Of all the childhood toys to update for the early 21st century, the Furby seems like a no-brainer. After all, the hairy ball of amalgamated animal strangeness packed in electronics so baffled the general public that it managed to get itself banned from the Pentagon as a threat to national security. After the Furby was first decommissioned in 2000 (managing to sell an impressive 40 million units in its first three years), Hasbro attempted to revamp the line in 2005 with Emtro-Tronic Furbies, bigger versions of the toy that brought increased facial emotions and voice recognition, failing to recapture the success of the original line.
The latest addition to the line marks a much more significant update for our old furry pal, bringing him up-to-date for a generation growing up with smartphones and tablets, with revamped aesthetics, new innards and an appetite for Apple's iPad. We managed to get our hands on the squirming and verbose little Mogwai-esque creature -- four of them in fact -- for a bit, when Hasbro popped by our office with a furry blue army packed in a duffel bag. Check out some impressions of the reborn furball after the break.
It's immediately clear, right off the bat, that we're not dealing with your older sister's Furby here. Those big, white, glowing eyes get you immediately. In place of those familiar plastic spheres are two big LCDs that comprise roughly a third of Furby's body. The new eyes significantly contribute to Furby's range of emotions, allowing Hasbro to design different dot matrix pupils for different moods like anger and innocence. Graphics are in the mix as well, with images of things like rainbows and two-finger peace signs cycling through the mix. As with his predecessor, this Furby's got eyelids, though they play a fairly limited role, like opening up when it wakes up from sleep mode.
Beyond the eyes, Furby looks largely similar to earlier units, if "slightly larger," according to Hasbro's measurements. Our unit was covered in thick, neon blue fur. At launch, it will be available in six colors, that number jumping to 10 by the holidays. His tail, plush feet and moving pointed plastic ears are all a slightly lighter shade. In the middle of its forehead is a black marking -- it doesn't actually serve a particular function, instead serving as a "legacy" design, where the toy's IR sensors once lived. Just below his eyes is a yellow beak that opens and closes as it speaks. Inside is a red tongue. Pressing down on this starts Furby chewing as though it were being fed.
Furby's also got capacitive sensors in its head, stomach (also home to its internal mic), back and sides that react to touching such as tickling. A mechanical tilt switch lives inside of it, so Furby knows when you're jostling it around or holding it by the tail. These sort of interactions will alter Furby's character, sending it into a transformation with flashing eyes. We saw a slew of different moods between the four units Hasbro brought in, including an angry one with pointed pupils that sings Sabbath-like riffs and an extroverted Valley Girl-esque mood. Furby's mood is also affected by speech (be it from you or fellow Furbies). The more you speak, the more chatty it becomes -- speak enough and will begin incorporating more English words into its speech.
For those having trouble with the famous Furby language, there's an app for that. The free Furby iOS app (available this month) offers up a translator that will listen to its speech and spit out its English equivalent. The app also features a dictionary and meals for Furby, which are served up by flicking them in its general direction. Unlike, say, a Tamagotchi (or, you know, a real animal), Furby won't die if you don't feed it -- though it may get cranky. Furby also has no OFF switch, so the potential to drive parents nuts is fairly high. Leave it alone long enough, however, and it'll get tired, start snoring and eventually just fall asleep. You can rouse it back with a little bit of interaction.
Furby's certainly a fascination. All those who saw us playing with the creature were immediately transfixed, be it due to nostalgia for Furbies gone by, or fascination with this strange new creature. Interacting with the toy is pretty all encompassing off the bat, trying to get it to run the full cycle of mood swings -- we managed to turn it from angry to precocious in the space of a few minutes. And certainly the addition of smartphone / tablet interactivity helps. However, unless you're willing to spring for a couple to keep each other company and are under the age of, say, 10, you might want to learn the Furbish word for "bored." The new, tech-savvy Furby will run you $60 when it hits this fall.
I still have mine, old and one of the old 'new' ones, without the batteries naturally.