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Best Choice Products® Baby Playpen Kids 8 Panel Safety Play Center Yard Home Indoor Outdoor New Pen - Blue
Best Choice Products® Baby Playpen Kids 8 Panel Safety Play Center Yard Home Indoor Outdoor New Pen - Blue
Offered by BestChoiceproducts
Price: $107.95
14 used & new from $107.95

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If your toddler needs to go to "baby jail", why not choose a luxury white collar prison?, April 17, 2016
Being new parents, my wife and I weren't quite prepared for how quickly our daughter would learn to crawl. As she passed six months and seven months the best she could muster was getting on all fours and inching herself backwards.

Then, one day my wife was in the kitchen, she looked down, and baby had crawled her way all the way from the mat in the living room, past the dining room, and to the kitchen. She and I looked at each other and thought one thing. It's time for baby jail.

We hadn't planned ahead, so I had to do some quick research on Amazon. I wasn't thrilled at the playpens I was seeing (and renaming them "play yards" didn't really help). They were all tiny. Graco seemed to have the highest rated ones, but they were so tiny (probably because they're meant to be portable) that it felt like putting baby into solitary confinement. I had great experience with our Mamaroo that I checked out the breeze by 4moms, but at $300 for a space under 4 square feet it seemed excessive.

We looked at gates, but most of them looked like literal jails with iron bars or worse, like cages (and in fact, a lot of them are advertised as being for either babies or dogs).

And then I came across this product by Best Choice Products. I was really, really skeptical at first. First, it looks like this same product is marketed by different companies under different names I'd never heard of which all sounded fake (Giantex, Kidzone, Baby Diego, ProSource, etc.); this can often be a bad sign, especially with products made in China. It usually means that a manufacturer couldn't find a name brand distributor, so they push their products through cheap importers that won't be accountable for safety issues.

While cheaper versions what what appeared to be the same product are readily available on eBay, I decided to go with Best Choice Products, first because they have a Web site that looks pretty legitimate (and sells replacement parts), and second because of the rave reviews here on Amazon. I normally try to avoid products from China but in this case there didn't seem to be an alternative.

The package came quickly in a big box. Each big plastic panel comes in a separate plastic bag. When you first take it out there is an odor, but that goes away after being out in the air for a day.

It's amazingly easy to put together. You just lift one panel slightly, align the pegs in one panel with the holes in the other, and drop it in. Gravity will keep the panels from coming apart. The structure is pretty sturdy on its own, but you can also further stabilize the unit by pressing the suction cups on the bottom to your floor (that's why this works much better on hardwood floors than on carpet).

You'll want to put a mat inside. For me, the unit fit PERFECTLY with my Snug Square Play Mat for Babies and Kids- Cream-Espresso. When you configure the walls like a square, the mat fits almost exactly inside. And at 5 feet by 5 feet, your little ones has a lot of room to roam around.

I appreciated the details. There's a panel with some interactive toys built in--two rolling balls, a plastic telephone, and a little window that displays generic scenes that look like they're from Mother Goose. The red door has a latch that you can use to lock baby in securely. The walls are high enough to keep baby in, at least until he or she starts standing and practicing the high jump, but not so high that most adults can't step over them. The little "ramp" you can install in and out is also a plus, as are the whimsical stickers (which you can optionally put on; we chose to keep ours off knowing that baby would eventually find a way to eat them).

It's not a place where you can leave baby unattended for long periods of time--eventually if baby gets angry enough he or she will probably figure out a way to knock down one of the walls like a battering ram. On the other hand, this is a lifesaver if you need to run to the kitchen or fold laundry without baby following you.

Overall, we're happy with our purchase, and with this vendor.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 24, 2016 12:07 PM PDT

Lamaze Peek-A-Boo Forest Soft Book
Lamaze Peek-A-Boo Forest Soft Book
Price: $10.79
5 used & new from $9.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Easily the best of the Lamaze Cloth Books, January 28, 2016
This was the first Lamaze cloth book I purchased. I've since gotten a number of others, but this one is by far the best.

