Trains Project Home Edition

App review by
Christy Matte, Common Sense Media
Trains Project Home Edition App Poster Image
Confusion reigns in this would-be logic app for kids.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Though it's intended for learning and has potential, it's unlikely kids will learn the intended skills of logical thinking and early coding. 

Ease of Play

Very little explanation, from the moment you enter this app, of what you are supposed to do and how you should do it. Introductory message doesn't always play, is difficult to understand, and is hard to hear over the background music that starts when the app is loaded. Two trays slide down from the top and from the right, but they conflict with the iPad trays that also slide in from those directions. There's a help button, if you can find it in the top tray, but the help is often too vague to be useful. The instructions say you can double-tap on any item to find out what it does, but double-tapping doesn't work. The app also crashes regularly. 

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What parents need to know

Parents should know that Trains Project Home Edition is intended to help kids learn programming logic by allowing them to design their own games and animations. If it worked as intended, it would be age-appropriate for early elementary schoolers and up. As it stands, however, kids (and most adults) will find it too confusing and frustrating to support any learning at all. The instructions may be difficult to understand for English speakers, as the woman giving the instructions has a fairly thick Polish accent. Even if they do understand her, controls do not respond as they should, icons are mysterious, and the app crashes regularly. Kids can, in theory, upload their own content and download content from other users. We were not able to access content from other users during this review, but it's possible that objectionable content could slip through. Read the app's privacy policy to find out about the types of information collected and shared.

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What's it about?

Kids start out in TRAINS PROJECT HOME EDITION with some creatures and objects, which the instructions indicate they can customize (this was not working at time of review), and then they assign actions to them by using a train model. Each creature gets at least one locomotive. Each locomotive can have a chain of cars, each of which is one instruction for the train. For example, a car might say to turn left, make a noise, or draw a line. There are a variety of car options, including logic ("and," "or," "etc.") cars. When kids flip a switch, the trains run behind the scenes, causing the creatures and objects to interact. Using all these programming options, kids can make animations or even their own games with an on-screen joystick. The app itself has a sandbox option, challenges (such as tutorials, but without a lot of help), and sample games. There are options to upload your own creations and download those from others, but these were not working at the time of review. 

Is it any good?

The idea of learning programming logic from trains is fun, but the result is confusing and frustrating. Trains Project Home Edition seems like an unfinished, untested product. From the moment you open the app, there's trouble. The introductory tutorial information is drowned out by loud background music. It's hard to figure out where to get started or even how to open a sandbox or challenge. Once you're there, it's tricky to figure out how to get to the train parts. There's no way to know what half of the cars do without randomly attaching them to trains, the icons are consistently confusing (none of them are industry standards), and it seems that the only way to get anywhere is to tap and swipe randomly until something interesting happens. When you get into the showcase area and load an example, you can see the promise there. One sample game is a pool simulation, and another mimics the Angry Birds franchise. If the interface and instructions were more clear and worked as intended, you can imagine how kids might be inspired to create something fun. As it stands, all they're likely to get is irritated. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Talk about how to give clear step-by-step instructions. Ask kids to explain how to get from point A to point B or how to do something they think is basic, like making a sandwich. Follow their directions precisely, just like a computer would. 

  • How do you like this app as compared with other apps you could use? If you had to choose the best use of your time on a screen, would you pick this app over other apps on your device for communication? Why, or why not?

  • Families can talk about trying to use Trains Project Home Edition. Is it easy to play? Why, or why not? What might make it easier?

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