If you were a kid in the late '90s like I was, the prospect of reviewing a new Furby is as exciting as it is terrifying. After accidentally killing countless Tamagotchis and Nano pets, when I was 11, I received a Furby of my own after a well-timed Toys-R-Us trip. It was gray with a white belly. I loved it for a good two months before the Furbish nightmares got to me. Eventually, I gifted my Furby to a younger girl whom I knew would love it, then hate it as much as I did. As a jaded college student in 2005, the Furby reboot that year did little to rekindle my interest.
But now, in 2012, enough time has passed to make me once again be intrigued by this little furry friend. I wanted to know if the new Furby was a lazy repeat of an old formula, or whether the addition of new technology and an iPhone app would satisfy behind pure nostalgia.
The new Furby is slightly bigger than the original, and now has rubber ears that move back and forth and up and down instead of the cloth ones that simply wiggled. Now that Furby can pin its ears back when it's surprised or yawning makes it seem more animal-like.
Instead of having scary plastic eyes that haunted my dreams as a child, the new Furby is equipped with two large LCD eyes that convey a large range of emotions with pixel animation.
Hasbro left two of Furby's most identifying traits untouched -- its yellow dome-shaped beak with a tongue that you can press down, and the black, flame-shaped plastic between Furby's eyes where the old IR sensor lived. Although the new Furby no longer uses an IR sensor, the design was left untouched for nostalgic reasons. The most obviously redesigned element is the addition of an interactive fabric tail with some fuzz at the tip. Hasbro made the wise decision of not adding the creepy arms or legs like the previous Furby babies.
Furby's thick fur made the body soft and even slightly cuddly. Our Furby is orange but it is also available in five other colors: yellow, blue, purple, white and black. Hasbro said that four additional colors will be available by the end of the year.
Instead of physical buttons, the new Furby has capacitive sensors in its belly, sides, back and top of the head. The surprising part was how responsive Furby was to a gentle tickle on its belly or when I brushed its side. These sensors made the interaction more organic because I could interact with it the same way I would a dog or a cat.
The Furby has a round plastic base, which makes it wobble when it dances. The body also encases a mechanism that let Furby "bend down." This allowed Furby to try out some new dance moves, and also allowed it to take a deep sigh if it wanted to. The cutest detail was when Furby bent down, its fur pouched out slightly, making it look like it had a pudgy little belly.
The Furby app let me interact with the device in some fun ways. It's a free download, compatible with an iPad, iPod touch and iPhone with iOS 4.2 or later. There are four features of the app: pantry, deli, translator and dictionary. The app runs upside down so that the mic of your iPhone or iPod touch is always pointing toward the Furby; this is important because the app communicates with the Furby by transmitting high-frequency sound codes.
The pantry has an assortment of items to feed Furby, which done by tapping on the food item, pointing the phone at it and then flicking the food item to the little creature with your finger. The pantry randomized and slightly changed every time I opened the app. Furby has likes and dislikes, and it will make it very clear by saying "Ewww" or a prolonged "Yum."
When I fed Furby a hot pepper, it chomped it down, and then pixelated flames appeared in its eyes. When I fed Furby puzzle pieces, it bounced back into our phone as a completed puzzle after Furby munched on it for a few seconds.
The deli allowed me to make a sandwich or a burger by swiping through six rows of different breads and ingredients. Once I made the choices, I pulled down on the center of the iPhone's screen to combine all the ingredients into a sandwich and flicked it toward Furby to feed it.
Using the translator, I pointed the bottom of our iPhone at Furby to "listen" to it and the phone wrote out Furbish and its English translation. It was reassuring that Furby was not saying "I must feed on your soul" like I had thought when I was a kid.
The dictionary feature is there for saying things to Furby in Furbish. I never really got a sense that Furby responded to specific words but I'd like to think that telling it "may-may" (which means love) produced different results than saying "boo" (bad).
When I spoke to Furby, it responded with funny answers; I was almost convinced that it understood what I was saying.
A Different Kind of Toy
The anticipation of reviewing a Furby brought back nostalgic and terrifying memories from my childhood. To my surprise, I loved the new Furby, until it came time to torture it so that I would be able to cycle through all its personalities. (More on that later.)
