If you are one of the many million "American Idol" fans who do know, you'll most likely enjoy this DVD board game that comes with a pretend microphone, some random event cards and four game pieces. The idea is to be the first of your group to sing your way around the board and be crowned the next American Idol.

While this sounds fun, the game is lacking in interactive features, and the actual game board component is tedious at best. Instead, our testers simply gave up the board game and enjoyed watching the many contestant tryout clips (especially the bad ones).

They also got a kick out of the "belt it out" mode, where they could sing along to a song such as "My Girl" and get a random -- often snippy -- comment from a judge. There is no actual connection between your performance and the feedback, unlike the much more innovative Karaoke Revolution. However, our testers, who enjoy the show, had fun dancing and singing along with the DVD.

A trivia mode asks questions about the show, such as, "What group sang 'Sweet

Home Alabama' with Bo Bice in Season 4?" With each of these challenges, you get feedback from Paula, Randy or Simon. However, the feedback is just random, and therefore doesn't match with what you are doing. For example, when you dance, you might get feedback on your singing. Also, some of the trivia questions are really difficult, even for true "Idol" fans. The option to "name the song" is a little difficult, as the music they play is not that good. It is fun watching old clips from past seasons of "Idol", especially the really bad performers. All in all, this is a fun family game and will get both kids and adults up singing and dancing.

Details: Screenlife, LLC, screenlifegames.com, $34.95, for ages 8-up. Runs on

Interactive DVD. Teaches: reading (karaoke-style), music, popular culture. Rating (1 to 5 stars) = 3.6 stars. Review date: 5/2/2006.

Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day!

This innovative set of brain teasers is the first software title for the Nintendo DS that asks you to turn the DS sideways, like a book. So the right touch screen is where you scribble answers, and the left screen delivers the puzzles or advice. The program also uses the DS voice recognition system in puzzles that ask you to read words. You hope the DS recognizes your voice, otherwise you will encounter a hit or miss process while driving down a road in a minivan. Our testers, ages 10 and 14, found the games to be addictive.

After you sign in with your birthday, the game gives you a pre-test. Based on your performance, it begins administering a set of mental workouts. For example, you are given a series of math problems (6 x 7) and are asked to scribble your answer on the DS touch screen. Another puzzle is a set of flash cards, where a color word (like "RED") is flashed on the screen. But the letters may be green. You have to mentally force yourself not to read the word, but instead say, outloud, "green." According to the program, this type of mental twisting will keep your brain limber and in good shape, or as the author of the program says, "An active prefrontal cortex is a happy prefrontal cortex!" There's also a wonderful collection of soduku math puzzles (sort of like crossword puzzles, with numerals). The program includes smart features, including leveling (the better you do, the harder it gets). All in all, a great deliver of rapid fire, factual level content that would be the envy of any school system.

The program markets the idea that you can "exercise" your brain to develop your

"brain age," a notion that is questionable at best. Readers should also know that no such

"mental age" unit is used, at least in the US, in any credible way. For example, the program implies that a the ideal brain age is a 20 years old. If you score poorly on a few puzzles, you may be assigned a brain score of 60 or 80. Don't tell Grandpa.

According to Nintendo PR, this brain-training series of games is a "cornerstone of

Nintendo's aim to expand the world of video games to new audiences." The second title in the series, Big Brain Academy (called Brain Flex in Japan) will offers players 15 additional logic/memory games, for use by up to eight people at once. This isn't the first set of puzzles for a handheld game system...last fall, Sony released Practical Intelligence

Quotient.

Details: Nintendo of America, www.nintendo.com, $19.99, for ages 10-up. Runs on

Nintendo DS. Teaches: math, puzzle solving, memory. Rating (1 to 5 stars) = 4.7 stars.

Review date: 5/2/2006.

Ease of Use

Educational

Entertaining

Design Features

Good Value

Ease of Use

Educational

Entertaining

Design Features

Good Value

ESRB Rating: Everyone

8

10

9

10

10

9

6

7

7

7

72%

94%

9

Subbies

Mailed on:

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Children's Technology Review, May 2006

FEATURE REVIEWS, MAY 1, 2006 VOLUME 14, NUMBER 5

Bratz Rock Angelz

This one-player scavenger hunt is based on the adventures of four teen divas (the

Bratz) as they worry about fashion, makeup, and other stuff that most that parents probably don't want their teen daughters to be worried about. We'll leave that judgment to you.

In the Windows version of this game, your first goal is to help one of the Bratz girls at a fashion magazine. The idea is to explore the offices of the magazine, collecting items in order to keep the editors happy. Another game has you mixing the ingredients of a

"Smoothie" by grabbing correct ingredients as they quickly pass by.

There's plenty of sorting, matching, and trying on different outfits. The activities vary in quality—from fair to poor, and games can be saved. We would like to see more flexibility to the problem-solving strategies and feel that the educational value is minimal. For avid fans of the show; perhaps. Otherwise pass. Other versions run on PS2,

GameCube and GBA.

Details: THQ, www.thq.com, $39.99, for ages 6-12. Runs on Windows XP,

PlayStation 2, GameCube, Game Boy Advance. Teaches: reading, deductive reasoning, spatial reasoning, problem solving. Rating (1 to 5 stars) = 3.2 stars. Review date:

5/2/2006.

Ease of Use

Educational

Entertaining

Design Features

Good Value

7

6

7

6

6

10

64%

Buzby: Breakin' all the Rules

This a collection of five well-designed matching, counting and sorting games, set in the religious theme of a video series (Hermie & Friends, by Max Lucado). Children help two caterpillars collect lost seeds by playing one of the games. For example, in Lucy's

Meadow, you must match numerals by steering a flying ladybug, using a context map for clues. Buzby's Hive is a fast-paced word search game, with letters hidden in a honey comb. Children are rewarded with seeds, which can be planted in a garden to grow coloring book pages; a clever way to tie the entire game together. A sign-in screen is used to remember progress from play to play.

Drawbacks include limited challenge level of the activities; children will top out soon. However, they are also right on target in terms of developmental levels. The religious messages are indirect, delivered by the video introductions to each activity. For example, as the bugs find their way to one activity, one said, "God said He'd be with us while we are looking." At one point, the caterpillars pray, and random activities in the game are are attributed to God.

There are eight short videos in the title, all of excellent quality. Of the eight characters in the program, all but one (Lucy, the lady bug) is male. This could be more gender-balanced.

This would be an excellent addition to any Sunday school, or for parents looking for a solid set of activities for a preschool or kindergarten-aged child. Also see FLO:

Return of the Water Beetles.

Details: Digital Praise, Inc., www.DigitalPraise.com, $29.95, for ages 3-6. Runs on

Windows XP, Windows 98, Mac OSX. Teaches: respect, following rules, value of prayer and praise, memory, spatial reasoning, counting, seriation, mental math, adding, working cooperatively, interpersonal problem solving, planning. Rating (1 to 5 stars) =

4.6 stars. Review date: 5/2/2006.

Creatures Exodus

Note: the following review is for the first version of this title called simply,

"Creatures", which was released in 1997 in Europe. Creatures 2 was on released in the US on 9/98 by Mindscape, and later sold to Encore who distributed the title for several years. In 2005, this title was slightly updated, and released as Creatures Exodus by

Kutoka, along with a simplified version for younger children, called Creatures Village.

