V.Smile

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V.Smile
V-Smile Top.JPG
A first generation V-Smile system from the Scooby Doo bundle.
Manufacturer VTech
Product family V.Smile
Type Video game console
Generation Sixth generation era
Media ROM cartridge
Storage Flash memory on ROM cartridge
Controller input Up to 2 V-Smile controllers, optional keyboard/mouse, graphics tablet, and dance pad available

The V.Smile is an educational game system by VTech. It is designed for children ages 3 to 6, but offers software designed for several age groups between 3-9. Titles are available on ROM cartridges called "Smartridges", to play off the system's educational nature. The graphics are primarily sprite-based. The console is often sold bundled with a particular game. Several variants of the V.Smile console are sold including handheld versions, or models with added functionality such as touch tablet integrated controllers or microphones. The V-Motion is a major variant with its own software lineup that includes motion sensitive controllers and has Smartriges designed to take advantage of motion-related "active learning". The V-Motion and Smartriges however are fully backwards compatible with other V.Smile variants and V.Smile Smartridges, and a V-Motion Smartrige can even be played on V.Smile console or handheld, albeit with limited functionality.

Several versions of V.Smile and V-Motion consoles and handhelds have continued to be sold after newer models are introduced, allowing consumers a wide variety of consoles to choose from (often offered in pink color schemes for girls, as well) without worrying about a lack of backwards compatibility between games or consoles. Some key differentiators between systems and the ability to fully utilize all game functions include the options of a microphone, touch tablet, additional joystick port (for 2-player gameplay), stylus-enhanced controller, or motion sensitive game pad (With V-Motion).

V.Smile New Pocket (Pink) with Dora Bundle in box and Red Riding Hood Smartridge

The Console[edit]

A V.Smile generally has an on and an off button on the console itself and two joystick ports, and a compartment for keeping the cartridges in addition to the cartridge slot. Originally only available in Orange/Purple and bundled with a Winnie the Pooh game, a pink/purple colored console was shipped later, targeting girls and bundled with a Cinderella game. Much later, a Red/Blue and Red/Silver model was introduced and bundled with a Scooby Doo game.

The buttons on the game system and controllers are large to accommodate small children's less developed manual dexterity. The default controller consists of an analog stick, four colored buttons, a large enter button, a button (dubbed the "Learning Zone" button) that immediately takes the player to a minigame section of the software, an Exit button (that either brings up an option to end the game or to keep playing, or to exit out of any menu that the player is in) and a Help button (which repeats the spoken instructions or hint provided by the game to the player).

A second generation V.Smile console was launched in 2007. The console is now bundled with a microphone, and a redesigned controller was shipped, which now comes with a graphics tablet built in. However, the design of the console is still the same as the first generation console apart from the presence of a microphone holder. The internals of the system also appears to be based upon the design of the first generation console, as software meant for the first generation console is playable on the second generation console, and vice-versa, although software that takes advantage of the microphone feature will disable the sections of the software that requires the use of the microphone if played on the first generation console.

In 2008 a limited edition translucent V.Smile TV Learning System console was released including two joysticks, and the Alphabet Park Adventure game cartridge.

The Games[edit]

The majority of educational game Smartridges offered for the V.Smile involve licensed characters popular with children in the target age group of 3 to 7 such as Scooby-Doo, Bob the Builder, The Little Mermaid, Go Diego Go!, and The Wiggles. CG Animated characters from movies also find their way to the V.Smile, including Kung-Fu Panda, Ratatouille, Finding Nemo and Cars. Vtech also offers less commercial or traditional characters in games such as Soccer, Little Red Riding Hood, and Whiz Kid Wheels.

Smartriges are labeled for the intended age of players. Two major categories are Junior Thinkers (Ages 4–6) and Master Minds (Ages 6–8). There are also Beginner's games with age ranges of 3-5, and Advanced games for ages 6–9, such as SpongeBob SquarePants: A Day in The Life of a Sponge. The educational content and difficulty of gameplay is age appropriate. For example, in Dora's Fix-it Adventure (Ages 4–6), the Dora character will not fall from the edge of a platform if the child makes a mistake when moving her. Instead she will get up on her tip-toes and appear unbalanced. For children in the older age range, Cinderella and Batman games offer more challenging educational and action-based gameplay.