The book is cloth; the owl on the cover has a plush head and beak, but the rest of the book consists of cloth pages. On each page you'll read a question like "Who is Hiding Behind the Spruce?" Flip a flap that's made of the crinkly material babies love so much, as you'll see the animal hiding behind it along with a rhyming phrase ("Peek a Boo! It's the Moose").

I started reading it with my daughter when she was about four months old. At that point it was more an exercise for me, as she just sat in my lap and looked around while I gave her my dramatic reading night after night. It's fascinating to see from day to day how we go through the same exercise how she discovers more and more. At a certain point she's get a huge grin on her face when I'd lift the flap and scream the "Peek a Boo!" phrase. A few days later she started grabbing the crinkly "peek a boo" flaps on her own (and of course giving them a taste). After a certain amount of time I memorized the whole book (this ain't War and Peace), and sometimes randomly throughout the day I'll utter one of the phrase to her, at which point she breaks out in a huge knowing grin. As time goes by, I sense I'll be turning back to this book as she learns colors, shapes, animals, textures, and more.

Like I said, I bought a few other Lamaze books, but none of them matched the quality of this one, both in workmanship and entertainment value. This book is so much more tactile than others like Captain Calamari (which just has a burry mirror) and Sir Prance-a-Lot (which has nothing). Even Shine a Light Freddy can't hold a candle to this one.

The Word of Promise, NKJV: New Testament Audio Bible
The Word of Promise, NKJV: New Testament Audio Bible
by Thomas Nelson
Edition: Audio CD
14 used & new from $22.69

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent way to "read" the Bible for our lower attention span generation, January 15, 2016
If you're like me, as a member of this generation with our short attention spans, every year you make a resolution to read the Bible through, and every year you get stuck a few weeks in. And so this product is literally a godsend. If you can't read the Bible through, why not do the next best thing and have someone read it to you?

Over the years, there have been a couple great "Bibles on Tape". Alexander Scourby originally recorded the King James Bible on LP records in the 1950s, and those were the gold standard for years. More recently, Max McLean released The Listener's Bible, which continued the deep, resonant voice of Scourby, just with a slightly more pronounced accent and a continuous music track in the background.

The Word of Promise, released by Thomas Nelson, comes in both a New Testament Audio Bible and a Complete Audio Bible version. It's unlike the Scourby and McLean audit Bibles in that there's not just a single narrator, but a whole cast of them. And not just anyone. Jim Caviezel, best known for this portrayal of Christ in The Passion of the Christ, takes on narration of Jesus' words. And other "parts" are narrated by other stars whose names you'll recognize; Marisa Tomei, Michael York, Richard Dreyfuss, Stacy Keach, Lou Gossett, Jr, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Terence Stamp, and many, many more.

The Bible is presented in "Dramatic Audio Theater", which more or less hearkens back to the days of old radio drama, complete with background music track and subtle sound effects that never distract from the text. The actors keep it subtle as well--none of them ham it up or play their roles overly dramatically, but keep it somewhere between a dramatic reading and regular narration. The acting doesn't distract from the message itself, it only augments it. I remember when I used to teach Sunday school I'd have the kids "act out" the parts of the Bible in a similar way, and it really helps put you in the stories themselves and even helps you understand them more, rather than feel like you're just reading a dry college textbook. Something else that drives me nuts is when people read the Bible in a group and start it with "verse 1", "verse 2", "verse 3", which totally breaks up the flow of reading. Obviously that's not something to worry about on this audio Bible.

Incidentally, one reviewer below wrote that Mark 9:1 is omitted, but that's actually not the case at all--because Mark 9:1 is a sentence that concludes a passage in the previous chapter, the audio for this verse is actually included at the end of Mark 8. For me, it's another plus that the producers didn't forcibly break up the audio by chapters and verses, but rather by the flow that the author of the text intended.

That said, at times it seems like they were stretching the concept of "audio theater". Before some of the Pauline letters, for example, you'll hear supposed "behind the scenes" chatter between Paul and the scribe taking his dictation--cute, but quite unnecessary.

