In the past, children played with toy doctor kits and an assortment of kitchen sets and fake tools; however, children today are raised on smartphones and high-powered computers. Thanks to the invention of the microcomputer, this tech-savvy generation has the ability to learn basic computer-building and coding skills with DIY computer kits. The Kano Kit is one such kit that is recommended for ages 7 to 14 and is a good option for a child with an interest in how computers work. However, after our product testing, we feel the Kano would be best as a Christmas present for kids between the ages of 10 and 12. By that age, children are more able to grasp the concepts presented on the software.
Setup was surprisingly straightforward. All you really need to do is to open the included instruction manual and get started. The manual is illustrated and simplistic so it is easy for kids to follow while not coming across as condescending. In the manual, children meet Judoka, the software's main character, as he guides them through the building process. You start with snapping together the case and plugging in the components. From there, you literally follow the code version of a white rabbit down a hole to Kano's proprietary operating system. Our testers, ages eight and nine, stayed engaged and were excited through this whole part, however, frustration quickly set in when they realized that not everything worked and felt like their normal home computer.
The kit's materials themselves are all of good quality. The case is a solid, hard plastic that adequately protects and houses the Raspberry Pi 2 microcomputer board. The computer board comes with all the necessary ports for it to get up and running, plus it includes a Wi-Fi dongle and wireless keyboard. The Wi-Fi dongle is a nice touch and provides flexibility, but there is an Ethernet port should you require a hardline.
The keyboard is simple and rather small. It includes a mouse trackpad and left- and right-click buttons. The inclusion of these features on the keyboard seems convenient, but the trackpad was unresponsive and sluggish. The left- and right-click buttons also present an interesting challenge as they are placed on the opposite end of the trackpad, requiring you to use both hands to use the "mouse." Our young testers eventually gave up on this and plugged in a wireless mouse.
The Kano Kit comes with a micro SD card preloaded with its proprietary operating system, Kano OS. This is where the Kano really shines: This software includes several instructional programs to make games like Pong and Snake. It even has a version of Minecraft that is designed specifically to play on the Raspberry Pi computer board.
Children can use these programs to learn the basics of code and how pieces fit together to change the parameters of the games. One noteworthy program is a music maker that allows you to use code to make music and change the music instantly by changing elements of the code. While our testers found this to be a fun feature, the code used to make the music was even beyond the skills of their parents. Thankfully, the program already comes with the code, which you can just copy and paste it into place.
After you've exhausted all the included games, you can download more for Kano's equivalent of an app store. All the while, your kids are leveling up and earning badges on their very own profile. This computer provides hours and hours of entertainment. However, due to the advanced nature of the program, our testers became bored after they ran into too many roadblocks involving concepts they just didn’t understand. Also frustrating was the fact that the included Minecraft game couldn't do everything they were expecting from the full version.
Overall, we are pleased with the Kano Kit. The age range may be a bit generous, but there are fun activities for the different age ranges and skill abilities. If you have one or more children interested in how computers work and how to make games, then this is a great introduction to a world of computer science, and you might as well get them prepped for a lucrative career in computer science now.