Thomas & Friends Talk to You

App review by
Amanda Bindel, Common Sense Media
Thomas & Friends Talk to You App Poster Image
Delightful story listens and puts kids in the action.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Kids can learn social and moral lessons from the stories. Though it's not really educational in nature, some stories include some preschool academics, such as shapes and science concepts. The words are not shown on the screen, so kids aren't reading along, but they're still improving their prereading skills by listening to the structure of the story and improving vocabulary. Parents can listen to the stories with kids and add discussion to enhance learning. Thomas & Friends Talk to You is big on engagement while nodding to simple social skills and early literacy.

Ease of Play

Tutorial shows kids how to press and speak to answer the questions. Story advances automatically.

Violence & Scariness
Sexy Stuff
Language
Consumerism

One story is included in free version. Others require an in-app purchase. Thomas & Friends is pretty heavily cross-marketed with toys and products.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Thomas & Friends: Talk to You uses voice recognition to engage kids in the story, occasionally asking them to respond to questions. One story is included with others available as in-app purchases. Before kids can play, parents have to give an email address to give permission for the app to record kids' responses. Recording only happens while kids have their finger on the orange record button, and all voice files are sent to parents to share or delete, though they might be shared with third-party providers who help improve the voice-recognition technology. The free story includes Thomas resisting bed time and keeping other trains awake, though he does face some sleepy consequences.

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What's it about?

After parents give permission for THOMAS & FRIENDS TALK TO YOU to record voices, kids choose which story to listen to. All stories are visible, but only those unlocked by an in-app purchase can be played. Stories advance automatically with no captioning. An orange microphone pops up when Thomas asks kids a question, and kids press and hold the microphone while they talk. Thomas' response is seemingly related to their responses. For instance, Thomas asks the user to tell him a story to keep him awake; after the kid records something, he says, "I love it! And then what happened?" Other exchanges include Thomas asking about the kid's day and the narrator telling the kid to make a loud noise to wake up Thomas. At the time of review, six stories are available with two bonus activities. The first story, "Up All Night," teaches Thomas the importance of bedtimes.

Is it any good?

Kids will be excited to talk to Thomas and and get responses, despite the overall lack of features and actual impact their specific responses have. The character voices aren't a match with what kids may expect from the show -- only the narrator has the beloved British accent -- but kids will love the feeling that they're affecting the story directly. The voice recognition seems inconsistent: Pressing the button but not speaking at all sometimes gets the same response as talking gibberish or responding to an actual question, but there also are times when his response varies, based on what you say. For instance, there's no obvious way to pause the story, but kids can tell Thomas they'll be right back or they need to go to the bathroom, and he responds that he'll wait for them. An option for subtitles so kids could read along would be nice in terms of early readers.

Because many parents have privacy concerns with Hello Barbie, which uses the same technology, it's a good idea to read the privacy policy carefully and ask questions via the app's email address. Though it isn't always recording -- as is often a concern with toys that record and respond -- your kid's responses aren't really private. Also, though making characters, apps, and toys able to respond via artificial intelligence can be fun, there's a potential creepy factor some parents won't like. But since Thomas' responses are a part of a story and not completely open-ended, there's context to cut the creepiness.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the themes of the stories (such as not wanting to go to bed), discussing with kids the answers they give. Let kids elaborate more if they want or ask them questions about the answers they give Thomas.

  • Let kids experiment with responses to Thomas' questions to see how they affect the story.

App details

  • Devices: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad
  • Subjects: Language & Reading: speaking, storytelling
  • Skills: Creativity: imagination
    Communication: listening
    Tech Skills: using and applying technology
  • Price: Free (with in-app purchases)
  • Pricing structure: Free to try (One story is included. Additional stories are $.99 or all for $3.99.)
  • Release date: July 30, 2015
  • Category: Education
  • Topics: Trains
  • Size: 365.00 MB
  • Publisher: ToyTalk
  • Version: 1.0
  • Minimum software requirements: iOS 7.0 or later

Themes & Topics

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