The delivery mechanism of using audio CDs is feeling a bit antiquated at this point. As other reviewers have noted, the plastic case for the 2015 New Testament version isn't exactly the easiest to open or to figure out how to get CDs in or out. And unless you're in the car, chances are you hardly use a CD player anymore, so you're more likely to copy the files into iTunes or something (which is what I did, one CD at a time). Granted, I'm one of those people who likes to have a physical copy myself rather than relying keeping everything online, but in this case I would have preferred distribution on a flash drive or something.

Overall, I highly recommend this--it feels like a natural progression from the Scourby LPs to the McLean cassettes to an audio Bible for this generation.

Disney Baby Peeking Pooh and Friends Musical Mobile
Disney Baby Peeking Pooh and Friends Musical Mobile
Offered by sushka
Price: $73.66
3 used & new from $58.41

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic mobile featuring Pooh and friends; 5 stars from my daughter despite some shoddy workmanship and quality, January 10, 2016
Of all the baby toys we have, this is the one that ended up being our daughter's absolute favorite for her first five months of life. Even when she was just about two months old, as soon as Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, and Eeyore start making their rounds, she'd stare with wonderment and break out in a huge grin. And now when I put her under the mobile she'll open her mouth in a huge smile and wave her arms and legs excitedly. There have even been times she'd even be crying inconsolably, but a few seconds under the mobile and she'd start giggling (until the music stopped). I do like how unlike other mobiles, which seem to be built more for viewing by adults standing over the crib, with this one all the characters are angled down so the baby has a good look at them.

That's the good news. The bad news is, for $50+ it is kind of pricey, especially given some of the construction flaws. The two rings that hold up the characters feel like they're just cardboard wrapped in fabric and as such are pretty much warped to the point where the circle isn't symmetrical, and no matter how many times I try to bend them back into shape they remain that way.

The music box, as other reviewers on this site and the Babies "R" Us site have noted, is absurdly cheaply made--after a few weeks of use some notes will start dropping out or the music may be out of tune. Sadly, this is pretty much the way all these mobiles are made these days--you can no longer find really well-constructed ones that really stand the test of time (the good news, if you can call it that, is that you can go onto eBay to buy a replacement shipped directly from China for under $5). It's kind of a sign of the times--years ago a company would sell a mobile that costs $50 but was built to last. These days, the companies still charge $50, but source their components to the lowest bidder. If you're lucky, it'll last the 5-6 months your baby will be using this, but don't plan on using it for other children without spending money to replace the parts.

So why am I giving it five stars? As overpriced as it as and as cheaply made as it is, this is the one thing that has captured my daughter's imagination for all these months. The stuffed animals are very well made and like miniature versions of what you'd find in the Disney Store--after your baby no longer needs the mobile you can easily cut them off their strings and use them as toys that are perfect for little hands (or even use them as Christmas ornaments).

This mobile is technically exclusive to Babies 'R' Us, so do your homework before buying it on Amazon--if you're paying more than $49.99 for it, you're probably paying a third party seller too much, and you may want to go to Babies 'R' Us to get it from the source.

Baby Brezza Formula Pro One Step Food Maker
Baby Brezza Formula Pro One Step Food Maker
Price: $159.86
36 used & new from $149.79

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Despite slight annoyances, an essential item for formula-fed babies, December 16, 2015
Add me to the list of parents who love this thing. As other reviewers have said, this is like a "Keurig for babies". Press a button, watch the wheels inside turn, and voila, you have 2, 4, 6, 8, or 10 ounces of formula just as if you've bought the ready-to-feed in a bottle.

Well, sort of. As our pediatrician explained to us, while the ingredients of powdered formula vs. ready-to-feed is the same, the facilities they use to manufacture the ready-to-feed have powerful mixers that produce thousands more little bubbles, which is why ready-to-feed seems to much richer and creamier. As for the Baby Brezza, sometimes I'll look at it dispensing and little clumps of powder will get into the bottle, which means I have to end up mixing it by hand anyway. But it's still a lot more convenient than opening a can, scooping just the right amount of powder, filling a bottle with water, carefully putting the powder in the bottle, and shaking, all with a screaming infant in your other arm.