Creatures Exodus is an entertaining and sophisticated life simulation set in a strange, outer space environment with a good/evil underlying theme. The goal is to raise a community of little animal-like critters called "Norns." Each Norn is hatched and raised in an effort to create a species that can ultimately take care of itself. If you can get a few Norns to learn and adapt to their environment, they will teach others in the community to do the same. For example, if you teach a Norn the words "drop" and

"apple" and associate meanings with the words, that Norn may potentially teach other

Norns. Before you know it, a dozen Norns have, well, dropped their apples. The program is too complicated for most young children, but teens and adults will get a kick out of this simulation.

Details: Kutoka Interactive, www.kutoka.com, $20, for ages 12-up. Runs on

Windows XP, Mac OSX. Teaches: science: life simulation, game. Rating (1 to 5 stars) = 4.3

stars. Review date: 5/2/2006.

Ease of Use

Educational

Entertaining

Design Features

Good Value

9

8

10

10

9

Ease of Use

Educational

Entertaining

Design Features

Good Value

6

9

9

10

9

92%

86%

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FEATURE REVIEWS, MAY 1, 2006 VOLUME 14, NUMBER 5

Curious George

A classic example of poor design, this game lets players control Curious George as they jump, climb and swing through a maze of vines, bouncing platforms and narrow ridges. The goal is to collect bananas and find "curious points"—items that are used to unlock more content in the gift shop. There are 12 levels that are similar to many other explore-and-find video games.

The PC version of the game (for which this rating applies) suffers from a rigid design and a long installation process. The console version is somewhat easier to use, but still is lacking in features and controls. For example, George frequently runs into invisible boundaries, such as the edge of a path, where he can't go. Ironically, this game does little to encourage your curiosity. Up to three games can be saved at once on the PC version. Stick with the console version, if at all.

Details: Namco Hometek, Inc., www.namco.com, $39.99, for ages 4-up. Runs on

Windows XP (DVD), PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox, Game Boy Advance. Teaches: no formal learning value. Rating (1 to 5 stars) = 1.9 stars. Review date: 5/2/2006.

Ease of Use

Educational

Entertaining

Design Features

Good Value

ESRB Rating: Everyone

4

4

2

N

5

11

38%

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Dance Dance Revolution Ultramix 3

With a design similar to the first two Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) titles, this third dancing release contains 70 new songs across multiple genres of music. Most of the new features involve online play, which is not required to enjoy this active game. A dance pad is required, however. The music is varied, and comes from bands such as the

Black Eyed Peas, Blackalicious, NOFX, and Moby. Other songs include “Crazy In Love” and “Play That Funky Music". This is the first DDR version to contain music videos that play in the background during the dancing. Another first for the series -- the ability to download up to 60 songs via Xbox Live. The cost is $5 for 5 songs. This is a fun, engaging way to improve lower body coordination.

Details: Konami Digital Entertainment, www.konami.com/usa/, $65 with pad, $40 without, for ages 8-up. Runs on PlayStation 2, Xbox. Teaches: Physical Education, gross motor, rhythm, coordination, dancing. Rating (1 to 5 stars) = 4.5 stars. Review date:

5/2/2006.

Ease of Use

8

90%

Educational

9

Entertaining

10

Design Features

9

Good Value

9

ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+, Suggestive Themes

Daxter

Daxter, the wise-cracking rodent from the video game duo "Jak and Daxter" is the star of this richly-illustrated PSP title. Your job is to steer Daxter from one level to another, collecting bugs and trying to find Jak. Features include an animal mode, that allows Daxter to climb walls and creep up on enemies. The game can work with a PS2 console, by way of a USB cable, and can be used to unlock special features in Jak X:

Combat Racing. Most game content is best for older children, although the controls are easy to figure out. Jon, age 18, writes: "This game is pretty easy once you get used to movement and is a fun way to kill time (like most PSP games are). I would say this game is for kids 10-14 and fans of the Jak and Daxter series." There is a subtitle mode.

Developed by Ready at Dawn Studios for Sony.

Details: Sony Computer Entertainment America Inc., www.scea.com, $39.99, for ages 8-up. Runs on PSP. Teaches: spatial reasoning, problem solving. Rating (1 to 5 stars)

= 4.5 stars. Review date: 5/2/2006.

Ease of Use

Educational

Entertaining

Design Features

Good Value

ESRB Rating: Rating Pending

9

N

10

8

9

90%

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Children's Technology Review, May 2006

FEATURE REVIEWS, MAY 1, 2006 VOLUME 14, NUMBER 5

Dr. Mario & Puzzle League

Two simple, addicting, Tetris-like timed logic/sorting games come on one cartridge. Dr. Mario-- first released in 2004 -- lets you sort colored pills, as they rain down the screen. Puzzle League is similar, using blocks with colors and shapes. Both games feature a two-player mode, providing you have a GBA link cable.

Details: Nintendo of America, www.nintendo.com, $29.99, for ages 5-up. Runs on

Game Boy Advance. Teaches: strategy, logic, timing. Rating (1 to 5 stars) = 4.3 stars.

Review date: 5/2/2006.

Ease of Use

Educational

Entertaining

Design Features

Good Value

ESRB Rating: Everyone

8

9

9

10

7

12

86%

Drill Dozer

Fast-paced, well-designed and addicting, this is a single-player side scrolling maze game for GBA that includes a rumble feature, so the cartridge buzzes each time you drill through an object. Your goal is to explore underground worlds with a drill, blasting through walls, and earning treasures and equipment upgrades. The story-line is unique, with a female lead character, who is fighting to help her father regain a stolen family treasure.

This game requires reading. The controls are complex, but fairly easy to learn thanks to a good hints feature. However, children younger than 9 will have trouble. For example, you must master a technique of shifting gears with your drill, by pressing the R button twice before the drill looses speed, (yet actually good practice for learning how to drive a standard transmission). There's plenty of content and unique challenges that increase in complexity, and the background music can be maddening to nearby parents.

Our testers gave this game high ratings, calling it "a fun mix of Megaman, Kirby and Mr.

Drill, with fun challenges." Created by Game Freak, Inc. for Nintendo.

Details: Nintendo of America, www.nintendo.com, $29.99, for ages 9-up. Runs on

Game Boy Advance. Teaches: reading, deductive reasoning, memory, spatial reasoning, problem solving, fine motor. Rating (1 to 5 stars) = 4.8 stars. Review date: 5/2/2006.

Ease of Use

9

95%

Educational

N

Entertaining

10

Design Features

9

Good Value

10

ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+, Cartoon Violence

EyeToy: Kinetic

Like walking into a virtual yoga club, this EyeToy title is designed for serious exercise rather than gaming. As you move through the series of guided challenges, you score points. For example, in the combat mode, you must kick and punch spots on the screen. Other modes include Cardio (keep a ball in the air), Toning (target specific body parts) and Mind and Body (relaxation zones, with soothing movements and music).

Content includes 20 aerobics & yoga movements, collected with the help of various instructors. The game saves your progress for up to four players, and keeps a 12-week personal training plan, which presents timed challenges that must be completed each week. If you skip a session, your trainer knows. Likewise, as you progress through the program, you are given feedback on your performance.

