Can the Amazon Dash Button Change Your Household Forever?

Earlier this month, I had the chance to pick up a couple of those Amazon Dash buttons that the shopping website had first announced around April Fool’s Day (which definitely confused a lot of us!). At first, I was snickering at this concept, but admittedly, it might work out pretty well in our house. Continue reading Can the Amazon Dash Button Change Your Household Forever?

Late to the Game: ‘Elder Sign’

Elder Sign © Fantasy Flight Games (Fair Use)
Elder Sign © Fantasy Flight Games

Elder Sign is a cooperative dice-rolling game based on the Cthulhu Mythos in which you and your fellow players work together as a team of researchers investigating a museum, attempting to prevent the rise of an Ancient One. Players must collect a number of Elder Signs before the Ancient One fills its Doom Track, kills the players, or drives them all mad. Sound good? Then find out more in our in-depth look at both the physical game and its digital alter-ego, Elder Sign: Omens.

Elder Sign set up for a new game © Sophie Brown
Elder Sign set up for a new game © Sophie Brown

How Do You Play?
The museum that forms the playable region of Elder Sign is composed of a number of large cards, each representing a room, while in the digital version you are faced with a map of the museum with a number of locations highlighted on it.

Players choose a room to enter (embarking upon an Adventure) and attempt to roll dice and match the symbols on the card—sometimes in a specific order. If the player successfully completes their Adventure by matching all the symbols, they can gain spells and weapons to help them win more Adventures; they can also gain the all-important Elder Signs needed to defeat the Ancient One. Failing the Adventure can result in a loss of the player’s health and sanity, the arrival of a monster who will increase the difficulty of future Adventures, or Doom being added to the Ancient One’s Doom Track. After each player’s turn, a clock is advanced and at midnight, the Ancient One reveals a card that can benefit them, so players are encouraged to win as fast as possible. Some rooms also have their own, usually negative, Midnight Effects.

Elder Sign: Omens © Fantasy Flight Games (Fair Use)
Elder Sign: Omens © Fantasy Flight Games

How Do You Win and Lose?
To win at Elder Sign, players must collect a set number of Elder Sign tokens. The number is determined by the Ancient One they are fighting.

The tougher the Ancient One, the more Elder Signs will need to be collected to defeat it. Completing some Adventures will win you multiple Elder Signs, but the better the rewards, the harder the Adventure will be to complete. The team of players lose if they all are killed or driven insane by the Ancient One, or if the Ancient One fills its Doom Track.

Are There Any Expansions Available?
Yes. For the physical game two expansions, Unseen Forces and Gates of Arkham, are available. If you are playing digitally, there are currently three expansions: The Call of Cthulhu, The Trail of Ithaqua, and The Dark Pharaoh. All three unlock additional player characters and Ancient Ones to battle.

A successfully completed adventure, with three dice to spare © Sophie Brown
A successfully completed adventure, with three dice to spare © Sophie Brown

What Formats Is the Digital Game Available On?
Elder Sign: Omens is available on iOS (for both iPad and iPhone), Android, Kindle, and Steam.

How Do the Costs Compare?
The base game currently retails for around $30 with the expansions costing $15 to $20 each, making this one of the cheaper games currently on the market. The digital base game retails for $6.99 (iPad), $3.99 (iPhone), $14.99 (Steam), or around $4.50 on Android. Expansions are $2.99 each.

What Age Is It Suitable For?
The game is recommended for age 12+, and having played it many times, that feels like the correct choice from the developer. While the game play is simple enough that a younger child could understand what’s going on, the artwork is obviously very intense (this is a game set in the realm of the Ancient Ones, after all) and some of the mechanics would likely go over their heads.

The digital version also contains occasional cut scenes that could scare young children. If your child is already acquainted with classic horror, they may enjoy the game, but for the majority, the recommended age will be accurate.

Has It Been Featured on TableTop?
Yes! Elder Sign was featured on series one of TableTop and was played by Felicia Day, Mike Morhaime, and Bill Prady.

Attempting to complete the Mystery Tome Adventure © Fantasy Flight Games (Fair Use)
Attempting to complete the Mystery Tome Adventure © Fantasy Flight Games

Is It Actually Any Good?
Whether or not you will enjoy Elder Sign, either digitally or physically, is more than likely going to boil down to how much you enjoy randomness as a factor in your gaming. Completing Adventures is entirely based on dice-rolling (occasional cards and characters can change die rolls, but these are frustratingly few and far between), which means that even the best-equipped Investigator can fail spectacularly over and over again if the dice just aren’t in the mood to behave.

This can be incredibly aggravating, and I would know. Despite countless attempts and intentionally hoarding as many helpful cards as possible, I am still yet to beat the final card of The Call of Cthulhu expansion, by nothing more than sheer bad luck.

The randomness effect does, however, level the playing field, meaning that any group of players can work well together from experienced Investigators to total newbies.

The cooperative element really shines during physical play, as players debate which rooms/Adventures they should attempt and which to avoid. We played as a group late on New Year’s Eve and, despite losing spectacularly, had a great time playing—and isn’t that the whole point?

