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CD-ROM Review - Smart Kids: Touring the Planets - Softkey/Science Museum

 

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Unusually for us, this is a CD-ROM, not a book - and a very effective one at that (with some provisos about the conversion to English, which we'll come back to).

After putting in your name (it remembers what you've seen, so different children can keep track of their own progress), you come across five children each of which provides their own, subtly linked tour through a set of topics. There's also a sixth "smart kid" that tries to match a tour to your interests given what you have looked at already.

The full title is "Hands-on experiments for Smart Kids: Touring the Planets" and that hands-on experiments part is why it is so successful. Instead of being all exposition by talking heads, each topic (and there are around 100 of these) is covered in a little experiment where you actually do something to find out more. The experiments are all structured the same way - a little intro, the experiment itself, then a separate summing up page. Some are more effective than others, but, for example, being able to drag a spherical and a flat moon into the earth's shadow and see the different behaviour of the phases (showing the moon isn't flat) is wonderful.

The only real criticism of the content is that, with the computer graphics technology available today, it would have been good to have real video integrated with the drawn graphics. These are pleasant and colourful, but the real thing can be even more impressive.

So far, so good, and the four star rating is based on the information you have seen so far. If we were to take into account this final remark, unfortunately we would have to chop one or even two stars off the rating. This title was originally French (there's no attempt to conceal this - Windows puts it in a sub-folder called France Telecom), and not enough work has been done in the translation. There are occasional typos ("coolness" rendered as "coolnes" for example), but this is most obvious when anything goes wrong - the error messages are still in French! Worse, we managed to get the program into a loop of error messages it couldn't escape from.

From a UK English viewpoint, it is also very clearly translated for a US market. This not only means that all the commentaries have American accents, but there are some unfamiliar words (faucet for tap, for example), and some phrasing that just doesn't feel right in UK English (e.g. "Can we catch cold in space?") Other text has a slightly unnatural translated feel in either version of the language. Obviously the US is a larger market, and it's sensible to have a version in US English, but if there is any serious intention of getting into the UK there similarly ought to be a UK version (especially as it carries a "Science Museum approved" sticker).

These problems don't prevent it being a good title, but it's to be hoped the manufacturer sorts them out as soon as possible.

According to the blurb, this CD-ROM works on both PCs and Macs - we have only tested it on a PC.

Reviewed by Brian Clegg

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Last update 05 June 2007