Buy It Not, This Dinobot

Fisher-Price's entry into the burgeoning dinosaur toy market is an expensive doorstop

Photo: Mattel

Fisher-Price Imaginext Spike, the Ultra Dinosaur

$140

http://www.fisher-price.com

This is part of IEEE Spectrum's Special Report on IEEE SPECTRUM’S HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE 2008

It stomps. It chomps. It falls asleep for no apparent reason. It’s Spike, the Narcoleptic Dinobot from Fisher-Price’s Imaginext line. Well, no, they don’t actually market it that way. Spike, the Ultra Dinosaur is touted as an interactive toy for kids ages 3 to 10. My 4-year-old son, who is going through a dinosaur phase right now, was thrilled the moment we unpacked ”Spikey,” snapped on his arms and legs, and charged his lithium-ion battery pack overnight. The next morning, we plugged the pack into his tummy and fired him up.

On the upside, my boy learned the blocky, Flintstone-like remote control in about five minutes. Big kid-friendly buttons are festooned with instantly grokable action icons: a head with an open mouth controls Spikey’s jaws—useful at feeding time. A directional walk button makes the dinobot move straight ahead or pivot to the left or right by activating the rollers on his back feet. Other buttons make him bend down or rear up on his back legs and roar. Yet another makes his neck move up and down. Then there’s the ”crazy” key, which initiates seemingly random behavior, including eye rolling, snorting, and sneezing. Fun—if only Spikey would hear and obey!

He takes breaks when walking; he just gives up and starts panting. This happens often, especially on rough surfaces like the sidewalk. And forget more challenging terrain such as grass or sand, because Spikey has a basic problem with traction—he doesn’t have any. His plastic feet have no grip (tip for Fisher-Price: slapping a no-slip bathtub stick-on to each foot would solve this), so he flails helplessly on anything but hardwood floors. He can’t walk up hills, even small ones. Forget stairs. But I’m looking forward to this winter—can’t wait to see Spikey try ice skating!

Dinosaurs are famous for their small brains, and in this respect, Fisher-Price scores points for paleontological verisimilitude, but unfortunately so. Spikey is often slow to react to commands or doesn’t react at all, in which case he falls asleep, snoring for good measure. This is frustrating enough for a grown-up but deadly for kids. My son quickly gave up when Spikey wouldn’t walk, roar, or go crazy at the touch of the appropriate button. At first I thought it was a range problem, and indeed, if you go beyond about 3 meters, Spikey takes a nap. Good thing we didn’t let him drive, as my son suggested. But even right up close, Spikey doesn’t seem to always get the message. When he does, it’s a delightful surprise—there he goes, scaring the neighborhood dogs into a barking frenzy. Awesome! But for $140, you’d think Fisher-Price would have made sure that the communication between reptile and remote was more robust. Spike does sport some pretty nifty LED spikes, which makes him a dual-purpose Christmas gift. Once the kids give up on playing with Spikey (give it 30 minutes), you can leave him on and use him as a miniature Jurassic Christmas tree. Just don’t count on the charge to last more than about an hour.

To Probe Further

For more articles and special features, go to IEEE SPECTRUM’S HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE 2008

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