VTech, the toy company, has a perfectly delightful little toy called the Alphabet Activity Cube. One of its many features is that the child can choose and insert one of the supplied blocks into a well on the toy’s front, and be entertained with, “Good…you found a G,” or a song featuring that letter. Unfortunately, more then ten percent of the time the letter inserted isn’t the one the toy announces. Usually, it will be one higher or lower in the alphabet, but at times it’s way off and seems a random choice.
Producing a toy that is supposed to teach our children their letters, but which provides the wrong letter, is unconscionable.
I called VTech’s support line, and though the toy has been on the market for some time, the representative claimed that no one had reported the problem before. He suggested that it was a malfunction of that particular unit, not the product, and that I should exchange it for another of the same model. Yet, when I checked the local store, every one of that toy on the store’s shelf demonstrated the identical inability to recognize their letter blocks.
For forty years, computer and computer system design was my profession. On hearing the toy misread for the first time, my reaction was that there was a programming problem, probably improper initialization of a register, or poor handling of an interrupt. But whatever the cause, it was a design error, not a defective part in that unit. And that’s been demonstrated as true by its reproducibility in every toy tried. It gives me no pleasure to be right, in this case, because the little girl loves the toy.
Perhaps most people wouldn’t notice it, or put it down to mishearing the announcement, since the toy’s sound quality isn’t that high and a second insertion of the block usually brings the correct response. But VTech should have easily found the problem during normal acceptance testing, so it appears that their quality assurance department needs to be better educated on testing methods—and the need to test for long enough, and hard enough to actually find the bugs.
I have to add that I’m not at all impressed with the company, in general. I discovered the problem on the weekend. Since their phone hours are active only during Monday through Friday business hours, I elected to use the email address supplied on their documentation. It didn’t work. I next tried the hyperlink they provide on their website. But that only demonstrated that, yes, the mail address isn’t active. Another thing they weren’t aware of, according to the phone rep.
Not exactly what you would expect from a reliable company. But further checking showed that VTech is just another Chinese company pushing crap out the door, working or not working, for a buck. It didn’t come as a surprise.
So the bottom line? Avoid this toy. And if you’re a parent expecting gifts from friends and relatives for your little one, make sure they know. Our kids are far too precious to let someone take advantage of them this way.
A VTech Christmas Present Warning