While this game can work as promised, you'll need a lot of space with plenty of light and completely free of movement. Also, make sure the room has a good floor and can handle an adult jumping around. If these conditions are not met, the camera doesn't always pick up your movements, which limits the functionality of this program.

While this product sounds like a good idea, it needs a better camera. If you're looking for a typical EyeToy dancing game, you'll be disappointed with this title. If you're looking for a workout and you have the space, this program may be worth considering.

Details: Sony Computer Entertainment America Inc., www.scea.com, $49.99, for ages 12-up. Runs on PlayStation 2, EyeToy. Teaches: Physical Education, gross motor, rhythm, coordination, sports. Rating (1 to 5 stars) = 4 stars. Review date: 5/2/2006.

Ease of Use

7

Educational

9

Entertaining

6

Design Features

9

Good Value

9

ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+, Lyrics

80%

10485

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FEATURE REVIEWS, MAY 1, 2006 VOLUME 14, NUMBER 5

Franklin the Turtle

This is a hodgepodge of limited, unrelated games. Children water a garden to make plants grow, try to score goals in a hockey match, or collect things. Two of the games can be unlocked. The setup menu is cryptic and requires reading. Available in nine languages. Not recommended. Created by Artex studios for The American Game

Factory. This game was not rated by the ESRB, but there is no worrisome content.

Details: The American Game Factory, Inc., www.gamefactorygames.com, $19.99, for ages 3-up. Runs on Game Boy Advance. Teaches: Early learning, numerals. Rating (1 to 5 stars) = 2 stars. Review date: 5/2/2006.

Ease of Use

Educational

Entertaining

Design Features

Good Value

ESRB Rating: Rating Pending

2

0

1

2

0

13

10%

10497

May 06

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Game Wave

Board games come to your TV screen with this souped-up DVD player, designed to simultaneously receive signals from as many as six remotes. So now every member of the family can have an equal chance to win points: such as, guessing the name of a famous prison on the Hudson (Sing Sing) or the name of the guy who co-invented calculus (Isaac Newton).

Other differences from run-of-the mill DVD players include an onboard graphics processor which handles interactive content such as game menus or merges player names over video footage, plus an extra cache of memory for remembering high scores.

The remotes are color coded and contain four large multiple choice buttons, as well as a numerical keypad making it easy to quickly buzz in.

The starter kit comes with four remotes and includes one game -- a trivia game that promises 25 hours of play before a question is repeated, a claim we did not test.

Additional remotes are sold in sets of two for $25. Additional software includes five titles, covering Blackjack, the Bible, a letter puzzle and a dice game. When not used for games, the console can also play standard DVD format disks.

Details: ZAPiT Games, Inc., www.playgamewave.com, $130 (games $25), for ages

10-up. Runs on TV based Game. Teaches: trivia, science, sport, art, music, language, spelling, following directions. Rating (1 to 5 stars) = 4.5 stars. Review date: 5/2/2006.

Ease of Use

Educational

Entertaining

Design Features

Good Value

9

8

9

10

9

90%

ImageBlender 3

Like Kid Pix, or CoreFx, ImageBlender is a straightforward digital creation program, good for sketching, drawing, or importing a digital image for modifying. It does not do video. The menus are straightforward and standardized, but a bit clunky.

For example, when you add a text box, you have to double click in the box to start typing. Why not just type? On the other hand, there is a spell checker and all the necessary drawing tools. New features include layers for better image editing.

ImageBlender was designed from the bottom up to be classroom friendly, and it shows. Work can be exported in six types of graphic formats, including BMP and JPEG.

Pricing is $44.95 for a single, $179.95 for a lab-pack (5), or $749.95 for a site license of 35.

Details: Tech4Learning, Inc., www.tech4learning.com, $44.95, for ages 9-12. Runs on Windows XP, Windows 98, Mac OSX. Teaches: creativity, image editing. Rating (1 to

5 stars) = 4 stars. Review date: 5/2/2006.

Ease of Use

Educational

Entertaining

Design Features

Good Value

7

8

8

9

8

80%

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Children's Technology Review, May 2006

FEATURE REVIEWS, MAY 1, 2006 VOLUME 14, NUMBER 5

Kodak EasyShare C300

Easy to use and hard to damage, this 3.2 megapixel digital camera runs on 2 AA batteries and uses standard SD RAM cards. The camera is mostly compatible with the

Kodak EasyShare peripherals, such as the dock, but check specifications carefully to make sure. For example, we found the USB cable connection would not work with one of

Kodak's photo printers. It did work fine, however, with both Macintosh and Windows computers. Limitations include the lens, which is on par with most throw-away cameras.

The interface is easy to use, and the flash is reliable. You can also add any size SD RAM card, which more storage, in addition to the cameras built in memory. The best part is the viewfinder, making it possible for children to easily see their recent pictures. If you're looking for a children's camera with serious features, this is a great consideration.

Details: Eastman Kodak Company, www.kodak.com, $100, for ages 6-up. Runs on

Smart Toy. Teaches: creativity, digital photography. Rating (1 to 5 stars) = 4.6 stars.

Review date: 5/2/2006.

Ease of Use

Educational

Entertaining

Design Features

Good Value

9

10

N

8

10

14

93%

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LeapTrack Assessment and Instruction System 4.0

Deliver your K-5 reading and math program through a LeapPad (actually a

QuantumPad) with this complete classroom package, now upgraded for both Mac and

Windows. The package consists of a large USB cradle with 12 slots, 12 empty RAM cartridges, 12 Quantum Pads with headphones and AC adapters (the QuantumPads also run on AA batteries), and approximately 430 color-coded lesson cards that cover reading and math.

After testing a few randomly selected lessons, we were more impressed with the delivery system than the didactic, scripted delivery of the content. Unlike the consumer

LeapPad titles, these activities do not allow for experimentation. One reason for this is that the software is tracking student responses, to be later recorded on the teacher's computer when the child plugs in his or her cartridge into the teacher's dock. For example, it is not possible to explore a page or to hear words read aloud.

The management software is excellent; both easy to use and robust on either a stand alone or networked computer. We plugged it into an HP laptop, and it set itself up without a glitch. The information kept for each student is shallow; it tracks only those activities completed, with the percentage of correct answers (there is no diagnostic information). But this information can now be collected to create reports for the entire class, school or district. Other new features include a Parent Report that offers an analysis of their child's mastery of skills as well as areas that need improvement. It also includes standards-based learning paths for every student.

All in all, this is a program that is worth considering for a K-5 school or home schooling setting. The durability of the Quantum pads and the individualized, personal delivery of the content is a major plus. Just remember that you can purchase much better designed LeapPad software at your nearest retail store, for a fraction of the cost. Of course, there's nothing to say you can't run these titles on the LeapTrack's Quantum

Pads, to add some spice to the scripted LeapTrack lessons.

Details: LeapFrog SchoolHouse, www.leapfrogschoolhouse.com, $call, for ages 5

-10. Runs on Win, smart toy, Mac OSX. Teaches: math, reading, language arts, science.

Rating (1 to 5 stars) = 4.2 stars. Review date: 5/2/2006.

