This is the second post in my series of talking pen comparisons. Please do read my previous post for a general overview of talking pens.
From the Emoti website, there are 4 things to consider when choosing a talking-pen, which include:
- Titles/books available/compatible with the pen
- Hardware design and quality
- Local support and warranty
- The company and future development
I thought that this is a pretty good framework, so I shall attempt to describe each pen in the chronological order that we bought or received them (i.e. we got the Leapfrog first).
The LeapFrog TAG Reader, is readily available in our department stores, or on Amazon. We purchased several books, including some Disney titles. It is ergonomic, and the pen can read the words individually, as opposed to an entire chunk. It is easy to update with a software you install on your computer, and runs on AA batteries, which I find a little less convenient because batteries are always leaking on me. Thankfully the pen is still well and alive after 2 or more years. We find most LeapFrog products of pretty good quality. I like that the Tag reader can read word by word, and not limited to reading one paragraph at a go, and it’s great for kids just learning to read. I this this is a great pen for kids ages 2-6 years old who are learning to read English.
Then we were given a pen by Berries, which was compatible with a few (maybe about 5) of their readers as well as a HYPY booklet. Not a lot of use, but it’s free. No complaints!
The following three pens read ONLY by paragraph and not word by word. I think this is a worthy mention because for the older kids, maybe P1s onwards it is fine, but for kids below 5 years of age, they find it difficult to understand this concept, or maybe they are just stubborn, and will keep trying to press the pen to the paper to activate it. Unless it is a picture book with words as labels then those will be read individually. I do not find it a big problem, and maybe it is not even possible to do word for word given that some Chinese words change tones when put together.
Our second investment was the Emoti pen. After discovering the Tots Can Read 我会读 books at the library, I bought a set of the books as well as the pen and several other books including the Bear in a Square series (as in the above video). I like that the pen can be used to read word by word, and if you point to other sections of a picture book, they might have other sounds or dialogue. They have neat interactive flash demos of almost all their books, which is worth checking out. Try also pointing the pen at the pictures and not just the text!
As mentioned in my previous post, for Emoti the books and the audio tracks come from China (don’t even get me started on the spelling errors on their website), so if the book is bilingual, get ready to laugh or cringe or both at the same time at some of the English pronunciation. If you take a look at this interactive flash demo, you might know what I mean. I am totally fine with that because our main aim with these pens is to learn Chinese and not English. I even find books meant to teach English to Chinese speakers useful for us!
- Titles/books available/compatible with the pen– apart from the locally produced 我会读 books, I find that they have the widest range of story books available. Both in English and Chinese.
- Hardware design and quality – not the most snazzy design, but it works. Charges by USB.
- Local support and warranty – 1 year warranty with a trade in discount of $100 off the new pens
- The company and future development I really have no idea, but they don’t seem to have added a large number of books since I last bought.
- Pricing starts from $168 for a pen only
When Mittens started in Primary School and started on the 新朋友 publication, I also purchased a Etutor Star pen. 新朋友 follows the school syllabus closely, so it’s a very good publication to have for revision of the textbook. They go through parts of it in school, and so far I think that if you only have time for one extra curricular publication, this should be it. If your school doesn’t use this publication, it’s well worth subscribing to it! They seem to have a demo on their website but maybe it’s not compatible with my Mac.
- Titles/books available/compatible with the pen
- Although the range of books is limited, they are very relevant to primary school learning, and magazines like 新朋友 are very interesting. However, the pen needs to constantly be updated when new magazines are issued, which is unavoidable, but easy to do (as long as I can find the correct cable, see below).
- All titles are in Chinese. You can also purchase several other workbooks which are very useful for picture conversation, etc. that are all relevant to the school syllabus. You can also read Alicia’s review of one of their books here.
- Kids these days don’t have a lot of free time, so I feel that if you need to reinforce a child’s Chinese foundation, this is a good pen to have.
- Hardware design and quality – the sleekest of all! I love the design! The only trouble I have had is that it seems to work with only a few particular USB cables, so I often have trouble finding the right one. I think it’s totally my own fault for being so disorganised.
- Local support and warranty – one year warranty
- The company and future development
- MANY schools use their publications, and each issue corresponds to a chapter in the school textbook! It took me 1.5 years to figure that out, but oh well, better late than never.