When I first powered up the Furby with four AA batteries, it had a generic personality that spoke only Furbish. Some of the interactions included playing music, petting it on the head, hugging Furby, speaking to it, tickling its belly and tugging on its tail. Like the old Furby, I could feed it by pressing on its tongue, but feeding Furby through its new iPhone app was way more fun.
The glowing LCD eyes really gave Furby an added element to its personalities. For example, I could tell Furby was cranky by the fact that one of its eyes would squint at me. When Furby sang, music notes or rainbows would appear in its eyes. When Furby was happy, its eyes would turn into little crescent moons.
Hasbro has addressed some of the complaints about the original Furby. Where the old model practically required a sensory-deprivation tank to fall asleep, the new Furby will do so after being ignored for about two minutes in a semi-quiet room. The fact that there wasn't a huge process to "make it stop" made us want to play with it more.
Like the original Furby, this version learns more and more English as you feed and interact with it. The new Furby can also develop different personalities depending on how you treat it. I discovered four: valley girl, mischievous, crazy and baby.
After changing out of its generic, out-of-the-box personality, our Furby became a chatty valley girl. At first I thought it had something to do with us talking about the reunion issue of Entertainment Weekly that featured "Clueless." I later realized that this personality is triggered by chatting nonstop with Furby, feeding it and being nice to it. Five days later, I still loved Furby. This valley girl Furby danced, chatted with me, and fell asleep quickly. But then, I tried to make it fart.
After holding Furby by the tail and swinging it around, its glowing LCD eyes started flashing and it screamed "ch-ch-chaaanggge!" When its eyes reopened, the happy, chatty Furby I had grown used to was no longer there. Its pupils changed: one was big, the other small and uneven. The voice grew deep and it laughed crazily while burping and farting without a prompt. It danced on its own and laughed itself to sleep. It was as if the Joker from Batman had possessed our sweet little Furby.
An hour later, Furby was still crazy, and its laughter brought back all the bad memories I had for the uncontrollable original Furby. I soothed Furby by petting it on the side 30 times. That's when Furby changed again. It screamed "Ch-ch-chaaanggge!" and when it reopened its eyes, it now had two large pouty pupils. Furby now spoke in a baby voice and sang "la-la-la" a lot while wobbling back and forth. I found that this personality loved music, tickles and hugs. But then, after petting Furby on the head for a while, it screamed "ch-ch-chaaanggge!" again.
When it opened its eyes, Furby's pupils were in the shape of rounded triangles, like it was wearing a strange pair of sunglasses. "Who are YOU?" I asked, and I quickly got the answer. Little flames shot out of the middle of its pupils every time I tried to pet Furby. It hated us. I was sad. Why did I keep petting Furby on the head after it clearly got cranky about it? Furby's "mischievous" personality made me feel like I had raised it wrong. All of a sudden, a chatty valley girl did not seem so bad anymore.
I kept on playing the words for love and hugs in the Furby dictionary on our iPhone. Different people took turns speaking to Furby. I then hugged it -- but not too much. The magical moment happened when I put together a burger in the deli section of the app and fed it to Furby. It screamed "ch-ch-chaaanggge!" I closed my eyes when Furby closed its eyes and hoped for the best. "OMG!" It screamed, and I sighed with relief as our valley girl Furby reappeared.
Hasbro says that the four AA batteries should provide about 10 hours of active play. Fortunately, Furby's personality will not reset when it comes time to change the battery. In my hands-on time, I played with Furby for about four hours, and the batteries were still going strong. While it may seem contradictory to the notion of Furby being a toy-as-a-pet, I wish it had a power button.
As someone who owned a Furby as a kid, the new $59 Furby is less creepy and less annoying than the original. After a couple of weeks with the Furby, I still really liked it. The animated eyes, responsive personalities, capacitive sensors and the app all make the interactions with Furby less robotic and more like a real pet. While its crazy personality was a little frightening, it won't surface as long as you're nice to Furby. When it looked at me with pouty baby eyes, all I could say was, "You had me at dah-ay-loh-oo-tye."