Digital Vs. Physical
Green = Pro, Red = Con, Black = Neutral


  • Game set up is as good as instantaneous.
  • The game keeps track of which cards can be used at any time, instantly deals out the correct rewards (or penalties) at the conclusion of an Adventure, and advances the clock as required.
  • The player has to play as multiple characters, remembering each individual’s special abilities and current inventory once their turn rolls around.
  • Designed for single player, so you don’t need to get a group together.
  • The single-player format means the game loses out on the cooperative nature of the physical version, arguably one of its best parts.
  • Both the base game and the expansions are cheap. The complete game with all expansions can be bought for as little as $13.
  • The base game is somewhat limited and quickly becomes repetitive, so the temptation to buy expansions is high.
  • Rooms with a Midnight Effect (a usually negative outcome every time the clock strikes midnight) are easily spotted on the map, as are those with Terror Effects.
  • Only one room can be seen at a time, so the player must either remember the requirements for each one or spend time looking at each one every time they choose a new room/Adventure.


  • Lots and lots of parts means the game takes a very long time to set up.
  • The game can be played by up to eight people, making it a great party game and a good choice at a games night with lots of guests, where other games might leave people out.
  • Midnight and Terror effects are written in small print on the cards, making them easy to overlook.
  • Although more expensive than the digital game, the physical edition is one of the cheaper games on the market (keep an eye out for frequent price reductions too).
  • Despite being cheaper than many games, the build quality is fantastic and the pieces are all well made and lovely to handle.
  • There are only two expansions. However, for those of us trying to limit our rapidly growing game collections, this may be a good thing!
  • The cards representing the rooms are laid out on the table and the requirements for each one can be seen all at once, making choosing your next room/Adventure easier.
  • Best played with a group, so not ideal if you don’t have a gaming group or local gamer friends nearby.

GeekMom received the base game of Elder Signs: Omens for review purposes.

Tinybop’s ‘Simple Machines’ App Will Stretch Your Imagination!

Simple Machines Icon by Tinybop
Simple Machines icon. Photo: Tinybop.

Tinybop just released their new app, Simple Machines, and you should check it out! Simple Machines is the fourth app in Tinybop’s Explorer’s Library, and the second Tinybop app that I’ve had the opportunity to review. In April, I wrote about The Robot Factory.

Simple Machines is an educational app that does exactly what you would expect: It teaches kids about simple machines. As my son Johnny described, “I think it’s educational even though some kids will just think it’s a game and won’t realize they are learning.”

Johnny also said he loved how interactive Simple Machines is and how many different games within a game there are. “Kids (will be able to) manipulate inclined planes, levers, screws, wheels and axles, pulleys, and wedges to make music, destroy a castle, lift fish tanks, bike over obstacles, send airplanes into the sky, and break up an iceberg.” Wow! There’s no shortage of changing environments and moving objects to hold your child’s attention.

James Gilleard created the fascinating artwork for Simple Machines. He said the artist Mary Blair, who worked for The Walt Disney Company, was an inspiration. What a bonus to have such interesting artwork combined with an educational and fun app! His love of cars, robots, birds, dinosaurs, and “other rubbish” come to life in his artwork.

Simple Machines app screens
Simple Machines app screens. Photos: Tinybop.

I am also very impressed that Tinybop provides a parent handbook to go along with the app. The Simple Machines Handbook explains the simple machines so that you can support your child’s learning. It is available in seven languages and is 23 pages of comprehensive explanation, descriptive pictures, and activities. I learned quite a few things, and I bet you will too!

Simple Machines is supported on iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch and is available for $2.99 in the App Store. Or better yet, the Tinybop Explorers 1-4 set is available for $9.99.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Family Sharing – A Fantastic new iOS 8 Feature!

Joey and his new to him iPhone 5. Image: Maryann Goldman
Joey and his new to him iPhone 5. Image: Maryann Goldman

New devices mean new decisions, and it turns out that Family Sharing on iOS 8 is the next best thing since sliced bread…really.

My 6th grader Joey, age 12,  had been pestering me for a phone ever since he started middle school last fall. I’m not sure that he really needs a phone, and I’m not 100% sure he can keep up with a phone; however, since I wanted to upgrade my iPhone 5 to an iPhone 6, I didn’t see any harm in giving him my hand-me-down. He already had an email address on Gmail, access to a computer, and an Android tablet, but he didn’t have an Apple ID or his own iOS device. There’s an iPad in the house that he can use, but it has my Apple ID set-up on it. I spent a good bit of time trying to decide if I should keep his iPhone under my Apple ID or try to give him his own. I decided it was time for him to have his own identity on things like Words With Friends and other games that he wants to play, but I also didn’t want the family to have to buy games and music more than once. What I discovered, sort of by accident, is that there’s a new Family Sharing setting on iOS 8 that would make setting up his iPhone a breeze. The first thing I did was make sure I was totally happy with the transfer of my data from iCloud and my old phone to my new phone. After that, I reset the iPhone 5 by using Settings -> General -> Reset -> Erase All Content and Settings.

As I went through the set-up screens on the iPhone 5, it I asked me to create a new Apple ID for Joey. When I put in his birthday, it told me that he was too young and that a parent needed to create his Apple ID using Family Sharing. Like many sites, Apple requires users to be 13 or older to create an ID.

