One of the cool little tech toy companies that caught our eyes back at the London Toy Fair was SAM Labs. Their range of wirelessly connecting blocks lets kids (and adults) build any number of gadgets and creations, programming them with a super-simply drag-and-drop coding app. We were impressed back then, after only looking at some of the blocks, so we were very excited to check out this polished set. We play with the SAM Labs Curious Cars.
The idea behind this is that the set includes a number of SAM blocks that can be connected together to create the base of a remote control car. Therefore the pack includes two servo motor blocks, an LED light block, a tilt switch, a slider, and a button. As we said, all these things work together using Bluetooth and each has it's own USB-charging battery, so you get two short USB cables too.
To get started, you download the Curious Cars app. Aimed at youngsters, this app is game-like in that you have to follow the story to assemble your first vehicle. Switching on and pairing the blocks is pretty simple, but then you have to drag lines between their avatars in the app – something that was, occasionally, hard. Still, once all the individual units are connected, you build the car.
As well as the blocks, you get a plastic base for the car, and also a base for the controller. The blocks (which feature a tactile rubberised bumper around them) slot into these bases to make the actual toys, with each of the different car models utilising a slightly different configuration. There is, for example, a sports car to build, but also four others, by popping out and folding the included cardboard templates. These slot into the base (although a couple need the odd dab of glue) to complete the build.
And it does really work. The slider module limits the power to each of the motor modules, so as you hit the button to make them drive, you slide the stick to steer. It takes a bit of getting used to, but even our three year old tester mastered it in no time. Obviously, because the system is very simple, the cars either go all out, or stop, so don't expect to be performing any delicate manoeuvres.
However, after we built all of the cars and drove them about a bit... we got bored. We have to admit that the most exciting thing about the SAM Labs Curious Cars set was not actually making the cars. Rather it was from the fun little creations we put together using the parts. For example, using the SAM Labs desktop app for PC (free download, yo!) you can make custom connections between the blocks, even if they are as simple as 'press switch – make motor spin'. The included booklet details a wealth of inspiring projects that kids can tackle, like making a room guard with the tilt switch attached to a door handle.
Also, the base plates used for the car and controller have several LEGO-compatible studs, meaning that if you choose not to attach one of the cardboard bodies, you could build something yourself. Granted, there aren't many studs on each of the bases, but there are enough to slot a few good bricks on there. And besides, you could always just integrate your SAM Labs blocks into an existing LEGO set to control with your phone. Seriously, endless possibilities with this thing.
So yes, you might be buying it for the fun cars, but play around for any length of time and your desire to build other things will get the better of you. This kit is easy to use (despite it sounding all pretty intimidating), versatile in play, and great at encouraging young minds to build. Build, damn you! BUILD!
Check it out.