When the EyeClops Bionic Eye was introduced last Christmas, it boasted a clever idea — take a digital microscope and make it fun, quick and easy for kids to use. You didn’t even need a computer, as it connected directly to the family television via standard AV plugs. However, this dependence on the television was something of a weakness. How can a kid explore the backyard if he or she had to drag a TV along? That limitation made the Bionic Eye more of a curiosity than a tool.
That was the old product. The new version, the EyeClops BioniCam boasts a couple of major improvements that make it a wonderful educational toy. First, it packs a small LCD screen on the unit, letting kids go wherever they desire, and a 5-AA battery pack keeps the juice flowing.
The next addition is a USB port allowing a flash drive (a piddly 32-MB drive is included) to be inserted, giving users the ability to snap still pix and 30-second videos of what they scan. But if you still want to look at your scans on the big screen, standard AV plugs permit this.
Magnification was robust for a kid’s needs, with 100X, 200X and 400X supported.
Overall I loved the BioniCam, but here are a couple of concerns. The downside to added features is added complexity, and I didn’t find the BioniCam’s operation very intuitive. Any time you absolutely must read the instructions to successfully operate the gadget, it probably needs some interface help. Manual focusing in particular was a drag.
The second weakness I noticed was the absurdly small size of the flash drive. I can only assume using another flash drive would work, other than possible mechanical difficulties in fitting the drive in the unit. Still, for a $80 toy to pack such a modest drive smacks of cheapness. I mean, a half-gig drive is, what, $2 these days? For kids who record 2.4-MB movies onto a 32-MB drive, they’re gonna run out of space very quickly.
I was pleasantly surprised with the quality and size of the still images. They measured about 1.3 megapixels, which more than suffice for school papers and websites. And at about 50-60K apiece, you can fit tons of them on the enclosed flash drive, even as small as it is. Here are some samples of pictures shot of a couple of flowers. Click on the image to see them actual size.
As far as video goes, qualitywise it seems on par with mobile phone videos. Clips are preset to 30-second lengths, and frame-rate, resolution and other features cannot be tweaked. The resulting videos are easily emailable 2.4MB .AVI files. Here is a video I shot of a straw hat at 100X.
I tested the BioniCam on a Mac and it worked flawlessly. It uses no proprietary software, and if your computer can mount a flash drive you can use this gadget to its fullest potential. And if you don’t happen to have a computer, the BioniCam is perfectly usable without one, as the videos and pix can be shot and replayed right on the unit’s screen.
The EyeClops BioniCam is a great toy with the potential to encourage scientific curiosity among kids, as well as to help them with schoolwork by helping them create images and videos. And even if the child has no interest in science, it’s just plain fun to look at things close up.