- Since for lower primary each issue is for P1s AND P2s, now that Mittens is in P2, he can go back to last year’s publications and read those too. However do take note that they have introduced the new syllabus this year so the 2015 magazines will not correspond to the 2016 P1 textbook by chapter accordingly, but it’s good reading material nonetheless!
- Over the past 1.5 years that I’ve had the pen, they have introduced new material and even update their material with new syllabus updates.
- You can buy their products from almost all Popular bookstores, and they have even have CDs (for the new PSLE video testing formating; think imma gonna need this) and ipad apps, and it looks like they have etution too – there is so much going on I was actually rather confused by all the different web pages it kept opening.
- Pricing starts from $99 for a pen with the previous year’s Student Magazine bundle pack. The most affordable pen!
- I think the Etutor Star is such a wonderful tool for primary school going kids!
JLB’s Pen Pan Whizz
The most recent pen we acquired was the Pen Pal. I saw that a few of my friends, Summer (see her daughter using it here) and Angeline, Xavvylicious and Mama’s Desk had reviewed the Pen Pal, so I wrote to JLB to ask if they were interested for me to review their pen. I had a very interesting conversation with their regional manager, Sebastian, who explained that as JLB is a local Singapore publishing house, so an audio pen is an extension of their business line. He also explained to me how the talking pen technology works. If you look closely at any of the books, each page is actually layered with tiny dots which is how the pen is able to recognise and play back the sounds. He assured me that JLB’s technology makes sure that the dots is easy on the eyes, whereas other technologies could possibly be “coarser” and thus not so good for our kids’ eyes.
After using the pen for a year, here is my impartial review of the Pen Pal:
- Titles/books available/compatible with the pen – JLB are a publisher, and are constantly publishing books, so you will never be short of titles. There are even Maths and Science titles, and very well known titles such as Barefoot Books and Letterland Phonics. They have many local titles which are by local authors, and even have books in Malay! Lagi bagus, yah (Even better, yah)? They also have local books by local authors. They often use local deejays for voice overs for their audio tracks, so you can be assured of good quality accents and proper English pronunciations (except for any titles that come from China). Everything is local, but of course, the English is not Singlish, lah. That one at home learn can right?
- Hardware design and quality – Honestly, this is not the prettiest looking pen, but it does its job well enough. It is charged by USB. Sebastian did explain that it is tested for minor injuries since you know how it is with kids and objects “falling” to the floor. Maybe next round they can tweak the design a little bit? 🙂
- Local support and warranty there is a one year warranty and a lifetime trade in offer for regardless of the condition of the pen and receive 50% off the current selling price of the current pen. My pen is over a year old now and still working fine.
- The company and future development – The Pen Pal is an original Singapore product, that means they are manufactured by JLB and do not purchase the OEM pen from China and re-package it, unlike some other pens. Therefore, they have a vested interest in growing and supporting the pens in our market. Since they are also a publisher, they can easily produce talking pen compatible books, and are not limited by the availability of books from other companies.
- Pricing starts from $198 for a pen and 18 books.
- Well I love to support local organisations, and I think the Pen Pal Whizz has the widest range of materials, from both English to Chinese. Find out more info about JLB on their FB page here.
We are lucky (or crazy?) to have a variety of pens and so many books, it’s hard to pick only one. Additionally they have their niches. My personal recommendations would be:
- Leapfrog Tag for toddlers learning their alphabets and just learning to read (ages 2-5) in English since it can read word by word
- Pen Pal Whizz for a wider age range (ages 3 onwards) for both English and Chinese and Malay
- EtutorStar for Chinese learners in primary school
- Emoti talking pen for other Chinese materials
So of these I would think the Pen Pal Whizz and EtutorStar present the most value. All of our pens are still in good working condition, despite being between over 1-3 years old.
What are some of your experiences with talking pens?
P.s. Apparently there is also a pen called Walter, which I have never heard about and it didn’t come up in my research, but there you go! Hop over to this blog to read about its review.
Disclaimer: We were given a few pen-compatible EtutorStar books, and a PenPal Whizz pen with compatible books for review. All opinions belong to our group of testers, mainly myself and 3 monkeys with opposable thumbs ages 3-8.