We made the mistake of switching our baby to 100% powder overnight and we (and she) paid the price for it. Today we're basically mixing the ready-to-feed with the powered formula from the Baby Breeza, and baby is happy. It's a great way to continue to feed her the ready-to-feed, but just to stretch it so we're not taking out a second mortgage for Similac.

One cautionary tale/tip is to write a note on the Baby Brezza reminding you to check the mixing wheel attachment size each time you switch brands of formula, and to go to their Web site to download the latest. We started our little girl on Enfamil Newborn. It was confusing because the insert in the box told us to use one size, while the Web site told us one size bigger (it turns out Enfamil had changed their formula). And after we got the Enfamil working we switched to Similac but completely forgot that we had to go one size smaller.

Something else I'm not crazy about is how much powder goes to waste if you decide to switch formula. If you put in a 12-ounce package of powder, you'll maybe use about 7-8 ounces before the machine says that you're at the minimum and it can't dispense any more. So that additional 4-5 ounces either goes into the trash or you'll need to mix it by hand.

But annoyance aside, I do love how well this product is built and how it makes powered formula feeding so much easier.

Philips 456210 Hue White and Color Ambiance A19 Bulb Starter Kit 2nd Generation, Works with Alexa
Philips 456210 Hue White and Color Ambiance A19 Bulb Starter Kit 2nd Generation, Works with Alexa
Price: $199.99
14 used & new from $117.00

172 of 188 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Philips reverses decision to block third party bulbs, December 13, 2015
Update: Earlier today (12/16/2015) Philips reversed its decision to block third-party bulbs (h/t to Richard Brennan for leaving a comment letting us know).

I try to be honest and fair in my reviews on Amazon, and when a company does the right thing to correct a mistake and/or I discover new things good or bad about the product, I'll amend my review accordingly.

In this case, regarding the issue of blocking third party bulbs Philips heard its customers loud and clear. We don't need a big corporation to "protect us from ourselves". The vast majority of us will continue to buy Philips bulbs, but for the minority of us who still want to experiment and tinker we want that option as well and will accept whatever consequences arise. That's how an open system works.

I appreciate the fact that Philips is listening to its customers and doing the right thing. And so I'm happy to rescind what I said and once again recommend Philips Hue.

In addition to the things I wrote below about why I love Hue, probably the thing I love the most is that for years as authorities were banning incandescent bulbs it seems that our future was going to be relegated to a world of depressing CFL lighting. But LED technology changed all that, and Philips certainly made it accessible. One thing I love to do is to go into the OnSwitch app from time to time and turn on the "fluorescent bulb" light recipe and sit in the depressing world that might have been had LED not come along.

For me the colors was just a bonus. Hue literally changed our life--we'd originally wanted to paint our walls different colors, but we decided to paint them an off-white, neutral color so that with the click of a button we could effectively get a different paint job every day. It's really amazing how changing the light of a room can change your mood. Look up "color moods" or "color psychology" and you'll see what I mean. (But just a warning--if you're trying to lose weight don't color your room red or orange)

Like many of you my first set of Hue lights was the first-generation BR-30 lamps--if you look hard enough you can find these at a pretty good price on clearance nowadays. But I much prefer this second generation of A19 bulbs because of a couple things. Obviously there's the HomeKit integration (something I don't need right now as I'm using my own combination of Echo, WeMo, and Hue to do everything, but it's nice to know the option is there). While they tout the improved brightness of these lights (which isn't all that noticeable) for me the bigger improvement was that they're able to dim to much lower levels than before--something that always annoyed me (and the baby) about the old lights.

