A good idea for a robotic children’s companion that requires improved software and content to achieve the promise of its electro-mechanical components. The $89 annual Miko Max content subscription turns Miko’s body into a stand and its head into a tablet, but that content is good, even if it feels disconnected from the core Miko 3 experience. At this point, I would love to see Miko bundled with the Max subscription to make the $249 entry price more palatable until Miko’s own content can match the sophistication of that found in the subscription.
Miko 3 Review
I wear my analyst hat forward for this review of Miko 3. My granddaughter loves Miko. She, however, seems to love her Amazon Kindle more, and there is a reason for that. Let me also say she received Miko at age three, not five, which is lower than the recommended age. However, she understood Miko at three immediately and pointed to its negative quirks with no problem. One of the most important being Miko’s slow response to verbal questions: “Miko is thinking,” my granddaughter says, while simulated ears appear to listen, as she waits too long for an answer after asking Miko a question, compared to her current “Alexa” experience.
I am impressed by Miko’s design attempt, but I am disappointed by its laggy voice recognition performance and the basic and unfamiliar content that comes in the standard content load. My granddaughter was unfamiliar with most of the songs and stories and kept trying to search for something she could connect with. The standard connect was also not engaging, with the color song, for instance, displaying no colors beyond yellow, pink, black, and white. Creating great learning content takes time. Miko’s engineering team needs to spend more time with software in the long run than with hardware—or outsource content completely.
Set Up Miko Before Showing it To a Child
I’m adding a special category of comment to the Miko 3 review because parents and others need to be prepared for a Miko experience should they purchase one.
First, parents should only open the box. Don’t show Miko to your child until it is ready to go. Perform the setup well in advance of giving Miko to a child. Miko requires charging, account setup and likely an update to the device, which can take some time. Do not put your child through this any more than you would have them watch you build a bicycle the night before Christmas.
I made the mistake of showing my granddaughter Miko. She had the expectation that it would immediately start working. She stared at Miko for about 45 minutes, waiting for it to update and restart, let alone build up enough charge to interact with her. Asking several times, “Is Miko ready yet?”
This is one of the problems with electronic toys, of course. That they don’t work right out of the box. Miko took longer than most to become playable.
What we like
- Right-sized for children
- Basic features are generally entertaining
- Subscription content brings familiarity
- Built-in video conferencing
The $249.00, 6.3″ L X 5.5″ W X 8.67″H robot is kid sized. It doesn’t have sharp corners, and only the most aggressive children with large hands will figure out that Miko is shaped roughly like a fat hammer.
The 4.5-inch multi-touch screen displays 16:9 content with a 1280×720 dpi resolution. Miko only delivers content in landscape mode. Essentially, Miko is a tablet atop a robotic body, which is a saving grace as much of the content doesn’t benefit from Miko’s mobility.
The built-in content is OK and offers a wide range of games, stories, and other activities. But as noted above, it doesn’t compare to more professionally developed content and certainly doesn’t draw upon the content that most children are familiar with, like Disney stories or DaVinci kids, which require the Miki Max subscription.
Miko Connect is an interesting feature, bringing video conferencing to the robot. But I’m not sure how that feature competes with mom or dad handing a phone off to a child.
As you can tell, it’s hard to be excited when you’re disappointed.
What could be improved
- AI appears pretty weak in light of the latest developments in AI
- Knowledge-based answers feel like summaries from Wikipedia and are too sophisticated for most children.
- Longer than expected set-up time
- The basic content is basic
- Sensor don’t understand how to orient to the owner
- Only OK battery life. Poor standby time and slow charging
- Content seems aimed more at ages 3-7 rather than 5-12
- Requires WiFi
- Lack of cohesion between app experiences
- Marketing is misleading
With 2023 touted as the year of AI, Miko looks primitive compared to ChatGPT, Microsoft’s Bing implementation of ChatGPT 4, and Google’s Bard. I know kids’ versions of those systems don’t yet exist, but Miko feels like a previous technology that will need to be replaced, not updated.
As noted in the set-up instructions, Miko can take considerable time to set up. I’m not begrudging technology that needs to be updated, connected and set up with a profile, but unlike the Educational Insights’ Pyxel dog, this is a consumer device for play, not an educational device with programming as its primary purpose.
My granddaughter’s “Miko’s Thinking” comment comes from her already deep experience with Google and Amazon personal assistants. She knows how to use both to play music, turn on lights, and play games. Both of those systems are much more responsive than Miko.