I went back over to my iPhone 6 to try to figure out what to do. I went into Settings -> iCloud -> Family -> Create an Apple ID for a Child. Joey’s new Apple ID was automatically added to my Family. I was then able to log in on Joey’s iPhone, with the Apple ID that I created for him, and finish the set-up. Easy!

The base iOS 8 apps went onto Joey’s iPhone after the reset, and then I went into the App Store under Updates -> Purchased -> Family Purchases -> Maryann (me). I was able to download the apps that I thought Joey should have that I had previously purchased. Cool!

I followed a similar process in the iTunes store under More -> Purchased -> Family Purchases -> Maryann to download some of my music to Joey’s iPhone. Super!

Although Joey knows that he isn’t allowed to make purchases in the iTunes Store or App Store without my permission, there is now an extra safety net. The Family Share setting also generates a prompt to me to approve/reject any item that Joey tries to buy. Great!

The only problem I ran into is one that quite a few other people have run into, too.  I received this error message the first time I tried to download one of my purchased items to Joey’s iPhone:

Unable to Download : to download shared content, your Family must have a valid payment method.

I double checked my credit card.  No problem there.  Logging Joey out of his Apple account and then logging him back in fixed the issue.  Go to Settings -> iTunes & App Store -> Apple ID -> Sign Out then re-enter your Password and Sign In.

Joey has been using his iPhone for a few days now without issue, and I think this set-up is going to work well for our family. The upgrade to iOS 8 was worth it just for this feature alone…although there are quite a few other new features to check out, too.

App Review: Adventure Time: Card Wars for iOS and Android

Image capture: Patricia Vollmer.
Image capture: Patricia Vollmer.

My youngest son is our Adventure Time fan. Based on our multiple product reviews and the birthday party he had in January, our blog regulars probably know that already.

GeekMom received an invitation to check out the new Adventure Time: Card Wars app for iOS and Android, and I was happy to check it out and let my sons play. The review here discusses our download of the iOS version for my iPad 2. We did not test it on our Android tablet.

The game is based on the Season 4 Adventure Time episode, “Card Wars“, in which Jake the Dog unearths a card deck and challenges Finn the Human to a game. The winner of the game is to be deemed “Cool Guy,” while the loser is the “Dweeb” and has to drink a grog-style drink of assorted ingredients as penance. The card game in the episode pays homage to popular TTGs such as Magic: The Gathering and PokémonIn the episode, you see a wide variety of capabilities and non-capabilities that can be used to battle your opponent.

You begin play as a Jake the Dog (shown here playing against Finn the Human), but will collect other Adventure Time characters as the game progresses. You can play those additional characters in parallel. My sons are playing as Jake, Finn, and Lady Rainicorn simultaneously right now. Image capture: Patricia Vollmer.
You begin play as Jake the Dog (shown here playing against Finn the Human with the “Dweeb” and “Cool Guy” cups of soda), but will collect other Adventure Time characters as the game progresses. You can play those additional characters in parallel. My sons are playing as Jake, Finn, and Lady Rainicorn simultaneously right now. © Cartoon Network

The app is based on this game accurately enough, even though I saw some reviewer on iTunes complain that not all capabilities from the television episode were available in the app. Players will start with a tutorial that covers the basics of game play. Then, you’re all set to venture on your own.

First, you’ll lay down your “land” cards, which provide the setting. These cards frame what warriors and spells you’re able to set up on the tabletop. After your opponent sets up his/her land cards, warriors, and spells, you will then “battle.”

The battle part of the game takes a little bit of tablet savvy. As seen in the image below, there’s a spinning pointer on-screen. Tap the tablet to time the pointer with where you want it to land. Where it ends up corresponds with the level of attack or defense you will have. You win/lose the game according to the types of cards you have in combination with your ability to tap the tablet properly. It’s an interesting mix.

Tap to attack. This will test your hand-eye coordination. Image capture: Patricia Vollmer.
Tap to attack. This will test your hand-eye coordination. The green signifies a successful attack, while the red is a loss. © Cartoon Network

My sons are really enjoying this game and continue to play it often after nearly three weeks. However, there are in-app purchases available that they claim would help them enjoy it more. We ordinarily don’t do in-app purchases, but gems are available for purchase at approximately $0.99 each.

Image: Turner Entertainment.
The more you purchase, the cheaper they are. You can cash in the gems for additional health, special cards, and extra shuffles of your deck of cards.

Like other games, the in-app purchases will help you achieve tasks more quickly. However, the game can be played perfectly well without the investment.

Adventure Time: Card Wars retails for $3.99 and is now available at both the iTunes App Store for iOS and Google Play for Android devices. In-app purchases start at $0.99. The game is rated for ages 9+ for infrequent/mild cartoon or fantasy violence.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Transport Tycoon Pulls Into Your Mobile Device

Transport Tycoon © Chris Sawyer
Transport Tycoon © Chris Sawyer

I grew up playing the classic Sim games from Maxis. We had Sim Life on our Amiga 1200 and I later grew so obsessed with my Sim Ant game on our first PC that I did an elementary school science project using the game manual as a resource (hey, the back of the book was basically a biology textbook about real ants; it was legitimate research).

Since those days, sim games have grown far more sophisticated just as I have grown away from them, but when I was offered the chance to play with the latest edition of Transport Tycoon I was interested to see how the game would compare to my memories.

