Rather than being just another kids app, Osmo is best described as a technology system that bridges the physical and digital worlds by taking gameplay beyond the screen.
But with such an unusual name, and concept, you may be scratching your head as to what it does and whether it's any good? We've been playing with the Osmo Starter Kit to find out.
What is Osmo?
Osmo is part toy, part education device; it's essentially a combination of physical pieces in a box accompanied by a number of specific iOS apps (there's no Android or other platforms available yet, so this is for Apple only).
The core element to the system is an iPad stand and a mirror. The mirror slots over the iPad's front-facing camera so the accompanying apps can see what’s on a surface directly in front of the screen. The stand is simple enough, fits all variations of the iPad (aside from the yet-to-be-released iPad Pro) and although made of plastic, is sturdy enough to do its job.
What is the Osmo Starter Kit?
In the Starter Kit you get the stand, and two game sets: tiles for the game Tangram, and a number of letter pieces to play Words.
There are two further apps included: Masterpiece and Newton, but these don't require physical pieces other than paper, a pen, or objects you can find around your house to use.
Beyond the Starter Kit is a further game, Numbers, which is available as an additional set for £25.
Osmo review: Tangram
The more puzzle-focused of the four apps in the Starter Kit, you get seven coloured wooden pieces that you need to arrange to match the designs on the screen. Laying the pieces in the playing area (as seen by the iPad's front-facing camera) in the right place gets you a tick and once you complete the design by placing all the pieces in the right order you move on to the next puzzle.
If that sound easy, it's because it is. Well, it is at first - but as you progress through the different designs the on-screen diagram starts to lose elements to make it harder. Ages from young through to old have enjoyed the simplicity of it when we've shown them.
We particularly like the visual and audio feedback you get in the game, letting you know you are on the right track as if you've got a friend with the answer nodding you on with approval.
Osmo review: Words
The second game with physical parts, Words revolves around a more advanced version of children's classic Hangman. Following a visual clue you've got to then guess the hidden word by placing letters in front of the iPad, which is registers as you do so.
There are three games within the Words app: I Spy lets you guess words; Junior is for learning words; and Custom lets you play from specific topics like colours or US States. You can download more word sets as you go along including French packs to test your foreign speaking skills.
There are four varying difficulty levels within each game to challenge even the most ardent wordsmith and you can opt to either play on your own or against a friend.
It's nothing a more traditional app without physical pieces can't do, but the physicality of having to search for the letter to place it in front of the iPad really brings things to life. Our kids loved hunting for the individual letters.
Osmo review: Newton
Rather than give you specific pieces to use, the concept behind Newton is that you have to guide balls that are falling from the top of the screen either into a goal (or through a fan, or other elements as the levels progress). How you guide is up to you: you can draw a line on a piece of paper, grab a book, or even use your hand.
Newton is a fun marriage between the virtual and the physical and challenges you, or your kids if they can get you off it, to think beyond the number of set tools a standalone app might offer.
While drawing lines on paper might seem like the easy approach, we found it much more fun to use other objects lying around the house - from pens and rulers, to coffee cups and even a glass of wine.
Osmo review: Masterpiece
While the above three Osmo apps focus on solving puzzles, Masterpiece focuses on allowing you to draw images by tracing them from line drawings you see on the screen.
The setup works much like a lightbox, but rather than the image coming from underneath, it uses a clever bit of trickery to let you see the image in front of you - despite you drawing with a standard pen or pencil onto a piece of regular paper.
As you draw the Masterpiece app uses the iPad's camera to record and then lets you send a final time-lapse of your work to others at the end. So now grandma, say, can not only see the picture you've drawn, but how you've drawn it.
The app gets you going with a number of templates covering everything from animals to fruit, with varying levels of difficulty, but also allows you to import your own pictures which can be simplified to make them easier to draw. Regardless of age everyone in the family who has used Masterpiece for this review has had great fun with it.
Osmo comes with a centralised online control hub so you can upload your own pictures and words to create in the Words game, and see the creations you've made and saved with Masterpiece.
Parents can also see what devices are using the app and manage profiles of players - so different family members can progress at different speeds without ruining each other's games.
Osmo is a fantastic balance of educational and fun for iPad users; the included apps are really clever and we particularly love the drawing focus of Masterpiece.
We can see Osmo having huge potential to grow over time with more games and apps to push the imagination of what's possible. That does come with the potential added cost of additional game packs, though, and the £70 Starter Kit price isn't exactly budget.
Otherwise the only downside we've seen so far is trying to grab the iPad back off the kids to use the tablet for other things.
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