My 5-year-old loves this interactive, augmented reality globe - he's still playing with it 6 months later
- A high-quality toy globe should provide accurate information about regions around the world, have engaging descriptions that go beyond simple place names, and be fun to come back to again and again.
- I like the Shifu Orboot because it uses augmented reality (AR) for an interactive experience that teaches my son about the weather, maps, animals, inventions, monuments, and cultures throughout Earth.
- Though it costs more than your average globe (currently $49.99 on Amazon), it provides a deep well of information and brings the different regions of the world to life with an array of characters.
As a nerdy '80s kid, I became intimately acquainted with the globe and collection of World Book Encyclopedias in our family room. I'd spin the globe, find a place, and cross-reference it with the entry in the encyclopedia.
I enjoyed this setup, and it really started my lifelong interest in geography. However, my grade-school self can't help but feel jealous watching companies like Shifu use augmented reality to bring the globe alive with interactive information.
Founded in 2016 by Vivek Goyal and Dinesh Advani, Shifu specializes in toys that are fun and educational. With the help of a successful Kickstarter campaign, the company launched the Orboot in 2017. Since then, it's won countless awards from organizations like The National Parenting Center.
I recently had the opportunity to test the Shifu Orboot with my five-year-old son Bucky. Here's what makes this an excellent educational toy for our youngster.
The Shifu Orboot is a physical globe with augmented reality (AR) capabilities so your child can interact with the globe beyond just spinning it.
It comes with a 10-inch wide globe, stand, parental/educator guide, fake passport, passport stamp, a sticker booklet with flags from around the world, and other travel related decals. The Orboot app is available for free download on iOS, Android, and Fire OS devices.
The globe doesn't have any borders or country names on it, but it does have graphics that represent each region. For instance, Japan has sushi, a volcano, and a sumo wrestler. There are also dozens of stars scattered across the globe, which you scan on your phone via the app to unlock factoids about the area's cultures, monuments, inventions, animals, maps, and weather.
After scanning an area, your child taps the category he or she wants to learn more about. The app then superimposes several "highlights" that represent aspects within the category, and you click on a highlight to learn all sorts of facts.
For example, Bucky really liked learning about animals. So when he clicked on the markhor (a snake-eating goat) highlights in Central Asia, it started telling Bucky about himself. After learning about the markhor, Bucky then had the opportunity to take a quiz to see what he learned.
There are more than 1,000 cool facts and 400 highlights within the app. Even parents like me might learn something new.
Set-up is incredibly easy and takes about 15 minutes.
The only physical assembly is installing the globe on its base. The part that takes the most time is downloading the app, syncing it with the globe, and downloading all of the information.
The app asks for your email address so you can track your child's progress, but you can still use the app without entering it. This is what I chose since I'm not going to helicopter my child's learning experience, and I try to protect my personal data as much as possible.
Then you enter your child's name and grade. You can also choose to have multiple accounts if you have more than one child. Once the lengthy syncing and information download process is done - you'll need a good internet connection for this - it's time to play.
What makes the globe stand out
I really appreciate that the app works on the Kindle Fire tablet. Bucky's main form of media consumption is his dedicated Fire HD 8, so he was able to have fun with the Orboot whenever he wanted, unlike other STEM apps that only work on Android or iOS systems and require borrowing my phone.
Once I showed Bucky how the Orboot works, he had a blast playing with it on his own. I didn't need to hold his hand through the process, though I did have to explain to him the importance of playing with it in a well-lit area. If the lighting is too dim, the camera and app have a hard time picking up the star icon.
I really like that as Bucky gets older, he'll only get more out of the Orboot too. At five, some of the concepts are hard for him to understand, but as he gets older, they will make more sense.
Though it requires a smart device, I appreciate that we don't have to buy anything else to use the Orboot. Everything you need is in the box, and there are no hidden costs for extra devices or upgrades,
Perhaps, most importantly, the Orboot keeps Bucky engaged and he's clearly learning from it. He usually only has enough patience to play with it for half an hour at a time, but in the six months we've had it, he keeps coming back to it. He also regularly comes to us with facts he's learned, and he particularly liked learning about matryoshka nesting dolls.
Cons to consider
The globe stand feels a little bit flimsy. When you grab the stand by the arched arm where kids are likely to grab it, the top comes out. On the other hand, the lightweight construction makes it easy for youngsters to carry around and the actual globe itself feels durable. We also haven't had any issues with damage in the past few months.
The potential for open-ended play is fairly limited with the Orboot. Though there are a lot of facts, highlights, and quizzes, there is a finite amount of information. And after several deep dives, a child will have explored all the Orboot has to offer. We haven't reached this point yet, but if we were to exhaust all the info the Orboot has to offer, I would be pretty thrilled that my son had learned so many facts. Shifu could also potentially add more highlights as it update the app.
Enjoyment of the Orboot also requires screens. This may not be appealing to parents who are trying to limit their child's screen time. However, it's quality, active screen time that's adding to your child's understanding of the world, unlike the mindless, passive viewing of streaming media.
The bottom line
If you're thinking of buying a globe for your child, I'd strongly recommend the Shifu Orboot Augmented Reality Interactive Globe.
It does so much more than just show geographic locations. This STEM toy also covers the culture, landmarks, inventions, animals, and more around the world, and there are even quizzes and scavenger hunts that test your child's understanding.
If you have a young one between the ages of four and 10, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better tool for nurturing an interest in geography than the Shifu Orboot.
Pros: More than 1,400 facts and highlights for kids to learn, works with a broad range of smart devices, keeps children engaged and learning
Cons: Expensive for a toy, requires a screen, doesn't have open-ended play
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