Transport Tycoon is a classic in its own right and was originally released in 1994 (I can clearly remember seeing that box on the shelves of my local games store when I was a kid). The game allows players to build up a transport empire of road, rail, sea, and air transportation, beginning in the 1900s and progressing through time to the modern day. The iPad app features a number of different scenarios to be played through at different levels of difficulty. Easy scenarios can be as “simple” as carrying 1000 passengers within ten years, expert challenges include attaining monthly profits of £1 million, and finishing the game as the top company against up to 14 rivals.

I actually found the game quite hard to get into. Setting up bus routes in existing towns was simple enough but the process of laying out railway track between towns felt tedious and overly complicated compared with games I’ve played in the past. The grainy “retro” feel to the graphics combined with the slightly clumsy touch screen interaction made the game more difficult than it should have been simply because of the visuals. At one point I struggled to understand why a bus route wasn’t working. It took some considerable effort to spot that a section of road was pointing the wrong way so the bus couldn’t travel along it. Rather than giving me a warning error to explain that the route was impossible, the bus just trundled around in an endless loop visiting the same single stop over and over.

My Transport Tycoon game (yes I named my company after Twin Peaks) © Sophie Brown
My Transport Tycoon game (yes I named my company after Twin Peaks) © Sophie Brown

That being said, I still found myself playing for longer than I intended, getting sucked into watching the little profit counter steadily increasing as I expanded my bus empire into more and more cities (I’d given up on trains at this point—the track seemed too expensive to invest in). My four-year-old son would happily sit beside me wanting to watch the little vehicles zooming about on their errands. He found it fascinating and I even found him attempting to play the game on more than one occasion, despite it being far too complex for his age.

I wouldn’t be rushing out to purchase Transport Tycoon if this had just been a demo. For me these games have become too complex. I enjoyed the basic gameplay of the early sim games (my last copy of Sim City was nothing more than a grid) rather than the constant micro-management required of modern variants. Interestingly, my husband feels the same way about current football manager games.

But there’s no doubt that Transport Tycoon is a well-built game with a lot packed into its meager $7 (£5) price tag. If you’re prepared to invest the time then you will definitely reap what you sow.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Hip-Hip-Hooray for Peppa Pig’s Sports Day

We’re big fans of Peppa Pig in this house. My son has been into the Nick Jr. cartoon for years and now at the ripe old age of 7, that love is stronger than ever. The only thing he loves more than that snorty little pink pig is sports—any sports. Imagine the frothing that ensued when I let him know there’s a Peppa Pig’s Sports Day app!

Designed for iOS and Android devices, Peppa Pig’s Sports Day packs all of the cute little characters from the show into one app. Even better, that app includes seven different activities.

To start, you’re going to need to create a player profile. This basically involves entering a name and choosing an avatar. There are several avatar options in Peppa Pig‘s world. My son currently uses the dinosaur (which is a favorite of Peppa’s brother, George). I’m a frog.

Once you choose a player, you can pick from six different games. Peppa and her pals are very unique, so the “sports” are pretty unique as well. There’s an “Obstacle Race,” “Tug of War,” the “Long Jump,” a “Bicycle Race,” an “Ice-Cream Maker,” and “Rosette Making.” Each of the games does require a little hand-to-eye coordination, which is nice. It’s also worth noting that as you play, you get “stickers.” Aha! Yes, there’s the seventh activity, which involves placing your stickers on different backgrounds.

According to app developer P2 Games, Peppa Pig’s Sports Day is designed for kids aged 2 to 6. That didn’t seem to deter my 7-year-old from having a blast. And yes, I played plenty of sports as well. Using the iPhone 4, I was really impressed at how nice the graphics are in this app. It looks pretty identical to the cartoon.

This is the type of app that’s perfect for little hands. As previously mentioned, we’re Peppa Pig fans and we’re also sports fans. However, you don’t really need to know either one to get your money’s worth with this download. My little app athlete just loved all of the different games, as well as the interaction with the characters. He said that his favorite by far is the “Long Jump” activity, “because it has muddy puddles.” Fair enough. After all, if you’re at all familiar with Peppa Pig, you know how important this is. If not, this app should still provide plenty of fun.

Peppa Pig’s Sports Day is currently available via iTunes and Amazon for $4.99.

Designed for iOS and Android devices, “Peppa Pig’s Sports Day” has seven different activities. Image: P2 Games.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Jazzy World Tour Shows Kids Music and Culture From Around the World

Main Menu Map © The Melody Book
Main Menu Map © The Melody Book

A year ago I wrote about a pre-school music app called A Jazzy Day. The app became a favorite of my son and featured cute cartoon cats who learned all about the instruments in a jazz orchestra by visiting the big band in New York City. A sequel, Jazzy World Tour, has recently been released and my son has been enjoying playing this new offering for the past few weeks.

Jazzy World Tour moves away from the linear story mode of its predecessor and broadens its educational reach. Rather than learning just about musical instruments, Jazzy World Tour introduces geography and cultural studies as players travel between countries from the main menu (a map of the world) and see each nation’s instruments as part of a wider cultural experience. Seven countries are available to explore: The USA, Australia, Brazil, Spain, Egypt, Kenya, and India, and each country has three options to explore with (learn, play and create).

