26 October 2017

REVIEW: Oregon Scientific Smart Globe Explorer AR

Around the world.

If your kids are keen to know where all the places on the earth are, it can be more than tempting to whack out your phone, open Google Maps, and let them finger-swipe away. However, no digital map will ever replace the accuracy and tactile pleasure of a globe; something the kids can hold and spin, while getting a sense of where the continents and oceans are in relation to each other. So take that advantage, then add a bunch of digital cleverness, and you get the Oregon Scientific Smart Globe Explorer AR.

Yes, this globe is smart. But how? Well, first off, the globe itself is just that: a rotating representation of the planet made out of plastic. When we first opened it we looked for a place to plug it in, assuming that it was the globe that required power, not the accessories. However, the only part of the product you need to worry about charging is the space shuttle-shaped smart pen.

Switch that wireless stylus on and you you'll hear sounds and voices coming from it, not the globe. For a quick play around simply touch the nib of the pen to the activity panel on the base, hitting something like 'name' or 'capital', then touch anywhere on the surface of the globe. The pen will speak the information in a very clear female English voice.

Regardless of the many types of challenges and game play (which we will talk about later), just being able to touch a lump of land on a globe and be told the name of the country is huge for kids. We tested the Oregon Scientific Smart Globe Explorer AR with the help of a seven, a four, and a two year old, and all three marvelled at that simple ability. Knowing that 'the big one' on the other side of that 'big bit of land' was The People's Republic of China, and not just China, blew their minds.

But there is more. As well as tapping to discover things like names and populations, the kids enjoyed a game element once they know where a few places were. Under the 'find' list on the activity panel are challenges such as finding capital cities. Under the pressure of a timer, you have to listen out for a question like "find the capital city of Australia" etc*, then you have to quickly spin the globe and tap the correct city.

We, and the kids, often found the accuracy of the pen wasn't 100%, and on a few occasions found ourselves being beaten by the timer because the pen didn't register an exact tap on a location on the map. But, after a while, you learn the speed and pressure that seems to work the best. Oh, and if you're worried about the pen becoming out of date after  Donald Trump destroys half the planet following a rude tweet from North Korea, the pen can be updated via the Oregon Scientific website. Phew.

But that is not all, globe-hoppers. Unclip the Oregon Scientific Smart Globe Explorer AR from the base and the entire globe splits open in some sort of cataclysmic manner. Inside there are two more maps; one of a cross-section of the planet, showing the different layers from the crust right down to the inner core, and another showing the planets in the solar system. Both of these surfaces are also smart-touch enabled, and you can play slightly reduced versions of similar games you do with the earth.

And if you were worried about the split open, bum-like earth rolling about as you play on these two other maps, there is a stand. Pull out something from the base itself, you'll not only get an appropriately shaped stand for the opened world (good band name, that), but also a local map depicting whatever region you bought the globe in. Obviously ours therefore had a map of the British Isles, allowing the kids to see their own country close up. Nice touch.

But there's even more, you geography-loving fools! The Oregon Scientific Smart Globe Explorer AR can be used with Oregon Scientific's globe app which features AR animations. Download the app, point your phone at the globe, and the likes of landmarks, animals, and even dinosaurs will bring to life on the surface of the planet (from within your phone, mind). Its a very nice touch, especially being able to see things like the Egyptian Great Pyramids, and the kids enjoyed the app's quizzes too; ones you'll be so much better at after you've played around with the globe more.

So although we've always been fans of the use of physical globes in education over the likes of Google Maps, the smart features in the Oregon Scientific Smart Globe Explorer AR make it a stellar learning tool. Being able to sit down alone and find out what places are called, and be able to then discover how those places relate to others, should make any kid a master of geography in no time. Check this out.


Available from www.amazon.co.uk

*It's Canberra, BTW

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