Unless you’re a savant born with unnatural abilities for using two knobs to create artistic masterpieces, the Etch A Sketch drawing toy gets less appealing the older you get. I was surprised to find that the new Etch A Sketch Revolution—arguably the first reimagining of the toy that now makes drawing smooth curves and circles a breeze—managed to hold my attention for a few hours, but like the original, it will probably appeal more to fidgeters than artists.
The simplicity that made the original Etch A Sketch such a hit was also what made the iconic toy so incredibly frustrating. There’s a reason renaissance masters like Rembrandt and da Vinci didn’t express their artistic visions using a pair of rotating knobs that could only draw horizontal and vertical lines. Making curves on the original Etch A Sketch wasn’t impossible, but it required the patience of a saint and the steady hands of a surgeon. As a kid I found a much better use for the toy, spending hours painstakingly etching away every last bit of silver powder on its screen. Anyone else? No? I can’t be the only person who endured several awkward family gatherings that way.
The well-known limitations of the original Etch A Sketch is why the new version, revealed earlier this year at Toy Fair 2020 by the brand’s current owner, Spin Master, immediately caught my eye. An Etch A Sketch that won’t induce fits of rage? Impossible! But the new Etch A Sketch Revolution is genuinely enjoyable, as long as you don’t expect more than $10 worth of entertainment from it.
The first thing you notice about the Etch A Sketch Revolution isn’t necessarily its size, but the toy is a lot smaller and lighter than the original version which is definitely a good thing. It makes it more appealing as a pick-up-and-play toy because as an adult you’re not going to be tossing this in your carry-on to keep you entertained during a long flight. It’s a desk toy more than anything, and a welcome distraction during endless conference calls that aren’t going away any time soon.
The more obvious upgrade on the new Etch A Sketch Revolution is the circular screen surrounded by a white bezel that can rotate 360 degrees. The Etch A Sketch’s familiar pair of rotating knobs are still here, and by turning them you can draw lines vertically or horizontally as you always could, but rotating that white bezel also rotates the entire screen, leaving perfectly circular trails that would require a mix of sorcery and witchcraft to pull off with the original version of the toy.
That being said, if you’re trying to draw something recognizable with the Etch A Sketch Revolution, it can still be an act of frustration. The way the rotating screen mechanism works means you can’t really draw perfect circles anywhere on the screen you want. They’ll always be perfectly centered, no matter their size. When the rotating bezel is used in conjunction with the other two dials it does make drawing smooth curved lines easier, but an abundance of patience is still required as small mistakes can’t be erased. As with the original, if you screw up your masterpiece, your only option is to erase the entire thing and start from scratch.
For those of us who are artistically challenged that doesn’t necessarily mean the Etch A Sketch Revolution is off the table. Its clever redesign also turns it into another one of my favorite childhood toys: the Spirograph. A series of reference notches around the Revolution’s screen’s bezel makes it easy to rotate it a specific number of degrees, and by taking turns drawing criss-crossing lines and repeatedly turning the bezel, you can easily create complex repeating patterns. It takes a while, especially if you want the start and end positions to eventually perfectly line up, but by mixing up the pattern you can create an infinite number of designs without having to deal with a Spirograph’s finicky gears.
There are a few minor improvements I’d make to the Etch A Sketch Revolution. When you’re making Spirograph-like patterns you’ll find yourself relying on a small tick mark on the top of the toy to line up the marks on the bezel. I would like to see another added to the bottom and on each side of the screen, but it’s something you can easily add yourself with a fine tip Sharpie marker.
I’m not sure if Spin Master had to change the recipe of the mysterious silver powder inside the Etch A Sketch Revolution to make the redesign work, but for some reason it’s completely impossible to thoroughly ‘erase’ the screen. I spent five minutes vigorously shaking the toy, both right side up and upside down, and there’s always a ghosted image of previous designs left behind. By comparison, it doesn’t take much effort to erase the original Etch A Sketch leaving no trace of your prior (failed) attempt to draw a smiley face.
But for just $10, if you’ve already got a desk piled high with fidget toys, there’s no reason not to clear some room for one more.
- It sounds like a gimmick, but the Etch A Sketch Revolution can genuinely draw perfect circles, although the upgrade doesn’t make the toy any easier to draw with.
- Works much better as a Spirograph-like toy for creating complex repeating patterns.
- At $10 this falls squarely in the impulse purchase category.
- For some reason completely erasing the screen is nigh impossible. You can shake it for as long as you want and there will always be a ghosted image of your previous drawings.