Ease of Use

Educational

Entertaining

Design Features

Good Value

7

9

9

8

9

84%

10644

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Children's Technology Review, May 2006

FEATURE REVIEWS, MAY 1, 2006 VOLUME 14, NUMBER 5

Letterpillar

Affordable, portable and well-focused on letter recognition, Letterpillar is a one- or two-player timed letter quiz, set in an addicting setting. Using the Leapsters rather spongy arrow keys, you steer a caterpillar through a maze (up, down, left and right), avoiding crashes and collecting target letters. Each correct match results in another link added to the moving bug, increasing the spatial challenge. This technique has been used before in Centipede from Atari, and the older First Grade Leapster cartridge.

Why not a higher rating? Your thumb can get tired, and it would be nice if you could speed up the bug (slow and fast). These are minor points, however. All in all, if you're looking for a solid letter recognition game, mixed with upper/lower case practice and simple spelling, you won't go wrong with Letterpillar. We tested the cartridge on both the older Leapster and the newer Leapster L-Max, and did not notice any differences.

Details: Leapfrog, www.leapfrog.com, $18, for ages 3-6. Runs on Leapster. Teaches: language, reading, letter recognition, decoding, upper/lower case, logic, spatial reasoning. Rating (1 to 5 stars) = 4.4 stars. Review date: 5/2/2006.

Ease of Use

Educational

Entertaining

Design Features

Good Value

8

9

9

9

9

15

88%

Mark-My-Time Digital Bookmark

This digital bookmark contains an LCD clock and timer (powered by button cell batteries) that can either count up or down, in units of minutes. When counting down, a very faint beeping occurs when the timer gets to zero. A start/stop button can be used so that minutes can be accumulated over a period of days or weeks, making it ideal for adding up the total number of minutes a child reads. Note that because seconds are not displayed, it isn't always clear when the thing is timing, other than the two small blinking dots between the minutes and hours. But once you figure it out, it is easy to use and very functional. The timer comes in three colors (blue, purple and green).

Considering the price, its hard to go wrong with this bookmark. Besides, after the batteries die you can still use it as a bookmark.

Details: Mark-My-Time, LLC, www.mark-my-time.com, $9, for ages 5-up. Runs on

Smart Toy. Teaches: temporal relations. Rating (1 to 5 stars) = 4.5 stars. Review date:

5/2/2006.

Ease of Use

Educational

Entertaining

Design Features

Good Value

9

N

N

8

10

90%

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Math Blaster: Master the Basics

Math facts drill meets video game in this frenetic 3D cartoon adventure, in which you steer a young male teen Blasternaut through a maze of moving platforms or though an obstacle course while being chased by lobster-like robots. The game succeeds in putting some "thrill in the drill", by presenting a compelling 3D adventure.

After signing in, a student is presented with a menu containing eight sets of math problems, ranging from simple addition and subtraction to three-digit multiplication and division. It is possible to focus on one set of math facts, if needed. Progress is automatically saved. As children play, the challenge increases. Each game starts with an introduction describing your mission to save the world from math-hating robots.

In order to get through a level, you have to make quick choices, using the space bar to blast down walls of ice and the arrow keys to jump to the platform holding the correct answer. The best part of the game is the fast-paced action. The worst part is the clumsy controls (compared to typical video game standards, at least) and the lack in choices over things like the gender of the lead character or the background music. It is hard to change levels, and when you select the exit icon, you are kicked out of the game without any indication that your progress has been saved.

Math Blaster has certainly come a long way since we first reviewed it back in 1984 on an Apple II. While it could be improved, this latest edition continues the tradition of fast-paced math drills, set in an adventure setting.

Details: Knowledge Adventure, Inc., www.knowledgeadventure.com, $29.99, for ages 6-12. Runs on Windows 2000/XP. Teaches: math: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division. Rating (1 to 5 stars) = 4.3 stars. Review date: 5/2/2006.

Ease of Use

8

86%

Educational

9

Entertaining

9

Design Features

9

Good Value

8

ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+, Edutainment

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Children's Technology Review, May 2006

FEATURE REVIEWS, MAY 1, 2006 VOLUME 14, NUMBER 5

My First TV Fun & Games: Sesame Street Elmo's World

This affordable TV game controller plugs directly into AV ports of your TV and includes five crudely designed, but easy to play, games. In 'Elmo's Shape Jump' the player steers Elmo across a bridge of moving shapes, by moving the arrow keys when the shapes match...sort of like dominos. 'Dinner for Dorothy' is a slow-paced game where children catch falling fish food by moving a fish left or right in her fish bowl. 'Elmo's

Super Soccer' has players moving Elmo left or right in a goal to block shots. In 'Elmo's

Shape Match' the player matches shapes at the bottom of the screen to the correct shape in the puzzle shown. 'Elmo's Sea Search' has players move Elmo left or right to catch the letters, numbers and shapes that float up in bubbles. There is no speech, leveling, ability to save progress, or powersave options. Requires 4 AAA batteries (not included).

Details: Techno Source, www.technosourceusa.com, $call, for ages 3-up. Runs on

Smart Toy, TV based Game. Teaches: matching, spatial relations, alphabetical order, numerical order.. Rating (1 to 5 stars) = 2.7 stars. Review date: 5/2/2006.

Ease of Use

Educational

Entertaining

Design Features

Good Value

6

3

6

5

7

16

54%

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Nancy Drew: Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon

This complex who-done-it mystery is the 13th in the Nancy Drew software series.

In this adventure, Nancy explores an antique train on its way out west in order to find out what happened to a missing socialite. On the train is a cast of interesting people to interrogate, using the same narrated multiple choice format used in previous games; including Frank and Joe Hardy, who jump in and out of play at various points throughout the adventure.

This is a big game, both in size and length. It is the first Nancy Drew title to come on two CDs and takes 15 minutes to install. (It transfers 650 MB of graphics, videos and sounds onto your hard drive.) On the downside, this game takes a good deal of time trial and error, which will leave younger players behind. Some of the puzzles can be frustratingly hard to play, and hints are scarce. Be prepared for a several day workout in order to make it to the end of this mystery.

If you've played past Nancy Drew games, you'll notice more content and puzzles with better visuals: cut scenes and an interface that is easy to explore. The story is complex -- a lot of twists and turns. We counted 141 key events in the story before the mystery was solved. This includes over a dozen logic puzzles -- such as a horse jumping game, a music matching puzzle and a set of sliding blocks. There are dolls to collect, combinations to enter and a periodic table to read. It's hard to find a better exercise in logical thinking on the market.

Details: Her Interactive Inc., www.herinteractive.com, $19.99, for ages 10-up. Runs on Windows XP. Teaches: language, reading, comprehension, logic, deductive reasoning, spatial reasoning, inductive reasoning, memory, classifying, patterns, observing, making a hypothesis, evaluating, synthesis. Rating (1 to 5 stars) = 4.8 stars. Review date:

5/2/2006.

Ease of Use

Educational

Entertaining

Design Features

Good Value

ESRB Rating: Everyone

9

10

10

9

10

96%

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Children's Technology Review, May 2006

FEATURE REVIEWS, MAY 1, 2006 VOLUME 14, NUMBER 5

Playhouse Disney Preschool Time Online

If you have a preschooler, the Web, and Windows under the same roof, keep reading—as long as you're not too tired. Disney Interactive Group, best known for

Toontown, has launched an innovative $50/year preschool online service, demonstrating that it is possible to deliver quality web-based learning, for the most discriminating of all audiences—young children.

