If you’re a parent of an impressionable child: be forewarned. Like the Hatchimals of holidays past, Spin Master’s new Bitzee digital pets could be another must-have but impossible-to-find holiday gift later this year. Their hook? They use a unique, hologram-like display technology that kids can actually reach out and touch.
Although the Tamagotchi, arguably the first digital pet to catch on with kids, has been resurrected a few times since its original debut 27 years ago, its return has been more popular with older generations seeking to scratch a nostalgic itch. Younger generations find their basic functionality and low-tech monochromatic LCD screens less engaging. It’s why digital pet toys have had to evolve over the years with color screens, built-in cameras, and even smartwatches. But Spin Master’s Bitzee feels almost like opening up your own Poké Ball to see an actual critter inside.
In a time when Sony also sells a $3,000 robot dog you can physically pet and play with, convincing kids to raise and care for a digital pet by pushing buttons or tapping a screen on a keychain-sized device is a hard sell. Bitzee instead comes in a purple clamshell case that opens to reveal a full-color, 8-bit pixellated character that appears to float in mid-air, almost like a hologram, but without the need for smoke, mirrors, or video projection.
The Bitzee’s display is made up of a thin strip of strobing, color-changing LEDs that rapidly flaps up and down to create a persistence of vision effect. The flap moves up and down fast enough to appear like a blur to the naked eye, which makes the animated Bitzee character generated by the flashing LEDs look like it’s floating. It’s a fun effect, and while the flapping mechanism isn’t silent, it is quiet, and will remind those of us old enough to be considered ancient of the sound of an old film projector.
Kids are cautioned to be careful with the flapping strip of LEDs and not poke or pull it, as it’s not as durable as modern touchscreens, but they are encouraged to interact with their digital pets by gently tapping them on the head. Kids can also interact with the Bitzee characters by shaking the device, tilting it, or by swiping their finger back and forth on a touch sensitive strip on the toy’s base, which is also used to navigate the toy’s basic menu system.
Each Bitzee starts out as a pixelated puppy, but as kids interact and care for the digital pet, it will eventually evolve into an adult, and then a super Bitzee. Super Bitzee wear a special outfit that also unlocks a simple video game playable on the floating display. Over time, other Bitzee characters will be unlocked, with up to 15 being available on each device—kids will be able to switch between them as often as they want. And unlike Tamagotchi digital pets, who will tragically die if neglected for too long, Bitzee simply pack up and leave if not properly cared for (although they can eventually be coaxed back with treats and lavish attention).
For those hoping to get their holiday shopping done early and avoid paying jaw-dropping markups on eBay if these become the next toy craze for kids, the Bitzee digital pets will be available starting on August 1 for $30 each. You also only need to buy one (thankfully), as each Bitzee device includes the entire roster of available characters. But you will want to stock up on batteries. The Bitzee isn’t rechargeable, and on a set of three AAAs, you can expect your digital pet to run for about five to seven hours.