Version Reviewed: 1.0
App Reviewed on: iPad 3
Graphics / Sound Rating:
Re-use / Replay Value Rating:
Toca Lab is an interesting new interactive app by Toca Boca. As the name may express, Toca Lab takes place in a laboratory setting where one has a chance to perform experiments with many of the same tools I used in eighth grade physical chemistry; such as a Bunsen burner to heat or a centrifuge to spin solutions in order to separate solids and liquids. A cooling agent to freeze mixtures is offered, as are other tools found in this laboratory. As one may expect the look of this app is quirky and inviting, with pleasing colors and sound effects that Toca Boca is known for.
I was looking forward to seeing how Toca Boca, known for their digital toys, would tackle something as classic as a chemistry set. My hopes included different mixtures that one could freeze into a solid or melt back into a liquid, if not also being able to go further by heating it to the point of turning into a gas, capturing it via a contraption a user may build from glass tubing, and a receiving flask. Maybe in some of the available mixes, both liquids and solids would be combined. Can these substances be separated? Would one use the centrifuge or once again separate the liquid by heating it to a gas? The possibilities for an open-ended app that focuses on physical changes are endless, but instead Toca Boca has married the Periodic Table to this application, which in-turn delivers it into the world of fantasy that may be entertaining but lacks any true scientific merit. The degree that this may bother parents is personal. Said to be an app developed to encourage curiosity of science with elemental changes not meant to be taken literally, some parents may enjoy sharing this app with their children based on the ability to work together safely with lab equipment and the general representation of the Periodic Table a plus. Others may want to avoid the science fiction included within this app.
Here, Toca Boca includes the Periodic Table as a pull-down window that is quite stylized, containing numbered yet un-named (presumably as Toca Boca apps are language-neutral in their nature) whimsically illustrated elements, also including hints that encourage users to experiment with these anthropomorphized building blocks; leading to the idea that one can freeze, heat, spin, or even magnetize their way to totally different elements. The interactions are fun, and children will enjoy moving from one element to another across the chart as they perform these simple experiments. I worry, however, about the potential for children to be led to believe that in real life one can easily create arsenic from selenium or cobalt from iron with the most basic of equipment if this app is used without the guidance of an adult. Other apps by this developer such as Toca Hair Salon, Toca Store, and Toca Kitchen are grounded in reality, making them wonderful apps for role play, but it also muddies the waters as children experienced with Toca apps have an expectation of realism that may not serve them well while exploring Toca Lab. An oscilloscope is also provided to magnetize objects, which is a completely fanciful use for this instrument. Likewise, it is acknowledged that the transmutations seen within cannot be accomplished with the tools provided, thus creating a simplistic, absurdist view of chemistry that parents may find either charming or simply off-putting - depending on their point of view.
I do believe that a download of Toca Lab comes with the responsibility of explaining the scientific shortcoming of this app, but for many families, high school chemistry took place a million years ago and articulating fact from fiction may be difficult for some adults. Likewise, those familiar with the Periodic Table may not be fond of the mythology created within. Although I must admit, while I am on the side of finding this app a little unrealistic for my taste, my fondness for Toca Boca is unwavering and I admire them for trying something new. I greatly look forward to what new apps they may develop in the future.