Portable and soft – kids can cuddle it • Great array of colors and hand-painted characters • Good content collection
Expensive – not just the main speaker but additional stories • too • If you lose a content Tonie • the content is lost for good • While designed for kids up to 7 • appeals to younger kids more
Everything about the Toniebox looks appealing: it’s a screen-free, squeezable cube that comes in an array of colors and features tons of appealing characters the kids will love. With each Tonie character retailing for $14.99 ($11.99 for Creative-Tonies), adding content to the Toniebox can become an expensive habit.
This past year of pandemic living has made nearly everyone more reliant on screens… and therefore more desperate than ever for screen-free entertainment. That’s particularly true of families, who may be searching for non-screen toys for their youngest members (if they have an educational component, even better).
Thanks to this confluence of circumstances, kid-specific are having a big moment. The German-made Toniebox, a durable-yet-squishy cube that plays a variety of stories and songs for kids, saw sales spike by 500% in Europe within the first month of the pandemic-related lockdown in 2020. These devices occupy little ones with stories and songs, are designed to be used without a parent present, and encourage aural learning and a love of reading.
Our co-testers have been enjoying their Toniebox for nearly a year; it’s a genius item for any kid’s bedroom. The little ones are especially enamored of the gorgeous, hand-painted figurines which play the songs and stories. With little ears that work as knobs and an impressive selection of stories and songs, the Toniebox promises hours of independent fun for children aged three to seven. Just don’t lose the Tonies, or you’ll be in trouble.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Toniebox speaker, stories and more.
What is the Toniebox?
The Toniebox is the brainchild of Marcus Stahl and Patric Faßbender, and its low-tech feel is intentional. Both founders are fathers who didn’t want yet another kid’s toy that lit up and flashed the whole time. The first prototype for the speaker was created in 2014 before the finished product launched in Germany, Austria and Switzerland in 2016. An English-speaking Toniebox made its debut in England and Ireland in 2018 and in the USA in 2020. To date, 10.5 million have been sold worldwide.
Designed for kids aged three to seven, the Toniebox is a cute, cube-shaped speaker with a sustainable, water-repellent fabric covering and two rubber “ears” at the top. It begs to be played with: Press and bend the “ears” to adjust the volume (you can also set a volume limit via the app); tap or whack the speaker on either side to move between chapters, and tilt to fast forward or go back. Kids can even cuddle their Toniebox in bed – ours do regularly.
The Toniebox requires an initial WiFi setup through the My Tonies app, and you’ll need to register for a My Tonies account. This is also essential for creating any bespoke Creative-Tonies with your own content, which are made and stored in the app.
There are a few things that set the Toniebox apart. Firstly, you won’t find any flashing lights or flickers. Secondly, there’s a personalization aspect, from the selection of colors on offer (choose from grey, green, red, light blue, pink, purple and red) to Tonie characters you select.
The Toniebox is all about the characters: Both content Tonies ($14.99 each) and Creative-Tonies ($11.99 apiece) are lovely collectibles. You place each hand-painted figurine on the speaker, and they represent the different stories and characters. One Creative-Tonie is included in your starter pack in a choice of three skin colors: fair, medium and dark.
In the US, there are currently 27 Tonies on sale, with more coming this year (there are over 65 in the UK). You’ll find everything from Julia Donaldson’s classic kids’ stories to Disney hits like Aladdin, Frozen and Finding Nemo. There are also nature sounds and white noise albums to help ready little ones for bed.
When you place the Tonie on the speaker, the story will download onto the box; the LED turns green to signal that the audio content has been downloaded completely, at which point you can play the story without a WiFi connection.
Don’t lose the toy, though: If you misplace a content Tonie, the story disappears with it. Tonies run from 16 to 50 minutes apiece, and if you want to get more value for money, choose musical content, which tends to run between 40 and 50 minutes. Disney albums average about 22 minutes.
Creative-Tonies are another way to consume a range of content and are available as hand-painted characters like pirates and superheroes.
Creative-Tonies offer more recording time for the cost, at 90 minutes. They also allow parents, friends and relatives to create a bespoke listening experience for the child. Family and friends can record songs, stories, meditation sessions, conversations and more. These are uploaded via the Tonie app or website, and even if you lose the character, the stories and recordings will be saved onto the cloud.
