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Lifewire / Andrew Hayward
Dash has charming moves and sounds
Durable, kid-friendly build
Compelling learning and play apps
Variety of add-on kits
It’s a bit pricey
Kids will gravitate toward Dash for its fun activities, but the coding lessons and expandability will provide greater value in the long run.
Wonder Workshop’s Dash robot might seem a bit off-putting when you first catch a glimpse of it, what with that large, pulsing eye that seems to be watching you at all times. However, fire up this blue-and-orange plastic pal and any initial misconceptions are sure to subside. Dash is a delight, rolling and romping with ease while packing plenty of personality through its sounds and movements.
Better yet, Dash isn’t just a toy: it’s a learning tool designed to engage young minds and help them understand the basics of coding. And it grows as your kids’ own skills grow, offering richer challenges over time. Wonder Workshop’s cycloptic connected toy isn’t cheap, but it’s an investment worth making for parents looking to bring more STEM learning into the home.
Unlike many roving robots meant to help hone coding skills, the Wonder Workshop Dash comes completely premade inside the box. Build-your-own-bot kits like the Makeblock mBot and Boe-Bot Robot Kit are great for older kids, taking LEGO-like assembly to another level with computer boards and wires while giving kids a hands-on role in its creation, but younger kids will typically need a fair bit of help. Not so with Dash.
Dash comes out of the box ready to play—once it’s had a charge with the included micro USB cable, of course—and you can get right into it by downloading one of Wonder Workshop’s apps and wirelessly connecting a compatible device over Bluetooth. Not every smartphone or tablet is on the company’s list, but then again, we’re not sure that the list is wholly comprehensive. We used an iPhone XS Max, for example, which is not on the list. It worked just fine, as did our original iPad Air. Android, Kindle, and Chromebook devices are also compatible.
It’s built tough like a kid-friendly toy should be, which again stands in strong contrast to some make-your-own kits that produce bots that you’d probably have to repair following a dive down the stairs. Dash looks like it can take some abuse.
The Dash robot has sensors (infrared, proximity, and potentiometers) all over its frame, which looks like a cluster of blue, plastic balls—but it doesn’t feel remotely fragile. It’s built tough like a kid-friendly toy should be, which again stands in strong contrast to some make-your-own kits that produce bots that you’d probably have to repair following a dive down the stairs. Dash looks like it can take some abuse.
Wonder Workshop points to about three hours of playtime off of a single charge, which should take less than an hour to reach full. Those estimates checked out in our own testing, and that’s a solid amount of playtime. Aside from the charging cable, the only other accessories included in the box are a pair of snap-on attachments that connect to Dash’s head, letting you build on LEGO creations to further customize Dash and perhaps create your own fun games and quests.
As mentioned, there’s not too much of a learning curve for getting up and running with Dash. You’ll need to download the compatible apps from the App Store or Play Store and pair the robot within each, but if your child is comfortable with smartphones and tablets, then he or she should be able to handle most of the core navigation and operation. Your help may be needed when it comes to reading text, depending on the child’s reading proficiency, as well as helping with tricky coding challenges.
Dash works with four core Wonder Workshop apps, with a couple of additional options available. The Wonder app is the biggest draw, as it provides hundreds of accessible coding challenges in a video game-like map progression. Rather than try to bombard young kids with coding concepts, it’s all done via drag-and-drop icons that you arrange in a constellation-like pattern. It helps reinforce patterns and processes that your kids can grow with and eventually take into other apps with more technical, complex challenges.
Blockly takes a different approach to coding instruction, with drag-and-drop text and number segments that you’ll align to create a series of events. It starts easy but gradually advances over time, making this one that kids can learn with. Meanwhile, the Go and Path apps are all about fun. Go is basically just a control pad, letting you drive Dash around as you please and play with its lights and sounds, while Path lets you draw a route on the screen for Dash to replicate in the real world around you.
Dash isn’t just a toy: it’s a learning tool designed to engage young minds and help them understand the basics of coding.
Advanced coders with an iPad can dig into Apple’s Swift Playgrounds app, which has Dash-compatible challenges at a higher level than what Wonder Workshop’s own apps provide, while the Xylo app is designed specifically for use with an optional add-on accessory.
We found it pretty easy to control Dash using either the control pad or drawing controls, and our six-year-old testing assistant took to the controls right away. Dash is responsive and acts as expected, with no odd glitches or significant mishaps during our testing. You might have to prop it back up if it topples over or remove it from a snagged wire or rug, but that comes with the territory with all controllable connected toys.
There’s a reason why the Dash robot is found in tens of thousands of schools today, including the kindergarten our young assistant most recently attended: it finds the sweet spot between fun and education, consistently entertaining even as it informs and teaches. Dash is plenty fun as a modern RC car of sorts, as you drive it around your house or driveway while flashing lights and making silly sounds.
Of course, there’s so much more to it if your child is willing and able to engage, and even if he or she doesn’t show overt interest in learning coding skills, the basic fundamentals here help encourage critical thinking all the same. Better yet, the quests are plain fun. It never feels rote or monotonous, and the blend of play and learning is rather harmonious.
There’s so much more to it if your child is willing and able to engage, and even if he or she doesn’t show overt interest in learning coding skills, the basic fundamentals here help encourage critical thinking all the same.
Dash can do quite a bit on its own, but there are plenty of optional upgrades if you’re looking for fresh play options. For example, there’s an attachable Xylophone that Dash can play using the aforementioned Xylo app, or a Sketch Kit that lets Dash draw geometric shapes and makes your code come to life as the robot zips around your room. Other add-ons include a Puzzlets kit with little tiles that let kids play and learn without a screen, plus there’s a Launcher attachment that lets Dash fling things around. Now what kind of parents wouldn’t want that in their home?
At $149.99 for the Dash robot itself and $30-40 apiece for many of the add-on kits (Puzzlets is $90), this connected learning toy certainly isn’t cheap. There are more affordable options out there, including many that you can build yourself, but we think the wide array of activities and the durable design make Dash worth spending some solid cash on.
This bot is pricier than some, but with a durable design, charming personality, and no assembly required, it’s a perfect choice for parents who don’t want to fuss with a box of parts before the fun and learning can even begin.
The Makeblock mBot is a key example of a learning/coding robot that’s cheaper, but also doesn’t come assembled out of the box. It’s targeted at a slightly more advanced eight-years-old and up, age group, and while it doesn’t require any soldering, it’s still likely to require parental assistance for younger kids. The mBot app experience doesn’t have the same kind of cartoonish polish as Dash, but the kit is a fun, lower-cost alternative that we’ve seen selling for about $60-$70 lately.
Dash to get one.
Dash lives up to the Wonder Workshop branding: it’s a wonderful learning toy and robotic pal for kids who are curious about coding and technology—or for parents who want their kids playing with something that teaches as it entertains, even if the children don’t realize it. This bot is pricier than some, but with a durable design, charming personality, and no assembly required, it’s a perfect choice for parents who don’t want to fuss with a box of parts before the fun and learning can even begin.