Yoto Player & Mini

If you’ve not heard of Yoto Player it is, in simple terms, a modern take on a jukebox for kids. While it’s “smart”, WiFi-connected, upgradable and comes with a companion phone app it takes pains to avoid the pitfalls of such technology. Yoto doesn’t have a microphone, or camera, doesn’t ask for details of your child (*glares at VTech*) and – most crucially – provides a phone-free*, child-intuitive interface for interacting with its core features.

* though there is a very good companion mobile phone app you can use to limit the volume, change settings, play different content and so on.

Yoto’s Player is perhaps one of the most compelling demonstrations of “RFID” ever presented in a consumer device. Songs, books, educational series, radio stations and more are selected by inserting a Yoto card into the player; something that can easily be accomplished by a child. Simple accompanying graphics appear on Yoto Player’s LED display and the audio plays through its integrated speaker.

Neither sound nor pictures are stored *on* the Yoto’s cards however, they contain only a chip with a unique ID that the player uses to fetch the correct content. When you hold a Yoto card you- in effect- hold a license or key to some digital content. The cards are a refreshing change to the typical, ephemeral, mechanism of digital delivery. They are something physical that you can lend to a friend, swap or sell, bridging the gap between ebook and traditional book.

Parents are encouraged to insert each card, in turn, into the player so that content is downloaded and stored on the device. Once Yoto Player has downloaded something playback is instant; presenting your child’s entire collection of content as an easily browsable, frustration-free library. Just like books, they have the autonomy to pick and choose which they want.

At least… this is the pitch. Does Yoto Player actually deliver upon this promise?

Well. Yes. Yes it does.

Yoto Player’s rugged, bold exterior clearly signposts the bits that are accessible to a child, presenting big, bold, orange turny buttons for control and a very obvious slot for card insertion. While it is ostensibly for 3+ years, these concepts are extremely easy to grasp and a 2-year old (you know, by which age they already know how the iPlayer Kids and Prime TV app work) should have no problem using the player. Albeit they may not yet have developed the attention span to sit through an ebook.

Yoto’s thoughtful, child-friendly design extends through the obvious into the little touches. Yoto Player has an internal battery so that it can be carried around, or placed without limits.

A magnetic, self-locating charging dock ensures that even a child can successfully put it away to charge.

It even has an internal accelerometer allowing it to know when it’s been placed face down- in this orientation it becomes a nightlight, illuminating the rear LEDs with a gentle orange (or colour of your choice via the app).

The companion app receives frequent updates, and there’s a smattering of free content to give you a thirst for Yoto’s bread and butter: the cards.

Cards come in a variety of different types from classic stories, to activity or educational cards and even music, podcasts and radio. Yoto’s content lineup is strong, with plenty of notable classics, brands and authors making an appearance- there’s Ladybird, Duplo, Disney, The Worst Witch, Marvel (also Disney to be fair), Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton and many, many more. Cards are available as single stories, or as packs and such modern classics as The Grufflo and Room On The Broom have become a frequent nighttime event for our nearing-3-year-old.

The library speaks to the success of Yoto, which we’ve been using for just over a year now (or is it two?) and Yoto have even introduced a smaller, cheaper player – the Yoto Mini – which condenses all the good bits of Yoto into a compact, £50, mp3-player-alike that your child can carry around and use to play cards on the go. It even supports headphones via 3.5mm jack, and a teased software update should add Bluetooth headphone support this year!

Yoto Player itself is a rather more spendy £79.99, though the price of the player pales in comparison to the content. Cards range from a ~£3-£4 for a single card, up to £34.99 for some of the more expensive (Disney, obviously) packs. Yoto offer a £9.99/month (or £99/year) club that gets you two cards a month, plus some store benefits such as free shipping, discounts and no minimum spend. The club is *very* reminiscent of the tiny little record club I remember from my childhood. Granted the small, plastic Yoto Player cards are much less likely to smash to smithereens on your doormat than a fragile record! Eek. I think I discovered where my dislike of physical media originated!

There’s no doubt that – in a world brimming with free YouTube content and obscene amounts of kids content on the likes of Disney+, Netflix, iPlayer – Yoto Player content feels a little spendy- but it has two key benefits: no ads, and your kids aren’t sat in front of a screen. Yoto Player is – for lack of a better word – wholesome, and that’s a rare breed in today’s distressingly connected world.

For full disclosure Pimoroni (the company where I wrangle software) was involved in the very first prototype of Yoto Player (Or some early builds at least) and are credited on Yoto’s “Our Story” page but have not been involved since. Yoto are going from strength to strength on their own steam, I have no financial interest in telling you how good they are, and I cannot recommend their products enough.