Holiday shopping season is coming. Oh yes, it is. And the new Furby is waiting. Hasbro has redesigned the Furby and is releasing it this fall, complete with complementary iOS apps and a re-engineered body.
I don't choose to believe that the Furby is officially a retro toy. That ages me too much. The original Furby came out in 1998, which somehow adds up to 14 years ago. I missed Furbymania completely (I was in grad school), but for both newcomers and the Furby-nostalgic Hasbro is readying its first new Furby product since the days of Y2K. The name? It's still just Furby. And one has arrived at our CNET offices.
The new version is newly revamped, more robotic, and studded with motors and sensors than its 1998 counterpart. It's also considerably more crazy-eyed: twin brightly-lit LED screens with mechanical eyelids animate with a variety of expressions and even quirky pictograms.
Of course, like all toys in 2012, the new Furby will have its own companion iOS app when it's released this fall. I got to try it in a demo with Hasbro and successfully translated Furby's Furbish language into English and back again. I also made and fed it a variety of foods by flicking them off my phone toward the Furby, who responded in a variety of ways. The app works by sending inaudible sound codes to the Furby (or any other Furbies) nearby.
One Furby works on its own, but multiple Furbies can interact with each other in odd ways, too.
The new Furby has a series of nested personalities than can be unlocked over time. Within minutes of using mine, its eyes started blinking, and it transformed into a "valley girl" type of character. Furbies respond to being shaken or turned, and will dance to music. Honestly, it's as unpredictable as a little kid (I already have one of those, thank you very much).
And, like a kid, there's no off switch, nor is there a volume button. Just like the original Furby, once you insert four AA batteries, it could start talking and bothering you at any time, asking for attention. I quickly found that the best solution was to stick Furby into a dark drawer and wait for it to go silent. I found it efficient, but Furby caretakers would call this cruelty. Of course, you could always take out the batteries, which Hasbro says won't erase the Furby's unique personality evolution like it used to on older versions.
Furby's meant for kids ages 6 and up, and that's because the Furby's more Chuck E. Cheese robot than cuddly stuffed animal. Hasbro invites users to shake it and tickle it, but under the fur you can feel the motors and parts.
Furby comes out this fall, and costs $60. Can it compete in a world of robots, apps, and video games? Well, I can at least say this: it's charming.