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Review: Gift ideas for your tech-savvy toddlers

December 17, 2011 |  6:32 am

 

Buying a $200 to $400 phone for a child to play with might seem a little over the top, though some families do it. But, parents, buying a cover to protect your own pricey device is probably a smart move for the times you do inevitably hand it over, whether as a learning tool or benign distraction.

Let's face it. If you give your uncovered iPhone to your toddler, you're just asking for trouble. After all, small hands can do big damage to these devices.

But for just about $20, Infantino's HappiTaps and Griffin's Woogie 2 transform your inflexible, vulnerable iPhone into a plush, cuddlier plaything.

Here's a look at the two stuffed-animal cases.

HappiTaps

Beary-HappiWhen you pull the HappiTaps case out of the box, you're greeted by a smiling Beary Happi, the case's sweet and engaging character brought to life via free downloadable app. He really comes to life when you open the app and drop your phone into the case.

Although initially the animated face on the phone made me flash back to my fears of Teddy Ruxpin and that living teddy bear from "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence" -- two stuffed bears with more self-awareness than should exist in a toy -- Beary Happi's big green eyes and sweet child's voice won me over fairly quickly. 

The Beary Happi app includes more than 150 facial expressions, which actually are quite adorable. He blinks, winks, smiles, sleeps, eats, talks -- and has different settings to moderate his expressions and mood from mellow to super chatty.

Peek-a-boo with Beary Happi involves interaction from the child. To reveal the hidden bear, the child has to tap the screen. "Feeding" him means tapping and dragging the food to his little mouth.

For 99 cents, you can get in-app additions such as two additional rattles (yes, your child will be shaking your iPhone in this case), two stories or two songs. Also, an educational game or the bedtime package (a poem, light show, lullaby and auto shut-off) can be purchased for 99 cents.

You can set the app to lock out purchases so that your happy tapper doesn't go shopping for upgrades without your knowledge or consent.

Also, it can be set to "toddler mode" to lock the menu. While the phone is in this case, it essentially  impedes your child from leaving the app -- they'd have to remove the phone to hit the home button. (You can adjust volume or turn it off, but it does take effort.)

It's a bit of an overstatement to call it huggable. It's a soft, cushioned cover with a miniature body. It might just be soft enough for small hands, though.

The HappiTaps case is advertised for children 18 months and older. It comes with a green hanger to attach it to, say, a play mat or car seat.

I gave it to my 7-month-old to try out. My tech-savvy teether, like babies his age, did try to put the case in his mouth.

Beary is kind of kissable. Unfortunately, there is no protective plastic cover over the iPhone screen, so there's nothing between your child's mouth and that screen -- or, for that matter, the screen and any hard surface. Luckily, with an older child, you are probably less likely to have them give Beary Happi the full-on Bam-Bam treatment.

IMG_0456Woogie 2

The original Woogie was a bit more like a stuffed starfish or inkblot -- soft but flat. Its successor, Woogie 2, has slightly weighted legs and is more versatile in that it can stand or sit, making it more flexible for the many uses of touchscreen devices.

When I tried it out with my baby, we could play videos, have him scroll through photos, and sit and enjoy an interactive audio picture book.

My son was also able to drag the Woogie around without his protective mother being ultra-nervous about whether he'd try his burgeoning skills as an amateur drummer with her iPhone.

Unlike the HappiTaps case, Woogie 2 has a plastic face, allowing a touch-permeable barrier of sorts between the grimy screen of the iPhone or iPod and your little one.

It comes in a couple of colors -- blue and pink. The original was a neon green.

This case is more like an actual stuffed animal that happens to also be a case. Your kid could play with this even without the iPhone tucked in it.

Both cases work with current and older-model iPhones and iPod Touch. I have reserved my old 3G iPhone for my baby's use and it fit easily in both.

Although the Velcro closure will hold your phone or player in place, it's fairly easy for even a child  under a year old to open and free the device. So as always with children, you'll want to keep your eyes open.

RELATED:

Wacky Apple iPhone cases for all ages

Apps that are child's play for iPhone and iPad

-- Michelle Maltais 

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