Remember how hard it was to put on children’s songs or an audiobook when you were a young kid?
You either had to understand all the buttons on your parents’ CD player or else convince them that they really did want to put on that same nursery rhymes CD for a fourth time today.
But now, giving a child the power to play his or her own music and audiobooks has never been so easy.
To turn on music or stories on the Jooki, a wireless loudspeaker that plays straight from your Spotify account or an SD card, all your child needs to do is put a toy on it.
Each included toy can be assigned to basically anything you can play as a sound: a certain playlist or song on Spotify, a folder on the SD card, even a web radio to stream.
Undoubtedly the best thing about the Jooki is how easy it is to use – and that’s crucial if it’s a piece of technology meant to be used by children.
In practice, we found children of all ages – even adults – could have fun with it, but it’s quite special to see a 1-year-old’s face when they discover they can put on their own favourite music without help.
How does it work?
The wi-fi speaker comes with five figurines that can each be assigned to a set playlist on Spotify or a folder in the SD card.
Once you’ve set up the device through the Jooki app or connected the speaker to your wi-fi, your kid can start playing with it.
One small drawback is the few seconds it takes to boot up once turned on, but children that tried our model were surprisingly happy to accept the short wait.
You can also play music straight from an SD card, which certainly gives you more options for audiobooks, which isn’t a strongpoint of Spotify.
But in the long term, you’ll likely find it easier to quickly remove an annoying song through the Spotify app than to change files on an SD card.
The build quality is certainly what you’d want for a high-tech children’s toy, and the solid plastic design feels like it would survive a fall. The sound on the speaker is also quite clear, so your child shouldn’t have to resort to turning up the volume to better understand a story.
What does it mean for parents?
The five figurines certainly make this a playful toy, but perhaps too playful, and your child will inevitably wander around with and misplace these toys. This means you may end up searching your entire home for the fox or whale figurine just so you can play “Beauty and the Beast.”
Plus you’re probably wondering if you really want to give your child full control over the music you have to listen to.
Our test showed it was less of a nuisance than it sounds. The Jooki will certainly continue playing your Spotify playlist for children until you tell it to stop.
But since it’s all synchronised to the Spotify app on your phone, it’s easy to play something else once your child has stopped listening. This also means you can turn it off remotely if your child likes to fall asleep listening to songs or stories.
You also have the final say over the volume with your phone. If your kids are rocking out too noisily, you can manually pre-set a maximum volume in the app.
One other small problem is that whenever your child uses the Jooki, he or she is essentially hijacking your Spotify account. This means, for example, if you’re streaming some tunes while out for a run, when your child plays some music at home, your music might suddenly stop and be replaced by children’s songs.
Why so expensive?
Now we come to the main disadvantage of the Jooki – and it’s a big one: the price. The 200-dollar pricetag that comes with a Jooki will probably be the biggest hurdle for parents, especially since cheap speakers cost as little as 20 dollars.
And yet, despite costing as much as a huge Lego set, the Jooki isn’t even the priciest music player for kids out there.
For about 20 per cent more, you can get the German-made Hoerbert, a less smartphone-friendly alternative. Instead of streaming, this wooden speaker has nine coloured buttons that play files saved to an SD card. But without Bluetooth you won’t be able to wirelessly play music from your smartphone.
Another alternative is a getting smart speaker with a digital assistant from Google, Amazon or Apple, but these will require your child to speak well so they can say exactly what song or audiobook they want.
Obviously, the sound on a cheap no-name speaker won’t compare to the Jooki. But what you’re really paying for with the Jooki is a simple, foolproof design.
Sure, you could save around three quarters of the price and get a plastic bear that also wirelessly plays music from your phone. But your child won’t have the same autonomy as with the easy-to-use Jooki. Whether that’s worth 200 dollars, you’ll have to decide.