Geckobot: Our first take

This Geckobot will have your kids climbing the walls

The market for educational kids toys is booming, and we’re seeing more and more robotics kits designed to spark interest in STEM subjects — that’s science, tech, engineering, and math, of course. The Geckobot fits neatly into this trend. The box contains 176 plastic pieces to snap and prod together. It’s aimed at children aged 8 years and up. Experienced science kit manufacturer Thames & Kosmos suggests that the Geckobot is a good way for your kids to learn about air pressure and suction.

If you manage to build it correctly, you’ll have a motorized gecko with suction cups for feet, capable of climbing windows and other smooth surfaces. Sadly, it’s not the easiest thing to put together, and the result when you do is distinctly underwhelming.

Our Geckobot definitely sucked, but not in the way it was meant to.

Getting started with the Gecko

Pop open the box and you’ll find a few plastic packets filled with pieces and a fairly dense set of instructions. You build the Geckobot by snapping 176 plastic parts together; the instructions are quite clear, provided you take your time. Our young Lego fanatic builder got to work straight away, but his enthusiasm soon began to wane.

Geckobot
Simon Hill/Digital Trends
Simon Hill/Digital Trends

It takes some physical strength to press the pieces together securely, and once connected they are tricky to prize apart — a problem if you take a wrong turn, as we soon did. Luckily, Thames & Kosmos includes a wee tool in the box for loosening parts. The necessity of its inclusion should have been a warning to the designers.

Our Geckobot definitely sucked, but not in the way it was meant to.

The instructions guide you through the process of building the main body, which has a motor in the middle. You’ll need two AAA batteries (not supplied) to power this motor unit and a tiny Phillips-head screwdriver to open it (also not supplied).

The head and tail are built separately. You can choose from two included sets of eye stickers for the head. When you get to the tail you’ll have to grab the scissors for the tubing.

The final process involves cutting the tubing to specified lengths and wiring it up to the connectors on the Geckobot. This was fiddly, and once again it required a fair bit of strength to get the tubes connected. Mess up and the whole thing is ruined, so adult supervision is important for cutting the correct lengths. Also, wire the tubing wrong and your Geckobot’s suction-cup feet won’t work correctly, as we soon discovered.

But does it blendsuck?

It took around an hour and a half to build the robot. When finished, we flicked the tiny switch on the motor unit to turn it on and our reptilian robot began walking very slowly and loudly across the floor. The switch is right in the middle of the body and it’s quite awkward to get at, especially when the legs are moving.

Geckobot
Simon Hill/Digital Trends
Simon Hill/Digital Trends

The kids were excited to try it on the window and see if it really could climb, so we held the Geckobot on the window, turned it on, and let the suction cups do their work. The Geckobot was firmly attached to the glass — but it wasn’t moving.

We turned it off and went back to the instructions. The head and tail were attached the wrong way round, so we switched them, rewired it, and tried again. We also had to realign the feet by removing the gear cogs in the middle and rotating them to the correct positon. This time Geckobot took a couple of faltering steps before falling with a crash to the floor.

More rebuilding and tweaking, a quick clean for the suction feet, and the Geckobot was back on the glass, stuck fast and failing to take another step. The Geckobot may have been stubbornly refusing to climb, but by this time the kids were climbing the walls.

As can often happen with toys like this, Dad was left to figure out why it wasn’t working as the kids went off to play with something else. Further adjustment of the gears resulted in the Geckobot taking a few more steps up the glass, but it would always end up sticking or falling off. Each time it did, pieces popped out and wires came loose.

A wall-climbing robot sounds cool, but the reality is distinctly underwhelming. There’s no programming element to this “instructional” toy, it’s just a simple motor. Even when it did manage to climb it was very slow. By the end of the day the batteries were dead and the kids had lost interest.

There are a few more options for different models you can build in the manual. The suction gun and ellipsograph are fun ideas, the smartphone holder and inchworm not so much.

Warranty information

Thames & Kosmos provide a standard 12-month warranty that covers defective part replacement. But there’s no cover for broken parts or wear and tear, though you can order replacement parts from the Thames & Kosmos website.

Conclusion

Is there a better alternative?

If you don’t mind spending a lot more, Lego Mindstorms EV3 is the ultimate in kid’s robotics kits. We also prefer the style and accessibility of Littlebits, though it’s expensive too. The Geckobot only costs around $50, but even at that price, other Thames & Kosmos kits offer better value.

How long will it last?

Longevity is a serious concern for the Geckobot. There’s some fun in taking it apart and trying other models, but we’re not convinced about durability. Parts will break and go missing and the tubes simply don’t work very well. It also chews through batteries far too quickly.

Should you buy it?

No. If you’ve already tried other Thames & Kosmos kits and enjoyed them, it’s possible that the Geckobot could provide some fun — and the suction cup climbing is quite a unique feature. It’s far too tricky and fiddly for younger kids, however (we think 10+ is more appropriate than 8+), and older kids are likely to find it quite dull. This reviewer did. We think you can do better.

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