V. Smile (Vsmile) Cyber Pocket by V-Tech -- A Product Review for a Smartridge Games System (with Age Recommendations)

We all want to be able to give our children what we never had when we were kids. I never really understood how true that was until I had my own kid, and now whenever I shop for him I end up looking for the things that I would have wanted when I was his age. This sort of thinking apparently works well, though, since my 4-year-old son now proudly boasts a wide array of “whoa, cool!” toys. The prize of his collection (for now) is his V.Smile Cyber Pocket from V-tech that he received from my husband and me for his birthday this year. We wanted to find him something fun, but with the potential for some kind of education.

About the V.Smile Cyber Pocket

No doubt due to the popularity of V-tech’s Nintendo-esque gaming system for the television, V-tech has come out with a portable, battery-powered version of their games that are geared toward young learners. The V.Smile Cyber Pocket is a little larger than the average pocket game for older kids, and is built thicker to be easier to hold, but is still small enough to be easy to transport. The unit takes four AA batteries, and also comes with an adapter cord so that it can be hooked up to a TV if desired. This unit will run any V.Smile Smartridge including the ones intended for motion systems; if in doubt, check the packaging on the Smartridge to see if it includes the cyber pocket in its compatible systems. I bought my son’s cyber pocket for $60, but I have seen prices ranging anywhere from $45-$75, depending on where it’s purchased. It also has a high-resolution screen that has bright colors and shows the characters on the screen clearly enough for my son to readily recognize them (his games are all from some of his favorite movies).

The Controls

The V.Smile Cyber Pocket has fairly simple controls that the box states are meant for the hands of kids 5+. The controls consist of an arrow button that works like a joystick control, a large “Enter” button, a touch screen activated by a pen that is attached to the unit, and a row of colored buttons across the bottom of the screen. In addition, the joystick and enter buttons can be on either side of the unit. Simply push a switch on the bottom of the unit, and the buttons flip over so that the controls switch sides. This is especially useful for left-handed children that may have difficulties finding toys that allow them to use their strong hand the most, or to help encourage the use of a hand that needs more coordination work.

These controls earn their 5+ rating, no doubt, from the fact that the joystick button is fairly small for four different directions, and that the pen requires sophisticated enough manipulative abilities to be able to hold and control it. My son, having just turned four, had no difficulty with the pen; he has used normal-sized crayons for a couple of years and often doodles with pencils or pens, so his hands were used to holding something of this size. There was a little bit of a learning curve for him on the joystick control, but once he figured out that he has to push only the very edges of the button to go the right way he did just fine – often he still uses his index finger instead of thumb for it, but it doesn’t affect his ability to play the game.

Battery Life

While four AA batteries may be easy enough to come across, keeping live batteries in a small child’s favorite toy that doesn’t have its own rechargeable battery pack can be quite a chore. The batteries that came with the unit didn’t last long, but it does specify that they are for demonstration purposes only. With regular Energizer AA batteries, and a kid that plays almost non-stop when he gets half a chance, a set of batteries works for about 40 hours, give or take a little. Given how long some kids can play this is a pretty hefty drain, but there are options such as AA lithiums that will undoubtedly be a better, more economical choice for some people. I have not tried these other options as I get all of the regular Energizer AA batteries I want for free, but without that option would probably spring for the lithiums…they’re expensive, but they last a LOT longer. That said, there is a rechargeable battery pack on the market now for this unit that runs about $30 which may save money in the long run if your kid(s) play with their cyber pocket a lot.

Accessories

The cyber pocket comes with a cord for hooking up to the TV, a V.Link, and a free Smartridge game. That game, Zayzoo, is definitely geared to older kids that would benefit from reinforcement of their spelling and basic math skills. I’d guess the age range to be about 5-7, but it was definitely too advanced for my son and has been put away until he’s a little bit older, having been replaced by a number of other games more suitable for his age.

The V.Link allows game information to be downloaded off of the cyber pocket and then uploaded to a computer through a USB port. During setup, you create a parent account for yourself and then child accounts for each kid you have. As kids play they earn coins, which then unlock games for their cyber pockets. So far my son hasn’t unlocked any of these games, but he loves “helping” me upload the information on the computer and seeing his scores go up on the screen.

Experiences

What could make a 4-year-old kid, full of the usual super-dose of energy and with the attention span of a gnat sit still for hours on end? I used to think absolutely nothing, until he got his cyber pocket. After he’d opened all of his presents he got to sit in mommy’s office chair (something that’s usually off-limits) to check out his new toy, and sat entirely engrossed for three hours straight without even looking up from his game. There was a small learning curve for him in learning the controls, but he started off with a game rated for kids aged 3-5 (Wall-E) so there was plenty of leeway for him to play around with the buttons and make progress without getting frustrated.

By the next day, it was time to show this kid what else his game could do. I hooked it up to the little TV in his room and he thought that was SOOO awesome! Not only could he have Wall-E and Po (from Kung Fu Panda) on his TV, he could actually make them do whatever he wanted! Normally this kid does not want to stay in his room when other people are up, he wants to be in the middle of everything and his room is as far from the center of activity as possible in his house. Once he got that on his TV (though he seemed to like the little screen just fine, but this was HIS TV) it became a chore to get him downstairs for the next couple of days…because I do still insist on some socialization.

Now he’s gotten a little more used to his game, but still plays it on pretty much a daily basis. He did get tired of sitting in his room by himself, so now it’s “Mommy, will you please come play with me?” As a result, I have gotten to see him move from extremely poor hand/eye coordination on his games to better and better…he even has one that encourages him to trace the letters in the word forms of numbers while it’s teaching him about that number. While he already knows his numbers it is an excellent reinforcement, and even more important he is slowly getting better at writing letters where he couldn’t at all before. Whenever I tried to get him to write, he has quickly lost interest and never gotten very far, but since it’s in a game he keeps trying and trying until he gets them right.

Overall this is probably the best toy we’ve ever bought my son. It’s encouraging to see that it really is reinforcing and teaching him fundamental skills that he’ll need for the future, and that his limited attention span has thus far kept him from getting much work done on those skills. Right now we’re stock-piling 3-5 and 4-6 games, which have been at just the right level for him, and I can’t wait until he’s ready to go on to simple math and spelling games in another 6-12 months. The cyber pocket has held up to any and all abuse he has inflicted on it, hasn’t taken on a bit of damage (I was a bit concerned that the screen might be easily broken, but the makers definitely kept small kids in mind) and still works like new after going through four sets of batteries. This was definitely worth the money, and I’ll definitely be looking into other V-tech products in the future.

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