With StoryPhones and BuddyPhones, Onanoff Reimagines Kids Listening Experiences
Headphones typically play music from a source, be it a phone or a computer, or perhaps even a record player. The Onanoff BuddyPhones do just that via cable or Bluetooth®. But unlike most headphones, the BuddyPhones recognize an audience, in this case, children. Volume limits, comfortable fit, quality construction, and playful design already up the ante over other children’s headsets. The StoryPhones innovate beyond that, with disks of stories and music called Shields that create an entirely new listening experience, one that children control.
Although some early MP3 devices offered music on a headphone, that approach disappeared soon after Apple’s iPod arrived. But in some circumstances, content that doesn’t require a connection or another device for listening still makes sense. One of those use cases involves children listening to stories. Storyphones not only aim at a self-contained listening experience but also shift at least some learning and entertainment away from screens.
With the $99.99 StoryPhones, Onanoff launched a unique listening experience that combines story ID disks, which they call Shields, with headphones to allow children to not only listen to stories but to control the listening experience by turning the Shield to switch stories.
The one downside to a world of mixed media is the specific stories contained on the Shields may not be familiar to the child and, therefore, less engaging at the start. Many children want to repeat things they like and move on from those they don’t. My three-and-half-year-old granddaughter regularly says things like, “Again,” and “I want a different one,” meaning that she wants something familiar rather than something new.
Over time, the stories can become familiar, but they are original content. The Disney Frozen Shield, for instance, does not contain the songs or soundtrack the child already knows. I have seen disappointment in my granddaughter’s face on multiple toys that represent a beloved movie when she realizes that the toy isn’t going to play something she already knows.
One of the more intriguing features, which I was not able to test, involves recording Shields for children. Parents, grandparents, and others can read stories and have those played on a customized Shield in the same way the pre-load Shields work. Other audio content can also be uploaded and associated with the “PlayShield.” These personalized Shields can also be customized externally with images or drawings printed and placed on them.
StoryPhones also double as conventional headphones, delivering wired and wireless Bluetooth connections. An accompanying app provides for one-time setup, as the headphones require WiFi to download the stories from the associated Shield on first use. Beyond setup, the app also controls the decibel max, which Onanoff calls SafeAudio®, for the headphones. This volume-limiting feature is a fundamental Onanoff feature.
StoryPhones come in basic grey or white versions and more colorful blue and pink options with Disney co-branding. Rather than a Disney Shield, the basic version comes with ZenShield, full of relaxing sounds. It also includes a PlayShield for recording. I think all StoryPhones should include a PlayShield by default to get parents more actively involved in content creation.
Serious Insights reviewed the blue Disney version.
The $49.99 BuddyPhones are not only made for children; they are high-quality headphones made for children. The review unit, the Playu+ version, works in both wired and wireless modes. The headphones easily connect to PCs, Macs and tablets using standard audio jacks and Bluetooth 4.2.
There are several features that will literally go over most children’s heads, including multipoint connectivity. They also support dual connections, wired and wireless, which means they work even if the battery dies—as long as the device includes a standard audio jack.
My granddaughter tells me the headphones are comfortable. The PU earpads seem to fit well, with no irritation. Her parents reported that on a trip to Europe, she refused to share her headphones when their headsets gave out. “No, Dad, you can’t borrow my headphones!”
On the fun side, the headphones ship with multiple stickers to personalize them. And given the sticker area is kind of open, if Onanoff didn’t provide a sticker your child likes, they can place a sticker of their own in the same location—or change it as their tastes mature.
Given the latest in Bluetooth, I would like to see the chipset updated to Bluetooth 5.3. BuddyPhones do not offer Active Noise Cancelation (ANC), though I think that would be a good feature for kids that travel (and in a preschool playroom!).
StoryPhones and BuddyPhones: The bottom line
Onanoff’s children’s headphones change the game in terms of quality and features. The StoryPhones offer a unique listening experience that allows children to take some control over which stories they hear without the need for parental intervention. They can change Shields and switch stories with hard-to-miss physical targets for the Shields and simple gestures for changing stories.
If you have a child who likes to listen to stories, then the StoryPhones are probably for you. And if they like screen time or just music, well, the BuddyPhones will prove a durable companion for their watching and listening pleasure.
As for the sustainability rating, I would like to see Onanoff move away from plastic-forward retail packaging by adopting the likes of windowless boxes and paper-based hangers.
Onanoff provided the StoryPhones and BuddyPhones for review. Images courtesy of Onanoff unless otherwise noted.
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