The Play Tab in Egypt and the Create Tab in Australia © The Melody Book
The Play Tab in Egypt and the Create Tab in Australia © The Melody Book

The “learn” tab introduces some basic objects that teach players about the culture of the chosen country. These include a selection of musical instruments, local wildlife, famous buildings, foods, religious deities and more: The India selection includes a lotus flower, the Taj Mahal, a cobra, a sitar and Ganesh. Each of these objects is drawn in a colorful cartoon style. Tapping it brings up a short, simple paragraph explaining what it is with the object’s name spoken aloud, this is very helpful for certain words you may not have encountered before. The “play” tab brings up a single screen in which many of the items found in the “learn” tab are brought together to form a picture of that country along with local music forming a backdrop. Tapping each image animates it. Many of the musical instruments will be represented, so by tapping around the player, can create music from that location. The final tab is “create.” Here players can use animated stickers to create scenes (either still pictures or short animated videos) which can then be added to their “travel book” as they visit the different countries; they can also be instantly shared via social media, emailed or saved to the device. The Travel Book is accessible from the main menu and serves as a sort of scrapbook of the player’s experiences as they travel the world.

Naturally, an app like this cannot go into great depth for each of the countries it includes, however the scenes and items from the different cultures are great for young children only just learning about the way in which places and people differ. The app is bright and engaging, the animations are often funny (my son fell in love with the emu in the Australia section which would run off screen and then slip back on a moment later) and the learning is subtle. In choosing not to have a linear story mode, the app does feel like something is lacking when compared to its narrated predecessor. As it is, the app feels a little disjointed from my perspective. However, my 3-year-old loves jumping from country to country making as much noise as possible.

The Learn Tab in India © The Melody Book
The Learn Tab in India © The Melody Book

Jazzy World Tour is a great addition to your app collection and is great for kids beginning at pre-school age and ranging up to middle school as their reading skills increase and they can move from using the app as a musical sticker book to reading the information about different cultures by themselves. I’d love to see more countries opened up on the map and hope that we might see such an expansion one day as there are so many great cultures left to explore.

A copy of Jazzy World Tour was provided free for this review. It is available on the Apple Store costing $4.99/£2.99 for the complete game, or you can download a “free” trial edition featuring just one country, and buy the rest of the map as individual expansions costing 99c each.

Wombi Monsters Teach Letters, Numbers, & Shapes to Pre-Schoolers

Wombi Monsters © Wombi
Wombi Monsters © Wombi

Last year my son started at our local pre-school and ever since his appetite for knowledge has simply grown and grown. Every day he points out letters, numbers, and shapes around our home or on the street and asks what they are. He’s even asked for phonics books as his bedtime story. It’s something I want to encourage and so when Wombi released a new series of three Monster apps that teach letters, shapes, and numbers I was eager to see what he would make of them.

Each app teaches one of the three groups and all three use an identical interface so your child will only need to be shown how to use one app and they will automatically be able to follow the other two. All three feature a friendly yet hungry cartoon monster who will ask you child to select an item of food and feed it to him or her. In the letter and number apps, these are biscuits and mushrooms with a letter or number printed on them. The monster (a sea captain octopus or a pink monster scientist) will ask for a letter or number and your child will need to find it on the tray at the bottom of the screen and drag it to their mouth. Continue reading Wombi Monsters Teach Letters, Numbers, & Shapes to Pre-Schoolers

Magisto Might Really Be the Instagram of Video

Magisto screen capture
Screenshot from Magisto website.

Yeah, I know a lot of apps are trying to be the Instagram of video, including Twitter’s weird Vine attempt, but Magisto captures the feel in a way I haven’t seen with other apps. Instagram is Instagram because it’s simple, slightly cheesy, and easy to share. Magisto is pretty much that — only with video.

You don’t have to do any editing to make a cool video. In fact, you can’t do any editing at this point. You just shoot some video or choose one or more movies that you’ve already shot,  pick a theme, pick licensed background music, and let Magisto’s algorithms handle the rest. Once your video is created, you’ll get an email. Share your video on Twitter, Facebook, or by link. You can also export your videos to YouTube.

Here’s a simple video I shot the other day from my phone:

This came from a few minutes of video shot from my phone while my family went sledding. Note: I removed the background music because YouTube flagged it as licensed content. The original with music can be seen here, where Magisto allows comments or a heart-shaped favoriting button–just like Instagram.

Simple is good.

The problem with most home movies is that they’re at least twice as long as they need to be, and they look like they were shot by people making home movies. Video editing software has a heck of a learning curve, and it’s exhausting to make all those choices about edits. Magisto acts as the “easy button.”  Magisto, so far, seems to make very reasonable guesses about what parts of the video are important, and the resulting video is short enough to be interesting and easy to share.

However, if you don’t like the results, you’re out of luck. You just have to try again, because there’s no editing. There’s also no way to upload your own background music or specify that you don’t want a soundtrack. (Update: There is now an option to create a movie without a soundtrack. I referred to information on the Magisto FAQ that was outdated and has now been corrected.) The soundtrack does respond to human voices, though, so it doesn’t drown out your dialog. However, if you have dialog in a movie and want to transfer it to YouTube, you can’t just drop the audio after you get it there, like I did with the sledding video. You need a soundtrack-free option to avoid this. The company claims they’re working on more flexibility with the soundtrack.