The form factor of the A19 bulbs (essentially the standard light bulbs you grew up using) is convenient because it fits into any existing light fixture (with the BR-30s I had to remove lamp shades or twist the wires to fit them, and remove sconces all just to satiate my geekiness...much to my wife's dismay, but now with the A19s everything looks and fit as it should). Philips also improved the packaging--the BR-30s came in a gigantic box that was a bear to carry and ship, but the new packaging fits everything in about a third of the size. Finally, I like the fact that they use real glass instead of the plastic of the BR-30s, which makes these feel more like "real light bulbs".

One of the annoying things, though, was that Echo doesn't work out of the box with the 2.0 hub. It's a shame that neither Amazon nor Philips will seem to even talk with each other when launching a new product when so many of their users depend on using both their products together. Luckily, I kept my 1.0 hub in, and everything still works (the 1.0 hub didn't recognize the new bulbs automatically, but the app gave me the option of entering the serial numbers on the bulbs manually, which worked fine).

Another gripe I have is about their app. It's an interesting premise (you take a photo and then assign each of the lights to a different spot in the photo to come up with your "light recipe") but the default lighting schemes are more gimmicky than anything practical. Philips should pay app developers like OnSwitch to just license their software instead of pushing their own subpar app.

And so I'm changing my review back to what it would have been in the beginning before this whole mess started, four stars (five for the lights, but docking one star for the app and the lack of Echo compatibility with the new bridge). So once again, I do recommend this product. But just so we (and Philips) don't forget, I'll keep my original review below.

Original Review from 12/13/15
Recent developments from Philips show they're not a company to be trusted

I was one of the biggest advocates of Philips Hue there was. I admit, at first I thought the premise was ridiculous. Who in the world is going to pay more than $60 for a light bulb when you can buy them at the dollar store for pennies on the dollar?

But after I installed my Hue I was a believer. The hub was easy to install, the app was easy to use, and it was amazing how three little bulbs in a room could change the entire atmosphere. One click and it felt like you were standing outside in the sun. Another and you felt like the room was lit by candles. Yet another and you felt the room was lit up with Christmas lights. (Incidentally, I'd strongly recommend downloading an app called "OnSwitch" instead of using Philips' default app for the best color "recipes").

So yes, just like Philips convinced me to spend $200 for a toothbrush, they convinced me to spend $200 for three light bulbs. And in both cases the engineering as well as the impact they had on my daily life was so good that I didn't mind.

But like many other long-time users of Hue, their latest firmware upgrade caused my opinion of this product to plummet overnight.

To give a little background, Philips Hue was built on an open technology called ZigBee, which has been around for almost 10 years but has recently taken the home automation market by storm. Since Philips launched its product, ZigBee-certified competitive bulbs like those from Osram, GE Link, and CREE Connected worked fine with the hub. But as of December 11, they pushed a software patch to forcibly disable any competitors' products from working on their Hub. Only Philips products and those dubbed "Friends of Hue" (essentially third party developers who pay a huge fee to Philips) work anymore.

Ostensibly the reason they give for this is "we just can't guarantee this seamless experience for products from other brands that are not tested and certified". But if the buyer is willing to take that risk, why not just leave well enough alone?

Sadly, the real reason likely comes down to good old fashioned corporate greed. The same company that charges you $12 for a toothbrush head that costs them $0.50 to make now want to make sure that it protects its revenue stream of people buying $60 light bulbs. The only difference is that while they can't strong-arm you into not buying cheap replacement brush heads, one flip of the switch and they can shut you out of buying competitors' light bulbs. And someone in corporate must have done the math--we'll tick off a certain number of early adopters who paid full retail for our product and evangelized it to thousands of others...but now that the product is reaching critical mass in the marketplace we'll shut the door and milk the cash cow.

What would have been nice, especially for a system based on open standards, would have been if they just competed in the open marketplace. If their bulbs are truly better than their competitors, I'll gladly pay the $60. By shutting out competition, all it tells me is that they have no interest in innovating or improving, just on gouging the next set of customers to come along.

