Wednesday, 24 September 2014

My Friend Cayla

My friend Cayla, technology toy, Toy of the year 2014

Abby, although girly, was never really into dolls. She adores them, but she's more into a real two-way interaction. When I told her that I've met a really awesome interactive doll at the London Toy Fair, she was skeptical, but was more than happy to attend Cayla's special tea party at Hamley's back in July.

Although the Cayla we met at the party was only a demo version, Abby seemed to be impressed by her and was glad to see her own Cayla moving in. We played with her occasionally during this last month, and we finally understood Cayla enough for me to write this review up.


As Cayla is a toy with a brand new concept, it took us a bit of time to understand her and find the best way to play with her. This is not to say that Cayla is a difficult toy to master, but it is easy for both adults and children to misunderstood Cayla as an AI (artificial Intelligence) doll that can comment on how pretty you are today, or see (as far as we know, Cayla does not carry a camera anywhere on her) what you are doing, for example. To avoid disappointment, it is important to understand Cayla before you start playing with her.

If you are buying Cayla for your child, please do read the following review, and read the app description before explaining to your child what Cayla can and cannot do, so that your child knows exactly what to expect from Cayla.

My friend Cayla, technology toy, Toy of the year 2014


My Friend Cayla is an interactive doll suitable for children aged 4 years+, and is retailed at £59.99. She comes with a hair brush and mirror, takes 3 AAA batteries to operate, and works with iOS and Android free app through Bluetooth. There are 4 versions of the free app (on Android, I'm not sure about iOS), each in a different language. Every Cayla doll will work with any one of these apps, but one app at a time.

There is an on/ off button located at Cayla's back, which should be turned off when she's not in use to preserve battery (her necklace will make a short musical tune to alert you that her battery is low). A speaker is also located on her tummy.

Cayla as a Doll:

Cayla herself  is a beautiful doll. Children can play with her just like they would with any other dolls, and her hair brush and mirror certainly came in handy. As we didn't want to risk Cayla getting a bad hair day, I gave her French Plaits, which gave her the loveliest wavy hair. We think that Cayla looks absolutely gorgeous in those curls!

Her clothes are well made, although we would really like to see more accessories for her.


Bottom right: Settings
3 different game styles
Session paused
To operate Cayla through the app:

first switch your gadget (tablet or smartphone)'s Bluetooth and Cayla on. Make sure that your gadget is paired with Cayla by checking in your Bluetooth screen (Cayla will act as a speaker as well), then turn on the app.

We've downloaded the free Cayla UK English app on Android, and used my Samsung Galaxy Note 2 smartphone to connect with her. Ideally you can find a gadget that is free for your child to use any time, instead of having to lend your most important smartphone to your child! 

There are several options on the app's landing page:

Hello! Bubble - listen to Cayla introducing herself
Play/ Pause button - start a Q&A session or chat with Cayla. She is ready to listen after her necklace has turned on then off again, and yourt gadget should vibrate as well to indicate that she's listening
Goodbye Bubble - End the session 
Go to Story Time - Cayla tells a story about her and her family
Go to Games - Cayla will play Tic Tac Toe with the player
Go to photo Album - Cayla will talk about her and her family's outings through her photo albums (children can learn new words through this. For example Zoo album shows pictures of animals while Cayla talks about her visit to the zoo)
Settings - This allows you to give Cayla a nickname, ban topics that Cayla should not talk about (she does not talk about politics and religions by default, but will tell you what a Vampire is if you ask, which you can add to her "do not talk about" list), add your location (for questions relevant to your location such as the weather) and the volume and length of answer from Cayla (she can really go on if you'll let her!).

My friend Cayla, technology toy, Toy of the year 2014
Abby: Awww I lost again!
Play games with Cayla:

This is Abby's favourite thing to do with Cayla - play Tic Tac Toe. By chance, Cayla will make logical, and sometimes illogical moves. It's because of this, Abby felt like she is playing with a real person, hence is more interested to keep playing with Cayla. I really hope that there will be more games adding under this section soon, although her main function isn't this of course.