Right now the free version of Magisto is limited to 16 hosting videos, and you’re charged  $.99 to $2.99 to download a video you made. You can use the Magisto website directly or download free apps for iOS or Android.  If you hit the max, you just have to download your files or export them to YouTube before deleting them from Magisto.

Make no mistake, this is not a high end editing suite. This is how you share baby photos. Or a video of your kids sledding. Or movies about your cats. It’s not going to win you an Oscar, but it is fun, easy, and maybe a little hokey.


Review: Griffin Beacon Universal Remote for iOS or Android

Image source: Griffin

There are a few ways to turn your phone into a remote control — an instantly appealing idea since most of us lose our phones far less often than we lose the remote. The Griffin Beacon makes it both relatively cheap and quite easy to do so for your entire home theater setup with either an Android or iOS phone or tablet.

To use the Beacon with iOS, you just download the Dijit remote app from the iTunes store (free) and connect your device through Bluetooth. The Beacon itself looks like some kind of modern art sculpture from a Japanese garden. The base looks like your average black entertainment device, less than 4″ square, but atop it sits a shiny, red-black, rounded rock. You press the rock down until its blue light flashes, which indicates its connection to your device.

Image source: Dijit

The setup is similar for Android devices (any running version 2.3.3 or later). You download Digit from the Google Play store instead, of course. Ratings are better for the iOS version–some Android reviewers have had trouble with the Bluetooth connection and setup. Like many apps, it either worked perfectly or not well at all, earning mostly reviews on each end of the spectrum.

My Beacon had no trouble finding most of my devices in its list of hundreds of thousands, and the one that it didn’t find was easy to set up through prompts for selecting make and device type.

The Beacon connects over Bluetooth, which on some phones can be more of a battery drain than on others. Know your phone and know whether you should keep the plug (or spare battery) nearby. As for the Beacon itself, Griffin says that you should get eight weeks of battery life. I got significantly less than that, and other users have reported similar problems. When you’re used to a couple of AA batteries lasting in your TV remote forever, that can be annoying, and the Beacon doesn’t have an AC adapter. (Of course, some enterprising users have figured out how to make one.) Just remember to keep rechargeables handy. You almost certainly have enough other devices that need them as well!

The actual remote portion of the Dijit app is not a thing of great beauty, but it is functional, and in the end, that’s what matters. There are simple choices for your remote, and you can adapt them to your personal choices by adding or deleting buttons.

Once you’ve got it all set up, you’re ready to use your one-stop remote control. You can add a television guide that will help manage your channels and DVRs by entering your ZIP code and selecting the correct broadcast provider.

Overall, I have had a positive experience with the Beacon and the Dijit app. Setup was easy, and it works well at what it is meant to do. That said, others have reported significantly more trouble. Amazon reviews are occasionally ecstatic (presumably people who had the success I did) with a lot of one-star reviews, most of which have to do with the battery-eating and some who had trouble with Dijit. If you’re willing to deal with regular battery changes and are looking for an attractive universal remote solution, I recommend giving it a try.

The Griffin Beacon lists for $79.99 but as of this writing is available on Amazon for $38.35 for iOS devices or $41.96 for Android:

I received a Griffin Beacon for review.

Welcome Back Reading Rainbow, We Missed You!

Reading Rainbow App / Image: Dakster Sullivan
From the Reading Rainbow App  © 2012 RRKidz, Inc. / Image: Dakster Sullivan

When I was in school, Reading Rainbow was one of my favorite TV shows. The signature theme song would get stuck in my head for most of the day after watching whichever episode my teacher put on for us. Levar Burton felt like a friend I had met in the library and I looked forward to the books he would use in each episode. The thing I really liked about Levar was how excited and eager he was to read each book. I feel like his enthusiasm to read rubbed of on me a little bit.

As I got older, my love for the show never went away. It wasn’t until I was married and had a child of my own that I started to look for it again on TV. I was surprised to learn that it was canceled in 2009. As a child, I never thought it would go away. As silly as it seems, the show felt like a friend that I only had a chance to see every once in a while.

Reading Rainbow Host, Levar Burton / Image: Dakster Sullivan
Reading Rainbow Host, Levar Burton / Image: Dakster Sullivan

Recently, however, Reading Rainbow was brought back to life in the form of an app for the iPad, and I’ve had the chance to review it.

From the moment I opened it up, it felt like I was seeing my old friend again for the first time in years. The theme song, the opening video, everything about it brought me back to when I was a child in school.

Continue reading Welcome Back Reading Rainbow, We Missed You!

Father’s Day Gifts with Ulterior Motives: iGrill

iDevices iGrill pictured in use making tasty ribs

On Mother’s Day, they tend to advertise a lot of things like vacuums and ironing boards. I think that’s a little mean. It’s like giving someone a gift that says, “Clean my house!” I’ll admit that I’m occasionally guilty of doing this for Father’s Day, although my gifts usually say “Cook for me!”  He likes cooking, and I like eating, so I refuse to feel guilty about it. This year, I received a review model of the iDevices iGrill, and I wanted to see if it qualifies as good gift encouragement for more tasty smoked meats. Continue reading Father’s Day Gifts with Ulterior Motives: iGrill

Review: Tango Chase Arcade-Style iOS Game

Tango Chase, Image: Herotainment

You may already be familiar with Herotopia, the online game that lets kids create their very own superhero and fight bullies in a kid-safe virtual world. The creators have branched out with their first iOS game for iPad and iPhone based around one of the game’s popular sidekicks, Tango the orangutan. Tango Chase is a bit like a reverse Donkey Kong. Instead of Donkey Kong stealing Mario’s girlfriend, poor little Tango has his sweetheart stolen by an evil super-villain. It’s his mission to find a way to get her back by sliding down vines and collecting jewels and bananas instead of climbing up and jumping over barrels like good old Mario.