Some titles may include the text "New and Improved Version" on the covers. These are updated versions of existing game titles that now include microphone and/or touch tablet enhanced gameplay, such as Sing Along through use of the microphone feature that was added to second generation V.Smile consoles and the New V.Smile Pocket.

V.Smile Pocket and V.Smile Cyber Pocket[edit]

The V.Smile Pocket is a handheld version of the V.Smile console. It features a built-in Passive matrix-based color LCD display and a monaural speaker, but is otherwise similar to the desktop console counterpart. However there is no connector for an additional joystick, and thus many games that support two player mode will disallow access selection of the said mode. Also, the device is not compatible with games that uses any of the other accessories due to the lack of an additional joystick port. It was originally introduced in Orange/Purple, but a Pink/Purple model was introduced later in line with the color schemes available for the desktop console. However, at the moment there is no Red/Silver or Red/Blue V.Smile Pocket.

A second-generation V.Smile Pocket was introduced in 2007, in which a microphone is added to the device. Apart from the new feature, added support for games that use the microphone, and a repositioning of the speaker from the lower right to the upper left, it retained the general looks of the first generation V.Smile Pocket. Still, if compared side-by-side, a slight difference in the bulkiness of the lower half of the unit can be seen, with the New V.Smile Pocket being a bit slimmer and narrower towards the bottom. The game system may seem oversized when compared such devices as the Nintendo Game Boy Advance or Nintendo DS, but a consideration must be made for the fact that the V.Smile Pocket uses full size Smartriges from the console, and is generally offered at lower prices in most markets.

A third generation V.Smile Pocket was introduced in 2008. Called the V.Smile Cyber Pocket, the console was redesigned with a smaller flip-open screen (still Passive matrix-based) and an integrated graphics tablet, while retaining the microphone introduced in the second generation V.Smile Pocket. Also, a proprietary port was added to the console, which a flash drive like device with a matching proprietary connector on one end and a USB connector on another, could plug into the Cyber Pocket. This device is used to transfer the data of games that support such function to a PC, which would in turn upload the data to a website. The data could then be used to chart the player's progress as well as be used to unlock bonus games on the said website.

During 2008's Black Friday sales, limited supplies of New V.Smile Pocket units were sold at U.S. Walmart stores for the surprisingly low, reduced price of $25 USD. This was roughly half of the cost of a single XBox 360 Game Disc at that time, and nearly one-tenth the cost of a PlayStation Portable game system bundle.

PC Pal[edit]

The PC Pal is a variant of the basic V.Smile console with an integrated accessory, a more colorful and functional version of the Smart Keyboard accessory with built in joystick and tablet controls. Unlike a regular V.Smile system, the V.Smile PC Pal has a port for the V-Link accessory. It comes bundled with a Smartrige of games for the keyboard that teach typing and other basic keyboard skills. The main unit looks like a standard V.Smile system with the name "PC Pal" printed on it. It plays all of the Smartriges, but since the joystick controls are built into the keyboard the setup is more easily used on a desktop surface with a small TV serving as a monitor, similar to a Personal Computer. For someone who already owns a V.Smile, the Smart Keyboard accessory and a touch tablet enhanced joystick will provide a similar experience. Since the keyboard can be disconnected and a standard joystick or other V.Smile accessory used, the PC Pal can easily convert into duty as a normal V.Smile system when needed.

V-Motion[edit]

A newer variant of the V.Smile is the V-Motion Active Learning System, introduced as a sort of low-cost, educational alternative from VTech to the popular Wii with its built-in controller accelerometers that detect movement. The V-Motion system is not as advanced, but includes a Wireless, motion activated joystick that is righty/lefty adaptable. The controller can be tilted in a direction to achieve a result on the screen, rather than using the traditional joystick directional control. Dodging things or moving left and right with the controller can inspire the player to physically engage in games. It won the National Parenting Center's Seal of Approval for 2008, and the Creative Child 2008 Seal of Excellence.

