There was a time when sharing music with a child was as simple as giving a CD. The sad truth is that kid's CD players are pretty much a thing of the past. But, as things have moved to streaming, it is easy for children to get swept up as passive listeners. Parents tend to turn on a stream, or tune-in a music channel and let it run. I prefer kids to be more actively involved in choosing their music.
This year two companies have come up with remarkably similar sized music players designed to put kids in charge of selecting what they want to listen. Instead of disks they use digital cards (in the case of the Yoto) or action figure toys (for the Tonie Box). Insert the card, or touch the top of the cube with the figure, and the associated pre-recorded music or audio book will play. Both companies have a library of material (music and audio books) for purchase, and both enable parents or loved ones to select music, or even record their own content.
The Tonie Box takes a rather minimalist approach. The box offers few frills, no screens, lights, or microphones, though there is a headphone jack. The idea is that the child should have an easy to use player; the player should not be watching the child or distracting from the audio experience with multimedia displays. There are just two visible controls, small , soft "monster ears" that stick out of the top that control the volume. Other controls are intrinsic to the design. The child can tap or tilt the box to control forward and back, for example. However, we found those controls a bit harder to work, sometimes not responding to gentle touch, and other times, being over sensitive.
The Yoto player is a bit flashier. In addition to the volume controls, it also has a headphone jack and a low-rez pixel display that doubles as a nightlight. It can also be used as a bluetooth speaker should you want to stream music from your phone. While the Toniebox is a cube, the Yoto looks like it was carved out of a cube into a more fanciful, and hard to describe shape.
Both systems have mechanisms by which parents can record reading or music for kids. As a grandparent separated from my grandkids by COVID, it is great to be able to send them a bit of myself. The Yoto player also has on-line content which my grandson loves to listen to when he's block building. They produce a daily mini-podcast, and also have other's (designed for kids) available.
As parents, we give the slight edge to the Yoto player. In addition to its content, the design seems better and more versatile. The magnetic base, makes recharging the battery of the unit easy and relatively safe. Not only does this mean kids can be more independent, not needing a parent's help every time they want to take the Yoto to another room, it makes it more likely the unit will always have a charge. The Tonie Box, on the other hand requires greater strength and dexterity to get situated on and off the charging stand. Further, it has an electronic connector sticking up out of the base that looks like it might be potentially dangerous. However, older children will certainly love the well designed action figures of the Tonie that remind us of the one's from Disney's late-lamented Infinity video game line. In fact, there are figures of the Little Mermaid and from Toy Story and The Lion King that make for fun play with the player and without.