Boogie Board Play n’ Trace Is a Clear Winner

Gadgets Reviews
Play N' Trace
The Play N’ Trace comes with a few tracing templates. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

This summer I reviewed two Boogie Board devices, which can be used as a nice substitute for paper for some functions. There’s a new Boogie Board out this week, the Play N’ Trace, that adds an interesting feature: transparency.

First, in case you’re new to Boogie Boards: they’re electronic writing tablets that use a pressure-sensitive LCD screen–you write on it with a stylus, and press a button to clear the screen.

Before I get into the details of the Play N’ Trace, a quick follow-up on this summer’s review. We’re still using the Sync 9.7–my wife uses it for daily notes to the kids, and we also use it for to-do lists or just for doodling. The Jot 4.5, however, didn’t fare as well: by the end of summer, it had run out its battery, probably because my toddler just loves pressing the button. Since it can’t be recharged and the battery isn’t replaceable, it’s basically trash–though I kept it to peel off the front and see what’s inside.

Play N' Trace
My daughter sets up the Play N’ Trace with ‘Cleopatra in Space’. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The Play N’ Trace is definitely designed for kids, in case you couldn’t tell from the name (and, yes, the punctuation in the name bugs me). It’s a large oval instead of a rectangle, with bright primary colors and a big carrying loop on one end. The stylus has a point on one end and a sort of wedge shape on the other, which I’ve found can be used to make wide marks. The clip is a bit loose, though, and because the stylus is wider than the board at the end, it is easily knocked out. I was pleased to note that it uses two AAA batteries that can be replaced–not quite as nice as the rechargeable battery of the Sync, but much better than the throwaway Jot.

Play N' Trace
Zita the Spacegirl meets Cleopatra. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The biggest difference in the Play N’ Trace, though, is that the screen itself is transparent. The screen is cyan-colored, and drawings on it show up in a pale cyan. You can place the Play N’ Trace on other things to trace them, and my kids have had fun finding various things to trace onto it: comic books, T-shirts, even their faces. (Tip: tracing faces doesn’t work so well, but it’s pretty funny.) The board comes with a few templates on cardstock: uppercase letters, lowercase letters, and numbers. Oddly, the templates are rectangular and in portrait orientation, even though the screen lends itself to a horizontal orientation.

Play N' Trace
“Draw Anna and Elsa, Daddy!” Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The “play” part of the name, I assume is from the free iPad app designed to work with the Play N’ Trace. The idea is that you load up the app, stick the Play N’ Trace on top of it, and then play games or trace things. We gave it a shot, but my kids and I were disappointed in the app. Since it can’t detect what you’re pressing or drawing through the board, the app tends to play out at its own pace without regard to what you’re doing. The dot-to-dot had really obvious pictures, but then would display the finished image before you had time to trace out the outline yourself. My older girls were frustrated by how simplistic the app was; my toddler was too slow to finish things, and anyway she didn’t quite know how to follow the instructions. My advice: just trace books and other things, and leave the iPad out of it.

Play N' Trace app
The Play N’ Trace app gives you things to trace and do on an iPad. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

One nice thing about the Play N’ Trace, though, is that one of my kids could do things like word searches or mazes on paper, and then erase the solution and let the next kid have a turn, without having to make extra copies. Another thing my oldest daughter has been doing is tracing parts of comics and adding her own details to them, or combining characters from different books into one scene. We’ve taken it along for a little bit of portable (non-screen) entertainment when we go out, and all three of my kids enjoy it.

The resolution, as with the other Boogie Boards, isn’t extremely fine, and since the lines are lighter than the background things can appear inverted, which takes a little getting used to. But my kids already prefer this to the Sync and have had a lot of fun with it.

The Play N’ Trace was released on Monday this week, and is available from online stores like Amazon or you can look for a retailer near you. It retails for $34.99. There are also accessory kits available for drawing themed pictures, like farm animals or undersea creatures and so on.

Disclosure: I received a review sample of the Play N’ Trace.

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