Review: iStorytime – Transformers and Smurfs

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Apple’s iOS devices such as the iPhone and the iPad have been a great place for education tools and resources. Meet iStoryTime, whose aim is to make interactive story books for younger readers at school.

James Wilson takes a look at two of their applications, the iStoryTime Transformers Mix and Match, and iStoryTime The Smurfs Audio Book.

  • Score:

    8.0 / 10

  • The Good:

    Transformers: 100% Easy to use and attention to detail

    Smurf: The retelling of the story and ease of use.

  • The Bad:

    Only in American voices and annoying Spot the Difference difference (Smurfs only)

  • Bottom Line:

    An excellent app for all ages!

Editor’s Note: this review has been slightly edited from its original publication to meet within our style guide.

If there is one thing that Apple has proven its that iOS is a great platform for people of all ages. iStoryTime is a company that produces great, interactive story books for young-to-middle aged children. Recently, I was tasked to review two of their apps: iStoryTime Transformers (Mix & Match) and iStoryTime The Smurfs (Audio Book)., I’ve decided to break them down into two distinct sections.

Transformers: Mix and Match Book

Based on the movie “Tranformers: Dark Side of the Moon”, this application is an interactive way for children to mix up characters and create their own stories. I myself was amused as to the fact that Ratchet (the green Transformer) could easily brandish the Energon Sword and take on Sentinal Prime who is attacking some NEST soldiers.

Interface

When you first start up the app, the menu is simple enough: a giant play button is present, with Optimus Prime (mixed with Bumblebee’s body) standing next to it. The (I) button simple flips the app to show a “Read to Me” option that, when toggled on, means your mix-up is read to you. The (GET GAME) button flips the app to reveal the shoot-em-up arcade style Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon game available from the App Store.

The Normal Part
When you first hit that play button, the initial scene of movie appears. The screen is comprised of three sections: top, middle, bottom. You change each part by swiping left or right. Each section lists the location and a noun (top), the verb (middle) and conclusion (bottom). The pictures are detailed and very artistic in presentation. Each textbox has a colour around it to reference it to a particular character. As a four-year-old, that part doesn’t matter: its simply a mixing of colours!

The Mix-n-Match Part
To left is a mixed up story – and let me tell you kids LOVE IT! Die-hard (can kids even be that?) fans of Transformers will relish in this clash of roles and scenes from the movie. The colours are all now mixed up, indicating a change in characters and actions. In this instance, Ratchet now has Mirage’s body and Cybertron’s legs. The story is also mixed up, saying that Ratchet becomes a sports car and has killed the serpentine drill.

Character Info
Clicking the Autobot or Decepticon icon in the previous screen will reveal information on each Transformer. This information is also read out to you. It lists the function, vehicle mode and weapon.

Verdict

This application is fantastically and skilfully built. It teaches children the simplicities of mixing and matching to make a story that does make sense and provide young children with a very, very long time of entertainment. I recently was seeing younger cousins of that age range and let one of them test the Transformer’s Mix and Match app on my iPhone; needless to say I didn’t see that iPhone for a good twenty minutes and always heard the “whooahahahaii” sound of the transforming Tranformers. If you’re thinking twenty minutes is not long, for a four-to-six year old child, it is. This application also allows simple assimilation of words that helps build up the vocabulary by exploring the relationships between nouns and verbs as each strip is changed. The “Read to Me” setting (which is on by default) greatly enhances the learning of new words as the parent (or technically abled user) can turn this off and read to themselves.

I only have one con: no language (or accent) specification. Being Australian, the distinctly American accent may confuse young children learning new words (in terms of articulation). However, as an adult, it provides a simple way for the app to be read out and enjoyed.

The Smurfs

These little creatures never seem to stay out of trouble. Unlike the previous application, this application is a simple picture-to-text linear storytelling app that does its job well. Upon first launch, the screen to the left is given with three options: Read It Myself; Read To Me; Auto Play; and, Spot the Difference Game

Each option does exactly what it says. If you choose “Read it Myself”, there is no narration – simply text and picture. If you choose “Read to Me”, the application narrates for you but does not advance the pages, allowing you to continue at your own pace. “Auto Play” simply means the story is read to you and automatically turns the pages.

The Interface. Let’s walk…

The interface is easy enough: a picture and text. The text is situated on a blue ‘wavy’ background is very easy to read. Above, there is a scene from the movie in relation to the text. The picture stays over three-four different ‘pages’ of text.

This simple approach means that the child (or older person) can absorb the text more readily instead of being distracted by changing picture’s (although more pictures would be nice). To manually change the pages, you simple flick right-to-left to go forward or vice-versa for backwards: just like you would for any other iOS app.

Spot The Differences

Perhaps the best part of this app is the ‘Spot the Difference’ game. The user can pick from three photo’s and then tap on the screen to find the differences. When you get one right, a Smurf goes “Smurf-xactly!”, a cloud fills up and the difference is outlined in white. The photo on the left took this reviewer a very VERY long time (around 10 minutes) to find that last difference (without Googling the answer). So, I’ll leave you find the last one.

The Review Part

This application was very entertaining and well-narrated. It was a very simple and easy-to-use application. The pictures were of excellent quality – clear, crisp and vibrant – and the application is a worthy contender of any child’s time. Much like the previous application, The Smurf’s successfully teaches children new words and expands their vocabulary in an easy and intuitive way. The game was a welcome addition to the storybook, taking it the interactivity level just that bit-further. Needless to say, younger children who liked the Smurf Movie (or the Smurfs in general) will be entertained for a very long time and learn a few new words along the way. The Smurf’s were also voiced superbly and are a credit to iStoryTimes attention to detail.

I have two problems with this app: no language (or accent) specification, like the first one.The second is that addition of picture would have been nice to assist with the parts of the storyline where lots of pandemonium or action occurred.

Conclusions

These applications are simple, easy-to-use and fun. They bridge the gap between the centuries-old tradition of retelling stories with modern technology and allow the user to learn new words. iStoryTime have a wonderful collection of apps, of which these two interested me the most, that can positively entertain and contribute to any persons day.

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