VTech.Call&ChatIn evaluating a tech toy made for very young users, it seems just as important to ask, “Is it compelling enough to keep the parents engaged?” After all, in modeling their behavior after their moms, dads, and other caretakers, little kids come to want the same tech items that they see grown-ups devoting significant face time with. So a potential problem lies in the would-be smart toy bearing a superficial resemblance to its grown-up counterpart, but with none of the depth. How is a kid supposed to accept their new smartphone or tablet facsimile as being worth their time, if their parents don’t want to spend even five minutes with it?

Luckily, in the case of the Call & Chat Learning Phone, from VTech, we have a toy with lots of built-in features, some of which are cool enough to even fascinate adults for a bit. Part of the company’s Preschool Learning line of interactive toys, it offers a variety of educational games and activities that teach the alphabet, counting, and more. Kids primarily utilize the phone’s keypad to choose among the games or to input answers. Overall, the activities are basic stuff: one of the alphabet games, for example, names a letter, and then presents users with two answers to choose from. The learning phone also teaches kids how to tell time, or lets them choose among different pictures before naming them. All of these activities are enhanced by clearly-spoken directions, as well as the monitor, which features a friendly, animated bird.

Regarding the aspects that might make a grown-up stop in their tracks and say, “Hey, that’s actually pretty interesting,” a couple of games call on users to interact with the phone. For example, in the “chat” mode, the aforementioned friendly bird will ask a series of questions. Its answers are predetermined; however, the phone is smart enough that when the prompt comes up for the user to speak, it will wait for you to say something. (I actually clammed up on purpose, but the phone turned out to be much more patient than I was.) There’s also a neat game in which users blow into the microphone in order to make the windmill on the monitor turn or to clear up a cloudy sky.

The Call & Chat Learning Phone is suitable for kids ages 2 to 5, right around the age in which a feature-less prop phone just won’t do the trick anymore. With VTech’s latest offering, they can successfully feed that urge to imitate the adults in their lives, while acquiring valuable information for their brains as well. The latter is more than I get out of my actual smartphone sometimes.