Toy Review: My Keepon
Over the years, many of us have seen numerous toys come to prominence in time for the Holiday Season. After all, nothing says Happy Holidays like grown men and women fighting in the toy aisle to get that must-have toy in order to please their little child. This year, there’s one toy that some are figuring may become that must-have toy for Billy and Betty: My Keepon.
Originally named Keepon, it was developed as a miniature robot to study and help children with social communication disorders. Keepon sits on a black base that houses the four-motor mechanism that gives him movement (an ‘exposed’ version is on the left in the photo). His eyes are actually cameras, and his nose is a microphone that can pick up sound. A rubber skin is placed around the mechanism, and gives Keepon his simple-yet-cute shape.
The little ‘beatbot’ soon gained popularity in 2007 when a video debuted with him dancing to the song I Turn My Camera On, by the band Spoon.
After the video debuted, many eagerly wished for a Keepon of their own. However, the cries turned to gasps when it was revealed what a personal Keepon would cost: $30,000-$40,000.
Though a pricey little entity, this didn’t keep Keepon cooped up indoors. Several Keepons toured across America as part of NextFest, sponsored by Wired magazine. In September of 2008, the tour stopped in Chicago, and I got to see/interact with Keepon up-close. A couple Keepons were set up to listen and interact with people on a face-to-face basis, but one was hooked up to a Nintendo Wii controller that allowed you to control Keepon. The hands-on nature actually made me come back to Nextfest for several days while it was in town, and it was intriguing to watch adults and children interact with the different ones on display.
Finally, less than 2 years later, UK toy company Wow! Stuff made the announcement that they would be partnering with the group Beatbot to make Keepon available to the general public. A year-and-a-half later, the consumer version debuted under the title My Keepon, and a price tag of $50.
I became one of the early adopters of My Keepon, out of fear that he would sell out (or simply not be restocked appropriately as has become the case with many retail stores these days, but I digress). Online pre-orders did sell out, but luckily, the ‘purchase-early’ strategy helped , and the little guy been sitting by my computer for a few weeks now.
For those expecting a spot-on, exact-replica of the original Keepons, there will come a huge disappointment. Sorry folks, but you can’t expect to get $30,000 worth of technology for only $50 (but if you can, I’d really like to know how).
The base still houses much of the electronics, but My Keepon now sits on a small turntable that extends outside of the under-body area. The base also features at the bottom, a speaker for My Keepon’s noise-making, and two buttons: one to set him for touch interaction, and the other for him to go into dance mode.
The original’s camera-eyes and microphone-nose have also been altered for this version. The camera-eyes are non-functional plastic pieces, and there is a small microphone/sensor in the nose that if tickled just right, will cause My Keepon to sneeze. However, this doesn’t always work, and I’m still trying to figure out the proper ‘prodding’ that set him off those few times.
His rubber-skin is also of a different texture and creation, most likely since the toymakers reasoned that the little beatbot would be put through his paces more times than the original. The rubber that is used is somewhat sticky-feeling, and visually, reminds me a little of the texture of an orange. I have heard from some other reviewers that the skin attracts dust and hair like crazy, but mine has stayed relatively clean. Instructions with My Keepon do suggest using a damp cloth and mild soap for cleaning.
To cash-in on interactivity, My Keepon also has several sensors around the body portion, and on top of his head. Touching the body sensors will cause him to squeak, or make a purring sound. Tapping him on the head will illicit a squeak, and Keepon will give a little ‘bounce’ in return. If you tap him on the head numerous times, he will ‘bounce’ back the same number of taps he was given. I have compiled a short video on Youtube that demonstrates these interactions:
But what some may be eager to know is: how well does he dance? Well, this could be the deal-breaker for alot of folks. While My Keepon does have a dance feature, it’s not going to give you perfection (as previously explained, we are dealing with a lower-end version of a $30,000 research robot). Using a microphone in his nose, My Keepon will dance to a beat for a bit, but then slow for a moment, and listen if the beat changes. Your best bet is to have My Keepon listen to something that has a constant beat throughout. However, I cannot guarantee perfection.
For those of you wondering what My Keepon looks like in action, I did some tests with different songs on my iPhone. For some unknown reason, My Keepon really likes the song People are Strange, performed by Echo & the Bunnymen. You can watch My Keepon’s full ‘performance’ of the song in the video below:
Another deal-breaker is his power supply. The little guy made me flashback to Sega’s hand-held Game Gear, which would suck up double-A batteries in no time. My Keepon needs 8 double-A batteries to function properly, though this will limit his power usage to under a few hours. I have noticed that when his juice starts to run low, he starts acting like a little child, almost crying out for more nourishment. Mine chirps, whirls around, and ‘bows’ without stop. This isn’t to say that Wow! Stuff made My Keepon entirely dependent on batteries. There is a plug on the back that can take (according to the manual) a power adapter with a rating of 12V DC, 1.5A with 3.5 mm plug. Rumor is that Wow! Stuff might release future shipments of the toy with an included adapter, but that’s still speculation.
So in the end, how do I like My Keepon? Well, I will say that it’s a good, but not great toy. The inclusion of interactivity by giving My Keepon sensors in his body and atop his head only slightly make up for the opportunity that was missed in giving him a sound/voice-sensor in his ‘nose.’ I would have enjoyed the ability for My Keepon to hear my voice on the other side of the room, and turn his attention to me.
The $50 price-point is also going to work its way into the equation for some. My use of rechargeable batteries has helped soften the blow, but what of those families that buy regular batteries? a 24-pack of double-A’s is pretty much a power buffet to My Keepon. As well, the exclusion of a power adapter may have some refusing to pound the pavement in search of one.
It bears remembering that this is the first iteration of My Keepon. Whose to say that Wow! Stuff may not make more advances in the next few years?
As of this posting, purchase options for My Keepon are greatest in the UK, with several different places selling the little guy. State-side, it’s only available exclusively at Toys ‘R’ Us. A week ago, I stopped into my local TRU, and saw a cart that had about 18 My Keepons, all on sale for $40. This sale price is also said to be sticking around for Black Friday, according to an early ad I saw. There’s also a silver lining to the purchase of My Keepon. A portion from each purchase will be used to continue research and fund creation of more Keepons (aka the higher-end models, which are now called Keepon Pro) for research and therapy methods that the original Keepon has been a part of for over 8 years now.
It’s rather interesting to note how far we’ve come with objects that deal with interactivity, be it human or rhythmic. I still remember specialty shops in the late 80’s that sold dancing Coke cans, and dancing plastic flowers. In recent years, Hasbro’s Furby became a runaway hit, and with the release of the iPod, a plethora of dancing thingamajigs came to prominence. I don’t have the figures on just how well My Keepon has performed sales-wise in its first four weeks of release, but if it does succeed in becoming the surprise hit of the Holiday Season, I’m sure we’ll hear about it soon enough.