The first week of content; a unit on social development called "Braver Behavior" contains games on par in quality and responsivity with CD-ROM based products.

Here's how it works. After you make your online purchase, you must download an

85 MB file that consists of traditional C++ programming to your hard drive. This process takes about 30 minutes on a standard DSL connection. The next step is to customize the experience for as many as five children. By putting in a child's birthday, the program starts a birthday countdown. You can also put in favorite colors, shapes, and print a membership card.

To start the program from this point on, children can click on a desktop icon, which starts an application that uses Microsoft Internet Explorer's ActiveX technology. This takes over the browser, locking out the rest of the web, and filling the entire screen with smooth animation and continually updated content. The downside of this is that you have to disable firewalls, a process that can be a bit technical.

Each unit starts with an introduction of seven new activities, by Bear (of "Bear and the Big Blue House"). There are letter and number themes for the week, as well as seasonal themes. All of the games we tested are heavy on sorting, matching, letter recognition, shape recognition and logical thinking. We liked how each has an active component that keeps children busy (popping balloons with numbers on them, for example). As you would expect, the service is thick with Disney themes. The site was developed in partnership with the studio ImaginEngine, with help from Debra

Lieberman (Reader Rabbit), and members of the original Living Books team. This initiative is important because it symbolizes a shift in children's interactive media, from

CD to web; from static to dynamic; without a drop in quality. It also represents what may be a successful subscription-based model for children's digital content. If this succeeds, others will probably follow.

Details: Disney Online, www.preschooltime.com, $49.95/year, for ages 3-5. Runs on Internet Site, Win 98, Win XP, Windows 98, Windows XP. Teaches: language, reading, upper/lower case, decoding, storytelling, comprehension, deductive reasoning, memory, spatial reasoning, patterns, counting, numeral recognition, adding, intrapersonal problem solving. Rating (1 to 5 stars) = 4.8 stars. Review date: 5/2/2006.

PQ: Practical Intelligence Quotient

Turn your PSP into a mind-bending puzzle center, with this collection of 100 3D puzzles. There are 13 puzzle types that start easy, but eventually become very hard. Most involve moving through different types of 3D grids. Many involve dodging timed laser beams, or strategically placing blocks on the grid to create a path. Progress can be saved.

You can also test a player's problem-solving abilities. Scores are based not just on solving the puzzle, but also on how fast and how many moves it takes. Players can post their scores using the PSP's infrastructure mode to receive a world-wide ranking and compare their score with other players. All in all, this is an excellent and addicting exercise in logical-mathematical thinking. See also Brain Age for Nintendo DS.

Details: D3Publisher of America, Inc., www.d3publisher.us, $29.99, for ages 8-up.

Runs on PSP. Teaches: logic, puzzles, problem solving, spatial relations. Rating (1 to 5 stars) = 4.5 stars. Review date: 5/2/2006.

Ease of Use

Educational

Entertaining

Design Features

Good Value

Ease of Use

Educational

Entertaining

Design Features

Good Value

ESRB Rating: Everyone

9

8

9

10

9

9

10

10

10

9

17

96%

90%

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Children's Technology Review, May 2006

FEATURE REVIEWS, MAY 1, 2006 VOLUME 14, NUMBER 5

Ratchet: Deadlocked

If you like fast-paced fighting, against real— or pretend—players, this fourth installment of the well-designed Ratchet & Clank series of fighting games won't let you down. While the action components of the game are much like the last edition, the multiplayer features have evolved considerably. There's a co-op gameplay for one or two players, or a new online gameplay mode for up to 10 players, which we did not test.

Other new features include more weapons and a new mission-structure approach where players are rewarded with constant progression of items, such as weapons, armor and health.

We found the tutorial to be easy to use. In the story, Ratchet and Clank are captured while uncovering the mystery behind the disappearance of several famous heroes. They find out that the missing heroes (including themselves) have been abducted by a deranged media mogul named Gleeman Vox, who intends to use them as contestants on an underground reality combat show. Vox realizes that Ratchet is the most promising contestant on the show and subjects him to a series of deadly battles and games of death. Ratchet must participate in order to keep himself and his friends alive until he can figure out a way to escape.

Sony.

This is a topnotch, state of the art fighting game. Created by Insomniac games for

Details: Sony Computer Entertainment America, www.scea.com, $39.99, for ages

13-up. Runs on PS2. Teaches: fighting, strategy, spatial relations. Rating (1 to 5 stars) =

4.6 stars. Review date: 5/2/2006.

18

Ease of Use

9

93%

Educational

N

Entertaining

10

Design Features

9

Good Value

9

ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+, fantasy violence, mild language

Robosapien V2

Taller and smarter, this year's edition of Robosapien also has improved motion detection, agility, and more personality -- delivered by way of 160 wisecracking phrases.

Move your hand in front of his eyes, and he'll spring back and say, "Whoa!" A few seconds later, he'll say, "Interesting...", as his head tracks your hand -- a feature sure to mystify your Golden Retriever. His hands have jointed fingers and rubbery finger tips, can reach and grasp objects, or roll a ball toward a set of included bowling pins.

The robot can be controlled either by remote control or a series of up to 20 preprogramed functions. The remote has a built-in flashlight that shoots a bright beam of green light on the floor. The robot sees the light and walks to it, (an easy way to get it from one spot to another), by way of a mechanically amazing, but clumsy gate. If the robot feels heavy, it is because of the six D batteries; there are three in each foot. The remote uses seven AAA batteries. WowWee has also announced the RSMedia ($350, Fall

2006 planned release) which will have even more advanced features, including a USB connection to your computer, a camera and MP3 player.

Details: Wowwee Ltd., www.wowwee.com, $250, for ages 8-up. Runs on Smart

Toy. Teaches: programming. Rating (1 to 5 stars) = 4 stars. Review date: 5/2/2006.

Ease of Use

Educational

Entertaining

Longevity

Good Value

9

6

9

8

8

80%

10416

May 06

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Sibelius Student Edition

If you have a MIDI compatible keyboard, this software can help you get the notes down on paper, by directly capturing the notes you play as a musical score. The Student

Edition is designed for music homework—allowing students to compose, arrange and complete exercises. Features of the Student Edition include the ability to input notes (up to 8 staves) with either the mouse, a MIDI keyboard (highly preferred) or computer keyboard. You can also open and save MIDI files and publish your music online at www.sibelius.com. Note that there is a more powerful Teacher Edition with management features.

You start by choosing one of the many blank score templates, such as a brass quartet. Notes, rests, key signatures and so on can be dragged and dropped onto the score. While there is a learning curve, this is a powerful and flexible music notation system. Getting your chart to play from the beginning is tricky, as is switching between notes and rests. It is relatively easy to edit music, and the results are easy to print, providing instant charts.

The playback feature allows you to listen to and refine your composition on the spot.

Details: Sibelius Software Ltd., www.sibelius.com, $99, for ages 9-up. Runs on Win

98, Win XP, Mac OSX. Teaches: music, music notation, creativity, rhythm. Rating (1 to 5 stars) = 4.4 stars. Review date: 5/2/2006.