Sad that it's come to this, as this otherwise would have been a 5-star review. I hope Philips sees the foolishness of what they're doing and turns this around.
Comment Comments (23) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 12, 2016 1:59 PM PDT

MagSafe to MagSafe 2 Converter MD504ZM/A
MagSafe to MagSafe 2 Converter MD504ZM/A
Offered by GG.Tech. Service & More INC
Price: $7.29
13 used & new from $6.89

5.0 out of 5 stars Great way to breathe new life into old MacBook power cables, December 10, 2015
I normally hate it when computer equipment manufacturers deliberately change things like power adapter plugs, spare batteries, toner cartridges, peripheral plugs, and things like that because it's so obvious in the vast majority of the cases some brilliant product manager decided to put his or her own imprimatur on the product for no apparent reason other than to gouge the customer out of more money.

With Apple I don't tend to mind as much. Yes, it was painful after I'd collected a closet full of cables with old iPod 30-pin style connectors, only to find out that Apple was changing to the Lightning connector (and forcing them to be certified to boot). On the other hand, I can't argue with how much more convenient the Lightning connector is, especially when I trip on cables, a daily occurrence.

The game goes for the MagSafe 2 power plug. I loved my MagSafe connector just fine, thank you very much, and I built up a collection of MacBook power adapters so I could have one at work, one at home, and one to travel with. And so when I got my new MacBook with the MagSafe 2, I figured, there goes another $300 of useless adapters to throw in the pile with my old Dell, Toshiba, Lenovo, and PowerBook adapters.

But I can't argue that the MagSafe 2 is a definite improvement. To test it out I tripped over my MacBook cable twice today. Instead of what happens to my Toshiba laptop (where the whole thing comes crashing to the ground) with the Mac it just happily pops out and sticks back in securely with the magnet. And with the old connectors, one very common annoyance was their tendency to fray at the end over time, something I see they've engineered to fix with the new cables.

And I was thrilled to find this $10 adapter that converts the old MagSafe to a MagSafe 2. Apple's marketing material will have you believe that this is only good for use with monitor cables, but it'll work just as well with an older power adapter too, as long as it had the MagSafe connector on it. It just snaps via magnet to the old connector, snaps via magnet to your laptop, and you're in business. While others will kvetch at having to pay $10 a pop for this tiny metal piece, for me it sure beats the $80 a pop that other computer manufacturers make me pay to buy a brand new adapter.

If you must get upset at gouging, do so with the third party sellers on Amazon who are charging upwards of $20 or more for this thing. Do yourself a favor and go straight to Apple to pick this up.

Sphero Star Wars BB-8 Droid
Sphero Star Wars BB-8 Droid
Offered by MallStop
Price: $128.75
425 used & new from $75.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great technology, although not so much a "toy" as a working scale model, November 30, 2015
A few years ago, I bought my brother-in-law perhaps one of the most perfect presents a geek could give another geek--a Sphero remote-controlled ball. It was at the same time completely useless and completely amazing. While remote-control vehicles have been with us forever, it takes a true geek to appreciate the engineering that goes into creating a remote-controlled ball.

I was wondering what Sphero would do for an encore. Whoever the marketing guy was that came up with the idea of approaching the Star Wars: The Force Awakens licensing team should be given a million dollars (although something tells he'll get that and more). It's a product licensing deal made in heaven--cutting edge technology used to make the hottest new droid character, the BB-8, come to life. My only hope for the company is that BB-8 turns out to be more like R2-D2 than Jar Jar Binks as far as how much it ends up being loved by the public.

Like the Sphero ball, the BB-8 works right out of the box. You unbox it and place it on its dock that can be powered by any USB charger. You then download the app from the Apple Store or Google Store. Place your phone or tablet near the unit and it'll recognize it automatically. Once that happens you can start controlling it right away. Unlike the Sphero ball, the BB-8 also has a "head" that's magnetically attached to the ball that remarkably stays on the top of the ball just like the 'real' droid's head.

It takes a bit of getting used to controlling the BB-8. The app will show you two sets of joysticks. You swipe the right one to adjust a flashing blue LED light that animates within the unit, setting it to point directly to you. Once that's done, you control it using standard up-down-left-right joystick controls to the left.

