Review: Chub City i-Playaz iPod Vehicles and Characters from Jada Toys - Macenstein

Review: Chub City i-Playaz iPod Vehicles and Characters from Jada Toys

Posted by Dr. Macenstein

chub city iplayaz

On a recent trip to my local mall I was amazed at just how many kids I saw talking on their mobile phones. Many appeared to be as young as 7 or 8 (although I could be slightly off, as my 32-year-old eyes seem to view almost anyone under 23 as a 7 or 8-year-old.) When I got home I began ranting to my wife, “What kind of parents would trust an 8-year-old kid with an expensive piece of gear like a RAZR phone?”. She gave me a “what are you crazy?” look and said, “You have a 3 and a 5-year-old with iPods. We’ll be lucky if we have to wait 3 years to get them phones.”

She’s right. Kids today are being given more and more expensive “toys” by their parents at (seemingly) ridiculous ages. Now, to be fair to my wife and I, my 5 and 3 year-old SHARE an iPod (sharing is a very important lesson, I’ll have you know), and it is a 4G model hand me down. But still, there are kids as young as 3 out there with iPods and other such MP3 players full of their Barney, Wiggles, and Cheetah Girls songs. To cater to this new sub-teen group of digital music fans, many companies are coming out with eye-catching speaker designs in cute form factors with flashing lights, sounds and attitude. Two I have personally become familiar with are the popular i-Dog by Hasbro and the iCar by Corgi.

chub city iplayaz

The latest kids’ speaker set to join the “i” bandwagon is the i-Playaz Chub City line from Jada Toys. The Chub City lineup consists of 8″ vehicles and 5.5″ hip-hop inspired characters that connect to your iPod (or other audio source) and dish out your tunes through their built-in speakers. Available in different colors and stlyes. both the cars and figures run off 4 AA batteries and provide an animated light show in addition to acting as a personal speaker system. The i-Playaz cars (we received the red VW Beetle model) spin their wheels and rock from side to side as your music plays. Head and taillights flash, and interior lights cycle through light blue, red, green and navy blue lights when the car detects music. The i-Playaz figures ( we tested the white rapper “Hype”) twists their body from side to side and raise their hands up and down in Frankenstein-esque rap movements. Flashing lights on his hat, necklace, and sneakers make Hype the life of the party. If you don’t have an MP3 player, both the figures and cars can also play their own pre-recorded 20-30 second hip-hop song. Additionally, hitting the pads on each of Hype’s sneakers plays a drum sample. Pressing his necklace creates a simulated “scratching” sound, allowing you to pretend you are the late Jam Master Jay, or at the very least, one of the Fat Boys.

Audio quality

To most people, audio quality is at the top of a short list of features when contemplating an iPod speaker system. To kids, however, it is of secondary (if not lower) importance. The sound quality of the i-Playaz speakers is mediocre at best. We’d rate it comparable to the iCar speakers we reviewed last month (and which received the title “Worst iPod accessory ever“). The sound is lacking bass, and produces a fairly treble-heavy sound that can distort at high volumes. Both the i-Playaz cars and figures feature the ability to connect external speakers via the line-out jack, allowing you to simply use the speakers as a silent light show. Unfortunately the line out is not a true “pass through” line-out, and instead passes the audio through the i-Playaz’s amplifier first. In other words, hooking the i-Playaz up to a larger speaker system just lets you play the distorted audio louder.

chub city iplayazThe i-Playaz speakers, like the iCar and i-Dog, rely on gimmicky lights and motion to grab a child’s attention, and here the i-Playaz shine. We found the i-Playaz VW Beetle to provide almost silent operation compared to the loud screeching and gear grinding of the iCar. Sure, the motions were not as erratic and visually amusing as the iCar (the VW sort of slowly rocks side to side, and the wheels roll at a more soothing speed) but it is also far less annoying, and allows you to actually hear the music. “Hype”, the i-Playaz rapping figure, was another story. When music plays, he flails about wildly, and his gear noises can be distracting. Luckily, both the figures and vehicles come with a “Lights-only” mode, which allows you to hear your music without any of the unintentional mechanical accompaniment (and also to conserve batteries). Between the figures and the cars, our opinion is the figure sounds a bit better. We’re guessing both units share the same speakers, so this is more likely due to the placement of the speakers (in the back of the figure’s head as opposed to under the VW Beetle) than anything else.

Looks are everything

As I said, for a child (and we are talking maybe 10 years-old and under) the audio quality is not as important as having something they think looks cool. The i-Playas were a big hit at our house. Our 3 and 5-year-old, who both love the i-Dog (and ran in terror from the iCar) love the iPlayaz speakers. The shiny materials and cartoonish designs are great and definitely appeal to kids. While the audio quality sounds very “AM Radio” to me, the kids dance around the room to the sounds of the i-Playaz as if it were a Bang & Olufsen system. If you have kids you have likely seen this baffling behavior. Our kids will also watch their favorite shows huddled in front of the tiny 2.5-inch screen on my iPod instead of a 32-inch TV. Kids are weird that way.

Above: To get an idea of the movements and lights of the i-Playaz line, watch the above propaganda (note, the cars do not actually drive around).


