After Hours

Geek Gifts 2010: Rubik's TouchCube

If you love the Rubik's Cube, then you'll want to read Wally Bahny's review of the latest toy from Rubik's: the TouchCube.

Rubik's has been selling puzzle games for more than 30 years, with its mass market distribution of the original Rubik's Cube beginning in 1980. Now, with its most recent iteration in a long line of spinoffs, Rubik's has brought modern technology together with the classic game in the Rubik's TouchCube.

Specifications

  • Three-by-three-by-three cube, just like the original Rubik's Cube
  • Light-up, touch-sensitive surfaces
  • Power button, accessible from one face's center square
  • Adjustable sound effect volume, accessible from one face's center square
  • Solver, Hint, Undo, and Scramble functions, each accessible from the other four center squares
  • Display base with charger
  • The TouchCube is $149.95 on Rubik's Web site.
  • TechRepublic photo gallery of the unboxing of the Rubik's TouchCube.

Here's a vendor demo of the Rubik's TouchCube:

Disclosure: We received a TouchCube from Rubik's for this review.

What I like

  • Touch-sensitive technology: The Rubik's TouchCube's touch-sensitive technology is a great addition to the classic game.
  • Brightness of lights: The lights are sufficiently bright to be visible in anything except direct sunlight.
  • Solved state: I don't know whether the solver memorizes moves made or is able to actually solve the puzzle from its current scrambled state using some sort of algorithm, but it does return the cube to its solved state by "visible turns" of the faces.
  • Scramble function: This function scrambles the puzzle comparably to what a human would do to the traditional cube.
  • Demo mode: This mode plays when it is in the charger base.

What I don't like

  • Colors are sometimes difficult to discern: The TouchCube's lights, while bright, are not always discernable from similar colors, especially at certain angles. The white color is actually a very pale blue, for example. Orange is also very similar to red and yellow in some cases.
  • Surface must be upward-facing to turn a face: In order to turn a face, the surface you are touching must be upward-facing. In many cases this is okay, but I found myself on more than one occasion wanting to make a move without actually re-orienting the device. I understand the logistics of why Rubik's made this decision; it's just an added step that many people won't always remember to take.
  • Moves are not animated: When performing moves on the TouchCube, I would expect that the device would actually animate the movement. They have animated movements when using the Hint feature, so the programming is already in the device. It seems to me that it would be a relatively simple addition to use it during normal game-play.
  • The Hint mode doesn't always seem to help: During my testing, the Hint mode told me to make a certain move and, when I did and pressed the Hint button again, I was told to undo that move. This is what leads me to believe that the TouchCube Solver may just be memorizing steps taken (or trying things at pseudo-random).

Geek bottom line

As I said stated, I would like to see the TouchCube Hint mode and movement display improved; unfortunately, there is no port for doing firmware updates so there is no chance of current owners to get these improvements.

Also, at nearly $150 MSRP, the TouchCube is quite expensive. In my demonstration of the toy to others, most people felt as I did that it wasn't worth more than $40-$50 with its current limitations. I think this toy will mainly be purchased by collectors or enthusiasts.

If you do purchase the toy, check out the Rubik's Cube Wikipedia page for hints on how to solve the Rubik's Cube.

Geek gift score (out of 5)

  • Fun factor: ***
  • Geek factor: *****
  • Value: *
  • Overall: ***

Want more reviews of tech gadgets and gizmos? Download the PDF of TechRepublic's Geek Gift Guide 2010.

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