Review: Ozaki iMini Pet
As fans of still photography, we've generally felt that photos sufficiently explain the appeal or lack thereof for the thousands of products we've reviewed; however, there are occasions when a video seems like a better way of demonstrating something. It took about one minute with Ozaki's animated speaker system iMini Pet ($99) to render us speechless, all but demanding that a video be made to show off the product. You can see the iMini Pet video on YouTube here.
In short, iMini Pet is your own personal Chuck E. Cheese robot, a combination radio, iPod dock, and digital alarm clock that is one part creepy, one part cheap looking, and three parts oddly cool. You start by choosing iMini Pet from one of five versions—a bear, panda, frog, dog, or lion—and get what’s essentially an extended, fur-wrapped upgrade to Ozaki’s cube-shaped alarm clock iMini Cute. Whereas iMini Cute had an unobstructed alarm clock on its front and a simple plastic shell, iMini Pet adds a pedestal for the animatronic animal in the back, and then the animal itself, which plugs into the pedestal. Depending on the color of the animal, the clock and the pedestal will be covered in different colored furs; the frog version (“Charles”) has a matching green pedestal and a light beige clock covering.
To start with the oddly cool part of iMini Pet, as the video shows, you can plug in your iPod, turn on a song, and watch as the character’s head moves around, its mouth powered by a rhythm decoding chip to try and figure out what’s beat, what’s accompaniment, and what’s voice. It’s not always successful, particularly with songs that are light on vocals, but with vocal tracks, it actually does a fair to good job—roughly on par with the old Chuck E. Cheese animatronic band, only operating dynamically from your iPod’s music rather than to pre-programmed motion data. It gets funnier to watch as the songs become more ludicrous, though kids will just enjoy seeing anything get “sung” to.
An added, unexpected feature comes from the presence of a microphone in iMini Pet’s neck: it can respond with similar motions when you speak or make other sounds, seeming to “talk” back to you even when music’s not playing. Though it doesn’t look very good, an oversized power icon on the animal’s arm lets you switch between speaker responses, speaker and microphone responses, and off.
This is unfortunately the clearest of the unit’s buttons; Ozaki has included clock, timer, and even FM radio features in the unit, many controlled via an included Infrared remote control, but figuring out how to do anything from changing radio stations to using the alarm is unfortunately way more complicated than should be the case. Fur aside, we figured out the secret button-holding combinations after a bunch of screwing around, and the radio tuner both worked with the animated animal and sounded fine, but it all took too much work; certainly too much for kids.
The creepy and cheap-looking parts of iMini Pet are both related to the less than beautiful designs of the fur and the character. Charles the Frog arrived with a somewhat cockeyed glance, a crazy little neckerchief, and feet that were more oddly curled upwards than the company’s promotional pictures. We haven’t seen the other animals in person, but if they’re anything like this one, a little extra work in adding cuteness and body wires could have made the difference between looking fine or really good. The furry clock and pedestal covering appears to be there to mask the manner in which the components have been assembled, and doesn’t look great around the front clock, in particular; a little more attention to tailoring and detail would have made the unit better. It’s also worth noting one thing that iMini Pet doesn’t do, contrary to its marketing as “the 1st dancing speaker for iPod in the world:” it doesn’t “dance.” We’ve actually seen and reviewed dancing speakers before—ones with moving legs—and this one’s limbs don’t move at all. It’s basically just a bobbing head and neck with a moving mouth.
On a final note, we’d describe iMini Pet’s audio quality as fine for the target audience, but not great on an absolute scale. Hidden behind the fur, the system’s stereo speakers put out enough sound to let kids enjoy whatever music they might be playing through the system, but not enough to shatter eardrums—thankfully—yet they also reverse the stereo channels. This won’t bother most of the target audience, but if you’re listening to songs that call out “left” or “right,” you can expect to hear them backwards.
Overall, iMini Pet is an interesting little speaker accessory: it’s obvious that Ozaki has the basis for something fun and great here, particularly at the price point, but also that the company’s execution in the character’s design and motion mightn’t live up to the expectations people would have from its advertisements. What’s here is a fine toy with some positive characteristics, but some added polish—particularly in the clock and radio interface—could make a sequel a better buy.