Tango Chase, Image: Herotainment

Tango is controlled by a combination of multi-directional tilt controls and fingers swipes to drop him straight down from one platform to the next. It’s a fun challenge to make him slide along far enough to collect all the bonuses but not so far that he slides off the end so you fail the level. Points are awarded depending on how many bonuses you collect on your way and you’re awarded from 1-3 bananas as a measure of your skills.

The game is fun and entertaining and provides a challenge without becoming frustrating for kids. It’ll keep them busy waiting or while on a car trip. Mine, who are 8 and 10, got a real kick out of trying to get the highest score and seeing who got stuck where so they could try and beat each other. There’s also really cute jungle music that had the two of them dancing across the living room without making me want to run and cover my ears.

All together, there are 70 increasingly difficult levels of gameplay. Players need to avoid things like spiked platforms and snakes while trying to catch bigger and better bonuses like power ups and rare gems. The graphics are not complex, but it’s still a fun and engaging game for kids, and did I mention this is a free app? Check out the in-game video below and then head to the iTunes store where you can download Tango Chase for free!

Disney’s “It’s a Small World” Interactive iOS App

Loading Screen of the "It's a Small World" App © Disney
Loading Screen of the “It’s a Small World” App © Disney

Anybody who knows me personally will know that I am an enormous Disney geek. Interestingly, for me it is not so much about the films as it is the theme parks. There are paintings all over our house of the parks, I have a collection of plates and collectables and several boards full of trading pins. The best present I received this Christmas was a surprise from my husband, a set of figures based on characters who appear only (or mostly) in the parks, the yeti from the Matterhorn, Figment from EPCOT and a Ghost from the Haunted Mansion were included amongst others. So when I heard that Disney were releasing a story app based on one of their most beloved (or possibly infamous) rides, “It’s a Small World” – I absolutely had to try it out.

I will first answer the question that every single person familiar to that ride is currently asking, yes it does include the song. However this is a version of the song that has been toned down to more instrumental and melodic background music, rather than the invasive song well known to Disney park patrons. The music hums away in the background and provides a perfect score to the story without being intrusive. That’s until you get to the very end when the chorus of the original song pipes up on repeat until you hit the menu button and you’re stuck with it in your head for the rest of the day.

All the scenes are beautifully drawn & use vivid colours © Disney
All the scenes are beautifully drawn & use vivid colours © Disney

The story itself is based on the lyrics and take the reader on a journey through a series of beautiful settings based on different countries and cultures. Each scene is accompanied by a single line from the song and features a variety of interactive elements that can be activated by clicking on parts of the image. Clicking an animal might cause it to make a noise, a boat might sail off across the sea or a child might laugh and blow a kiss. The app automatically pans across the image, however you can use your finger to drag the image back and revisit parts of it. All sorts of countries and cultures are represented from the Arctic to Africa, Japan to London.

The menu screen with spinning wheel to select a scene © Disney
The menu screen with spinning wheel to select a scene © Disney

Inbetween scenes a hot air balloon sails onto the screen to take you on the next stage of the journey as the scene loads. If left alone, the app will automatically work its way through each line/scene of the song, however the menu does give you the option to jump to any you choose through a nicely designed animated scrolling wheel. This can be accessed at any time throughout your journey and also allows you to return to the home page.

The day after I received this app, I switched it on and handed my phone over to my two year old. Despite the app being rated 4+, my son found it easy to get to grips with; he was quickly poking at things and getting dogs barking and bagpipes playing (in case it isn’t obvious – this is NOT a quiet app.) I do have to admit that the app hasn’t held his attention for long, however I can honestly say that I think this is simply a phase he is going through as none of his previously favoured apps have been left running very long lately either. Because of the auto scrolling, he was able to move through the different screens without needing my help and if his attention span was longer, he could easily have worked through the full app.

The word "laugh" appears as you tap a laughing girl © Disney
The word “laugh” appears as you tap a laughing girl © Disney

The app would also work well as a simple short story book for an older child, each line is spoken aloud so no reading skills are required, however the words are printed on screen for those learning to read. Do remember however that as this story is based on song lyrics, there are not that many lines so the app’s value as a “learning to read” tool is limited. Certain characters also produce a written word that relates to the action they are performing when they are tapped, these are simple words such as “give” and “laugh.” The app contains one other small feature, a karaoke screen which sings the chorus with the words up on screen and a traditional karaoke bouncing along on top of them. This is the same screen that appears at the end of the story but it can be accessed directly from the main menu. I suggest you don’t tell your kids about it if you ever want to get the song out of your head.

