Pros: A simple, fun, and inexpensive robotic dog that sonically and visually interacts with your iPod, or operates separately. Battery powered, includes a speaker and its own set of noises and songs.
Cons: Each of its features, particularly its pre-programmed audio, light, and motor output, begs for more sophistication. i-Dog 2, anyone?
If you’re an animal lover, or you’re of the belief that there aren’t enough legitimately fun add-ons for the iPod, Tiger Toys’ i-Dog ($29.99) will most likely bring a smile to your face. Originally developed by the toymaking arm of Sega in Japan, i-Dog is a full-sized iPod matching robotic dog that does five things: it puts on a light show, makes limited head movements, plays back and responds to audio connected through its body, plays back a limited variety of songs stored in its own memory, and responds to input from a built-in microphone. Together, these features will charm kids, intrigue adults and perplex live animals – not a bad combination for the low price.
To get the boring parts out of the way first, i-Dog is a small plastic toy a little larger than a full-sized iPod, almost entirely glossy white with highly attractive chrome and transparent accents. A battery compartment in its left rear leg is sealed with a Philips head screw, and holds two AA batteries. Each of its legs has gray four rubber pads arrayed like paw prints, and its only obvious button is a tiny white reset button under its chin. All of its exciting parts are hidden until you turn it on by pressing its chrome nose button.
The first thing you’ll notice is i-Dog’s light show – it consists of an array of seven multicolored face lights arrayed in a flower-like pattern, moving in ones, twos, or all together. Each light show begins spontaneously in an almost alien approximation of a real dog’s facial gestures. According to the toy’s manual, the lights change colors and move in response to mood and music: if the dog is happy, certain colors and patterns will appear, or angry, others. You make him happy by feeding him music and other audio input – we’ll explain more on that later.
His head also moves in two different ways – there’s a motor in i-Dog’s neck that lets his head twist back and forth, and his transparent plastic ears flip up and down too. The product’s biggest disappointment – albeit partially understandable – is that its range of motion is so limited. i-Dog’s front legs are said to be positionable, but they barely move, and nothing else moves by itself. A funny transparent tail is used as a mute switch when an audio cable’s connected to i-Dog, and tweaks the dog into action when nothing is connected. It would be nice to see a more animated response, but admittedly i-Dog probably shouldn’t be going anywhere with your iPod in tow.
Connecting an iPod (or other device) to i-Dog is simple. You’ll need a minijack-to-minijack audio cable – a forgivable omission for the price – that runs from your iPod to a small covered port on i-Dog’s right side. Once you plug this in, your iPod controls the volume of a speaker that’s built into iDog’s body, projecting sound through a set of holes in its back. Sound quality is entirely acceptable for the price, albeit monaural and obviously not a complete replacement for real speakers. More significantly, i-Dog makes attempts to respond to the music with light displays and head motions, though it’s more comical and imprecise than fans of visualizers (or robots) might hope.
If you don’t want to use i-Dog with an iPod, it makes its own sounds – slightly robotic barks, attention whimpers, and goofy music that sounds like it could have come from an early cell phone or Sega video game. It also shakes its head, moves its ears, and puts on a light show – once every few minutes until you hold its nose button to turn it off. At that point, it performs the audio equivalent of a gears-winding-down song – just enough to make you feel guilty that you’ve deactivated it, a cute touch.
i-Dog also has a microphone built into the bottom of its head, which in our testing rarely responded to words, but did respond to being tapped in a petting fashion. Depending on its mood, i-Dog responded to the tapping with different light shows and sounds, but didn’t store samples and play them back.
Finally, it’s also worth noting that i-Dog has a bit of depth: the manual explains that you need to “feed” i-Dog music five minutes every hour to keep it satisfied, either directly through its input port or through the microphone. Over time, this will give i-Dog a “personality” of “rock/punk” (red outer ring of lights), “dance/techno” (green), or “hip hop/rap” (yellow), and the more you feed it, the better its “mood,” as indicated by different patterns of light movements. A light sensor on the top of its head puts it in sleep mode as long as it’s dark and quiet, but light or noise will wake it up – another interesting touch. You don’t need to know any of this stuff to enjoy using i-Dog, but its responses will be better and more diverse if you do.
Overall, rating i-Dog isn’t easy – it’s a first-of-breed toy for the iPod, and does a more than competant job of amusing its intended audience – and rapidly confusing real dogs. We showed it around to canvass opinions, and found that they ranged from amusement and sincere interest to shrugs, mostly from jaded adults – no big surprise for a toy. It didn’t evoke as strong a positive reaction as Speck Products’ iGuy, but people who liked it genuinely liked it.
After several days of playing with i-Dog, our feeling is that it’s a fun toy for younger users and a nice iPod add-on for people who like dogs – an easy, cheap way to listen to your iPod and get a bit of amusement at the same time. We think that it’s worth recommending, but we strongly suspect that it will be followed by other cool iPod innovations of a similar nature in the future. For now, if you’re looking for a distraction or just something to prove to your friends how much influence the iPod is having on the outside world, i-Dog is worth checking out.
Update August 9, 2005: List of Differences Between i-Dogs
Subsequent to the posting of our original review, Hasbro provided us with a list of differences between the Japanese original version of i-Dog and the one ultimately released in the United States by Tiger Toys. For those who may be interested, here’s the list.
Hasbro’s i-Dog features chrome detailing instead of aluminum colored paint.
Hasbro’s i-Dog is a little larger.
Hasbro’s i-Dog features rubber paw pads
Hasbro’s i-Dog features different moods, personalities, etc.
Hasbro’s i-Dog features recorded music while Sega’s i-Dog features more noises than music.
Hasbro’s i-Dog features a light sensor on top of its head instead of buttons.
Hasbro’s i-Dog has much more of a “dog” persona, with lots of barks and whines.
Company and Price
Company: Tiger / Hasbro / Sega
Compatible: All iPods