Accessories[edit]

  • The V Smile TV Learning System Plus Joystick includes a built in writing pad and stylus. The joystick with writing pad works on both the original V.Smile and the New V.Smile TV Learning System, and can be used to take advantage of newer Smartriges that use the writing pad functionality in games.
  • The V Smile Smart Keyboard is a PC-like keyboard that can be connected to a V.Smile System console. It includes several activities and lessons that teach typing, letters, spelling, and logic.
  • The V Smile Smartbook includes the "Smartbook" - an interface with a stylus that holds activity books and works together with Smartridges (an idea pioneered by Sega with their Sega Pico and Japan-only Advanced Pico Beena educational gaming systems). The activity book plays along with the smartridge and the Smartbook knows which page is being used while the touch sensitive stylus directs the play. The Smartbook may come bundled with a Scooby Doo Activity Book + Smartridge. Additional Activity Book and Smartridge combos such as "Dora got a Puppy" or "Toy Story 2" are also available to use with the SmartBook device.
  • The V Smile Art Studio is a large touch pad and stylus device that allows for "paintings" to appear on screen. Interactive stamps, color palette, picture drawing, color mixing, animation maker, coloring-in pictures are some of the features of the Art Studio. It comes with an Art Studio specific Smartridge.
  • The V.Smile V-Link is an accessory that works only with the Cyber Pocket, PC Pal, V-Motion systems, and a few of the newer Vsmiles. It allows the user to track their progress by keeping the accessory plugged into the Game Console where it automatically tracks a child's progress and scores. By plugging the V.Link into a PC’s USB port and it is designed to auto connect to a secure website where the child can see how they rank against all V.Smile players also using V-Link. As children play more of their Smartridges and master more skills, they are rewarded with on-line bonus games that are "unlocked" by their progress.
  • The V Smile Jammin Gym Class is similar to dance pads made popular by Dance Dance Revolution. It is called a "soft exercise mat for interactive play, dance and exercise" by VTech. It includes 10 different active learning activities and connects directly to either the V.Smile TV Learning System or the V.Smile V-Motion with the Jammin' Gym Class cartridge. Helps teach letters, numbers, colors, spelling, and health concepts.

Note: Aside from the V-Link, these accessories are intended for the TV-connected consoles, not handheld versions of the V.Smile.

Competition and comparisons[edit]

The V.Smile Pocket's direct competition is the handheld Leapster by Leapfrog. The Leapster TV Learning System is the less high profile but available counterpart to the multiple V.Smile and V-Motion consoles that are direct connect to TV. The Leapster L-Max is comparable to the V.Smile Cyber Pocket and is stylus-enhanced. Vtech has the advantage in number and diversity of available accessories such as SmartBooks and Art Studio, whereas Leapfrog's Leapster accessories are generally focused on portability options such as batteries and cases. The V.Smile family in general is more focused on TV connectability, while the Leapster family is more focused on the handheld, portable systems, but both V.Tech and Leapster have moved to compete with one another on both fronts. Leapster systems and games tend to be slightly more expensive than V.Smile games. The Leapster does have an age range for some games that reaches up to age 11, which is territory more for the V-Flash than the V.Smile. Noteworthy is that both Leapfrog and V.Tech continue to sell previous generation handhelds at a reduced price compared to the Leapster 2 and New V.Smile Pocket.

The V.Smile PC Pal variant console and Smart Keyboard accessory faces direct competition with Leapfrog's ClickStart educational computer offering, and indirect competition with various toy educational laptops and even low cost desktop PCs with children software and child-friendly accessories installed. While the V.Smile smartbook console may face competition from the Sega Pico due to the similarity of the concepts, the Sega Pico has not been available outside Japan for a long time.

Rough comparisons in technological capability with the V.Smile consoles in terms of graphics and sound can be made to Nintendo's SNES console or Game Boy Advance systems, thus generally the console is technologically comparable to most Fourth or Fifth Generation consoles despite being released in the era of seventh generation consoles. The V.Smile systems in general are offered for a fraction of the price of those consoles when they were new, and the V.Smile systems were designed specifically for children with a focus on education.

Durability and quality of plastics and other components of the V.Smile systems is in-line with expectations given the low cost of the devices. Replacement game system hardware can often be bought for less than the cost of a single game on dedicated current generation console game systems from Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo on the market.