As a Disney park enthusiast, I thoroughly enjoyed this app and would happily sit and watch the story unfold even by myself. I would love to see a range of these interactive story apps based on other Disney park rides – the Haunted Mansion being my number one desire – and if this is the quality benchmark then I’d be very happy indeed. If you’re not a Disney fan this app won’t win you over, however given the subject I feel that an app like this was always aimed at existing enthusiasts rather than a more casual market. All together this is a beautiful looking app with a simple interface and lots of fun to be had within, please make more Disney.

“It’s a Small World” is available for iPhone and iPad for $3.99/£2.49. A copy of this app was provided free for review.


Get Mobile this Thanksgiving With the First-Ever Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade® Official Mobile App

All Images: MyCityWay

Usually the only enhancement I get for my viewing of the Macy’s parade, is that we are at my in-laws house and their television is twice the size of ours. That and the Blueberry Buckle my mother in law makes every year. This year I shall be swiping my husband’s iPhone and settling in with a new app from MyCityWay. Powered by MyCityWay, the app will give spectators, using both iOS and Android, important parade information plus a comprehensive guide to New York City. And it’s free!

Users will get expected features such as the route map, parade line-up, trivia, photos, videos, and information on parade events, but will also get some never before available access. If you are in the city that day, you will be able to use the view of the guarded Line of March to predict when certain floats will pass your vantage point. Ideal for timing bathroom breaks.

With this app you also have the chance to download a special MyCityWay feature called Clingle. This will enable the user to track certain participants, including 11 marching bands and the Spirit of America and Varsity Spirit Cheer performance groups. On November 22 you can also enter a competition for VIP seating tickets. Just “check in” at famous landmarks along the parade route in a parade scavenger hunt. You’ll be automatically entered if you hit all the spots by midnight.

Also for those in the area, you can receive notification of transportation services that are affected by the parade route. Wish we’d have had that in 2000! I expect this will also be useful in timing those bathroom breaks and coffee runs. Make note of which float you last saw, run to Starbucks and then pick up the same float as it goes by a block or so down. If you have no interest in the parade at all, this would be useful information to have anyway, and the app comes with a comprehensive guide to New York City for free.

If you aren’t in the NYC area, this app will still enhance your viewing pleasure at home. You will be able to find out when a parade participant has crossed a particular destination, in real time, and receive notifications with pictures videos of the crossing. From 3-10 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 23 you will also be able to see the yearly balloon inflation.

You can download MyCityWay’s official 85th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade® mobile app for iOS or Android, or you can access its features at Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade® website. “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has always been an event about surprise and spectacle, one that has captured the imagination of the public for 85 years,” said Amy Kule, executive producer of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. “With this mobile app, we are putting fun and useful information in the hands of Macy’s Parade fans, bringing them closer to the magic.”

The one feature I plan on using most? Following and sending messages to Santa. I have a two year old with a few special requests that need to get through!


GeekMom Feature: StoryChimes Songbook!

We all know that the iOS devices are worth their weight in gold as far as parenting goes. As a Geek Mom, it’s one of my favorite sneaky ways to get education in to my son’s life while he thinks he’s getting rewarded by playing with the iPad. But it can get a little overwhelming when it comes to selecting the right app, not to mention knowing whether or not it’s going to be good quality.

You may have heard of StoryChimes by Siena Entertainment already. Their interactive books are available on iPhone and iPhone touch, and bring stories to life for little kids. But their new app, StoryChimes Songbook, brings it all to a new level (and is particularly awesome on the iPad).

The StoryChimes Songbook does something really exciting: it brings music into the mix. If you’ve read my posts over the years here and on GeekDad, you’ll know that I’m a huge proponent of education through music. And when reading and music go hand in hand, magic happens. Songs help memorization, and as each song highlights the words being sung through the story, it helps early readers (like my five year old) follow along. Not to mention, music is simply great for your brain!

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. The absolutely coolest thing about StoryChimes Songbook is that they’ve made some of the Lennon/McCartney songbook available (as a HUGE Beatles fan, this is extremely exciting!). Songs like “Let it Be,” “Golden Slumbers,” and “All You Need is Love” are all beautifully illustrated and sung. And, you can even learn to play the songs with the included keyboard function in the game. My son’s favorite part is finding all the little hidden easter eggs on each page, as each book has different elements you can poke. They spin, fly, and animate in response, eliciting all kinds of giggles from the preschool crew. And I suspect, even younger kids will get a kick out of it.

From the App Store description, here are a few more of the features you’ll find:

StoryChimes SongBook is a whole new way for kids and parents alike to experience their favorite songs! Each song has its own beautifully illustrated story, animations, interactivity and sounds. Plus, you can learn how to play these songs on the included piano!

Prepare to take your songs on a whole new illustrated and musical journey!

Features include

  • Free SongBook comes preloaded!
  • Page animations
  • Ability to interact with the environment
  • Sound FX
  • Great new songs every month!
  • Learn to play your favorites on the included piano!
  • Sing along in karaoke mode!
  • Connect with friends and family to let them know what you’re reading and listening to.

The app itself is free, and prices vary on songbooks from free (with the included ABC song that my kiddo adores) to $2.99, and the catalog contains other favorites like “Love Potion No. 9” among others. There is even a songbook of 12 Lennon/McCartney songs for just $9.99.

You can download StoryChimes Storybook online at the App Store.

StoryChimes is a featured GeekMom sponsor; products provided for promotion.