Thursday, March 15th, 2007...12:55 pm

I-CY: Don’t touch the tail!

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I-CY: chillin’ for the beat

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Manufacturer: Hasbro/Tiger Electronics

MSRP: $19.99

Availability: Mass retail, now


I-CY is the latest addition to Hasbro/Tiger Electronics’ iDog family of musical companions. For those late to the scene, iDog and its cousins iCat, and iFish are electronic pets that plug into various MP3 players and interact with the music through lights, sound, and just generally grooving. There’s also an iPup, which doesn’t plug into MP3 players but does react to music through motion and exciting light displays.

Although I was very excited when I first heard about iDog in 2005, I didn’t get one due to the shameful fact that I don’t have an iPod… and from the name, I assumed that iDog was specially designed to work with an Apple iPod. When I found out that a penguin version was in the works, I decided then and there that we had to get one, just so that I could have my own desktop penguin.

I-CY is a delightfully rotund penguin with a hexagonal light display on his tummy. (The User’s Guide and packaging avoid giving I-CY a gender, but I have arbitrarily decided that my I-CY is a boy.) In keeping with the iDog and iPod aesthetic, he is a stark white with stylish silver accents, a clear plastic tail, and black flippers and feet.

There are two basic ways to interact with I-CY. The first and most obvious is sound. Music is an important part of keeping I-CY happy, as tunes and grooves “feed” him. I-CY can be plugged directly into an MP3 player using the supplied cable, or he can be placed near a speaker to groove along to the music in the air. I-CY’s microphone is located on the top of his head, so he may require some maneuvering to find a good position where he can hear the music… and certain kinds of music may not be to his taste. When I played some gentle folk music at I-CY, he had no reaction whatsoever.

The second way to interact with I-CY is through touch. The box packaging specifically mentions his “I-CY tail”, which acts as both a mute button and a harassment tool. Press or flick the tail to silence I-CY for five minutes… but flick the tail too often, and his resentment will grow.

Undocumented on the packaging, but explained fully in the User’s Guide, is I-CY’s shiny metal beak (officially called the Nose Button). Click it once to wake him up, press it quickly in succession to find out his mood, and hold it down for several seconds to put him back to sleep. The Nose Button can also be used for positive interaction in general, and I-CY will squawk and flash his outer ring of lights if he needs more physical interaction. Don’t underestimate the importance of that Nose Button! I left I-CY alone with some music for about 30 minutes… and it took me a good 10 minutes of constant nose-clicking to get him to stop making sad faces at me.

The penguin noises are fascinating. The begging-for-attention squawk sounds convincingly like a penguin’s bray; the begging-for-food sounds are described as “squeaks” in the User Guide, but sound more like barks or beeps. Meanwhile, some of his vocalizations expressing his mood sound more like Star Wars’ R2D2 screaming.

As far as I can tell, I-CY doesn’t develop different personalities based on the music that he is fed. The User Guide specifies the moods he can display through light patterns and musical riffs, but doesn’t mention how his personality is expressed. It’s not surprising, given that I-CY’s MSRP is well below that of iDog and iCat, but it’s a little unfortunate.

It’s unclear as to whether I-CY has a pure “listening” mode where he only listens to music. The User’s Guide lists a Listening Mode separately from the Play Mode, but my I-CY appears to exhibit Play Mode behavior even when music is playing. This can get a little chaotic, as his musical riffs generally don’t match what’s playing over the speakers… and the mute button/tail switch only works for five minutes at a time. According to the User Guide, he can be permanently muted while plugged in as a speaker, but that isn’t always possible or appropriate.

Still, I-CY is a fun little desk toy… and if the beeps and squawks get to you, you can always take out the batteries and display him as an objet d’art.

Well, that’s annoying. A week after I wrote this review (March 23rd), I-CY has started acting erratically. At the moment, he’s reacting to music by very, verrrry slowly moving his wings up and down. No lights, no sound. Just tiny wing movements every other second. I can’t believe he’s gone through his batteries already… we’ve only been playing with him since March 9th, and he gets maybe an hour and a half of play-time each week. How vexing!

The worst part is that I can’t seem to turn him off. I’m holding down his beak/nose button for a long time, and he’s not entering the shut-down stage.

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