App review by
Christy Matte, Common Sense Media
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Expressive coder is cute but lacks tutorials, support.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Can help motivated kids learn basic coding skills, but lack of in-app tutorial and debugging tools keep it from being as effective as it could be.

Ease of Play

The controls are mostly intuitive, but when the code doesn't work, there's no easy way to debug.

Violence & Scariness
Sexy Stuff
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Pixel asks kids to program a robot face using block (Scratch) programming. While kids don't need to know any actual code, they'll need to be able to read or have a little extra help. There are a few simple online guides to help with the coding skills, but there's no tutorial to get kids started. When kids enter code that doesn't work, Pixel doesn't give any sort of error message; it simply stops responding. This makes it difficult to debug, a key part of coding. Pixel can connect to other robot platforms such as LEGO EV3 to take the experience into the real world. Read the app's privacy policy to find out about the information collected and shared. 

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What's it about?

PIXEL is a coding platform for kids that allows them to animate a robot face using Scratch (a block-based coding language). Kids can use on-screen "sensors" (poking the robot's forehead, eyes, or cheeks) to trigger changes in expression or color. They can also make their robot speak. Kids might then explore more advanced code blocks, which use math operators, variables, and more. For kids who have LEGO EV3 sets or other open-source programmable devices (Raspberry Pi, Arduino), there's the opportunity to connect with Pixel to control the devices and get input from the sensors. 

Is it any good?

Kids who have a basic understanding of coding logic, and perhaps a passion for robots, may set their creativity free, but more in-app help and a tutorial would make it more accessible. Pixel manages to bridge an important gap that we often see in STEM apps: It gives kids enough freedom to do what they want to do but enough structure that they aren't stalled by a lack of ideas for getting started. Unfortunately, there's no tutorial or introduction within the app to kick kids off. This may prove to be a stumbling block for kids who aren't sure if coding is for them. And once kids do get started, it's hard to go in-depth without other tools (EV3, Raspberry Pi, etc.) and even harder to create more complex programs. Anyone who learns to code needs to learn to find and fix (i.e., debug) mistakes, but typically the coding platform helps at least a bit by providing some sort of error message. When Pixel doesn't understand your code, it simply does nothing, making it hard to know if something is broken or just behaving unexpectedly. Overall, if you have a kid who is set on learning to code, this is a good choice for moving your child along that path. But if you have a reluctant or less confident coder, Pixel may not be the best path to start on.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about coding logic and using it in Pixel. Practice giving step-by-step instructions for things you know how to do. Can you give clear instructions?

  • Talk about emotions. How does Pixel express emotion with such simple features? What do you look like when you're angry, sad, or stunned?

App details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coding and STEM

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