Ease of Use

Educational

Entertaining

Design Features

Good Value

8

10

N

9

8

88%

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Children's Technology Review, May 2006

FEATURE REVIEWS, MAY 1, 2006 VOLUME 14, NUMBER 5

Sims 2: The (Console Edition)

The PC version of the Sims used to be the best, with the Console versions lagging behind in details and control. Not anymore. This sophisticated people simulator lets you create and control realistic people; but the best new feature is the simultaneous splitscreen control option for two players. Other features include the ability to create a family tree, or make individuals with a variety of facial features, hairstyles and outfits. There's plenty of content, including 10,000 fashion styles and 16 locations, with 400 building options. Note that some of the themes are mature, involving dating, romance, and nongraphical physical relations such as hugging, kissing, dancing and so on. A story mode will bring your Sim in contact with as many as 60 story characters. If you liked the Sims 2 for Windows, you'll likely notice the same features, with more ease of use.

Details: Electronic Arts, Inc., www.ea.com, $39.99, for ages 13-up. Runs on PS2,

Xbox, GameCube. Teaches: creativity, logic. Rating (1 to 5 stars) = 4.8 stars. Review date:

5/2/2006.

19

Ease of Use

9

96%

Educational

10

Entertaining

10

Design Features

10

Good Value

9

ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+, crude humor, sexual themes, violence

Tamagotchi Connection: Corner Shop

A Tamagotchi—in this case a little person-like creature—is living in your Nintendo

DS. Your job is to buy them clothes, food and toys by earning money at one of eleven shops. Each shop has a task that requires following written directions, matching colors

(like bubble bath to a bath water), and completing timed challenges. For example, at the dentist, you help fix a bad tooth by using the correct sequence of tools, toothpaste, swabs, and so on. There's also a fun Japanese cooking game, where you rub the screen to make a Takoyaki (a Japanese dumpling) by brushing oil on a hot iron, pouring dough into a mold, and then moving the pan to evenly cook the food. If you do things correctly, the customers are happy and pay more money. At the dry cleaners, you move the iron across a shirt to remove the wrinkles or rub a toothbrush across a tooth to get the dirt out. The games are fun and require attention to detail and some reading.

While a Tamagotchi doesn't talk, it does send you text messages, providing plenty of easy reading practice in this game. Children also must keep track of their money in order to win. There is a lot of reading in this game. As many as three separate creatures can live separate lives on the same cartridge. While the game is mostly for one player, it is possible to pass gifts from another Nintendo DS playing the game by way of the wireless network, adding a nice social play aspect to the game.

However, there are a few annoying design quirks, including a rather unfriendly starting sequence that shows you options that don't exist. Also, it isn't clear that you can exit and have your game saved. These are minor problems. Strengths include a good amount of content, (none of it worrisome), and plenty of logical thinking and reading opportunities. Created by Nana-OnSa.e and Bandai for Nintendo.

Details: Bandai America, Inc., www.bandai.com, $29.99, for ages 5-up. Runs on

Nintendo DS. Teaches: reading, handwriting, memory, spatial reasoning, problem solving, following directions, managing resources, Economics. Rating (1 to 5 stars) = 4.5 stars. Review date: 5/2/2006.

Ease of Use

Educational

Entertaining

Design Features

Good Value

ESRB Rating: Everyone

8

9

10

9

9

90%

10440

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Children's Technology Review, May 2006

Other New Releases

MAY 1, 2006 VOLUME 14, NUMBER 5

Afaya-Pen

Like Leapfrog's FLY Pentop Computer, the Afaya-Pen uses a barely visible printed grid on paper, made with standard

CMYK printing, so that it can calculate where it is on the page. Unlike FLY, there is no writing tip and, therefore, no text-tospeech features. So think of this device as an untethered stylus, for use with custom-prepared printed material. Point the pen tip to any word or picture to hear it read aloud; this can include maps, wall charts, flash cards, stickers, and any other media that has licensed the Afaya technology. I [WB] tried the pen briefly on both books and demo wall charts during the

2006 Bologna Children's Book Fair, and found it to be rather chunky feeling (it weighs 50 grams, without the two AAA batteries), but responsive. In other words, the pen is able to deliver audio nearly instantaneously, when the tip hits the paper. So it has potential. Afaya, a Taiwan-based company is working to form allegiances with US and EU publishers to get their dotted paper into books (publishers, visit the Afaya site for details). A key strategic advantage is the devices use of standardized components. Besides the onboard earbud jack and USB port, the pen uses off-the-shelf batteries and SD RAM-up to 1GB in size. The pen comes in two formats. The A-100S ($90), comes with MP3 capability and a backlit screen, and the less fancy A-101S($70 comes in different colors for mass student use.

Details: Afaya Technologies, www.afaya.com.tw, $70-$90, for ages 4-up. Runs on Smart Toy. Teaches: reading, language, geography, all school subjects. Review date: 5/2/2006.

Arianna's Nutrition Expedition

Created for the National Dairy Council, this is a set of four crudely designed food grouping games that come on one

CD-ROM. In "Nutrition Mixer", children can create musical tracks by classifying the food groups. "Quintricious" puts the sorting process in a chemistry lab setting. "Combo Kitchen" introduces the idea that some food items, such as hamburgers, can contain different food groups. We liked how grids are used to help children sort the food elements; although the music can become repetitious. "Food Force One" is a bit like "Carmen Sandiego" where players are asked to travel the world in search of combination food items.

While some good interactive techniques are used, the game is heavy on dialog and light on things to do. Testers complained that some of the icons are hard to discern (e.g., it is hard to tell if one fruit is a peach or a melon). Also, it is hard to exit from some of the games. Note: The fourth activity on the disk-- "Food Force One" should not be confused with "Food-

Force," released last year by the United Nations World Food Program.

Details: MMS Education, www.mmseducation.com, 800-523-5948, $call, for ages 10. Runs on Windows XP. Teaches: health, nutrition, the food groups. Review date: 5/2/2006.

BrainWare Safari

Marketed as "mental fitness" package, this is a collection of 20 structured cognitive puzzles of the variety not typically part of a school curriculum. That's partly because the authors are psychologists and optometrists who have worked with children with visual processing problems.

After signing in, children can freely choose an activity by clicking on a jungle animal. Most activities feel like they're right out of an IQ test, with an emphasis on visual memory and logical/memory skills. For example, in Bear Shuffle, children must drag and drop cards into their correct order, using only verbal cues. In Sky Scanning, children hear a series of numbers read aloud (e.g., 46, 87 and 0) and then see a screen full of about 40 numerals, scattered about randomly on the screen. You can only imagine the concentration required to find the needle in the haystack -- and that's what this program is like. The activities are heavy on the logic, visual discrimination, listing skills that develop stuff like "oculomotor" skills.

To get through each level, children must remember the order and find the numbers. Some of the games are not intuitive to play; especially those that require the rhythmic tapping of the mouse, five times, before completing the exercise.

The use of praise seemed strange, with statements like "I'm proud of you" and "don't feel bad" for incomplete games. Others are fun, and fairly addicting. Obviously, children will choose the games they like. As they play, a child's progress is tracked.

According to the instructions, this program is designed to be used by one child in daily doses of 45-60 minutes for 4-5 days per week, over 10-12 weeks. A professional edition is available for more than one child, and with more record keeping features.

