Yes, there’s an iPod on the box, and yes, Zizzle’s new iZ ($39.99) can in fact connect to an iPod. But in our opinion, he’s not really an iPod accessory. Like the last invention from his designers (Furby), he’s a toy who will inspire equally strong reactions from younger and older users. Kids will love him. Adults will be confused by him. And in fact, iZ appears to be designed to provoke both reactions.
Pictures don’t do iZ justice: he’s really a musical puzzle in an alien body. His plastic shell – mostly red, blue or yellow with white plastic – contains a synthesizer and mixer with pre-recorded beats, audio loops, and voice samples. You can either listen passively to the music or mix the sounds together into your own tracks. The goal, if there really is one, is to master his unique body part controls to make something that sounds like real music.
Our full review of iZ can be found by clicking on Read More below.
iZ stands on three adjustable white legs, any of which is strong enough alone to support his entire body. The legs do nothing more than position him, and don’t rotate – they just move through around 180 degrees of freedom on an arc.
His most prominent features are two weird eyes, a clear horn-shaped mouth, and a huge white and yellow button located on his stomach. A single speaker is hidden on his bottom. But out of the box, he’s silent and immobile. Before he’ll do anything, you’ll need to insert four AA batteries (not included) into a compartment in his back. Surprisingly, the compartment is locked with two Philips head screws, so you’ll need a screwdriver – a requirement that necessarily will bring an adult into contact with iZ, at least temporarily.
With batteries inside, iZ comes to life, and you begin to realize that he’s more complex than he initially looked. Like the iPod shuffle’s Control Pad, the central “belly” button actually contains five buttons in North, East, West, South and center positions. When he’s powered on, iZ’s horn mouth begins to glow in different colors. You’ll figure out that each of his ears can be twisted in a crank-like way. And a dangling “flicker” bulb on his head can be, well, flicked with your finger.
You’ll also see that he makes sounds, plays music, and moves his eyes – all in ways that will charm kids. (iZ is appropriate, says Zizzle, for people aged 5 and up.) Within a few more minutes, you’ll make efforts to control the sounds and music by twisting his ears, pressing buttons on his belly, and flicking his flicker. He won’t make sense, but he’ll have your attention.
Eventually, you’ll want to look at the included instructions, which wryly explain iZ from the point of view of an adult who mostly, but not entirely understands him. To turn iZ off, the manual explains, you’ll “press the 9:00 position on his belly. This could be one, two or three presses until you hear a ‘beep beep’ and he says something like ‘Catch you on the flip side’ and goes to sleep.”
That’s a quote. “Something like” is accurate, too. If ET had learned to talk and make noises by listening to the radio, he’d sound a lot like iZ. The “catch you on the flip side” line, for instance, is delivered in the gravelly voice of a DJ, and he’s loaded with both fresh-from-the-synthesizer and original samples.
North on his belly button increases the tempo and pitch of whatever music he’s playing, while South slows it down and lowers the pitch. East changes volume through six levels – “softest” to “loudest,” in rotation, each noted with a ding sound, loudest signaled with two. The center button flips between seven different beats. Hit the button enough and you’ll discover that iZ is ticklish; he will giggle and eventually lose control. This is the point at which we briefly mention that he’s occasionally gassy from both ends. Because kids like that.
The West button is perhaps iZ’s most important one: it flips between three modes and turns him off. Mode 1 is “Play,” 2 is “DJ,” and 3 is “WZIZ FM.” Play is the default, a completely interactive mixing mode. All of his belly buttons work, and twisting his left and right ears will flip between seven lead and seven rhythm tracks. His left eye moves in sync with the lead, and right in sync with the rhythm. Flicking his flicker will spark a sound effect, and his horn will glow in sync with the beat you choose on his belly. When you find a combination of sounds you like, you can hold a button to save the mix for future listening.
DJ and WZIZ FM modes are less interactive, but more compelling. In DJ mode, iZ will pick combinations of lead, rhythm and beat by himself, and you can change them by pressing his belly, and flick his flicker to make sounds. WZIZ FM mode is even more automated; all you do is twist his ears to tune in “radio stations,” which are pre-programmed and unchangeable songs based on his sample features.
iZ as iPod accessory
With all this functionality, it’s a bit of a surprise that the iPod connectivity is so simplistic – shockingly so if it’s the first thing you try, as we did. Once you plug an included cable into iZ’s back and your iPod’s headphone port, iZ performs the iPod’s music – pretty clearly – through his speaker. Occasionally he’ll add a nonsensical, barely audible voice-over comment to the music, then pass gas when a song has ended. If he’d sampled the music and added it to his mixes, we would have been impressed, but as-is, iPod support seems like a last-minute and nearly meaningless addition. Even Tiger’s iDog (iLounge rating: B) does a better job when connected to an iPod.
For kids, iZ’s limited interactivity with outside music will be his only serious disappointment. Though we would have liked to see more than his eyes (say, his legs) moving automatically, this mightn’t have make a lot of sense given the fact that you’re supposed to tweak and tug his body parts all the time. As a – dare we say it – almost educational toy, his beats, effects, and voices offer a tantalizing chance for younger users to experiment with basic music mixing, and we were initially surprised to see how taken they are to his weird shape and interface. Even “the young at heart” may be able to look past his body and appreciate his funky, radio-inspired soul.