Product: Hopster TV (iPad app)
Price: free to try, £3.99 monthly subscription for full access
Age Range: 2-6 years
Manufacturer’s Description: Hopster TV: Safe, ad-free videos & learning games for pre-school kids. You can feel good about giving Hopster to your kids! It’s the brand new safe, ad-free TV and learning app just for kids aged 2-6, packed with their favourite TV shows and stimulating learning games. And with weekly content updates, there’s always something new for them to enjoy. Hopster is the only BBFC U-rated app, so you know its completely safe for your child.
Our officially licensed shows include hundreds of episodes of Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom, Humf, Max & Ruby, Paddington Bear, 64 Zoo Lane, SuperWhy!, Tractor Tom and many more.
Rating: (2/5 stars)
Review: We were offered a trial subscription to the Hopster app, a new TV on demand app aimed just at children, and so we gave it a go for a couple of months.
The basic idea of the app is that instead of needing to navigate to the children’s section of an on demand tv app like iPlayer, your child is able to open up the app and go straight to their favourite TV shows. Instead of complicated menus and controls the interface is ultra simple and child friendly.
I really wanted to like Hopster… but I’m afraid I didn’t.
The ultra simple interface is too simple – you cannot fast forward or rewind shows, and although you can pause a show by tapping anywhere on the screen, if you watch another show and go back to the original one your place is lost, and there is no way to get back to where you were. Georgie found this very frustrating as she is accustomed to (and easily mastered) the native iPad video controls. It’s really frustrating for Lydia when she tries to watch something, as she will accidentally touch the screen and the show stops and shrinks back down to the menu screen every time you pause it this way.
We also had a lot of frustrations due to bugs in the app, and slow loading times. Even after Dad’s broadband connection was upgraded to BT infinity and we were enjoying truly “superfast speeds”, the shows would have long loading times and stop to buffer part way through on occasions. This isn’t really acceptable with the sort of low resolution cartoons Georgie was trying to play.
Every now and again the videos would go grey but the audio would continue, and we would have to force quit the app (by double clicking the home button and killing it completely) to get it to start working properly again. Even after the app updated with bug fixes this was still occurring. We were plagued with dropped connection errors too, and each time it lost connection for a minute it went all the way back to the main menu. It would be better if the app dealt with this in a similar way to Netflix, which pauses the show for a minute to give the app a chance to reconnect, before deciding if there is a serious connection error.
The “educational games” included as part of the app were frankly, a bit rubbish. There are much better games available for free on the app store, and Georgie ended up just bypassing them most of the time, as they didn’t hold her attention at all. It almost felt like they have added the games in so that they can say the app has “education through play” and isn’t just about watching TV.
However, despite all of the above, there were good points to this app too. The main menu design is lovely with a cartoon tree… Each leaf is a different TV show, and you just tap on a leaf to load that show. You can then choose the episode you want to watch from the thumbnails along the bottom – all very simple and child friendly.
It would be nice if there was an indicator to show if you have watched that one already, so you can be sure you don’t miss out on any episodes, and I wouldn’t be adverse to the episode titles being on there too – quite often Georgie will ask for a particular episode and it can usually be identified by the title as they tend to be very descriptive for kids TV, for example “León, the Circus Lion” is “the Lion one” from Dora.
Their selection of kids TV shows is great; Georgie really enjoys Ben & Holly, and the new nursery rhymes channel was a bit hit with her too. It’s great to see some classic children’s shows mixed in with the newer ones, as well.
The monthly subscription cost for Hopster is £3.99. To be honest, I think this is a little expensive – despite the fact it has been reduced from it’s original pricing of £5.99. Yes, there are no ads and your children are limited to view U rated shows, but you could sign up to Netflix for another £2.00 a month and get a larger selection of children’s TV shows, as well as loads of great kids films too – not to mention all of the adult TV & films.
Georgie uses the Netflix app a lot to watch many of her favourite shows and it’s great – the profiles mean that she knows to tap her penguin icon when it loads up, which puts her straight into Kids mode, where she is unable to access any adult content and can easily browse shows and films to find what she wants. It isn’t anywhere near as simple as Hopster but she mastered it months ago, and she is still only two – the lowest end of Hopster’s target age of 2-6 years.
When we trialled Hopster at the beginning of the year, there was no option to download shows to watch offline at all. I’m thrilled to see that they have added this option, but it is for “selected shows only” and you are limited as to how many you have stored on your iPad. Try explaining that to a two year old! At the moment we tend to use Netflix when we have a wifi collection and then now & again I treat her to a series of her favourite shows from iTunes for around £5, so we can download them for a long car journey, etc. Not being able to use the whole app when we’re not at home is a lot easier for her to understand than only being able to access a little bit.
There are definitely a lot of good points to Hopster and if you are concerned that your child would stray away from the children’s section of iPlayer or similar, then I would recommend you try it out. There is no way for them to watch anything that isn’t age appropriate, and they won’t have to watch any adverts, either.
Unfortunately, for us, the app just felt too buggy, too over-simplified, and Georgie would get very frustrated at times trying to watch the shows she wanted. It is a great idea and I genuinely do like the concept and the intention behind the app, but I think they still have some work to do before I would consider signing up to the monthly subscription. They need to continue ironing out those bugs, speed up loading times, and make the games feel like more than an after-thought.
I’m afraid it’s just 2 stars for this one.