Dr. Panda Plus: Home Designer

App review by
Christy Matte, Common Sense Media
Dr. Panda Plus: Home Designer App Poster Image
Kids' art becomes virtual furniture; best with toy.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this app.

Educational Value

Kids can practice letter and word recognition and express their creativity through drawing and storytelling. 

Ease of Play

Young kids may need help using the device camera to capture their furniture drawings, but the controls will be easy for most kids in the target age range. 

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What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Dr. Panda Plus: Home Designer is a companion app for a real-world augmented reality kit with the same name. The app is free, but the kit retails for $39.99. While the app can be used independently, features are quite limited. There are opportunities to spell out the names of objects by dragging letters onto their shadows, but the focus is on lowercase letters, which kids typically learn after their uppercase counterparts. The kit itself includes low-odor dry-erase markers, which some parents may not want toddlers using. Each Dr. Panda Plus: Home Designer Kit has a unique QR code that registers the game within the app. There's a year-of-birth parent gate that reveals sound settings, enrichment ideas, and the ability to turn promotions on or off. Read the app's privacy policy to find out about the information collected and shared.  

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What's it about?

DR. PANDA PLUS: HOME DESIGNER pairs an app with real-world cards to bring kids' artwork to life. Without the cards, kids can still play with the app, but there's not much to do. The kit comes with 51 double-sided laminated cards and 12 dry-erase markers. The box also has a QR code that the app will scan to validate the purchase of the game. Each card presents a piece of furniture, wall/floor, or character in the game. On one side of the card is a pre-designed version of the object. On the back, there's a blank template that kids can use to design their own version. At the start of the game, kids find themselves on a street where they can create a house (no design work here, unfortunately), or open a house they already created. New houses are populated with a few randomly generated pieces of furniture and characters. Kids add new furniture and characters by using the device camera to capture an image of their custom design or to recognize a stock design. They can watch as the design goes from a flat image to a 3D object in the game. To complete the process, kids will need to spell the name of the object on-screen by dragging letters onto their shadowed spaces. Once their furniture is in place, kids can use the four-room house to make up their own stories. There's also a second mode called Quest Mode where characters ask kids to find and scan a set of furniture cards.

Is it any good?

This creativity app banks heavily on the magic of seeing flat designs turn into 3D objects, and does quite well. With more than 50 objects in Dr. Panda Plus: Home Designer, it would take any child some time to design even one of each. The heavy laminated cards are meant to be erased and used over and over again, and they are clearly engineered to withstand a lot of play. The dry-erase markers make that possible, but it's a bit tricky to create any sort of colorful design with them, as the markers basically erase each other if colors start to overlap. Kids will certainly enjoy placing the furniture and moving the characters around the house. Also, the tie-in between the physical product and the app means that several kids can play at the same time, taking turns scanning their designs. However, there are a few features that are notably absent -- for instance, the ability to store your furniture in a library to draw from in future homes, and more interactivity between characters and their environment (e.g., they "eat" food but can't hold anything). The Quest Mode activity isn't quite as much fun as Design Mode, though it does offer another activity that kids can explore. There's a lot of replay value in this game, and artistic-minded kids will no doubt play with it over and over. The price tag is relatively steep, however; at $39.99, it would be great to see another fun mode or more interactivity overall. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about decorating and creativity. What's their favorite thing to make in Dr. Panda Plus: Home Designer? Why?

  • Practice letter recognition by pointing out letters at the grocery store, on signs, and on products around the house. Trace the shapes with your fingers and say the name out loud.

  • Talk to your kids about screen use and limits. How can kids enjoy digital media in balance with other activities?

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