I am always very interested to see any new developments in kids educational apps, and especially toys that interact with electronic devices (like the Tiggly products). So when ToysAlive, the people behind Pebli Town, a new “toys to life” game for tablets, asked me if I’d like to test their product out, I was very keen to see what it could do. The kids were quite excited about the whole thing too!
ToysAlive describe Pebli Town as “a connected pre-school toy.” They go on to say “It uses fun traditional play pieces and a physical play board that interacts with a tablet (Tablet not included) to bring the toy to life. Pebli comes with 4 exciting interactive game modes; Story Teller, Game Player, Story Creator and Video Room.”
Our kids are growing up in a digital world, and screens are frequently very much part of their lives. Yet there is some reason to believe that young kids learn better from play and interaction in the “real” 3D world, and so toys like Pebli Town work to bridge that gap, by providing a physical play experience that still involves a screen so that this toy can compete with the digital toys that our kids seem more attracted to.
Pebli Town works with a selection of iOS and Android tablets (the full list of compatible devices can be found here). I was worried (and somewhat shocked) to discover that I didn’t own a tablet that was recent enough to appear on the compatibility list, but the team said they would still send me the product to try, I might just find it a little slow in places.
What comes in the Pebli Town box is a large play mat, a stand for your tablet, and four chunky play characters. It’s all well made, and feels robust enough to be left in the hands of your toddler or preschooler. The only assembly required is to put the colours cover on the mat, and to connect it to your tablet.Then you need to download the free Pebli Town app onto your tablet, via either the iOS App Store or the Google Play Store, depending on your device. The playset connects via Bluetooth to the tablet, and I have found Bluetooth to be a little tempramental in the past, so I was ready for this to be a challenge. I started off trying to connect the set to my son’s iPad 2, but it didn’t work at all. So I then tried with my iPad mini 2, and this was much smoother – the two devices recognised each other and connected with no problems. As I mentioned before, neither of these tablets is on the Pebli list of supported devices, so I think the issues I had connecting to the iPad 2 are more likely to be due to the unsupported nature of the iPad 2 than any issue with the product.
Despite the iPad mini 2 also being an unsupported device, I have experienced no issues running Pabli Town on it. It has connected reliably, and I haven’t noticed any slowing down of the app at all. So I am pretty confident in saying that the ToysAlive team may have been slightly conservative in their list of compatible devices, and if your device is on their list there should be no worries about connection or operation.
So what is Pebli Town like to play with? Well, it comes with a LOT of content, and it is really well designed with the preschooler in mind. Navigation through the app is easy, with almost all interaction being driven by the big blue button on the front of the board and the four characters. I’ve already mentioned that the characters are chunky and very toddler-friendly, but another great design feature is that they have magnets in their feet which help them to “snap” securely into the spots on the game board. This again makes it easy for the pre-schooler to interact with. Each of the four sections of the app contains plenty of different things for your child to do, with all of it driven by your child making simple choices. In story mode, for example, your child chooses a character and a location to start the story off, and then as it progresses they are asked to choose other characters to introduce to the story. Usually it’s a choice between two other characters and they are asked to match their choice to a specific location. In game mode there are a number of different games to play, and all the games involve moving the characters around the board in some way. The most creative options come in story creator mode where the app allows your child to record their voice to make their own videos starring the Pebli characters. You can even share these videos on Facebook so that your family and friends can view them, but don’t worry – in order to share you have to complete a mathematical sum that would definitely be beyond the ability of any pre-schooler, so your child won’t be able to share anything online without your permission.
The least interactive part of Pebli Town is the Video Room, where your tablet screen becomes a cinema and your child can choose from a selection of each character’s favourite YouTube videos to watch with them. These videos are carefully curated by the ToysAlive team from YouTube content, and are all completely age-appropriate, but because they are being viewed on YouTube there are sometimes advertisements shown before the video, which the Pebli team have no control over. I am not sure what the chances are that YouTube would select an inappropriate advert to show on children’s content
Even though both my kids are above the recommended age for Pebli Town, they have had great fun playing with it, and it has kept them engaged longer than I expected it would. So I think for a pre-schooler this toy would provide hours of fun. The game board really adds a new dimension to the game, and it really feels like it’s been designed with the young child in mind. The only thing I found that could be a little tricky for youngsters is switching between the different modes. After you press the big blue button you only get 5 seconds to choose a different option, and you have to reach across the board and touch the screen. Five seconds might not be enough time for a young child to realise what they need to do, but I suspect they will get the hang of that pretty quickly and it might only be an issue the first few times.
Pebli Town has a recommended retail price of £59.99, although it is currently reduced on the ToysAlive website to £49.99, and I found it on Amazon (affiliate link) for £44.99, so it is worth shopping around to find the best price. I think this price is on the high side, but I also think that it reflects the amount of content available and the quality of the toy, and I consider this a good investment for a pre-schooler. I notice that the Pebli Town set has been constructed in such a way as to make it easy to expand the toy with additional play mats and pieces – indeed the box states that Pebli Safari is coming soon. So I hope that we will soon see lower cost expansion sets available to build on the functionality of the base set.
Disclosure: I was sent a Pebli Town set for review purposes. All words and opinions are my own (except where clearly quoted from the ToysAlive team). The Amazon product link within this review contains my affiliate details – if you make a purchase after clicking I will receive a small commission payment at no additional cost to you. I only link to Amazon because I use them personally and recommend them.