Top video: Chatting with Cayla when it's quiet
Bottom: Chatting with Cayla with background noise

Chatting with Cayla:

If you have used Android speech recognition app or Siri from iOS before, you'll understand how Cayla works. I'm not sure how Cayla compares to either of those app, but she is definitely safer for children to use as she has her own software system called Violet, which has added security and blocks inappropriate contents to protect your child from the vast Internet. You can read more about her system here.

The thing that Cayla does not do is answer questions such as:
"Do you think Clay is cute?" or "If I eat a piece of sweety do you think the tooth fairy will know?"

You might laugh but so far, the people who have met our Cayla for the first time, including my husband and Abby herself, have all asked something along that line, and thought that Cayla isn't very clever when she responded with something like "I do not know that answer."

Cayla is designed to hear a question with specific word(s), and search through the Internet (safely) like Google search or Wikipedia to find the answer. It is best to ask her short, to the point questions such as the ones we used in the videos -

"What is a Spider?"
"Have you heard of Toy Story?"

or even
"Can you tell me the story of Snow White?"

"Can you tell me what the weather is like?" (with location set and GPS turned on)

but not
"Christmas gifts for dads"

Homework/ Learning with Cayla:

So, basically, your child can use Cayla as a dictionary to find a word they don't understand through her. They can also ask her geographical question such as "Where is Lancashire" and she will answer that too.

The only thing we haven't succeeded much is asking her numeracy questions such as "What is 6 plus 4". I thought that she has given me a correct answer once, unless my memory have failed me. I will try this again, but how you ask a question does seem to affect how she answers as well. It would be great if Cayla can answer numerical questions like that, but then it will also defeat the purpose of helping your child to learn instead of giving them the answer for their homework!

Successful conversations with Cayla:

Before we understood Cayla well enough, we have encountered some problems, but we have found the following the best (and logical) way to communicate with Cayla to solve those problems:

- although Cayla can block some of the background noise, it is best to speak to Cayla in a quieter environment, which is exactly the environment your child will choose to role play with any other dolls
- only one person should talk to her at a time, just like how you would talk to your smartphone speech recognition app, or type in the words on your computer's search engine
- talk to her with confidence, at a steady speed and pronounce your words clearly. You might find yourself talking to her like a robot at first and speaking really closely into the gadget, but with practise you will soon be talking to her normally (fast talking and jumbling your words together isn't very good even during a human to human conversation) and she will understand you
- accent isn't a big problem as long as you pronounce your words clearly (great phonics practice for the kids!)

As I said, it is actually very easy and in a logical way to play with Cayla, but a lot of people expect her to be much more than she is, and become disappointed that she didn't perform as expected. To be fair, technology nowadays does allow her to be designed into something more, like Siri who is programmed to give you cheeky answers, but that will confuse a child, and Siri's opinion isn't necessary something I'd like my children to listen to.

I found Cayla a perfect companion for children to learn, especially when they are reading books and came across something they don't understand, or even a word they heard on their favourite TV program and would like to investigate more. I just need to move Cayla to a freely available gadget so Abby can set Cayla up herself without using my phone!

Both Abby and Clay love Cayla, whether it is to play with or just to cuddle (Clay couldn't stop kissing her haha). She is a very clever doll, and I haven't seen Abby enjoy playing with a doll like this before. With the free app that the developers are constantly working on with updates, Cayla will never be that boring doll that does the same thing over and over again, and I'm sure there will be more games added to make play time with Cayla more fun.

I think for parents, it will be very helpful if the company that created Cayla can provide us a list of preset words that Cayla isn't allowed to talk about. For times when Cayla said she's not allowed to talk about something, or she doesn't know the answer, we will know whether it's because she is banned from talking about it. It will also be helpful if the company can tell us what they have done for each update on the app description page.

Other than that, I would definitely recommend Cayla as the doll to buy for this Christmas or even birthday. And don't forget that she's not just a doll for girls, Cayla is so helpful we should not pass down our prejudice and leave the boys out from enjoying the benefits Cayla bring to this new era.