Review: KIDdesigns Barbie Jam With Me Electronic Guitar
Grown men do not rave about Barbie toys. So take our enthusiasm for KIDdesigns’ Barbie Jam With Me Electronic Guitar ($40) as genuine: as originally noted and rated in our 2008 iPod + iPhone Buyers' Guide, this is the best iPod toy we've yet seen. Rather than taking the easiest possible route to creating a Barbie-themed guitar, KIDdesigns went down a number of roads less traveled, releasing a toy that offers fun, cool features, and true iPod integration.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that the Jam With Me Electronic Guitar is pink, in fact so two-toned pink that boys—except perhaps Ken—would never pick it up. The neck is packed with nine buttons, four faux tuning keys, and a chrome Barbie icon. Each of the buttons is adorned with a butterfly, dots, or a combination of the two; right below them is a set of four additional buttons labeled “karaoke,” “jammin’,” “guitar,” and “strummin’.” The guitar’s body has four additional buttons, three dials, a whammy bar, and an iPod dock with a switch: 2G/1G.
This iPod dock deserves some special attention, as KIDdesigns went way beyond what most people might be expecting from an inexpensive toy. On a positive note, the dock does in fact work with original and second-generation iPod nanos, thanks to the switch, which moves the headphone plug into whichever position is appropriate for the given nano’s bottom port. It also seals the nano in with a nice spring-loaded clasp that anyone can figure out. And it connects directly to a speaker that’s built into the Guitar, found on its back. Four AA batteries provide juice for the speaker, which can be volume-adjusted with one of the Guitar’s front three dials.
What’s amazing is that KIDdesigns didn’t just leave the dock there: it went to the trouble of including a faux iPod in the package, loaded with three actual songs (Survivor, What a Girl Wants, and Up) that can be selected with three chrome star-shaped buttons on the Guitar’s body. Whether you have an iPod nano or not, the guitar’s thus capable of providing background music for whatever you play; the buttons on its neck also have pre-programmed tunes, albeit short and simple ones, that you can fire off by pressing them once.
Another cool thing about the design is that the four guitar strings work in different modes. Karaoke mode’s there if you insert the cartridge with songs; Jammin’ makes each string play multiple notes, Strummin’ plays a tune and lets you interrupt and scratch it like a record, and Guitar works like a simple four-string electric guitar. The whammy bar next to the strings creates a warped sound whether or not you’re picking the strings.
KIDdesigns tops off the Electronic Guitar with a couple of extras. There’s a white and pink strap to let you actually wear or carry it around. And if you were wondering how Karaoke mode works, suffice it to say that a microphone-equipped headset found in the package can be connected to the guitar’s bottom, letting you sing along or just add your own voice to whatever else is playing on the guitar. You can also adjust the mic’s volume and an echo effect independently of the main guitar volume with additional knobs on the guitar’s body, as well as turn input from the iPod on or off. The whole guitar’s power can be turned off with one of the neck buttons, or you can rely on the system to turn itself off automatically, which it does after a short period of inactivity.
Having seen lots of “iPod-ready” toys over the past few years, there’s no doubt in our minds that this one is the best so far—loaded with cool features, reasonably priced, and sure to make any Barbie fan happy. Though KIDdesigns missed two things: additional types of single-string guitar sounds, and the ability to work with third-generation nanos—our sample arrived when Apple had already discontinued the two nanos it works with—this is a great toy for girls with first- or second-generation iPods, and thanks to the included music cartridge, even kids without iPods can enjoy it, too. Hopefully an equally excellent version for boys is forthcoming soon.