A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this app.
While SpeakaZoo was created with educational intent, it appears to have limited learning potential.
Ease of Play
Easy to play. Kids listen to animals and answer their questions by pressing the microphone when it flashes. If kids want to interact with another animal, they tap "Skip" and move to the next screen. There's no menu to browse and choose individual animals.
Violence & Scariness
The vampire bat talks about sucking blood. The shark implies that the listener could be in danger of being eaten by him.
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Products & Purchases
An "are you having fun" box appears during play with the "Yes" option highlighted. If kids tap Yes, the app then asks kids to rate it on the iTunes App Store. (If they tap No, they'll get a window to explain how the app could be improved.)
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that SpeakaZoo records kids' voices and uses speech recognition technology to create "conversations" between kids and 18 animated animals. Kids pretend to be zoo keepers to these cute -- but troubled and often sarcastic -- animals. The animals explain their problems and ask kids questions, sometimes making emotional pleas for help. Kids then record their responses to the animals. The speech recognition technology enables the animated animals to answer the kids' recordings with relevant responses; at times it works very well, other responses don't make sense. Some of the animals use mature humor or talk about behavior (such as the vampire bat sucking blood) that kids may not understand. When parents sign up to allow their kids to use the app, they consent to allow the app to move their kid's audio recordings off the app to assist the speech recognition process.
Is It Any Good?
While the 18 animals on SpeakaZoo are visually interesting and sometimes sweet, many have problems and use language that some young kids in the age group for which this app is intended may find too intense or sad. For example, the bat who feels misunderstood for drinking blood and says she's upset that the world "romanticizes and idealizes" her subculture but it's part of who she is ("You get that, right?," she says). The porcupine who can't get a hug asks kids if they could hug him. If the kid answers yes, the porcupine replies, "You're so nice and brave and kind of not that smart." Or the dolphin who asks for help with stage fright, yet after kids offer suggestions says, "Not helping, still terrified."
Some humor the animals use is not age-appropriate. For example, a ladybug criticizing another insect behind her back says she "fakes" her beauty and asks kids, "Do you know how many husbands she's been through?" In addition, the voice recognition technology isn't perfect, which may be confusing. For example, when a tiger asks if his roar is scary and a kid answers, "Yes," if the voice recognition doesn't pick up the answer properly, the tiger replies, "I didn't think so." For kids sensitive to strong emotions or confused by sarcasm, these animals may not be the right conversation companions.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.