App review by
Mieke VanderBorght, Common Sense Media
ustyme App Poster Image

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Video calls emphasize shared reading experiences.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Kids can learn about making meaningful connections with loved ones, even if they don't live close by. What sets this experience apart is the inherent social interaction, which enhances the learning potential of relatively simple ebooks; as kids and grown-ups read together, they'll likely be discussing and engaging around the book itself. This means ustyme may bring kids the world of benefits associated with reading in general, including but not limited to a love of reading, an emotional connection with a loved one, critical and flexible thinking, room for imagination and creativity, vocabulary development, and a basis for learning how to read.

Ease of Play

There's little how-to help. It may take some fiddling around to set up the app, open an account, and add friends, especially for less tech-savvy grown-ups. Kids will likely not have problems navigating.

Violence & Scariness
Sexy Stuff

The app is free, but users buy books and games to actually use it.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that ustyme is a video-call program, much like Skype, with the addition of a vast library of ebooks and games available for shared reading and play experiences. The app is free to download and includes two books and one game. Parents who register with the Reading Is Fundamental site can also get 50 ebooks for free, and additional books and games are available as in-app purchases. The collection includes many classics retold and illustrated specifically for ustyme as well as original works by independent authors adapted to ebook form. Most books are in English, but there is a small collection of books in Spanish. Users need to create an ustyme account -- for which they provide a name and an email address -- and invite and/or approve contacts to add to their friends list. 

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What's it about?

With USTYME, two users -- in two places -- can read a story or play a game together. Create an account, invite friends, and browse books and games to get started. When friends have ustyme open, you'll see an "available" icon; tap the call button to start a video chat. Once in a chat, a small screen in the corner sends the video feed, and the book or game takes up the majority of the screen. Users on both ends can choose books or games and flip pages. Two books and one game are included in the free download; additional ones are available as in-app purchases.

Is it any good?

When everything works properly, kids can easily connect with loved ones near and far to share the special experience of reading a story together. Short of being able to cuddle together on the couch with a book, this may be the next best thing. Books and reading take center stage as the main focus of the video call; though it can vary from book to book, stories and illustrations are mostly of decent quality. Many books end with a list of discussion starters that can help grown-ups continue the interaction and get kids thinking. The games are super simple and lack bells and whistles, but that only serves to highlight the interaction among the people on the call. Unfortunately, though, sometimes technical problems can get in the way of a smooth experience: The app can freeze unexpectedly, and sometimes the sound quality on the calls isn't very good. Another issue is that on a small screen the text can be too small to read comfortably, and there's no way to zoom in. Also, the layout, especially on the home screen, doesn't make intuitive sense. Yet this app has potential to be a stellar tool that can allow kids to engage and share special experiences with distant friends and family members.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how kids feel about maintaining a relationship with faraway loved ones. Is it more fun to read a book with grandparents than to talk with them on the phone? Why, or why not?

  • Read the notes from "Librarian Lisa" at the ends of many books. Use the discussion starters to talk to your kids and get them thinking.

  • Don't forget the importance of physical contact: Pair digital reading with a good cuddle on the couch and an open book or a trip to the library.

App details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love shared family experiences and reading

Themes & Topics

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