Top critical review
197 people found this helpful
on September 16, 2009
First off, the short version: if you're not comfortable enough with tools to fix what's wrong with this toy, don't buy it. That, or check the packaging and product carefully -- if it claims a 2007 manufacture date and says it was made in China, or if on inspection you see anything wrong, pack it back up and return it as defective. At least some versiosn of this thing are at best poorly made and fragile, and at worst dangerous.
I'm not going to address the fun or educational aspects of this toy, just the manufacturing issues some have reported. Bought one for my daughter in September 2009. It arrived in a box prominently labeled "Made in China" and with a claimed manufacture date in 2007. Whatever factory in China accepted Anatex's outsourcing contract hasn't yet mastered quality control, because there were quite a number of manufacturing defects:
Imprecise assembly: fasteners and brackets are not accurately placed, causing parts to be loose or misaligned. This is most evident on the bead maze on the top and the "abacus" sliding-bead panel on the side, which is mounted on four stand-off brackets. Mount those brackets in the wrong places and the screws used to attach the panel either won't reach or will be under enough strain they'll pull out (it's very soft pine, and screw threads easily pull loose.) Up on the bead maze, some of the wire ends are mounted crooked, resulting in the wires actually touching or just passing so close to one another that the beads can't pass by.
Mismatched, incorrect parts choices: speaking of that panel, one of the screws used to mount it was the incorrect size, and had not only pulled loose but was loose in the box when I unpacked it; it doesn't match any of the others used with identical mountings, nor does it match any other screw found on the entire unit. There's no excuse for that one short of basic incompetence combined with inadequate or nonexistent quality control.
Incorrect gluing: Once again with the abacus panel -- it's held together with glue. Nothing wrong with that if it's done right, but it wasn't -- see, to make a good glue joint you need clean surfaces, a lot of contact area and a proper amount of glue inbetween, plus a good pressure fit while the glue dries. Well, the surfaces were clean and the joint more or less correctly designed, but the glue was _missing_. What was holding it together? A dab of red paint around the corner. Splendid. Paint ain't adhesive, guys, and the whole point of a glue joint is you put some actual _glue_ in there somewhere. As it was, two of the four joints had popped open, causing the rods to dislodge from their sockets and scarring the surface. Those beads are small enough to be a choking hazard if they get loose, so having those glue joints work is important.
Inadequate torque: Ah, the gift that keeps on giving. About a third of the screws and other fasteners in the unit were loose because they hadn't been torqued down hard enough. Another third had stripped the threads out of the soft wood, because they'd been torqued too hard. The remaining third were in a magical inbetween state which might even have been correct torque -- but I suspect it's just coincidence. As I mentioned, this is soft wood, and proper torque matters. (n.b. for nonmechanical types: "torque" roughly means "how hard you twist the screws.")
What else was wrong? Well, there were plenty of inexplicable gouges, scrapes and dings on the surface, even though it was properly packed and nothing in the box had a chance to impact the surface. Plenty of people have commented on that -- it means the factory in China that produced them was working too fast and/or wasn't well tooled for the job, so parts were being thrown around.
So, should you buy this toy? Well, chances are your kid(s) will love it. So if you want one, fine, but be prepared to inspect it very thoroughly when it comes out of the box. Test every screw to ensure it's snug and not loose or stripped. Pop the little plastic caps off the axles on the gear side and check that the locking washers are tight. Check the glue joints and be prepared to spend a little time gluing and clamping. Check both ends of every wire in the bead maze to ensure they're firmly stuck in their mounting holes. Go over all the many dings, gouges and scrapes and smooth out the splintered bits. Find any screws that don't look like they match their companions, gently unscrew them and if they're too short or too fine-pitched in the threads, replace them. While you're at it, attach something heavy to the lower edges on the inside, because it's top-heavy and will tip over the first time your child tries to use it to stand up. Think of it like a toy for both you and your child -- you get a fun evening in the garage fixing everything Anatex's manufacturer did wrong, while showering curses on the consumer-hostile side effects of globalized manufacturing. Then when you're done, your child gets a fun thing to play with.