I hope I have made it clear to any prospective purchasers that the i-Playaz are, in my opinion, geared toward children. While the boxes for the i-Playaz claim an 8+ age rating (I’m not sure why, as there are no small pieces to speak of), I think it is kids in the 4-10 age range who will most likely be drawn to these speakers. The sound quality is not something I could recommend as a gift to an iPod-owning teenager, no matter how infatuated they are with the Volkswagen Beetle. So to that end, I will not harp on it here. However I do have 2 other complaints about the i-Playaz, and they affect both the vehicles and the characters.

First, you need to use a screwdriver to replace the batteries. While battery life is quite good (well over 20 hours on 4 AA’s) having a screwdriver handy to replace batteries is annoying, especially for the i-Playaz figures who have 2 batteries in each shoe, requiring 2 unscrewings. This is another sign to me that the i-Playaz are perhaps geared towards the younger crowd, as almost all of our kids’ battery operated toys have gone this route for safety concerns. So while WE happen to have the required mini philips screw driver necesary to swap out the batteries at our house, it does make it annoying to travel with the i-Playaz to Grandma’s house.

chub city iplayazThe second, and more important issue we found with the i-Playaz has to do with volume control. There is no built-in volume control on either the vehicles or figures, instead, volume is controlled via the iPod’s volume. This would be fine except, in an apparent attempt to conserve battery life, the i-Playaz will shut themselves off if they do not detect a song is playing after about 15 seconds. The problem is, in order for the i-Playaz to recognize your music is playing, it has to not only be on quite loud (a volume setting of approximately 75% or higher), the music also has to have a suitable drum beat or other such instrument which triggers the i-Playaz’s sensors. For instance, your 3 year-old could be rocking out to a great Rob Zombie track, and then Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” comes on. While the opening guitar solo of Free Bird may sound just as loud to you or me coming out of the i-Playaz’s speakers, about 15 seconds in, the i-Playaz will shut themselves off.

As you might imagine, the odds of your kids listening to Rob Zombie are (hopefully) rather slim. The majority of the tracks MY kids listen to (with the exception of some They Might Be Giants tracks) have almost nothing resembling musical instruments as we adults know them. They are kid instruments, mellow sounding stuff with xylophones or something from such talents as Barney, Blue’s Clues, The Wiggles, Dora the Explorer etc. and I would say every 7th song or so does not make the cut, and shuts the iPlayaz off. Again, kids are weird, and this did not annoy them, but it annoyed me. In my testing, with my adult music ranging from Rob Zombie to Aimee Mann, the i-Playaz shut themselves off fairly often, usually during a mellow intro to a song. I feel that this is a fairly important issue that Jada Toys needs to address in a future version of the i-Playaz line.


There is no secret formula for what will appeal to a child. While on paper the i-Playaz seem like a gimmicky and sub-par speaker system for an adult, they deliver on their promise of a unique and fun listening experience for kids where other similar devices (notably the iCar) fail. The kid-friendly design and fun movements and lights engage a child in a way a $100 iPod speaker system from JBL will not. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter that the i-Playaz speakers aren’t the best sounding speakers out there. What matters is the kids love it, and they have a fun way to express themselves while playing their music. Plus their friends think they’re cool, which is almost more important.

i-Playaz Chub City VW Beetle and Rapping Character speakers from Jada Toys

chub city iplayaz
i-Playaz Chub City VW Beetle

Price: $24.99

Pros: Very cute styling appeals to kids, lights and animated movements are fun to watch, movements can be turned off to minimize noise/conserve batteries, kids love it, good battery life

Cons: Audio quality is fine for a young child, but not for a teenager or older, devices shut themselves off prematurely when they cannot sense music, Inconvenient to replace batteries

chub city iplayaz
i-Playaz Chub City Characters

Price: $29.99

Pros: Very cute styling appeals to kids, lights and animated movements are fun to watch, movements can be turned off to minimize noise/conserve batteries, kids love it, good battery life, additional drum beat and DJ-scratching features

Cons: Audio quality is fine for a young child, but not for a teenager or older, devices shut themselves off prematurely when they cannot sense music, Inconvenient to replace batteries

3 Responses to “Review: Chub City i-Playaz iPod Vehicles and Characters from Jada Toys”
  1. aawoken says:

    My 7 year old has an iPod shuffle (before that an iRock (i think that’s the name) 64MB), an iDog, has had her own computer for three years,a cell phone LG C300, Nintendo DS, and a Nintendo Gameboy. Oh I forgot a PS2 which she hardly plays.

    I will say this though, she hardly uses the cellphone as she knows it’s for emergencies, she publishes her own little newsletter that’s pretty good, and play BrainAge on the DS almost constantly. SO I have few complaints. In fact I’m thinking of giving her a Nano.

  2. Kathy says:

    those are pretty cute, the car especially!

  3. Shelly Roth says:

    I bought the red chub city i-plays beetle on February 27, 2007. We put new batteries in the car and turned it on for approximately 5-10 minutes. My son turned it off to eat dinner. Within minutes we smelled something burning. After searching the immediate area for a fire, my son picked up the car and it was hot. He burned his fingers, slightly. The car remained hot. I took the battery cover off and discovered that the car was melting. The outer portions or the batteries were also melting. The car stayed hot for quite awhile. We returned the car and exchanged for another, which we have not had a problem with, yet. I really do love the car…It is really cute.

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