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Review: Octobo – who said all screen time is bad?

There’s no end of educational toys on the market, but Octobo is something special.

octobo smart learning system
Image: Joe Rice-Jones / KnowTechie
The Good
Merges digital and physical play in a satisfying way
Adorable octopus character
Learning should always be this fun
The Bad
Still not convinced putting a glass screen into a stuffed toy is a good idea
Books could be on thicker card
8
Overall

By now, it probably feels like the eleventh Monday of Marchember, and you are probably on the cusp of relaxing screen time restrictions for some sanity, if you haven’t done so already. Wouldn’t it be great if you could find something that uses those digital devices, while also giving tactile play and avoiding the cycle of watching unboxings on YouTube?

Enter the $140 Octobo, from Tinker Thinker. It takes the concept of an interactive, tablet-based game and turns it on its head, creating a whole new experience. Instead of static screen time, you’ve got a tool for learning and engagement, without passive consumption.

Sounds great from a parent’s perspective, so is it?

So, what’s Octobo all about?

thinker tinker starter pack

Image: Joe Rice-Jones / KnowTechie

At its heart, Octobo is a smart stuffed animal, that you put a phone or tablet inside to play games, or go on interactive adventures with RFID tokens and storybooks. Remember Teddy Ruxpin when you were growing up? He wishes he was as cool as Octobo. See, Octobo turns digital games into multi-sensory learning, which is kind of a big deal. Studies have shown that when more of your senses are activated, you learn up to thirty percent better! 

Under that fluffy skin, Octobo has soft sensors so his arms and sides act as triggers. Those can be used to teach emotional intelligence, matching, or pretty much anything. There’s an RFID reader in the middle to read the tags that come with the adventure books, and there’s even a storybook mode so Octobo can take over some of the nighttime story duties.

As for games, the base unit has an Underwater Adventure guided book that teaches shapes and patterns, and a xylophone rhythm game that’s basically Guitar Hero but uses Octobo’s colored arms as the controller. Nifty. Upgrading to add the Great Letter Search book also gets you 26 letter RFID tags, a new story, a spelling game, and eight other educational minigames.

octobo and the great letter search book

Image: Joe Rice-Jones / KnowTechie

The Underwater Adventure is aimed at anyone under four years old, with the Great Letter Search aimed at kids two to seven. I’ll mostly be playing with the first kit, as my little one is eighteen months, but I’ll be testing the more advanced kit as well. Future kits will be aimed at older learners, and teach things like coding to elementary age kids.

So, how does it play?

octobo read along

Image: Joe Rice-Jones / KnowTechie

After a short setup process of downloading the app on your device (and yes, it’s in the Amazon Appstore), filling Octobo with AA batteries, and sliding the tablet into his head, you’re set up to play. The important thing to note is that there isn’t any singular way to play with Octobo.

Sure, you can read through the book, and do the guided activities, but that’s only a small part of his repertoire. All of the sensors on his arms and sides elicit various responses (and he loves being hugged), and you can also interact by poking at his eye or mouth. It’s all great fun in practice and adds a new dimension to the quirky stuffed character.

So, should I buy it?

There’s no end of educational toys on the market, but Octobo has something special. The combination of quality content, reading, a cuddly stuffed companion, and repeatability is a winner. It’s not often something comes along that transforms the humble tablet into a game where little ones can both learn and be entertained, without resorting to cheap tricks.

Especially now, in our new normal, Octobo has the potential to make being stuck indoors into a fulfilling experience for both parents and children. The only gripe I have is that the books could be made from thicker material for those younger readers who don’t quite know their strength yet.

Editors’ Recommendations:

Just a heads up, if you buy something through our links, we may get a small share of the sale. It’s one of the ways we keep the lights on here. Click here for more. A sample unit was provided for the purpose of this review.

The Good
Merges digital and physical play in a satisfying way
Adorable octopus character
Learning should always be this fun
The Bad
Still not convinced putting a glass screen into a stuffed toy is a good idea
Books could be on thicker card
8
Overall
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