Controlling your BB-8 is lots of fun...just be forewarned that dogs, cats, and the luddites in your life may get just a little freaked out by it and run screaming from it. But everyone else will see it for the cute little robot that it is, It's of course smaller than the real one you see in the movies, but otherwise looks identical. We tried the BB-8 on a hardwood floor where it handled itself perfectly, but when it went onto a tatami mat, it started to get stuck. Best rule of thumb--if you can roll a ball on the surface, you can use the BB-8.

After an initial phase of wonderment and awe just controlling it does get a little old rather quickly (unless you have a remote control car and decide to have drag races). I do like how they included additional features in the app. One is a messaging feature where you record a video message (think Princess Leia recording her message for Obi-Wan in R2-D2) and using augmented reality, when you point your phone's camera to the BB-8, you'll see the video image of your room with the BB-8 displaying a "hologram" (again, a la R2-D2) which transmits the message over and over. Of course, this is of limited practical value as only the image on your screen will show this, not the actual unit, but it still did get oohs and aahs when people saw it.

Another feature of the app is an autonomous mode where the BB-8 will roam your hours on its own, much like a Roomba does. It'll plot out its path on the app as it goes; I would have liked to see it perform some kind of mapping function (how cool would it have been to have the BB-8 measure my room instead of me always having to take the tape measure out), but ultimately its "tour" just resulted in a bunch of random lines. To the BB-8's credit, it's pretty good about not banging into walls. To sum up the apps, they're fun as demonstrations but do fall short of anything of much practical use or value.

The box claims that the robot has "artificial intelligence" and will "learn" and build a personality as time goes on, but this seemed more like marketing fluff to me. Still, hopefully they're working on additional improvements to the app to enable some cool new features.

If I had to sum up, I'd say you'd be best not to think of the BB-8 as a "toy" per se as much as it is a scale model replica of the BB-8 with a glimpse into some very cool technology. Perhaps one day the BB-8 will fetch your slippers or transmit real messages to people in the other room, but for now it's mainly a conversation piece at parties and one of the best movie merchandising products around (appropriate since it was Star Wars and George Lucas who helped movie merchandising take off in the first place).

Snug Square Play Mat for Babies and Kids- Cream-Espresso
Snug Square Play Mat for Babies and Kids- Cream-Espresso
Offered by Baby Mushroom LLC
Price: $99.95
2 used & new from $85.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Phenomenal mat, even more phenomenal customer service, November 29, 2015
We live in an apartment with hardwood floors throughout, so "tummy time" for our four-month old has always been relegated to either our bed or a few layers of blankets we'd throw on the floor. I've been searching for the right play mat for the longest time. I was almost going to go for those interlocking play mats, but I got spooked when I read all the reviews talking about toxic smells and questionable manufacturing quality control. Then one day I saw this one pop up on a Lightning Deal and I jumped at it.

As it was a pure impulse buy I didn't read the product details carefully. So I was a bit surprised to see a 4.5 foot box waiting for me at my door. I opened the box and found the mat neatly rolled up like a giant burrito in a clear plastic carrying case. I unzipped it unfolding before me was a 4.5" mat.

The first order of business was to wash it. The outer cover is removable (you need to clip a few threads to reveal the zipper, and then the whole cover unzips and comes off easily). Once I did this, I saw that the inside was just a giant piece of foam, similar to the foam you might find in a box when you order high-end electronics. My first instincts were to be a little skeptical. I just paid $100 for a giant piece of foam? And worse, the foam was ripped inside the cloth cover.

Exasperated, I went to their Web site and filled out their contact us form, not expecting to hear anything for weeks. To my utter surprise, within a few hours I received an email from the founder of the company. It turns out she's an entrepreneur running her small business right here in the United States. In fact, it turns out she happened to be local to me, so she arranged to have a replacement hand-delivered to me--and during the Thanksgiving holiday, no less.

