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First Look: Osmo

Osmo combines physical devices with a set of apps for your iPad. The iPad sits in a plastic stand, and a mirror slips over the camera. This extends the tablet beyond the screen on to the surface in front of the screen – this becomes “the workspace”. The workspace allows Osmo apps to combine virtual and physical hands-on play.

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While it’s primarily aimed at children aged between five to 13 years old– mine are seven and nine – as an educational tool, in my family the adults play with it too.

In Masterpiece, you copy an image displayed on the screen on to paper in the workspace. Watching your hand and pen on the screen, instead of directly, is a little odd but it becomes easier with practice – my efforts still look a little shaky, but my daughter has it mastered. The app transforms any image into lines to follow, even photos. Drawing some of the pre-loaded images is fun for a while, but it really gets going when you draw from photos. My shaky family portraits are real masterpieces!

Words plays like “hangman”, where a word is represented by spaces and the player gets to guess a letter at a time, with several wrong guesses allowed. Players guess by throwing letter tiles on to the workspace. The game can be turn-based or as a race, with two players using different coloured tiles. A photo on the screen gives a clue to the word, which becomes more obscure as levels progress. The competitive element made it fun for the family, and it gets kids thinking about words and spelling without realising it.

Tangram is the classic shapes puzzle, where “pictures” are made from smaller shapes. You place the shapes in the workspace and Osmo tells you when they are correct. Like most of the Osmo games, Tangram encourages people to play together, working as a team to solve the puzzles, jumping in to rearrange the shapes.

Newton is my favourite. A ball falls from the top of the screen and disappears off the bottom, then a new ball appears and it repeats the pattern. The aim is hitting a flashing target by placing objects in the workspace that the ball bounces off. You can use anything as an object, the app converts them into outlines on the screen. As you progress, multiple targets, barriers, and areas of reversed gravity are added. It is fast, dynamic, and very addictive. There are countless ways to solve each level. My kids and I like using only our hands, working together to trap balls and guide them to the targets.

Numbers is the latest game to be released, included in the Genius kit. The aim is rescuing fish before the sea level rises too high. Bubbles fall from the top of the screen, Tetris-style, and build up into a pile– trapping the fish. Each bubble has a number on it and can be popped by placing the right combination of number tiles in the workspace – releasing the fish. The game starts with simple addition, but soon gets more difficult as tiles are used to create complex combinations of addition and multiplication. The interface between the app and the workspace is seamless – tiles are instantly recognised, and while placing tiles together creates a multiplication, leaving a gap becomes an addition. I liked how there is no single solution. The game involves maths, but there’s a big element of strategy to pop the right bubbles to rescue fish before time runs out. It’s great for kids learning maths, and is a challenge for adults too.

$180 (including shipping) for the Genius kit might seem steep for five apps, two pieces of plastic and a few game tiles. But Osmo transforms the iPad from a solitary activity focused on a screen into a reason to gather a few friends or family together and be social. While playing with Osmo is a lot of fun, I really liked that it’s education by stealth.

Prices

$119.95 Starter Kit (base, plus words and tangram tiles)
$169.95 Genius Kit (base, plus words, tangram and numbers tiles)
– plus $10 shipping to New Zealand
Works with all iPads
playosmo.com

First Looks are trials of new or interesting products from the perspective of our product experts. Our lab-based tests offer truly objective product comparisons.

By Paul Smith.

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