Reviewed by Louise Totton
Keeping older kids entertained in the holidays, especially when the weather is bad and they don’t want to go out and see their friends, isn’t easy. They have naturally started to grow out of actual ‘toys’, and if you don’t just want them sat staring at YouTube for hours on end, it’s good to have some options in for them.
My eldest is 10, so hasn’t quite grown out of all of the toys in the playroom yet, but she will at some point, and is certainly spending less and less time playing with them and is drifting over to other things instead. She would spend the day on her phone if I let her (I don’t!), and is mad on all things gadgety and gizmo-ey. She does love art, drawing and colouring, and will spend a good amount of time doing this, as well as listening to music and, when she’s at her dads, playing her keyboard. I don’t have the space in my house for another keyboard, so that has been off-limits for her… until now!
We were sent a 1 Ring Specdrum by Sphero to try out, which is a very cool little device that combines music and keyboard playing with gadgets and tech, and adds in a real educational element and an awful lot of fun! The premise is something that even a technophobe can understand – it is a little silicone ring that is worn on the fingertip, and comes with a coloured play pad. There is a colour-sensor in the ring, and it allows you to use your fingers to create, mix record music, using the colours on the mat in a similar way to a keyboard. There are many different themes to download, so you can create anything from techno to blues to percussion or grand piano music, and the mat has both loops of sound and beats, as well as single notes and sounds.
Contained in the box is a single ring (twin packs also available), a neoprene-type play mat, a micro USB charging cable and a drawstring carry pouch as well as a quick start guide. To use the device, the first thing you need to do is charge it. It comes with a short charging wire, which you need to pop into your own charging plug. I left the device to charge for an hour (the full charge time), and went away to install the app on my phone. I have a pretty new Samsung Galaxy Note 9, so am running the latest version of Android, but there is also an iOS version too – minimum device requirements iOS version 11 or Android 6 and up – click here for the full compatibility list.
Pairing the ring to your device is very simple – with the ring plugged into the mains, you just open the app, tap the CONNECT button in the top left of the screen and select your ring from the list. It’s worth noting at this point that you can link up to six rings at once to the phone, so you can either play with friends, or create some multi-layered music on your own.
Once the ring is connected, all you have to do is unroll your play mat, put it on a flat surface and you’re good to go! The app has a representation of the play mat on the screen, as well as icons for the sound library, editor, your own saved files and a record function. You can actually use the app without owning a ring at all, and that’s pretty good fun – you just tap the touch screen of your phone on the coloured keyboard and you can make and record sweet music. But the real element of fun and innovation comes from using the ring with it.
It’s fantastic fun using your fingers to tap out music on the sound mat, it feels an awful lot better than just interacting with the screen on a phone. There’s definitely a lot to be said for tapping out the sounds with your own fingers, it is somehow easier to get a rhythm going that it is when you are tapping a phone screen, and I imagine the fun factor only goes up when you add more rings into the mix.
There are lots of different sound packs and themes with this, all of which are included in your initial purchase, so there is no need to buy any extra packs. And the range of packs is impressive – there are cinematic packs, techno, jazz, hip hop, blues and more. Our personal favourite is the Retro Gaming set, where there are lots of sounds that I remember from video games in the 80s and 90s.
You can also create your own sound boards, by recording sounds with the phone’s microphone and then adding them into a custom keyboard. With two young kids in the house, where toilet humour is rife, I’m sure you can imagine some of the amazing smorgasbord of amazing sounds that were soon emanating from the phone!
The other thing that the kids thought was amazing fun was checking out what sounds various objects in the house would make. Playing music is not limited to the play mat, the colour sensor will pick up the colour of any item in your home. Bright and light colours work much better than darker ones, and flat and firm surfaces are more reliable than soft and squidgy, but the kids had a fantastic time going through the fruit in the fruit bowl, as well as colours in their books and pictures on the wall. It really is incredibly clever, and at one point, they even set up a little orchestra of toys and were tapping away at them and making music.
We have had a brilliant time with this, and I think there is something there for everyone. They are suitable for ages 5+, and my youngest is 7. She did really enjoy it but wasn’t able to get as much from it as my eldest daughter, who has been creating her own sound boards, recording music and has even taken it out and about with her in the pouch when we’ve had a couple of longer car journeys (headphones on, of course!).
I wouldn’t hesitate to rate these at 5/5. I have had no issues with the app being buggy, or any responsiveness or latency issues, although I understand there can be issues with some Android devices – click here for info. It has worked perfectly every time we have used it and we have loved every minute of using it. I am sure it will be used plenty over the school holidays and well beyond – the play value for this extends right up to adults, and both me and my other half have loved tinkering with it too!
RRP: £64.99 (1 Ring) / £99.99 (2 Rings)