Accessories like headphones and carry cases for the Tonie – which is easy to tote around – are due to be available in the U.S. soon, and there are also plans to expand the range of languages and stories on sale. In the UK, it feels like new Tonie content is skewing towards older kids. We’ve been listening to How and Why: Space Travel/The Moon, which includes facts about how astronauts move in zero gravity, what they eat in space and why the moon has so many craters. The Toniebox doesn’t support bluetooth so you’ll need wired headphones if you decide to use them. The lack of bluetooth also means you can’t use the device as a portable speaker, unlike its competitor the Yoto Player.
What’s in the box?
Even though the Toniebox and Tonies are expensive, the good news is that the Toniebox Starter Pack ($99.99) comes with enough inside to keep kids entertained for a while.
You receive a speaker, a Creative-Tonie you can fill with 90 minutes of bespoke content, and a regular content Tonie with songs or stories (there are six to choose from, and you can listen to them all on the website to see which one your child will like).
If you want more Tonie stories, you can get a discount by bundling: A starter pack with a Creative-Tonie and three content Tonies is $124.99, while a starter pack that includes five content Tonies is $139.99 (that’s a savings of around $35 from buying the Tonies individually).
You’ll also find a charging station in your starter pack; it takes a bit of time to get the initial Toniebox set up properly (and you need to register for an account online), but once it’s working you can take it around with you wherever you go.
An account isn’t just essential for your initial set-up; you can also download free stories from Tonies using it. We’ve had a few different ones, including a story explaining coronavirus to kids and an album of bedtime stories. To upload stories onto the device from the app, you press one of the ears until you hear a sound. Then the LED flashes blue as it updates; once it turns green, you can place your Creative-Tonie onto the speaker and it will start playing.
Relatives and friends can use the Tonie app to communicate with kids by being granted access to the My Tonie account. Once approved, they can record whatever they like for their loved ones to enjoy – a particularly popular feature during this pandemic.
Toniebox: Our kids’ verdict
Whether you purchase it for yourself or as a gift, a Toniebox speaker is a real asset to any household with young kids. Our testers, including the ones aged three and five, use it completely independently, and will happily play and swap around characters and stories, to entertain themselves in the day and to help them fall asleep at night.
The three-year-old loves the figurines nearly as much as she does listening to the device itself, and regularly makes up imaginary stories starring the characters.
While the U.S. story selection is still slim, there are plenty of stories that kids will want to listen to on repeat, like Julia Donaldson classics (Zog, Room on the Broom and The Gruffalo). These are exactly the kinds of stories kids want to hear 10,000 times in a row – and parents don’t have the energy to keep reciting. With the Toniebox, everyone’s happy.
The collaborative content with brands like Disney and Pixar, as well as the fairy tales, is also high quality. Even our older kids (ages eight and 10) have been sneaking off to listen to these. The sound is fantastic, the narrators are expressive and the Disney albums combine songs and stories for the best of both worlds. There’s a lot of great content for younger listeners, like nursery songs and white noise for bedtime and we’re excited about some of the more factual content making its way over to the U.S. Tonies store.
The Creative-Tonies are another plus, and 90 minutes is a lot of time to read, sing, make a playlist, record a podcast or several. I can make a Creative-Tonie for the kids and fill it with about 15-20 stories.
The main downside with the Toniebox is the cost – and we don’t just mean the initial hundred bucks for the speaker. Spending $14.99 for 25 minutes of pre-loaded content is costly for the content Tonie, especially considering that if your child loses one of the toys (highly likely since they’re just so tempting to play with), the content is lost too. With older children, this is less of an issue, but for toddlers who regularly play with the characters because they like the look of them, you will be losing pieces, content (and money) regularly. This negative also makes the Toniebox a less-appealing travel companion.
This setup also pushes parents towards purchasing Creative-Tonies rather than ones with pre-loaded content, since that content will be stored in the cloud. While the personalization aspect of these is lovely, especially if you can have a relative or friend involved in creating these, having to come up with 90 minutes of content to record might just feel like another stick for time-poor parents to beat themselves with. To make the Toniebox truly amazing, users need to be able to save the content Tonies to the app or speaker so they can listen to them regardless of whether they’ve managed to hold onto the characters.