Details: Learning Enhancement Corporation, www.brainwareforyou.com, , $349, for ages 6-12. Runs on Windows 98,

Mac OSX, Internet Site, Windows XP. Teaches: Logic, Math, deductive reasoning, memory, spatial reasoning, problem solving, holding attributes in mind, patterns, seriating, classifying, programming, observing, similarities and differences, taking things apart, rhythm, planning. Review date: 5/2/2006.

Con, The

This is a violent graphic fighting game with no formal educational value, other than managing a gambling budget.

Your goal is to manage a street fighter up the ladder. The setting is a seedy street scene, where fights are set up. Your roleplaying skills are equally matched by street smarts. Players can bet for or against themselves to take advantage of the odds and work the Con for a big payoff, (depending if they win or lose), by taking a dive or exaggerating punches to tilt the odds.

Players can create and customize their characters by learning and training reprogrammable fighting combinations based on

5 different brawling disciplines -- Street Boxing, Wrestling, Kick Boxing, Tae Kwon Do and Jeet Kune Do -- to compete solo or in a team of 3 in Story Mode.

Details: Sony Computer Entertainment America, www.scea.com, 800-222-7669, $39.99, for ages 13-up. Runs on PSP.

Teaches: gambling. Review date: 5/2/2006.

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OTHER NEW RELEASES MAY 1, 2006 VOLUME 14, NUMBER 5

Cosmeo

This is a homework tool that leverages Discovery's United Streaming content to reinforce standards-based curriculum.

It will provide home or school access to 30,000 videos, 15,000 quizzes, 20,000 images and clips, brain games and more.

Features include a Spanish language option, closed captioning and "trusted links". Also potentially useful... a calendar feature of "on this day" historical listings. Each home can get four different student accounts. Launched March 13, 2006. Visit www.cosmeo.com.

Details: Discovery Education, , , $10/month, for ages 5-up. Runs on Windows XP, Mac OSX. Teaches: all school subjects, references. Review date: 5/2/2006.

FlashFLIPZ

Designed for in-class math facts drills, this is an electronic/print flash card program. Children attach a set of flashcards to the hand-held electronic FlashFLIPZ Score Tracker that displays elapsed time and the number of correct/incorrect answers. The pre-printed card sets cover addition through factions, and a Make Your Own set can be made for customized test practice or for quizzes in any subject. Requires two AAA batteries. The FlashFLIPZ Card Sets are

$4.99 each.

Details: Educational Insights, www.edin.com, 800-858-9914, $9.95, for ages 11-up. Runs on Smart Toy. Teaches: math facts. Review date: 5/2/2006.

Garfield the Search for Pooky

This single player platform leaves much to be desired. The play control and graphics are clunky and less than entertaining, and a password system is used to save progress. Most of the play is repetitive and movement is to slow unless you just keep jumping. Testers found Garfield The Search For Pooky disappointing and boring.

Details: The American Game Factory, Inc., www.gamefactorygames.com, 310-393-7931, $29.99, for ages 7-up. Runs on

Game Boy Advance. Teaches: not applicable. Review date: 5/2/2006.

Hot Dots

This flash card reader comes in an affordable pen form, that can read magnetic ink. So students can touch an answer and get instant feedback, either through the pen's speaker (as a beep or a buzz) or with a light (red for wrong; green for correct). The pen and cards are not alighted with any curriculum, but cover generic school subjects such as math facts or state capitals. The pen is powered by one AAA battery.

Details: Educational Insights, www.edin.com, 800-858-9914, $8 per pen, for ages 6-up. Runs on Smart Toy. Teaches: basic facts, drill, math, reading, spelling. Review date: 5/2/2006.

I Can Play Piano

Informal piano lessons—of sorts—come to your TV, with this $80, battery operated (or AC adaptor) three-octave keyboard. Just plug it in to the RCA plugs, and it works. The music curriculum is based on the Piano Wizard from Allegro

Multimedia which sold last year as a computer-based program with a MIDI keyboard. With this approach, a stream of color-coded notes moves across the screen. In order to hear the note, you must match the color with the correct piano key as it moves over that specific piano key.

While we question the validly of the method for learning to play piano, we can't argue that it gets children on the keyboard. It is also worth noting (at least) that each cartridge (sold separately) comes with an open-ended "Jam" mode. In addition, each age-based software cartridge contains eight songs, as well as two games with music and graphics based on popular licensed characters such as Scooby Doo, Dora, Jimmy Neutron or Barbie. Coming August 2006.

Details: Fisher-Price, Inc., www.fisher-price.com, 800-432-5437, $80, for ages 4-8. Runs on TV based Game. Teaches: music, piano, introduction to notation, pitch. Review date: 5/2/2006.

Inspiration 8

This eighth edition of the popular classroom brainstorming program makes it easy to drag and drop icons, words, pictures or even movies onto a Mac or Windows computer screen, where they can be used to connect ideas, or perhaps a web of ideas.

The program now has a track record of making the writing and organization process more fun and efficient for students. New features for version 8 include a starter screen, the ability to search the clip art library by keyword, video and sound integration, more drag-and-drop features, a word guide (an integrated dictionary/thesaurus) and a handy

"AutoArrange" option that tidies up a cluttered screen, for more professional-looking results. The program is also better integrated with the Internet, with built-in web links, (you can program symbols to jump to web sites), and the ability to search a library of additional symbols. It is always nice to see a good program get better.

Details: Inspiration Software, Inc., www.inspiration.com, 800-877-4292, $69.00, for ages 11-up. Runs on Mac OSX,

Windows 98, Windows XP. Teaches: creativity, writing, planning. Review date: 5/2/2006.

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Children's Technology Review, May 2006

OTHER NEW RELEASES MAY 1, 2006 VOLUME 14, NUMBER 5

ION Educational Gaming System

Like the Sony EyeToy, this specialized game console plugs into your TV and "puts" your child into the picture. Slated for store shelves nationwide Fall 2006, ION will retail for $100 and will include one software title. The camera is integrated into the base unit, making setup and operation less complicated. At launch, Playskool will release eight additional $15 disks, divided into two age groups: preschool (ages 3 to 5) and early elementary (ages 5 to 7). The younger-age oriented discs teach preschool basics such as letter, numbers and colors; while titles for older kids focus on elementary skills such as reading, math and problem solving. Habro/Playskool is working with several content providers, featuring SpongeBob SquarePants,

Dora the Explorer and Blue’s Clues from Nickelodeon; Scooby Doo and Batman from Warner Bros. Consumer Products; and

Bob the Builder and The Wiggles from HIT Entertainment.

Details: Hasbro, Inc., 401-725-8697, $100, for ages 3-7. Runs on TV based Game. Teaches: early learning, sorting, movement, coordination. Review date: 5/2/2006.

LEGO Mindstorms NXT

Back in 1998, the LEGO Mindstorms robotics kit set the standard for children's programming activities, both at home and at school. This August, LEGO has announced its plans for a major upgrade to the original kit. While the function--to build rolling or crawling robots--will be similar, the technology in this kit is much more powerful, due to the batterypowered, BlueTooth-enabled, 32-bit NXT controller brick. Using a graphical programming language, children can first program their robot on a PC or, for the first time, on a Macintosh and then transfer the code to the computer, thanks to the

Bluetooth or the USB 2.0 cable.

