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Osmo review: Hands-on iPad games with real pieces give kids new ways to play

Susie Ochs | July 11, 2014
The iPad can be tons of fun for kids, but the trick is to balance hands-off activities like watching a movie with hands-on projects like making your own. Osmo is hands on--it's a set of iPad games played with real-world pieces, and unique stand with a red plastic piece that redirects the iPad's front-facing camera to the game pieces as your child interacts with them on a table or floor.

Words with kids

First we tried Words, which you play with a box of square letter tiles. A word is shown on the screen, along with a huge, colorful picture, and you slide, flick, or fling the tiles into the game area so the camera can see them. As you put the right letters in play to spell the word, they light up in place. Incorrect letters are stored at the top, and you lose after a certain number of misses. It's like Hangman with the picture serving as a really, really big hint.

Luckily for my toddler and I, you don't have to line the letters up carefully — as long as the camera sees it somewhere in its field of vision, it counts. You can play cooperatively, or versus, which is two players (or teams) racing each other. We played together, and he had a blast helping me identify the photos, sounding them out to guess what letters they have, finding those letters in the pool, and tossing them into the playing field. (You get a set of red and a set of blue letters, and for the cooperative mode you really only need one set.) And he especially loved when a little animation prompted us to clear the game board after guessing each word.

The words get harder as you play, in that they're longer or the pictures are more vague. And some boards present extra challenges, like to go fast or make fewer mistakes. So even though it's the same thing over and over, the game stays compelling for fairly long stretches. I'd love to see a way for parents to enter their child's spelling words from school!

Tangram trouble

Tangram was a little harder for my kiddo and me. He was familiar with the concept since he has a tangram toy, but we kept getting a weird error in the app that inhibited our progress: Our puzzle would be covered by a gray circle and a hand icon that looked like it was moving the pieces. I tried to figure out what it wanted, sliding our half-finished puzzle around to try to get the camera to see it again and dismiss the error. But with no words on screen and no other context clues, it was hard to tell what to do.

Sometimes moving the puzzle closer to the camera worked. Other times I had to just clear the whole board and start over. Maybe it was because our table is black and the room wasn't super bright and there wasn't enough contrast for the camera to see the pieces. Performance improved when I put down a white sheet of paper to build the puzzles on, but we still got that error intermittently. I don't know why, but it was as frustrating for me as it was for my boy.


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