Picky Kid Rating: 3.1
Full disclosure — I was an art history major. OK, that’s off my chest. Now let’s talk about PlayART, an app that lets kids (and other artists) create pictures with elements from famous painters Cézanne, Monet, Rousseau, Van Gogh, and my favorite of the bunch, Klee. It’s not only creative, but educational too — there are videos that introduce the artists and their artwork (assuming your pre-schooler pays attention).
When you first start the app, you’ll come to a splash screen with music playing. Tap to continue, or just wait until you’re automatically advanced to the Artists screen (I normally tap, because the music is too loud). From the Artists screen, you have several choices. You can:
- Tap one of the pictures to start your painting in one of the artists’ styles.
- Tap the small arrow next to each artists’ name to see a short (and small) video about that artist.
- Tap Help (in the upper left) for a some quick tips on using this screen.
- Tap Tutorial for a tutorial video.
- Tap Credits for, you guessed it, credits — also support, and to follow the developer on Facebook.
- Tap Museum to see paintings by the artists or your own saved creations.
We think the most fun is making our own artwork! After you select an artist, you’ll get a blank “canvas” with some elements to choose from (like “stickers”, if you’re used to toddler iPad games) at the bottom of the screen. Be sure to scroll this panel to see all the elements. Tap an element to place it on the canvas… It will make a sound. Was that annoying? We think so. You can turn off sound by tapping the sound icon in the menu on the left side of the screen.
Once objects are placed on the canvas, you can drag to move them around, twist with two fingers to rotate, pinch and pull to resize, and use the tools in the menu on the right side of the screen to manipulate them in other ways. Young kids are unlikely to use these tools, but B was quick to explore and grasp the multi-touch actions. We think it’s especially nice that you can drag more than one object at a time. When you use the tools, they apply to the object you last touched. There’s no “on” indicator to let you know which object this is, but there is an undo if you accidentally manipulate the wrong one.
If you don’t like a plain white canvas, you can change it by tapping the “Canvas” button in the lower right to see different (artist-specific) options. You can also select the artist’s name from the elements menu, so you can essentially “sign” the painting (um… this seems weird to me, but I guess nobody is going to mistake it for an original). When you are done, you can tap the “Save” icon (that would be the thumbs-up) in the left menu to save this picture to your museum, or tap Artists or Museum. Strangely, if you tap Artists without saving, you’ll be prompted to save your picture, but if you tap Museum, you won’t.
There are other user-experience oddities as well… Some screens have an “x” in the upper right corner to close them, others do not. One particularly perplexing thing is how to get out of viewing a picture in “My Museum”. First, we tried tapping it, because that’s how to close a picture in the regular museum. That doesn’t work. Instead you must pinch it. Hmm. The menus on the painting activity also bother us. They use both words and icons, but the items are so close together that it’s easy to get them mixed up and tap the wrong icon if you’re not paying attention.
In terms of design, PlayART’s sketch-inspired interface looks pretty good on the surface (they’ve got great material to work with!), but could use some refinement and a little more attention to detail. In addition to the crowded menus mentioned above, there are places where elements overlap each other that really shouldn’t (the “Canvas” button over instructions to slide the menu, for example). It also seems odd that the alert boxes are not designed, and that the videos are not full screen.
We’re not fans of the audio in this app. The sounds, as noted above, are too loud, and some are kind of odd and jarring (like a loud “squawk” that sounds a bit like a fart). The voiceovers for the videos are a bit dull and pedantic, probably aimed at older audiences rather than young kids, though a child is narrating the artist videos. Narration is in British English only.
There are no options available in the app — though you can go to the iPad settings area to turn off Facebook connectivity. (PlayART allows you to share your creations through Facebook if you have an account.)
Bottom line: PlayART is appealing for the aspiring artist within kids and parents alike, but this is not an app your toddler can easily play by him/herself. It could be improved with more artists (there are currently just five), better sound effects, and refinements to user interface.
Review: PlayART iPad App,
Played on: iPad 2, iOS5