April 14, 2009 If you have kids of your own, you’ll know instinctively the easiest way to encourage little ’uns to learn is through engagement and interaction. Toymakers know this, too, and have been quick to use various technologies to develop new lines of educative products. The Discovery Channel-branded Smart Animals Scanopedia, an electronic talking animal encyclopedia, joins the growing list of electronic toys that try to both teach and entertain.

The Scanopedia (RRP USD$29.99) is a handheld scanner, which uses smart-tag recognition technology. By running the scanner over a laminated chart plastered with images of familiar and some not-so-familiar animals from the four corners of the globe and various habitats, you hear what animals sound like, are given some interesting facts and are quizzed on what you have learnt. You can also play three different games: guess that call, where in the world does that animal live and guess that habitat.

Before you can begin to play or learn, however, you must use the Scanopedia to unlock animals on the chart by scanning a Discovery Channel patch on the side of a plastic animal figure. The toy comes with a white Bengal tiger figure, which unlocks the first eight bonus animals.

You can learn that a Bengal tiger is about nine feet long and weighs up to 600 pounds, has a roar that can be heard up to two miles away but thankfully stays away from humans… usually. You can hear what a dromedary sounds like – not unlike a hungry child. Or be quizzed – did the Andrewsarchus live in the mountains? True or false?

You must buy additional Smart Animal or Deluxe Smart Animal figures, though, to unlock more of the 200-plus animal images on the interactive world chart. There are more than 90 Smart Animals to collect and more than 2500 facts and sound effects to unlock.

Hands on

The Scanopedia is a bit like one of those old encyclopedias you used to compile by buying volumes weekly from the newsagency or corner store. When I was a kid I put together such an animal encyclopedia. With Scanopedia, you need to keep buying animals to make proper use of it. There’s not much use buying only a couple figures to unlock a handful of animals.

There, though, is the rub. While collecting the quality animals figures adds a hobby element to the toy, it can become a quite expensive business learning about animals, information that, to be honest, is freely available on the web and a lot more of it too. What you learn with Scanopedia is limited – six facts about the plastic animal figure and two facts about bonus animals, which a plastic animal figure unlocks.

While the Scanopedia does provide an entertaining way to learn about animals, you have to be fairly well committed to buying all, or most, of the plastic animal figures if you want the toy to keep your kids’ attention. The single animal which came with the Scanopedia didn’t hold the kids I had putting it through its paces for too long. If you like collecting animal figures badly enough, it might help to justify the financial outlay too.

Paul Best

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