According to LEGO PR, the kit will come with 519 parts, which includes 3 interactive servo motors with rotation and speed sensors, a movement detector, a sound sensor that can react to patterns or tones, an electric eye that can discriminate between colors or light intensity, and a touch sensor. For more information, visit www.mindstorms.com. The kit will costs

$250, with group discounts available for schools. LEGO also announced www.nxtbot.com, a blog written by robotics enthusiast Jeff James, focused on consumer robotics.

Details: LEGO Americas, www.mindstorms.com, 800-453-4652, $250, for ages 10-up. Runs on Windows XP, Mac OSX.

Teaches: LOGIC, deductive reasoning, inductive reasoning, problem solving, spatial reasoning, classifying,

MATHEMATICS, programming, using intruments, taking things apart, building, planning, organizing activities, reviewing, evaluting, working cooperatively, interpersonal problem solving, fine motor. Review date: 5/2/2006.

Logo Design Studio

Logo Design studio features 200 modifiable logo templates; graphic objects, shapes, images and text styles. Content includes a set of trademark and copyright guidelines. The program has save options for web, document, and professional print projects with an adjustable resolution up to 300 dpi, and the ability to export in JPEG, TIFF, BMP, WMF, PNG, and

PDF.

Details: Summitsoft Corporation, www.summitsoftcorp.com, 402-554-1400, $29.99, for ages 13-up. Runs on Win 98,

Win XP. Teaches: creativity. Review date: 5/2/2006.

MyBoard III

Designed with all upper case letters for early childhood and kindergarten settings, this keyboard makes it much easier for children to find letters. All 63 essential keys are there, minus the numerical keypad, FUNCTION keys and CAPS LOCK keys. For example, it is possible to CONTROL-ALT-DELETE from a program, although you won't be able to CONTROL-

ALT-F4 because there are no function keys. Features to note include the color-coded vowels and numerals, as well as the easy-to-find direction keys. Also prominent is the large ESCAPE key. Note that this keyboard is not USB compatible -- rather, it comes with the older round PS/2 plug. However, Chester Creek has released a newer keyboard, with function keys and USB compatibility (for Macintosh), called Kinderboard.

Details: Chester Creek Technologies, www.chestercreektech.com, $69.95, for ages 3-7. Runs on Windows XP,

Windows 98. Teaches: keyboarding (a keyboard peripheral). Review date: 5/2/2006.

RSMedia

Better described as a walking stereo, this top of the line Robosapien does more, and costs $100 more. For the first time, the Robosapien can be programmed with a Windows PC, by plugging it in with a USB plug. This new version costs more and does more, with the ability to capture pictures, play sounds by way of a built-in MP3 player, and show images with a built in LCD color screen. He has four personalities, and will be black.

RS Media includes a multimedia experience that further enhances both direct and autonomous interaction with his owner and environment. With a color LCD screen, hand-mounted tweeters and a back-mounted subwoofer, a USB connector and MP3 and MP4 playback; RS Media can display and store data easily from your PC. Have RS Media play a song through the speakers in his hands to experience his high quality sound system. Using the Personality editor, you can edit all his movements, sound files and video files, and even some of his programming. You can assign voice files or choreograph a routine to a favorite dance track. Entirely interchangeable, you can turn RS Media into one of the four provided personalities or create your own unique personality. Import photos or watch an entire movie using the external memory card slot. Let RS Media take a photo or movie with his color camera, and then have him display it on the LCD

Screen. RS Media can be controlled with an IR remote, or put him in puppet mode for easy “teaching.” Software is included which allows for PC compatibility. Coming Summer 2006.

Details: WowWee Ltd., www.wowwee.com, (201) 222-9118 , $350, for ages 8-up. Runs on Smart Toy. Teaches:

Programming. Review date: 5/2/2006.

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Children's Technology Review, May 2006

OTHER NEW RELEASES MAY 1, 2006 VOLUME 14, NUMBER 5

Strategies for Writers

Inspiration Software, makers of Kidspiration and Inspiration Software, along with handwriting legend Zaner-Bloser, teamed up to create a set of graphic organizer templates intended to help students strengthen their writing skills.

The package includes 72 Inspiration and Kidspiration templates to generate ideas and organize their writing. With a set of graphic organizers developed for each textbook in "Strategies for Writers," teachers have easy-to-use tools for integrating visual learning into writing process instruction in grades 1-8.

There are two parts to the program. Levels A-E (Grades 1-5) were created in Kidspiration, and Levels F-H (Grades 6-8) are designed for Inspiration, with modes covering narrative, descriptive, expository, persuasive and in-test writing. Zaner-

Bloser offers the templates on CD-ROM with the purchase of the "Strategies for Writers" workbook series. These templates can also be downloaded from www.inspiration.com/zanerbloser. To use the templates, Inspiration 7.6 or Kidspiration 2.0 or higher must be installed.

Details: Inspiration Software, Inc., www.inspiration.com, 800-877-4292, $call, for ages 6-14. Runs on Windows XP, Mac

OSX. Teaches: writing, planning. Review date: 5/2/2006.

Talky Talky

Like the FLY and the Afaya-Pen, Talk Talky also uses a barely visible printed grid (in regular ink) that the pens electric eye can see, but you can't. While the device is light, it is large and clunky. The publisher has an extensive library of printed books and worksheets for learning English, which will be compatible with the device. The pen has 32 MB of Flash memory, which can hold up to ten 28-page books. That means that any word or picture could be read aloud or translated. The printing process uses a fifth K layer of ink (in addition to the standard CMYK).

Details: Gemkid Horizon Ltd., www.gemkid.com,

$call, for ages 4-8. Runs on Smart Toy. Teaches: English (for native

Koreans), ESL. Review date: 5/2/2006.

TeleStory Interactive Books

Plug this book-shaped stand-alone battery-operated controller into your TV to make playback storybooks. Each book comes on a cartridge that is inserted into the TeleStory system, so that children can build their TeleStory libraries and collect their favorite books as they grow and master reading. By pressing the large, colored buttons on each TeleStory unit, kids can interact with the story and make the characters come alive on their TV screen, while also giving them the option to read at their own pace, both with or without assistance.

JAKKS plans to launch the TeleStory product line for Spring 2006 at mass and specialty retailers nationwide. The suggested retail price for the TeleStory systems will be under $30, with each ‘mini-book’ cartridge containing two stories retailing for under $15.

Details: Jakks Pacific, Inc., www.jakkstvgames.com, 310-455-6245, $30 (books for $15), for ages 4-7. Runs on TV based

Game. Teaches: reading. Review date: 5/2/2006.

WriteToLearn

This is an online essay reading service for middle and high school students. The service is powered by Pearson's

Knowledge Analysis Technology (KAT) engine, which evaluates the meaning of text by examining whole written passages.

The KAT engine, in turn, uses a Latent Semantic Analysis (LSA) tool, which generates semantic similarity of words and passages by analyzing large bodies of relevant text. According to Pearson PR, LSA can then "understand" the meaning of text much the same as a human reader. Prices start at $20 per student per year, with a minimum 20 student order.

Details: Pearson Learning Group, www.pearsonlearning.com, $400/up (subscription), for ages 12-up. Runs on

Internet Site. Review date: 5/2/2006.

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Children's Technology Review, May 2006

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