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Osmo review: Hands-on iPad games with real pieces give kids new ways to play

Susie Ochs | July 11, 2014
The iPad can be tons of fun for kids, but the trick is to balance hands-off activities like watching a movie with hands-on projects like making your own. Osmo is hands on--it's a set of iPad games played with real-world pieces, and unique stand with a red plastic piece that redirects the iPad's front-facing camera to the game pieces as your child interacts with them on a table or floor.

When Tangram works, it's excellent, with soothing sounds, no time pressure, and the satisfaction of unlocking multiple new puzzles on an ever-expanding grid with each tangram you finish successfully. I'm sure an update (or better lighting in my living room?) could fix the error issue.

Newton's iPad

Newton is the most imaginative, and would be the toughest for kids my son's age. But he was highly interested when he saw me playing, and he loves to scribble, so we went for it. With Newton, you need to provide your own piece of paper and drawing instrument, and as the game spits colored balls from the top of the screen in a constant drip. You have to redirect them onto targets, which are often hidden behind solid barriers, by drawing lines on the paper for the balls to bounce off, or chutes for them to slide down — whatever you can dream up, the game's realistic physics will respond to.

Just make sure you have a lot of paper, or that you're not using a Sharpie — ours bled through so we could only draw on one side. (Pens and pencils worked better.) So we went through a lot of paper. The way the puzzles advance, we could use the same sheet for a couple of them, but if you mess up you can't really erase. We often had to grab a new sheet mid-puzzle (yes, even when I was playing by myself, without my scribble-happy assistant) until I finally realized I could repurpose some stray lines by just moving the paper itself. Then I got even smarter and found a small whiteboard to use instead. (This delighted my son, who crowned himself Official Eraser Guy.)

Newton really does encourage creative thinking like that, and in fact, it doesn't take long to realize drawing lines on paper is just the beginning. As soon as you reach your pencil (or Sharpie, if you're silly like me) toward the paper, the camera picks up the pencil's shape as well as your hand, which makes you realize that you can use whatever's around to direct the balls to their targets.

As the levels advance, the difficulty ramps up pretty quickly — the physics-based puzzles remind me of Where's My Water or Cut the Rope. So Newton would be fun for older kids working solo, younger kids working as a team...and yes, you yourself, once all those kids are in bed.

Little touches, small improvements

Osmo's clever hardware has a few nice design touches: The red piece fits into the base with magnets so you won't lose it. All the boxes snugly snap together with magnets too. Everything seems tough enough to withstand abuse.


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