I tried the mat out today. What I realized is that the foam I looked on so skeptically is probably THE perfect material for a mat like this. If the mat were stuffed with a more traditional filler like cotton or polyester it'd be far too heavy and probably too plush. And having used those snap-together mats in the past, they're usually much too rigid and come apart too easily. And both would be painful to wash--at best you might be able to vacuum it or wipe it with a few wipes, hardly the most sanitary things for a place your baby will be spending the better part of her day on.

The thick foam made this mat super-light, which means you can travel with it (it rolls up nicely and there are velcro straps to hold it together so it's very convenient, as long as you don't mind lugging a 4.5 foot burrito around with you). It is all one-piece, meaning 4.5" x 4.5" of smooth, literally seamless space for baby to roam around. And it was the absolute perfect consistency and thickness. It's soft enough that it feels plush and comfortable (so much so that you can't feel the hard floor underneath it), but just solid enough that it stays in one place on the floor and baby won't "sink in" to it while playing but practically bounce off it. And the microfiber cover was amazingly soft and luxurious to the touch, and even after washing it in the washer and dryer it felt soft and silky. My wife literally wanted to take a nap on it the first time she lay on it.

The real test came when we put baby on it for the first time. She did her usual tummy-time routine of pushing herself up with her hands and lifting her head to look around. But then to her mom's and my amazement, she actually started rolling over back and forth on her own, something evidently she'd been wanting to do for a while now but we just never gave her the chance!

Needless to say, despite my initial misgivings I am glad I chose this mat over all the others. And as I learned more about the company founder, I learned that she herself is a mom who lived in an urban apartment, so she faced the very same problems we do and left her successful job in the corporate world to start her business selling innovative products. That, plus the very personal service I received, was proof positive for me that this is a company that takes pride in their products and stands behind them. It's refreshing to have experienced this quality and service of this small business as compared to those nameless, faceless corporations out there that only see our babies as little bouncing dollar signs.

I look forward to seeing more things from Baby Mushroom, and can't recommend this mat highly enough.

Philips Avent Soothie Pacifier, Pink/Purple, 0-3 Months, 2 Count
Philips Avent Soothie Pacifier, Pink/Purple, 0-3 Months, 2 Count
Price: $4.49
82 used & new from $1.25

5.0 out of 5 stars Best pacifier on the market, November 23, 2015
Our hospital was one of the 2,000 that carried this--in the hospital they came in individual packs. At first we thought this meant they were disposable and to be thrown away after one use, but soon I realized that they're the same that they sell in stores, and so we could sterilize them and use them more than once.

I remember the first time baby started crying inconsolably in the middle of the night after a few weeks of being home. We were at our wit's end of what to do. She was fed, she was clean, and she was tired, but she just wouldn't sleep. After a few hours of singing, rocking, and general chaos my mother-in-law suggested we try one of the pacifiers we brought home from the hospital. Surely enough, within half a second she was sound asleep.

There are a couple things I particularly like about this model:

- Open design - Other pacifiers (including other Philips ones) close the nipple so when you try washing it, liquid and condensation get inside. You end up with a layer of film or dirt inside the nipple which while not harmful to the baby as the baby will never touch it, is still disconcerting. With the Soothie, everything is out in the open so all you need to do is wash, sanitize, and it's good as new.

- The hole - I love that I can put one finger in the hole and hold it steady until baby gets some good suction going. Again, with other pacifiers I'm usually awkwardly grasping at it to keep it steady.

- The tab - I prefer this much more to the rings you see on other pacifiers. You can tug on it to help make sure baby has a good grip on it, and it's easy to pull out of baby's mouth.

- The air holes - There are little holes in the top of the pacifier for baby to breathe through. They were a little too widely spaced for our baby's nose, but that said she never had any problems breathing while using one of these.

In my exuberance over finding how well the pacifier work I went out and bought some others, but I ended up going back to the Soothies. Happily, baby seems to be growing out of it--the trick that worked for us to keep her from getting too attached to it has been to use it only at night and only when we've completely run out of all other options.

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