Unfortunately, while extensive, the basic content proves unfamiliar to adults and children. It’s just hard to connect with Miko. Add in the $49 for three months, or $89 for a year, for a Miko Max subscription, and the experience gets much more engaging, but that content leaves the 3 core Miko functions, literally, on the table.
I know the current tech “go to” is the subscription, but this is one instance where the subscription should be bundled to offer a better value proposition. Without it, Miko simply isn’t as good.
I could do without the gamification. It would be nice if gamification was just an option. Some older children may enjoy collecting “Gems,” but for the younger set, it is a distraction from their screen time—and it should be a parent’s choice how early to introduce that kind of gameplay.
One of the more frustrating “features” is the position sensor. I thought that Miko, at minimum, would be able to find my granddaughter after dancing with her. It usually ended a dance facing away from her, which forced a turn or retrieval.
Battery life runs 5 hours, according to the documentation. We have never run Miko for that amount of time. The reported standby of 12 hours, however, seems overstated, as a Miko sleeping overnight usually displays a dead battery warning the next morning.
As for WiFi, of course, every gadget requires WiFi, so that Miko doesn’t run disconnected is expected, but it would be nice if it could deliver content or Talents stored in its 32GB memory (or more if augmented with an SD card) without a connection. Some seem to be available, but finding those and explaining to a child what works and doesn’t because of WiFi connection issues should not be a conversation to hold about a toy.
Although Miko is cute, I wanted it to be smarter and faster than it turned out to be. And I don’t mean that in my context as an adult, but in the context of my three-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter, who doesn’t find it as compelling as its promotional video. Although she gets Amazon’s Alexa, Miko suffers from the same problem as Alexa when it comes to apps. The confusing and hard-to-remember “Skills” subsystems on Alexa are confusing and hard-to-remember “Talents” on Miko.
No one masters the verbal cues for these systems without significant study. I know a few commands for a few apps on Alexa. I mostly use it for informing me about the weather, checking scores, checking on Amazon orders, and turning lights on and off. In the same way, my granddaughter and I struggle to find the right way to trigger some interesting behavior in Miko. The failure to engage deeply keeps some of the more promising features, like personalization, seemingly out of reach because she doesn’t spend enough time with Miko to explore beyond its more cursory features.
Perhaps more important is the lack of cohesion between the app environments, which is also similar to the Google and Amazon Alexa environments. Children cannot command Miko verbally, for instance, to read a premium story or even a class of story, as in, “Hello Miko, Read me a Frozen story.” Inside the Disney app, fingers work, not verbal commands. Saying “Hello Miko” takes the reader out of the experience and then plops them back into it if it hears the prompt, which it doesn’t always do from the Miko Max apps.
Finally, the marketing shows Miko 3 as a much more interactive and self-reliant companion than it proved to be in practice. While my granddaughter does love her Miko, she usually uses it at the kitchen table to consult Miko Max content in “tablet on a stand mode,” watching videos or listening to Disney stories or watching science videos, and not using any of the robot’s more sophisticated features.
So, is this the droid you’re looking for? Maybe, if you keep your expectations in line, but for $250 plus another $100 for content subscription, it’s a pricy investment to end in disappointment.
I would also love to see Miko’s mouth move when it talks.
Miko 3 Review: The bottom line
I really wanted to like Miko 3. It’s cute, and it looks like it should be fun, but like some enterprise software experiences, it is under-engineered and overengineered at the same time. The basic content isn’t intriguing. The video conferencing feature is probably overkill. The setup experience makes meeting Miko more like obtaining a puppy from a shelter, requiring some time before you actually get to play.
Although Miko 3 is intended to be an interactive and mobile robot, it becomes more of a tablet on a stand serving subscription content. The subscription content doesn’t use many Miko core features, so it can safely sit on a table and play videos or read stories. Don’t get me wrong. My granddaughter loves sitting in front of Miko to have the robot, or well, not Miko but a narrator, read her a story or show her some science experiments. That same content would be just as well received as similar content on her Amazon tablet.
When asked about its favorite color, Miko 3 refers to its own color without stating it (Miko says, “I think mine’s pretty cute.”). I would much prefer that my unit say, “pixie blue.” That one interaction summarizes much of the Miko 3 experience. And yes, Miko will dance when asked, but only to tunes that aren’t in my granddaughter’s usual repertoire. The add-on subscription content appears as a completely different user experience.
I don’t like to write negative reviews, but I also expect products to live up to their promises. Miko demonstrates what is possible, but it needs to mature more before it can become a more effective companion than an Amazon Kindle tablet or an Apple iPad.
Miko provided the Miko 3 for review. Images courtesy of Miko unless otherwise noted.
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