Fuhu, the company that makes the nabi tablets for kids – the ones with you immediately recognize thanks to their thick, red bumper – is today expanding into the world of wearables with the debut of the nabi Compete. This competitive and collaborative fitness tracker is aimed at making fitness fun and social for children and families, while also helping kids learn the importance of healthy habits, the company says.
The nabi Compete package comes with two bands that link to the Compete mobile app for iOS or Android. There are a variety of band colors available, and the cap that covers the Bluetooth-connected button and step counter comes in different colors as well, allowing for a variety of personalized combinations.
The bands themselves are 10 inches long by 1.06 inches wide, and securely host the small, coin cell battery-powered activity tracker. Clearly designed for busy and curious kids, the tracker is in there so tightly it’s very hard to remove when it comes time to replace the battery after three months. On the plus side, though, it’s not likely the kids will lose the device because it popped out.
The app, which works over Bluetooth in a 20 foot range, offers both head-to-head contests and collaborative tasks that help kids measure food burn and complete challenges, while earning pets and other virtual rewards, like badges, along the way. They can also participate in the kid-friendly social network, nabi Konnect.
The challenges are designed to be fun, and include cute animation, sound effects, simple language and a user interface that looks a lot like playing any other kid-focused mobile game. For example, the Exploration Challenge lets you choose from a variety of distance goals, like the length of the Brooklyn Bridge or National Mall Loop. Kids walk, jump or run distances equivalent to these and other landmarks against others to see who gets there first.
A Food Burn challenge, meanwhile, introduces the concept of calories in a relatable way, using kid-friendly foods like pizza, cheeseburgers, cookies, candy and popcorn. Kids pick a food they want to burn, and see the calories associated with that item as well as learn how much activity it takes to burn the food off.
In addition to competitions, kids can also team up to reach activity goals together, whether that’s taking on a big food challenge, like burning off an entire buffet of food, or setting a longer distance goal, like a Marathon. This would be great for families with more than one child, or for teams of friends who want to work together.
An included step counter tracks activity, while taking kids around the U.S. to famous landmarks like the Statue of Liberty or the White House. Kids can view their steps and averages over time on their personal dashboards, which also display their best days, miles and calories burned.
The more the kids compete and stay active, the more points they earn. These, in turn, can be used to buy virtual pets and feed them. Kids can also share their mood with their family and friends using emoticons, and connect with friends in the safe social network, nabi Konnect.
Overall, the app is engaging enough, though the rewards feature could use more work. It would be nice to be able to do more with the virtual pets beyond feeding them and watching the counter grow. (It wouldn’t kill them to borrow a few ideas from Furby, for example, which has mastered the whole “play with your virtual pet” thing.)
And, as a parent, I’d like if the app let me integrate my own rewards – like, if the child reaches a certain goal, they could earn a small toy, a new video game, or a family trip, for instance.
Also, because the app is also so heavily focused on competitions and challenges, it misses the opportunity to do more around everyday step or activity tracking – that is, it would be nice if it could also subtly teach kids things like the value of taking the stairs over the elevator, or how they should stand after sitting for too long, like Apple Watch also reminds grownups to do. Kids today often lead fairly structured lives with less time, unfortunately, to just run around having fun outside, so this addition could help kids think about the small improvements they can make even when they don’t have time to compete.
All that being said, for the price, the nabi Compete kit is reasonable. The 2-pack costs $39.99 and is sold at Target and Best Buy. While I’m not convinced that fitness trackers alone can encourage behavioral changes in inactive kids (if that’s your goal as a parent), it can still be presented as a fun new toy and game to try.
But at the end of the day, if you’re trying to get the kid to put down the iPad or turn off Netflix, and go for a run instead, the best way to do that is not to give them a wristband, it’s to model the same behavior. And, hey, just join them!