V.Smile Baby Infant Development System[edit]

An unrelated and separate spin-off system called the V.Smile Baby Infant Development System was released shortly after the original V.Smile was introduced to the market. The games and cartridges of a V.Smile Baby are not compatible with a V.Smile and vice-versa. This is an important distinction since so many of the other consoles named "V.Smile" are intercompatible. The control system for the Infant Development System is significantly different from those used in the V.Smile that is targeted at older children: it does not have the features of a typical game controller, instead the design is more like that of a playboard. The controls consist of a mode slider, two switches (one for power and the other toggles the board between standalone play mode and console control mode), 7 buttons (5 shape buttons, a "fun" button, a small Exit button), and a roller ball hooked up to a sensor. The controller itself has a speaker which comes into play during standalone mode (in which it functions as a playboard that play music, speech and sound when interacted with). The controller communicates with the console by means of infra-red signaling. The console itself is rather unique in design, having only an on-off switch and permanently attached cables carrying composite video signal and monaural audio through two RCA connectors. It runs off four AA batteries or a 6V DC power supply (sold separately). The console has a cartridge slot as well as indents to hold four additional cartridges for storage. Also, powering off the controller will also power off the console if the console is switched on at the time.

Region protection status[edit]

The V.Smile range of consoles are apparently not region-locked. While the console itself come in NTSC and PAL versions and the BIOS on the consoles appear to be region specific (distinguishable from the speech sample played in the screen after the V-Tech logo when the console is started with no cartridge inserted), games purchased from an NTSC region would play on PAL systems and games purchased in PAL territories will also play on NTSC systems. Observations suggest that both the V.Smile and V.Smile Infant Development System used different methods of booting- The V.Smile and V.Smile Pocket variants will apparently boot into their own BIOS, then obligingly run the software on the cartridge. The V.Smile Baby appears to boot from the default BIOS when a cartridge of the same region is inserted or when there's no cartridge in the system, but appears to boot from a different BIOS when a cartridge of a different region is inserted. Currently it is unknown if the extra BIOS resides on the cartridge or on the console itself.[1]

Criticisms[edit]

Research by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) show that Vtech's V.Smile Baby product, marketed for ages nine months to three years, does not meet the claims that it helps with early childhood development or education in anyway, stating that children ages 0 to 2 years do not understand what's going on on a TV screen. [2]

On October 17, 2011 AAP's Council on Communications and media released a report titled Media Use by Children Younger than 2 Years concluded that "the educational merit of media for children younger than two years remains unproven despite the fact that three-quarters of the top selling infant videos make explicit or implicit educational claims," and further found that media viewing by children under 2 years of age can have a negative effect on language development. [3]

Video game and technology critics are also quick to discount Vetch's line of products, including V.Smile (ages 3-6), V.Smile Baby (ages 0-3), V.Flash (ages 6+), V.Smile Pocket (ages 3-8), and V.Reader, citing the lack of professionally developed games, as Vtech consoles have no major third party video game publishers. [4]

Critics also state that the need for special electronics for children is artificial, as products like mainstream consoles, (Xbox, PlayStation, Wii), and tablets, (iPad, Android), and computers (PC, Mac) have a variety of educational and children's software. Further, such devices offer flexibility that allow children to grow with them, not out grow them.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Confirmed with a PAL V.Smile Pocket bought in Malaysia and a NTSC V.Smile Cyber Pocket brought in from the US using both an Australian PAL smartridge and a North American NTSC smartridge. Likewise, the V.Smile Baby was tested using a PAL console bought in Malaysia and a North American NTSC smartridge.
  2. ^ Keim, Brandon. "It’s Official: To Protect Baby’s Brain, Turn Off TV". Wired. Retrieved 26 December 2013. 
  3. ^ "Policy Statement: Media Use by Children Younger Than 2 Years". Council on Communications and Media. The American Academy of Pediatrics. Retrieved 26 December 2013. 
  4. ^ Vinciguerra, Robert. "The Top Ten Most Hilariously Bad Game Consoles of All Time". The Rev. Rob TImes. Retrieved 26 December 2013. 

External links[edit]