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Note: I did not receive anything from the SweetPea Toy company, nor was I asked to write this review.
The SweetPea3 is an MP3 player designed for young children, 1 - 5 years. Essentially, it replaces the Fisher-Price record player of my youth and the Fisher-Price tape recorder of my 18-year old daughter’s youth with the modern equivalent. (Note: At the time I was ordering our two SweetPea3 players, Amazon.com was showing a product listing for a new Fisher-Price MP3 player due to launch in a couple of months. No product details were available at that time. The product image looks an awful lot like those kiddie tape recorders of yore, including the sing-along microphone… and the size.)
I bought two SweetPea3 players — one lavender, one blue — from the SweetPea3 website. (Also available from Amazon.com.) My main motivation was to give my two youngest children (ages 3 and 5) access to music without buying yet another tape recorder for our old collection of music cassettes.
At $49.95 each, the SweetPea3s were a substantial investment. I admit to spending some time wondering if I should just buy low-end “grown up” MP3 players, instead. Ultimately, I went with the SweetPeas, and was glad I did. Here’s why:
1. Speaker. The SweetPea3 is primarily designed to play over it’s (very decent sounding) speaker. While it can accommodate headphones (not included), they are not the intended playback method; something most parents will prefer for small children. Not only are headphones something I don’t want to give my little ones (a strangulation hazard, especially in bed), they interfere with communication and make it hard for me to monitor volume levels.
2. Size. Sometimes, bigger is better. The SweetPea3 is sized and shaped for small hands. About 8″ long, it’s large enough for them to carry comfortably, and large enough not to slide between the sofa cushions (you wouldn’t believe what slips between our sofa cushions…). In addition to being more comfortable for kids to use, the larger size is safe for children under 3 years, who could easily choke on, say, a Sansa Clip+ or an iPod Shuffle.
3. Design. The player has a nice circular handle just right for little hands. (The product is shaped sort of like a hotel’s “Do Not Disturb” sign, only smaller.) The handle/hole is also perfectly sized for attaching plastic links, so that you can attach the player to a stroller or crib.
4. Rubberized exterior. The players are reasonably cushioned against shocks… and tantrums. Being thrown on our stone floors hasn’t done the blue one in yet.
5. Age-appropriate controls. The SweetPea3’s controls are limited to three buttons: Play/Pause, Back, and Forward. Limited controls means limited opportunities for confusion and frustration. Wisely, there is no Delete function.
6. Parental controls. A parent-accessible menu (hold two buttons down for six seconds to activate the menu) allows for volume control, playlist selection, and a couple of other settings. (Some settings I didn’t understand the need for: “Show Song“? “Pause“? Why wouldn’t I want those features on?)
7. Long battery life. After a week of reasonable use, the battery indicators still show full.
Purchasing from the SweetPea site was easy – the website is nicely designed and simple to navigate. Delivery was prompt and timely. Each box contained the MP3 player, some product guides and ads, and a USB cable. Showing a fine understanding of the target audience, the players came charged and pre-loaded with several songs and stories (some stories are just snippets), making them ready-to-go right out of the box.
Transferring files to the players was odd but not hard — because I’d seen the helpful information one Amazon customer posted. The players have 2 GB of memory, which is plenty for audio content (the website claims over 32 hours).
(On a Mac, the trick is NOT to drag files directly from iTunes to the player, but rather to find the music files in the Finder, and from there, drag and drop to the player’s icon on the Desktop (just like you might copy files from the Finder to an external hard drive). Double-clicking the player’s icon will reveal three playlist folders, into which you sort the audio files. It seemed to me that Playlist 3 does not accept new files; even if it appears to, they won’t be accessible from the player.)
The SweetPea3 was a fabulously successful gift — my daughter and son are delighted with the music players, and a week later, are having a ball with them. They love the control and fun of having their own “iPods” (a marketing coup for Apple), and take them everywhere. And I feel like a great Mommy for buying them.
SweetPea boasts that their player won the 2009 Best Toy Award. That may be so, but the player’s interface — while adequate for a first product — does not live up to the rest of the design, and really requires an upgrade if this product is going to take off.
Here’s what needs to be updated:
1. Larger buttons. The existing buttons are all right for my 3- and 5-year olds, but would be frustrating for the under-two set, or children with below-average fine-motor skills.
2. Volume buttons. These can be on the side to distinguish them from navigation controls. I like the concept of full parental control over the volume via the hidden menu, but not every song is equalized at the same volume as every other song. I’d like my control to be over an absolute maximum decibel volume, and for my kids to be able to control the volume up to that point. Perhaps for the youngest children (up to age 2) this would be overkill, but for the 3-5 year old set, it would be preferable. After all, the volume buttons can always be inactivated via the Parental Control Menu.
4. Playlist selection. Currently, switching between playlists can only be done via the Parental Controls menu, which limits the kids’ ability to choose what to listen to. With 2 GB of memory, there are an awful lot of songs to scroll through to find a specific one. Perhaps the solution is to add an album-sorted list.
5. Color display showing album images in addition to song titles (for kids who can’t read).
6. Faster response time. I was startled by how slow the SweetPea3 is to respond to button presses. My kids have the patience for it, but many won’t and will find themselves pressing furiously to try and elicit a reaction, only to find they’ve overshot.
7. More color options. This isn’t an absolute requirement, of course, but it would be a bonus if there were more color choices. The blue and lavender colors are really nice (nicer than they look on the screen), but if I’d had two girls, which one would have to take the blue? (I know it’s sexist, but you’ll have to live with it.) With small kids, color is the main distinguishing factor; writing their names on the players would not only be useless for the pre-literate ones, it would deface a lovely product.
Overall: The SweetPea3 MP3 player lives up to its tagline, “The MP3 player Made for Kids”. It is a solid choice for young children (birth to 5 years, or older children with motor or developmental delays), but the product is ready for a design update. The SweetPea3 was a fabulously successful gift — my daughter and son are delighted with them. Kids love the control and fun of having their own “iPods” (a marketing coup for Apple), and take them everywhere. And I feel like a great Mommy for buying them.